If things had gone a little differently, City’s Second Jen may never have gotten a first episode. But Samantha Wan had some luck on her side when she took her comic digital co-creation to the Banff World Media Festival.
The friend who had TV pitching experience backed out at the last minute, leaving Wan to attend the festival alone. She had no experience selling an idea, so she practiced on an iPad every chance she got. Wan hadn’t signed up to have pitch meetings because she didn’t know she was supposed to. On the last night, she met with Lucy Stewart of Don Ferguson Productions, who told her to talk with Kevin Wallis. The pair sat down and by the end of their discussion the company had taken the show.
Debuting Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET on City, Second Jen stars Wan and fellow co-creator Amanda Joy as Jen and Mo, twentysomething Asian Canadians who move into their first apartment together. Jen’s mother Bunny (Janet Lo) doesn’t approve, but that doesn’t stop the pair, who discover taking on responsibilities isn’t without challenges. Lucky for them, fellow apartment dwellers Lewis (Al Mukadam) and Nate (Munro Chambers), are there to provide support and friendship.
We spoke to Wan and Joy about their road from digital short to six-episode series and taking a two-person idea into a writers’ room.
A lot of the stories about Second Jen has put a focus on the fact you’re Asian and the series is about Asian Canadians. Is it important for you to discuss that angle, or do you prefer to just talk about Second Jen as a television show?
Amanda Joy: I understand that there is always going to be a political context. Anytime you appear on-screen as a person of colour or LGBT, there is always going to be political context. And I think that is important to us in one aspect of our lives. And then the show, what it is is important in another way. This isn’t a show about being Asian. It’s about being in your 20s in Toronto, and two best friends who are very intelligent but also not the most experienced women about how they navigate the world. In Toronto, because it’s such a diverse city, they come from an immigrant background and many of their friends come from an immigrant background. When you take on Toronto as a setting, I feel like that will be the case and that’s part of the strength of the story.
Samantha Wan: We’re ethnic, but this is the story of being stuck in the middle between the older generation and our second generation and stuck in the middle because we’re in our 20s. I’m not in high school anymore but I don’t have my career set out before me either. Naturally, the generation clash includes culture but that’s more the conflict and what we’re picking apart.
It’s one thing to create a project as a digital entity, but it’s another to flesh out characters and add more for a television series. What was it like having a writers’ room with folks like Kevin, Carly Heffernan and Jeff Biederman?
AJ: If I’m writing by myself and I hit a wall, I go for a walk. When you’re in the writers’ room and hit a wall, somebody else will know how to pick it up. Carly is hilarious and so much fun to work with, very intelligent and kind. She gave me a ride to the subway every day. And Jeff really, really knows his stuff. When it came to the room he was able to look at structural things, inconsistencies in plot or scenes.
SW: It was nice to know there was someone who could help us navigate notes from the broadcaster. The notes were very specific and were helpful but sometimes we needed to understand exactly what they meant. Having someone who was seasoned was really helpful.
How much of Season 1 had been plotted out by the two of you prior to being in the room?
SW: We had plotted out ideas for episodes and those were pitched to the room and to Rogers. Then we picked which ones were the most relatable and the most funny.
AJ: And then it came down to what each character was doing in each episode. Even though we’re episodic, we do have some serialized arcs.
Let’s talk about your characters, Jen and Mo.
SW: They’re kind of a combination of the both of us. They were pretty easy to write because they have characteristics are from the both of us. Nate and Lewis are based off friends we have, but combinations so no one can come back to us and say, ‘That’s me.’ Once we cast the actors, Nate took on a little bit of a different shape once Munro was in. It was the same thing with Al as Lewis. We really wanted them to collaborate on who these characters are.
AJ: A lot of people complain about underdeveloped female characters and when we wrote the first drafts we had to go back to the male characters. What it’s like being a woman comes easily for us, but when it comes to being a guy, we’re more guessing by what we see.
Second Jen airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. ET on City.