CBC heads back to Newfoundland tonight in its newest comedy, Little Dog. Created by and starring Joel Thomas Hynes, it’s the story of a washed up boxer who finds himself on the way back into the ring, but his biggest foe is actually his family.
I’ve been lucky enough to preview the first two episodes, and there is something very special here. It’s a unique story told from a compelling point of view. If boxing isn’t your thing, don’t let it stop you from tuning in. This series is more of a character study, and a hilarious albeit deep dive into a family constantly competing with its members for their moment to shine.
I sat down with Hynes along with showrunner/director Sherry White and executive producer Amy Cameron to chat about Little Dog, Hynes’ unique voice and ability to tell a story, and why there had to be a woman in the director’s chair.
Amy, what was it about Little Dog that caught your attention, and the attention of your production company?
Amy: It’s been a crazy whirlwind year for Cameron Pictures, but we are having a lot of fun. We’re working with people that we adore. With this show, we’ve been in development for the past year, and it was a no brainer. [Producer] Perry [Zimel] called me just over a year ago and said, “I have something for you to read,” and we haven’t looked back since. It’s just been such a wonderful thing because Joel’s voice is so strong. And it’s excellent with Sherry being attached as showrunner and director of the pilot.
Joel, I’ve grown accustomed to seeing you come in and cause a ruckus as a guest on a show, and then leave with a bang. I’m excited to see you in the lead role for a change.
Joel: It comes from a very personal place. For the past number of years I’ve been trying to find my show, pitching shows, lots of different ideas, playing the game. And it doesn’t seem to come from the heart, or come from me. Boxing is essentially an art form and it satisfies my artistic desires as well. It’s a very personal thing. I come from a very violent background and grew up fighting. It all clicked and fell into place one day after I sustained an injury from a controlled fight I was involved in. I had a broken a chest plate and broken ribs, and then I was no longer able to do that. I was so upset that I wrote an outline for a TV show.
My family is from a small town in Newfoundland where your eccentricities can bubble and fester for generations, so I’ve got lots of stuff to mine. And then Sherry, as a creative partner, she has a very keen eye. I might approach a relationship in my life from almost an angry viewpoint at times. Sherry’s always had the ability to see it from a much more beautiful or compassionate perspective. We’ve been able to combine our perspectives on family [on Little Dog]. Boxing is a great choice for an actor. I’ve always wanted to play a boxer. It’s an ideal metaphor for life, and it’s working for us right now.
I love that there’s a woman in the director’s seat for the pilot. Why was it important to this project to have a female director?
Sherry: We always wanted a female director. Because this is a show about a boxer and a male protagonist, but in this day and age, we didn’t want to be making a show that was incredibly male. This show, if you read the scripts, if you know Joel and his perspective, it’s much more complicated than this macho world. We really wanted a female point of view to come in to look at it. As Joel says, it’s more than angry and aggressive. It’s what’s beneath all that. Joel really trusts me and that is important for a director.
Amy: We wanted someone who feels as passionately about the material as Sherry did, and we wanted someone who was ideally from Newfoundland. The place is specific to the family although it’s not important to the comedy of the show. We wanted someone who understood that landscape and that world, and could bring out the pieces that these guys have written so beautifully into the scripts. Every time, the answer just seemed to be Sherry. There’s nothing we don’t think she can do. She can do anything that she puts her mind to.
Joel: It just seemed like hiring a director would have been creating a middleman that was unnecessary.
What can you share about the show and the characters that we’ll be meeting.
Joel: It’s a raunchy family comedy about a washed-up boxer who has an opportunity to make a very unlikely to return to the ring.
Sherry: The family has hitched their wagon to his star, and lived in the humiliation of his humiliation.
Joel: He walked out of the ring mid-fight in a major fight that would’ve been a huge step for him professionally. He was fighting for an open belt and he walked out of the fight in disgrace, and has had to live with that ever since. He basically dumped his boxing career down the drain. We’re picking up five years later and it all comes back. He gets into a bar fight that somebody records, it goes viral, and he ends up back in the news. His old rival makes a challenge and he ends up on the road to a rematch with this guy.
Sherry: But Donny’s mother Sylvia is really his biggest opponent. She’s the true nemesis. She’s somebody who thought that she was supposed to be something great, but everybody else is to blame for why she never went for it and why it never happened. And there’s an unspoken belief in the family that there’s only one spot in the spotlight, and whoever’s in it is stealing it from someone else.
Amy: Donny is one of three kids, so he’s got a brother and a sister as well. We see his father and his grandfather. It’s a complicated, messy family.
Joel: It’s a boxing family. Dad’s a failed boxer. Grandfather is supposedly a former bare-knuckle boxing champ.
Would you say that boxing is more of the backdrop than the driving force in the series?
Amy: The fighting, in some ways, happens more in the family home than it does in the ring. What Donny faces in the ring is not even comparable to what he faces at home and the challenges he faces within his own family. There is love there, but there’s frustration and anger and resentment and history.
Sherry: You see these grown people whose little primal issues are getting triggered, so they behave in ridiculous ways. But the emotion of it is real and relatable.
Amy: As much as Little Dog is about a boxer, it’s touches on [universal themes like] emotion and family, and understanding that dynamic. When [my sister] Tassie and I started Cameron Pictures, we really wanted to focus on strong creative voices, and not build a company that tries to serve a time slot or fill a void. We wanted to find those great voices and support them and offer them whatever knowledge we might have of the industry to help them move forward. Joel’s voice is just so wonderful and it’s so funny. Tassie and I are drawn to funny people and funny situations, and we find funny moments in tragedy.
Photo Courtesy of CBC