Plans for po­lit­i­cal par­ody laid long be­fore re­cent scan­dals

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Bill Brioux

OTTAWA — Has there ever been a bet­ter time to air a po­lit­i­cal satire in Canada? Be­tween the Se­nate scan­dals and Toronto’s bob­ble­head mayor, Rob Ford, Cana­dian politi­cians pro­vided more laughs and shocks in 2013 than The Big Bang The­ory and Break­ing Bad com­bined. En­ter The Best Laid Plans, a six-part se­ries pre­mier­ing Sun­day at 8 p.m. on CBC be­fore mov­ing to Mon­day nights at 9 p.m.

Late last fall, on lo­ca­tion in­side a cen­tu­ry­old, wood-pan­elled es­tate, di­rec­tor/pro­ducer Peter Moss stepped away from the cam­era to ex­plain how the se­ries came to­gether. The spark was Terry Fal­lis’s award­win­ning novel of the same name, based on the au­thor’s own adventures as a Par­lia­ment Hill speech writer. “One night I was read­ing the book and I was laugh­ing my head off,” says Moss. Pro­duc­ing part­ner Phyl­lis Platt asked what was up. Moss told her he’d found their next project. The idea was pitched to CBC, and six episodes were or­dered. The story cen­tres on Daniel Ad­di­son, a young po­lit­i­cal back­room op­er­a­tive played by Winnipeg’s Jonas Ch­er­nick (star and screen­writer of the fes­ti­val hit My Awk­ward Sex­ual Ad­ven­ture). Ad­di­son is sick­ened by the Ottawa power game af­ter catch­ing his girl­friend in bed with a po­lit­i­cal foe. He wants out, but is dragged back in for one last power play by his boss, the less-than-charis­matic leader of the op­po­si­tion, Ge­orge Quimby (Mark McKin­ney). The two know they’re go­ing to get ham­mered in the next elec­tion by the sit­ting prime min­is­ter (Sonja Smits). Ad­di­son’s as­sign­ment is to woo a lo­cal, past-his-prime pro­fes­sor to stand in a rid­ing elec­tion the party will lose. Ken­neth Welsh plays loose-can­non can­di­date An­gus McLin­tock and grabs the part with gusto, as does another Cana­dian TV vet­eran, Eric Peter­son (Cor­ner Gas). Ch­er­nick says Peter­son came in and ba­si­cally “took an ex­tended cameo and turned it into a great char­ac­ter role, steal­ing scenes left and right and ad-lib­bing like a mad man.” He points out that both Petersen and Welsh are Or­der of Canada mem­bers. “I’m learn­ing a lot from both th­ese guys,” he says. Welsh joked a month or so later at CBC’s win­ter pro­gram launch in Toronto that “I’ve been in this busi­ness 50 years and no­body knows who I am.” Ch­er­nick dis­agrees, but con­cedes “that’s the curse of Cana­dian tele­vi­sion.” Welsh, in fact, has played sev­eral politi­cians be­fore, in­clud­ing pres­i­dents and prime min­is­ters. He did a mem­o­rable turn as no­to­ri­ous Saskatchewan MLA Colin Thatcher and also once played Al­berta’s Peter Lougheed. He never had any ac­tual po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions, “prob­a­bly be­cause I played so many and I re­al­ized how ab­surd it is.” Cer­tainly Moss, Platt and fel­low pro­ducer Brian Den­nis were well ac­quainted with Welsh’s long and dis­tin­guished re­sumé. Moss, who di­rected him sev­eral years ago in the TV-movie Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs, calls him “a gi­ant.” The producers were happy to gather sev­eral fa­mil­iar faces they’d worked with be­fore for this project, in­clud­ing Ron Lea, Bar­bara Gor­don, Tom Jack­son, Peter Keleghan and Leah Pin­sent. Jodi Bal­four (Bomb Girls) also stars. Su­san Coyne (Slings and Ar­rows) and Ja­son Sher­man (The Lis­tener) adapted the script from Fal­lis’s novel. Platt was a pro­gram­mer at CBC back when Street Le­gal was the broad­caster’s top drama, and so re­unit­ing with Peter­son and Smits was ex­tra sweet. She says the producers are all well aware there is tremen­dous tal­ent in Canada “to be mined and brought back into a great ve­hi­cle.” Some­times ac­tors who head­line a Cana­dian se­ries “don’t nec­es­sar­ily hop to some­thing else that keeps them em­ployed the same way,” points out Platt, diplo­mat­i­cally ad­dress­ing an odd re­al­ity not seen south of the bor­der: Cana­dian se­ries stars seem to get just one shot at a home­grown suc­cess.

If this is his shot, Ch­er­nick couldn’t be hap­pier. He has co-starred, guested and been a reg­u­lar on dozens of Cana­dian TV shows, in­clud­ing The Bor­der, but sees his part in The Best Laid Plans as “the role of my life, for sure. I’ve never had this much of a pres­ence in a se­ries be­fore.”

It’s a chal­leng­ing role as the se­ries swings from com­edy to drama, some­times in the same scene. A long take in­side the stately manor finds Ch­er­nick’s Ad­di­son be­ing chewed out by Quimby’s acidic chief of staff, played by Raoul Bhaneja. Their ex­tended, rat-tat-tat-di­a­logue is rem­i­nis­cent of the old screw­ball come­dies of Pre­ston Sturges, Frank Capra and Billy Wilder. That’s no ac­ci­dent, with Moss coach­ing cast mem­bers to check out the clas­sics. Ch­er­nick took the tip to heart, screen­ing both Mr. Smith Goes to Wash­ing­ton and The Philadel­phia Story. Bhaneja, a busy stage and screen ac­tor, sees The Best Laid Plans more as a cross be­tween Yes, Min­is­ter and the Bri­tish House of Cards, an apt com­par­i­son given Ad­di­son’s pen­chant for con­fid­ing di­rectly into the cam­era. Also in the cast is Sarah Allen, who will be seen in Global’s up­com­ing med­i­cal drama Rem­edy. Allen was do­ing dou­ble duty this fall, shoot­ing The Best Laid Plans in Ottawa and then fly­ing to Toronto to shoot scenes op­po­site En­rico Colan­toni and Dil­lon Casey on Rem­edy. “I’ve come to re­al­ize you can’t al­ways be work­ing in this game,” says Allen of be­ing ac­tress. Still, if th­ese best laid plans work out, 2014 could be a bet­ter year to play a Cana­dian politi­cian than to be one.


Ken­neth Welsh, left, and Win­nipeg­ger Jonas Ch­er­nick team up to bat­tle for a can’t-win rid­ing in The Best Laid Plans.

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