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.
In Jannâ€™s world, COVID doesnâ€™t exist. During the third season of the hit CTV comedy series, serially self-absorbed Jann (Jann Arden) and her family are dealing with 99 problemsâ€”including Jannâ€™s lack of funding for a new album, Maxâ€™s (Zoie Palmer) new relationship with her biological father Marty (Ron Lea), and Noraâ€™s (Deborah Grover) continuing battle with Alzheimerâ€™sâ€”but a worldwide pandemic isnâ€™t one of them.
â€œWe want our show to be, first and foremost, entertaining, and it didnâ€™t seem like the right kind of show to be actually addressing a serious worldwide pandemic,â€ says Jennica Harper, series co-creator, co-executive producer, and showrunner. â€œSo we donâ€™t do that. You can escape for a hot 19 to 20 minutes in our world.â€
While viewers likely appreciate a weekly break from the pandemic, Harper and co-creator and co-executive producer Leah Gauthier couldnâ€™t escape the realities of COVID while creating the new season. Social distancing forced the showâ€™s writing staff, including new addition and â€œinstant fitâ€ JP Larocque, to plan and pen all eight of the seasonâ€™s episodes over Zoom; and once filming began in Calgary, safety regulations dictated everything from the number of people who were allowed on set to the ways cast and crew could interact with each other.
â€œNo one was allowed to sit in a car with each other, and you have to eat a snack outside, so youâ€™re on a snowbank by yourself,â€ says Gauthier, adding that the conditions led to â€œa weird kind of tired that Iâ€™m sure people can relate to now that weâ€™ve been doing it for so long.â€
Luckily, everyoneâ€™s dedication to the rules meant no one got sick during production, and the cast and crew were able to gather together for the showâ€™s premiere party in Toronto a few weeks ago, allowing Harper and Gauthier to see Larocque in person for the first time.
â€œIt was just so nice to see their face in real life,â€ says Gauthier. â€œWe formed a connection over Zoom, but itâ€™s so much better when you finally get to meet the people youâ€™ve been working with.â€
We chatted with Harper and Gauthier about their approach to writing Season 3, their newfound love of spoilers, and what we can expect from Jannâ€™s new love interest, Nate (Charlie Kerr), who makes his debut in Mondayâ€™s episode.
Youâ€™ve talked about the way COVID impacted your writing process and production. Did it change any of the storylines you wanted to include this season? Jennica Harper: I feel we were incredibly fortunate because Season 2, as you know, ends with a huge event, the Tunies. Last season, we just threw everything out there, huge galas, just all kinds of events, episodes that had tons of people. Even our school episode in Season 2 was pretty huge by COVID standards, there were so many extras, all the kids. So I felt really fortunate that our conversation about what we wanted to do with Season 3 was, pre-COVID, already a more down-to-earth, character-based season, with intimate stuff between the characters we already care about, family stuff. That was already our goal, so thank God for that because to do something like a Season 2, we would have been really rethinking.
In Season 3, we tried not to do any huge events that had a lot of extras. So, for example, a big event would be going to a big mountain resort. We go to Kananaskis Lodge in Episode 5, which is big in scale and scope and beauty, but we never have 200 people in a room. Itâ€™s not necessary. We did scale in different ways this season. Another big factor was looking at stories between the characters. We have a lot more stories happening at Jannâ€™s cottage, weâ€™re bringing people to her, rather than her always at Max and Daveâ€™s [Patrick Gilmore] and elsewhere. Noraâ€™s back with her, sheâ€™s hired Trey [Tenaj Williams], Treyâ€™s now around all the time. Cale [Elena Juatco], of course, is in her breakdown mode, so sheâ€™s great fun to have around without having to be at big events, sheâ€™s in our domestic world now. So it was already storywise what we had been talking about, but it was also a very conscious choice to spend more time at Jannâ€™s cottage, which is a wonderful set that we own, that we control, and doesnâ€™t mean you have to have 20 people walking by in the background.
