While the holidays are tied to traditions, the way we celebrate is malleable. Relocating, work, friendships, romances, children, breakups and the loss of loved ones can all change what we do—and how we feel—each December.
That sense of flux is at the heart of Jann: Alone For The Holidays, a Yuletide special that proves there’s more than one way to enjoy Christmas. It’s a theme series star Jann Arden has experienced in her own life.
“My parents are both gone,” says Arden. “So I think a lot of the traditions that were kind of wrapped around their legs, unfortunately, aren’t here anymore. I mean, I loved having dinner with my family.”
But this Christmas, the singer-songwriter-actor-author-animal rights advocate is packing her favourite vegan turkey cutlets—“Frozen in my suitcase; I’m not kidding you!”—and heading to England to spend time with friends. “I’ll be in Dorset, very close to Swanage, in a 250-year-old stone cottage, near castles,” she says.
The series Jann is also doing things a bit differently this year. It’s been more than a year since the show’s third season ended, and while CTV hasn’t officially pulled the plug on the project, it also hasn’t greenlit another season.
Arden says CTV has “been behind the show the whole way through,” but the broadcaster is “really trying to contemplate a cost-effective way to move forward” with the series in a TV era dominated by streaming networks and binge-watching, so “they gave us this opportunity to do the Christmas show.”
In the special, airing as back-to-back episodes on Saturday, December 9 at 9 p.m. on CTV, CTV.ca and the CTV app, Jann comes home for Christmas to discover her entire family is celebrating out of town. The only one still around is her assistant Trey (Tenaj Williams), who is trying to recharge his batteries with some alone time.
Feeling abandoned, Jann declares it “the worst Christmas ever” until Trey starts pulling out boxes full of old decorations—and memories. This prompts a series of vignettes where Jann reminisces about good, bad and humiliating moments from holidays past featuring her niece Charley (Alexa Rose Steele), on-again, off-again girlfriend Cynthia (Sharon Taylor), former manager Todd (Jason Blicker), and mom Nora (Deborah Grover). Her manager Cale (Elena Juatco) also appears in the special’s opening Christmas concert sequence, which showcases both Arden’s cozy-sweater vocals and her laugh-out-loud physical comedy talents.
“I think flashbacks allowed me these fantastic opportunities to shine a light on one cast member at a time and to kind of unveil a little more depth into their relationship,” says Arden. “Like, I think the scene that I have with Cale starts off a little bit acerbic and tongue-in-cheek; Cale is just being Cale and running the business. But then when we have the opportunity to kind of say our goodbyes in the hallway, it’s like, ‘Wow, they’re being nice to each other. Where could that go, and what does that mean?’ So I think it was nice to be able to look at these relationships in a little different light.”
Jann’s flashback with Nora, which plays like a blooper reel from The Great Canadian Baking Show, was another highlight for Arden. “I had the best time,” she says. “Deborah is the heart of our show, and I think we hang so much of the heartfelt emotional payoff of Nora with [her], and she never fails to just really show people what her acting chops are. We all look up to her.”
Fans can also look forward to celebrity guest appearances by Bryan Adams and Michael Bublé, who is still as lovesick for Jann as he was in the Thanksgiving-themed Season 3 finale.
“May I say that this was his story idea?” Arden says of Bublé’s storyline. “We’re like, ‘What do you want to do on the show?’ And this was last season, and he says, ‘I want to be the unrequited love. I want to love Jann, and she doesn’t love me.’ This was all his doing. So when we were doing the Christmas special, he literally phoned Leah [Gauthier], one of our co-creators, and he said, ‘Can I be in this thing? Like, I know I’m on tour right now, but I could do something online.’”
Meanwhile, Adams carved time out of his Canadian tour schedule to drop by the set. “He’s got a new Christmas song out this year called ‘Let’s Get Christmas Going,’” Arden explains. “I’ve heard it on the radio already, and he wrote it for his daughters. He showed up and said, ‘I don’t know the words, so you guys have to write these out for me, so we were scrambling writing them out on the back of wrapping paper, and there’s a lot of f—ing words in that song … but he was absolutely such a pro. He was kind to everybody, and he did the song, and we couldn’t believe it.”
The special isn’t just about music and memories. Modelled after UK Christmas specials that offer holiday cheer while moving plotlines forward between seasons, there are some major storyline resolutions—such as revealing whether Jann chose to stay with Nate or to get back together with Cynthia and help raise her baby. There’s also a life-changing surprise at the end that lifts Jann’s holiday spirits. In short, it’s the sort of show that could serve as a bookend for the series or provide the impetus for a fourth season.
“We were very purposeful about that,” Arden says. “We’re kind of in a holding pattern, and we’re all kind of holding our breaths and crossing our fingers and we’ll see what happens. But, for now, we were able to do some problem-solving and put out a few fires that we left hanging after Season 3.”
Arden is also chuffed CTV will be rebroadcasting the episodes on Christmas Eve at 10 p.m. “That’s pretty damn great to be in people’s homes, whether they’re with their families and sitting down having meals, the excitement of kids running around the house, and Santa’s coming,” she says. “We’re hoping it has legs. Like, year after year, for people to go, ‘Oh, god, that crazy special again.’”
Jann: Alone For The Holidays airs Friday, Dec. 9 at 9 p.m. ET on CTV, CTV.ca and the CTV app. Encore presentation Saturday, Dec. 24 at 10 p.m. ET on CTV.
Images courtesy of Bell Media.