Great news for Canadian TV! Coroner came out of the gate strong with its premiere on CBC last Monday night. The freshman series continues this week with a strong follow-up episode that finds Jenny and Mac investigating a murder in a high-rise while Jenny’s attempt to simplify her personal life isn’t quite so easy.
The episode also marks the formal introduction of Jenny’s Dad, Gordon, played by Da Vinci’s Inquest’s Nicholas Campbell, and features a fun guest appearance from Sean Baek of Killjoys.
I spoke with series creators and executive producers Adrienne Mitchell and Morwyn Brebner Friday about Coroner. In the first part of our chat, we talk about adapting M. R. Hall‘s books for television.
“We [at Back Alley Films] were looking for a cool female character who was authentic, quirky and unpredictable to speak to us, [a story] that had some sort of investigational mystery and a lot of personal elements,” explains Mitchell. “That’s hard to find. We found M.R. Hall’s Jenny Cooper series and were immediately struck with the lead character.”
“Jenny was really intelligent, full of fierceness, and also boundary-pushing in a way that consequences would befall her and she would always get up fighting. She was dealing with anxiety and all sorts of personal issues; she was also aware of her pitfalls and had a humorous take on herself. We loved her.”
“We thought, ‘Who in this country could write this and serve this?’ Working with Morwyn on Bellevue and seeing her brilliance and her incredible voice, and delving into her work as a playwright, I thought she had a voice for this and I prayed she would like the novel.”
Brebner was thrilled to be asked. “I loved working with Back Alley and Adrienne and admired her work as a director and producer. I wasn’t looking for anything to do and then I read the books and I connected with [Jenny’s] vulnerability and bravery and intelligence and her suddenness,” she says.
“She was always moving forward, even if nobody was happy about it. Her willingness to put herself on the line and not care about the consequences was really inspiring. I really loved the character. We started the process of adapting the books, [which are] very English.”
“The task was both to move from the medium of the novel to TV and contextually from the UK to Canada. In the books, she works in a small, dusty office and in Ontario, in Toronto, we have the most advanced coroner’s facilities in the world.”
“We also really wanted to set the show in Toronto for Toronto, which was really exciting to see and Adrienne is representing it beautifully so visually and in such a special way. MR was very generous about the changes. We wanted to set it here and have Jenny as a character from here and keep the spirit of that character and allow her to be surrounded by people who feel unique and specific.”
“Alison, played by the amazing Tamara Podemski, who we love so much … in the books, she has an unusual charisma and she’s different but [we] really retain that. We had a hard time adapting that character and then we saw Tamara and she was the only woman in the world who can play that. She’s so surprising and wonderful.”
“Mac is a lawyer in one of the books and he appears once and doesn’t come back. There was something about the sense of that character that we thought we could use for a hybrid character. We really wanted to have a young pathologist. That [reflected that Jenny] was bringing her own new curious, dogged energy. That’s where Dwayne came from.”
“In the book, the husband is still alive. Him dying gave us a jumping off point for the show and allowed us to specifically start her emotional journey and explore her grief and also get into other things that come up because of it.”
Mitchell, who directs the first four episodes this season, loved tapping into Toronto’s look and feel and its culture. “The books have a more English village vibe to them [that] feels villagey,” she points out.
“We’re set in Toronto so we have to experience the city though [Jenny’s] eyes. That gave it a whole different scenery. The diversity in our city is huge and we’re working with that. It gives it a really rich landscape.”
Coroner airs Monday night at 9 pm ET/9:30 NT on CBC and streams online on CBC Gem. [Updated 8/4/20: Beginning 8/5/20, Coroner will air Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on The CW in the U.S.] Here’s a sneak peek of “Bunny.”