Don McKellar is best known as a movie director, writer and actor but says, “I’ve always found the feature film format slightly restrictive.”
The director of big screen gems like Childstar, Last Night and The Grand Seduction is behind the camera once again, this time for Michael: Every Day, a CBC television comedy debuting Sunday, Jan. 15.
“I’ve always been interested in television and whether it is attention deficit disorder or something, I’ve always liked short formats,” he says. “My first films were short and then I did 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould. I like the road movie format because it is episodic, so fracturing narratives is always something I have always been interested in.
“Television is a natural home for me. I like breaking up stories. In a way I think it throws off the viewer’s expectations. If it is done well in some ways it can have more surprises than a feature film which you know, one way or another, is going to wrap up after a couple of hours. We don’t know anymore with television how long the narrative is going to be. It could go on forever or just a few episodes.”
The new show is a revival of sorts. Michael: Every Day is the continuing story of the relationship between title character, played by Matt Watts, and his psychiatrist, played by long-time McKellar collaborator Bob Martin. In 2011 the first season, then titled Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays, was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award before being cancelled.
“I can’t pretend it was our idea [to bring the show back],” says McKellar. “There was a regime change at the CBC and as I understand it when the new people came in they said, ‘OK, let’s look and see how the CBC has been doing over the last while.’ They looked at our show and said, ‘That’s the kind of show we should be doing.’ They reordered it and we said yes. It was not our intention but it was very exciting once we had the option. The five-year gap, once we thought about it, was an interesting hook. What happened to these characters in five years?”
It’s an unusual trajectory for a show and McKellar thinks it is a brash move.
“As has been discussed widely, TV is having a moment and I think Canada is catching up,” he says. “I think there was a feeling for a long time that the American cable shows were doing something interesting and now, finally, it has tilted down to network television. In Canada the CBC has realized they have this licence to do more ambitious stuff. I give them credit for going for it. They have made some bold choices and this is one of them. I hope the audience responds because these things don’t last forever.”
The new climate in television offers more interesting shows for the viewer and, according to McKellar, a new freedom for the creative side.
“For me as a director, I think that people are just now staring to realize that directors can actually do things in television. It’s not just mechanical.
“It gives me a bit of space to get in there and try some more filmic stuff. I think that is happening in television in general.”