[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
CBC drops an original summer treat this Sunday with the premiere of new drama series SkyMed. Set among the pilots and medical staff who perform emergency medical interventions in Northern Manitoba and evacuate patients to Winnipeg, the one-hour drama from Killjoys alumni Julie Puckrin is loosely based on the real-life experiences of her sister and brother-in-law who met flying air ambulances in Northern Canada.
One part medical show, two parts character drama, it features an ensemble Canadian cast that includes Natasha Calis (Nurses), Morgan Holmstrom (Siberia), Ace (Aason) Nadjiwon (Batwoman), Praneet Akilla (Nancy Drew), Mercedes Morris (Between), Thomas Elms (The Order), Kheon Clarke (Riverdale), Rebecca Kwan (Taken), and Killjoys’ own Aaron Ashmore.
Last month, I spoke with Puckrin about the series, which marks her first foray into showrunning. While there’s no dearth of medical dramas on television these days, Puckrin is aiming to deliver something different with SkyMed. “It is a medical show. It is an airplane show, but for me, first and foremost, it’s a character show,” she explains.
“And whenever I binge anything online, even if it is a procedural. When I was binging Bones on Netflix, the thing that made me click the next episode was always wanting to see what happened next in the character relationships and the character stories. The big push at the end of every episode is, ‘Where are we leaving our characters that people have to come back and see what happens for them next?’”
“There was a lot of discussion because while it is a medical show, it’s really a first responder show, more than it is like a typical hospital show. We’re not able to follow the patients to completion the way that they can on something like Nurses or Transplant.”
“It’s a little bit more like 9-1-1, where we meet our patients in crisis, we’re with them for a brief, intense period of time. And then we transport them and leave them.”
“And because of that, a show like that necessarily has to be more about the first responders themselves, the pilots, and the nurses than it can be about the patient. And so there’s this tricky thing where I absolutely want audiences to care about the patients and connect with them. And I want to choose to tell patient stories that matter for a reason.”
“The way that I came at everything in the show, whether it was what the medical crisis was or what kind of accident the person had, or what sort of aviation complication there was going to be, it always had to come from character. I always was asking myself, ‘What is the patient that would be either the best or worst thing for [a character] to interact with right now and what could happen on a call that would be the best or worst thing to happen right now in [this character’s] journey?'”
“It was always about picking what character, what patient is going to help me progress where I want to go with one of our main characters.”
“And then on top of that, it was [asking]. ‘What’s going to be cool and fun, and what’s going to be something that is specific to the North and specific to Canada and a unique and exciting patient to see. I’ve often described this show as all of the whipped cream and none of the pie crust.”
“It’s all of the fun of the excitement and the medical emergency and the gory prosthetic stuff and all that fun. But we managed to cut out a lot of the shoe leather that you get in a lot of other hospital shows. What’s giving the whipped cream substance is the character stories that we’re telling for our pilots and nurses.”
“I’ve always described it as a kissing show with airplanes and medical emergencies.”
Puckrin is also thrilled that US audiences will be able to stream the whole season on Paramount+ this Sunday (Canadian audiences will get the episodes one at a time), and says that the streaming nature of the co-production deal between CBC Studios/Paramount Plus and CBC informed how the creative team planned their arcs.
“You’re thinking about that in terms of the flow. What would it be like to watch this without commercials? We certainly were thinking at the end of every episode, you need to push to the next episode,” she shares.
“I think one of the strengths of the show is its sensibility. Amongst ourselves, we knew that we were making a show that was like potato chips – light and fun, but you can’t really just see one. So I’m hoping that the fact that it’s something that people can watch multiple episodes of in a sitting will be good. We have to leave you with some question or something that you’re excited to see happen next that takes you to the next episode.”
SkyMed premieres July 10th at 9 pm on CBC TV and CBC Gem, with the full season available for CBC Gem Premium subscribers. All of Season 1 will be available the same day in the US on Paramount+. Here’s a sneak peek. And check back later this week for more of my conversation with Julie Puckrin!