A lot of things changed in Jannâ€™s life at the end of last season, such as her firing Cale, breaking up with Cynthia, and asking Nora to live with her. What were your goals for her character in Season 3? JH: The theme of the season was kind of starting over and new beginnings, and so thatâ€™s what we were looking for in bringing Trey in, and then as we get into the season, we get into Jann considering dating again and dating a man. So really it was about Jann being a woman who is kind of going back to basics. In terms of romance, realizing she deserves to be happy and maybe she should be looking for love, and in terms of her career, realizing she should really pursue the album that she wants to write thatâ€™s from the heart, that is more her than any of the stuff she did with Cale. So sheâ€™s got to figure out new ways to take control of her own life in this season.
Leah Gauthier: Jann still has so much to say. I mean maybe the world thinks sheâ€™s aged out of relevance, but sheâ€™s like, â€˜Iâ€™m actually going to do a bunch of stuff for myself going forward.â€™
This is a serialized show, but it also depends on the comedy of Jann always being a little self-absorbed and making bad choices. How do you decide where her character should grow and where she should stay stuck? LG: Thatâ€™s a good question because it sort of is just this collaborative experience when we write that Jann will absolutely shut something down almost immediately if sheâ€™s not willing to go there. Sheâ€™s not going to waste anyoneâ€™s time. But there is a collective feeling or understanding when we hit the nail on the head in terms of her self-absorbed nature. Mostly, if it reads like itâ€™s in her best interest, and no one else really gets hurt, but sheâ€™s gonna do what sheâ€™s gonna do for herself, thatâ€™s kind of a comfortable zone for us. And itâ€™s always pretty funny especially if we throw in a physical comedy aspect to that as wellâ€”which is why we definitely put her upside down in a dumpster later this season. So thereâ€™s that coming, get ready. We want to keep her not completely self-actualized because that is the person that she is. Like weâ€™re not going to make her completely whole at this point because then we run out of story.
JH: I agree. The way I have started to think about it, so many episodes in, is that she can be as selfish as we want if she doesnâ€™t really realize the harm sheâ€™s doing to other people. And I think thatâ€™s it. There is a sort of innocence and naivete to her narcissism. We have sometimes been compared to Curb Your Enthusiasm. Obviously, weâ€™re not going to complain about that comparison, but I do feel that Larry David is kind of more of an asshole.
LG: So lovable.
JH: Larry David?
LG: I love him, I love him.
JH: Well, I love him, too, but I think the thing is, heâ€™s righteous, he has to be right. If something is ridiculous to him, he has to prove that. Itâ€™s more of an intellectual thing or something. But with Jann, she is from the heart, man. For me, when she gets up from that support group [in Episode 302], where sheâ€™s supposed to be listening to advice about her mother, and sheâ€™s just like, â€˜Oh, my God, thank you so much for helping me solve my problem.â€™
LG: â€˜This is very helpful!â€™
JH: â€˜This is so helpful!â€™ She is truly in her own head and just an innocent, right? Sheâ€™s just like, â€˜Iâ€™ve got a great idea, and Iâ€™m gonna go now.â€™ And I donâ€™t think that she is really aware of her selfishness. Thatâ€™s how I read her.
You introduce two new characters this season: Trey, who debuted in the premiere, and Nate, who first appears in Episode 304. Why did you decide to expand the cast? JH: I would say Iâ€™m not sure we should be adding a lot of characters to the cast in one sense because we have a lot of people that are great performers, and as it is, some of them donâ€™t get a lot of time, and weâ€™re constantly trying to juggle making sure we see enough of the people we already love. However, we did really feel like Jann needs help in her life, so we needed somebody coming in. And we talked about different forms of what kind of person that could be, but we ultimately landed on some kind of personal assistant. She doesnâ€™t want management, but she clearly needs somebody to help keep her life together, and so thatâ€™s where Trey came in. And I think the main thing we wanted with Trey was somebody who was obviously a rational, mature person to do two things: to offset Jannâ€™s instinctively bad choices and then also somebody who had a warmth and sort of a caring nature because we wanted to establish somebody who could be a friend and maybe even long-term a bit of a help to Nora along the way. So those are the two dynamics we really cared about with that character.
