Since its first season, Coroner has had its finger pretty squarely on the pulse of real world events, and Season 3, which premieres Wednesday on CBC, is no different. Set in late spring of 2020, the show acknowledges, right out of the gate, the horror of the global pandemic from the point of view of frontline workers — and, more specifically, the coroner’s office. We follow Jenny and Mac as they work a homicide for a first responder while juggling their own personal struggles, which have rolled on in tandem with those of the world around them.
For Coroner‘s creative team, the pandemic affected the series as they were breaking the scripts for Season 3. Last week, I jumped on the phone with Adrienne Mitchell and Morwyn Brebner about pivoting to merge reality with fiction in the third season. In the first part of our conversation, they discussed the impact of the pandemic on the storytelling and the production.
“Well, it was really weird. We actually started the first four weeks of development before the lockdown. We were four weeks into the writing room and it was relatively normal and the pandemic was sneaking up in the background. And then we had a planned writing hiatus. Right at the end of that week was when the lockdown hit in Toronto, so the last two days were a whiplash of information,” Brebner recalls.
“[Now], it’s a global pandemic and schools are shutting down. A lot of people in the writing room [had plans to travel] so on the last day, we thought, ‘Okay, well, I guess after the weeks off, we’ll come back on Zoom,’ which we’re fortunate enough to do. And then we came back and the world was so different. It became clear that we were going to have to re-break [the season].”
“The first two episodes were just not reflective of reality [as it was four weeks later]. It was very, very near to me and a big adjustment. Suddenly the work that is often very personal — and there’s a real camaraderie of all being in the same room together — it was just completely different, but we were very fortunate, and very conscious of being fortunate, that we were able to keep writing.”
“It required a re-conception of the season. We were trying to figure out what [it meant] in our world.”
“We had to completely rewrite the first two episodes. The whole season isn’t about the pandemic, [instead] the pandemic is a texture to the whole season. So we were lucky to be close enough to the beginning that we ended up threading it into the show. Like it is for us, it’s the ambient texture to our lives [now]. The first two are the only ones that have really pandemic-related story points. And then it’s just part of the life of the characters.”
That real life intertwining with fiction also afforded Mitchell, who directs the premiere and throughout the season, the opportunity to capture those themes onscreen. “It all comes from the material. It comes from a script, and I really think that this season, we were all in it together. This season, I felt so connected to Morwyn’s vision, probably the most I’ve had in the entire three seasons,” she says.
“It’s not easy because we were going in one direction, then COVID hit, and Morwyn really had to just totally change directions. She has such a sense of where the authentic stories are for where we are here in Toronto. And instead of doing a show about what was going on in New York and the hospitals, she sort of tuned into what was going on with us, which was the longterm care homes. We did a lot of research.”
One scene in the premiere is a memorial service that features a couple dozen actors, and Brebner says it was a litmus test for all the new pandemic safety measures. “It was so hairy. It’s really weird to be thinking about [how to place people in a scene] and dramatically, at a certain point, you have to let [the specific real world parameters fall out the script] — the scene is not going to register if everyone is wearing a mask,” she explains.
“When we were shooting, beforehand, we would have mask meetings and sit down and figure out who was wearing a mask. And those meetings were very stressful to try and figure out how to keep the cast safe and the crew safe and everybody safe, and get the drama out of it. It was really a huge, huge part of the season.”
“We worked with these nurses, who were amazing. We had strict COVID protocols. And a big thing was how many people were allowed in the room at the same time. And so we would block [scenes] in shifts. It was definitely all week, all the time, on everyone’s mind.”
Going into the third season, the series has an even larger audience following additional global distribution, including the airing of Seasons 1 and 2 back to back last fall on The CW in the US. “We did so well. It was really beautiful to see it that we got really great ratings. We were higher than a lot of their original shows,” shares Mitchell.
“It’s weird as you go onto social media, like Twitter, because it’s sold all over the world. So everybody’s at different stages and people all over the world are experiencing things in different time slots and respectfully warn each other not to give anything away.”
Coroner premieres at 8 pm (8:30 NT) Wednesday night on CBC and CBC Gem. Seasons 1 and 2 are now streaming on CBC Gem, and all our previous coverage of those seasons is here. Check back after the premiere for the rest of my conversation with Adrienne and Morwyn. Here’s a sneak peek of the season premiere.
Photos and Video Courtesy of CBC