LG: We knew early on that Jann was probably going to attempt to get back out in the dating world, and then weâ€™d decided that she might dabble with men. And then Jann and I were actually away, we were on Bowen Island here in Vancouver, and we went to a property, and the owner of it had a son who was around who was an actor, and Jann immediately took a liking to Charlie Kerr, and she said to me, â€˜This guy could potentially be my boyfriend on the show.â€™ I said, â€˜OK, weâ€™ll have to field a bunch of comments about this age gap, but I see how this could actually be quite hilarious, and I like the little reversal with the older lady vibe.â€™ So there was a bunch of auditioning with Charlie, and he was a perfect fit. He kind of plays it a bit serious, which is perfect for Jannâ€™s out-of-control energy. Heâ€™s sort of stoic. So thatâ€™s how we found him, we found Charlie Kerr on an island.
JH: [His character Nate] doesnâ€™t put up with bullshit and games. Heâ€™s just not interested. Heâ€™s super mature for his age.
LG: Yeah, heâ€™s sober and celibate. He comes in saying, â€˜Im sober and celibate, and Iâ€™m not putting up with your craziness.â€™
JH: We also played the character a bit older than the actor. Iâ€™ll just say that right up front. We actually took pains to flag his age in the episode where we meet him because we kind of felt it was pushing it a little bit.
LG: Weâ€™re like, â€˜Grow a beard! Thatâ€™ll do it.â€™
So we have Nate coming up in the next episode. What can you tease about the rest of the season? JH: Well, you should know that Leah and I have become huge spoiler proponents.
LG: Yes. Love the spoilers.
JH: In this world, thereâ€™s so much great TV to watch that we actually sort of feel like anything that we can do that is going to pique somebodyâ€™s interest into taking a look, weâ€™re open to. Thereâ€™s a couple of things the network has asked us not to spoil, but for the most part, weâ€™re open books at this point.
Oh, wow, spoil away! JH: OK, well one thing I think is exciting is a coupleâ€™s weekend away with Jann and her new boyfriend Nate and Max and Dave, who are very excited to be away from the kids and have no responsibilities for a while. And Cale is going to have a storyline where she tries to confront her fear of failure by purposely failing.
LG: And Elena gets to sing, sheâ€™s an incredible singer.
JH: Yep, Cale sings. We finally got Elena Juatco singing on our show. We have I think a really fun story about questioning the idea of gender reveal parties. Jann and Nate go to basically a rich couple who run a gender reveal business and are kind of put on the spot, and Jann has to kind of take a stand against gender reveal parties. And Leah, do you want to [talk about Episode 307]?
LG: It involves some aggressive bird watching that ends up in some dumpster diving, and thereâ€™s a mystery to unfold. They also have to attend a funeral. Somebody dies.
JH: Thatâ€™s right. Somebody who weâ€™ve already met this season dies. Woo, look at us! Weâ€™re getting good at this.
Do you already have ideas for Season 4? JH: There has not been an official pick-up, but Jann, Leah, and I have done our early talk-through of story ideas for what we would want to do in Season 4. We have a kind of proposal to CTV for what we would like to do, and weâ€™re ready to hit the ground running.
LG: Thereâ€™s an aggressive cliff-hanger at the end of this season
JH: Yes, thereâ€™s a real question hanging in the air, so we really want to answer that.
Jann airs Mondays at 7 p.m. ET/PT on CTV, CTV.ca and CTV app.
If not for the pandemic, Tenaj Williams wouldnâ€™t be playing Trey on the third season of Jann. In fact, he likely wouldnâ€™t be acting on television at all.
Until 2020, the Calgary-based actor and singer was happily ensconced in the theatre world, performing in various musicals and plays around the country. But when COVID-19 shut down theatres, he decided to make the jump to film and television, landing small parts in Wynonna Earp, Big Sky and the Hallmark movie Meet Me at Christmas.
When Williams nabbed a role in Jann, airing Mondays at 7 p.m. ET on CTV, he assumed it would be small as well. But he soon found out that Trey, Jannâ€™s (Jann Arden) new personal assistant, is no bit part. On the contrary, the calm, nurturing former nanny will be a major, season-long presence as he works to bring order to Jannâ€™s chaotic universe and develops a strong bond with her mom Nora (Deborah Grover).
â€œThe part was much larger than I thought it was going to be,â€ Williams says.
During a phone interview from Calgary, Williams told us how he approached playing Trey and explained why he loved joining Jannâ€™s Season 3 cast.
What was your audition process for Jann like? Tenaj Williams: Typically now with COVID, itâ€™s all self-tapes, and I actually really like that. I like that I can control the environment Iâ€™m in and my level of anxiety and stress. The way Iâ€™ve devised to tell if my self-tapes are good or not is, I always watch back my self-tape before I submit it, and if I find myself distracted by things like â€˜Why do you look like that?â€™ or â€˜What are you doing with your teeth?â€™ or â€˜What are you doing with your mouth?â€™ then itâ€™s not a good take. But if at the end of the take I find that Iâ€™m just smiling the whole time, that means I was [in the moment] as a viewer and then Iâ€™m like, â€˜Oh, yeah, that must be a good take.â€™
With Jann, I sent off the tape, and I knew who Jann was, and I had seen commercials of the show, but I had never actually watched the show before. And then I got shortlisted for it, but Iâ€™d been shortlisted for things before, and I know not to get my hopes up for anything. So I continued on with my life, no big deal. I didnâ€™t tell anybody anything, because I didnâ€™t want to be like, â€˜Hey, Iâ€™m shortlisted, and then I didnâ€™t get the part. So I just pretended like life as usual, and then I got an email from my agent saying, â€˜Weâ€™re just waiting for network approval,â€™ and I didnâ€™t really know what that was. I assumed that it could still fall through, so I didnâ€™t want to get my hopes up for that either. And then I got the job, and I was super excited, but I for sure didnâ€™t understand the magnitude of what I was doing. I was like, â€˜Maybe Iâ€™ll be in one or two episodes, which will be cool,â€™ you know what I mean? And it wasnâ€™t until I got my script maybe like a week later and I did a fitting that was two and a half hours, and I was like, â€˜How many costumes do I have?â€™ and I looked through the script and Iâ€™m like, â€˜Oh, my gosh, Iâ€™m in all the scenes, Iâ€™m in every episode.â€™ And then I was invited to a table read, which thatâ€™s never happened to me before, and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is actually a big part,â€™ and thatâ€™s when I got excited.
Trey is a very calm, collected guy who loves astrology. How did you approach playing him? TW: Honestly, first I watched all the episodes of this show, all of them. And it didnâ€™t take me long to do it, either. I really enjoyed the show. When the first season ended, I thought I was like two episodes in, but Iâ€™d finished the whole season. And the same thing happened with the second season. And I kind of pieced together Trey from Jann, who has very chaotic energy, and thatâ€™s an understatement. I thought, if sheâ€™s looking for a personal assistant, Iâ€™m imagining she needs the opposite of what she is. You could play it really crazy and really high energy and matching that kind of energy, but I thought it might be more interesting if he comes in and juxtaposes that kind of energy. So I tried to bring him into a more Zen-like place. So that was my main focus, I thought thatâ€™s what she would benefit from, someone to balance her off.
And Iâ€™m not much into astrology personally, but I did look into a little bit and I talked to a few friends who are into it, and I looked into my own signâ€”Iâ€™m an Aquariusâ€”and I thought, â€˜Oh, these are actually quite accurate.â€™
As you mentioned, Jannâ€™s world is pretty chaotic. How is poor Trey going to handle that as the season goes on? TW: Well, what I will say without giving any spoilers away is, he says in the first episode that he really likes a challenge, and I think that he finds it. I think he finds not only a challenge in Jann but in the people that live in Jannâ€™s house that heâ€™s now surrounded by. So he has a very ridiculously destroyed version of Cale [Elena Juatco], and I think he finds that very fascinating in a terrifying way, and you also have the energy of Nora. I think heâ€™s attracted to the different situations there and the different energies and what that means. I think the challenge of bringing that all together is really exciting.
When we recently spoke with Jann Arden, she told us that Trey develops a strong relationship with Nora. What can you tell us about that? TW: Something about Nora triggers something in his past that heâ€™s dealt with himself. He sees something in Nora that he wants to nurture. He wants to take care of this person, and I think he finds a really good friend in Nora, and I really, really love their relationship. I think that Nora is looking for a friend just as much as Trey is looking to take care of this type of person. Because sheâ€™s around Jannâ€™s chaotic energy a lot, and sheâ€™s also been, not kicked out by Max, but kind of seeing that we need a change, and I think sheâ€™s looking for some stability. I think that Trey provides that for her in a way.
I imagine itâ€™s not always easy to join an established TV show. What was your first day on set like? TW: It was crazy, honestly. It was crazy that I had binged these two seasons and then I did this Zoom reading where I got to see all the faces that I got to see on screen, where we went over the whole season. I was like, â€˜Oh, my gosh, I canâ€™t believe it.â€™ And they were all such professionals. I cannot rave highly enough about the group of actors that they have brought together, beautiful human souls who genuinely want to make the work so good. There are no egos or anything like that, everybody was so welcoming and warm.
The first day, I was wildly nervous, I didnâ€™t really know what to expect, and my first scene was a two-hander with Jann, and I was like, â€˜Of course it is. Of course, my very first day is with the star of the show in a scene thatâ€™s just the two of us.â€™ And so I freaked out and thought, â€˜OK, donâ€™t mess up any of your lines because if you mess up even one line, theyâ€™re going to kick you to the curb.â€™
And I was standing there and Jann was with meâ€”and our first time really meeting was on set, the first scene we were doingâ€”and we were just having a very casual conversation, and we just stood there for a second and it was quiet, and Jann just turns to me and is like, â€˜So, are you nervous?â€™ And I thought, â€˜How do I answer this question?â€™ and I was like, â€˜You know what? Yeah, I am. Iâ€™m very nervous.â€™ And she just looks at me and said, â€˜Oh, thank God, me, too.â€™ And that actually really helped things.
Did you ever find yourself cracking up at some of Jannâ€™s one-liners and antics while shooting? TW: I would like to tell you that I got to the point where I was like, â€˜Oh, Iâ€™m a professional, I donâ€™t laugh anymore, I donâ€™t break,â€™ but that never was the case. I was always breaking, I was always ruining scenes. Itâ€™s [Jannâ€™s] show, and if she wants to try something completely different…sheâ€™ll just go on the most hilarious tangents, and Iâ€™m like, ‘Please donâ€™t zoom the camera into my face, please donâ€™t zoom the camera into my face.â€™ I just couldnâ€™t keep it together.
What was the best thing about joining the cast this season? TW: The biggest thing was, honestly, it felt like I was part of something so great. I was just so proud of the work. I was laughing out loud constantly while we were doing the work. The script was so funny, everybody was so funny, we had such good chemistry as a cast, they welcomed me in so much, that it just felt like I was playing around. I mean, itâ€™s crazy to me that Iâ€™m in a sitcom with Jann Arden and a bunch of other really talented people. I got paid to just literally play with the funnest, wonderfullest people. I tried not to take that for granted.
Jann airs Mondays at 7 p.m. ET/PT on CTV, CTV.ca and CTV app.