Get ready, TV fans, because CBC has a new series unlike any we have seen before. The astounding new Trickster premieres Wednesday, October 7 at 9 p.m. Based on Eden Robinson’s best-selling trilogy of novels, and created by Michelle Latimer and Tony Elliott, Trickster is the story of Jared (Joel Oulette), an Indigenous teen, who is struggling to keep his dysfunctional family above water. He holds down an after-school job and cooks ecstasy on the side in an attempt to support his separated parents – partying mom Maggie (Crystle Lightning), who self-medicates an undiagnosed mental illness, and unemployable dad Phil (Craig Lauzon), who has a painkiller addiction and a new girlfriend. Things start to get really interesting when Jared starts seeing strange things — talking ravens, doppelgängers, skin monsters — that start to turn his life upside down.
Trickster marks the first time that CBC has developed a TV show based on books by an Indigenous author. All six episodes are directed by Latimer, a Métis/Algonquin filmmaker based in Toronto, who recently won the People’s Choice Documentary Award and the Amplify Voices Award for best Canadian feature film at TIFF for her documentary Inconvenient Indian. There’s so many reasons why we here at The TV Junkies think Trickster is not only the must-watch series of the fall but one of the most important series to hit television. We recently had the chance to speak with Latimer, as well as stars Oulette and Lightning, and have laid out below just a few of the main reasons why viewers won’t want to miss Trickster.
It’s such an intriguing story
For those not familiar with Robinson’s best-selling books, Trickster is a unique blend of storytelling unlike much else we’ve seen on television. It’s fresh and exciting and leaves viewers never knowing what to expect next. Lightning told us that Trickster’s story was unlike anything else she’s been a part of before. “When I got the audition for Trickster I read the book. I was just blown away by all of the characters. Every single one had this multi-dimensional semblance to them and nothing was one note.”
The cast is phenomenal
When it came to casting Trickster, Latimer said that “it was so important to me with all of the young cast that they were age-specific. I didn’t want a 24-year-old actor playing 17. So we really took our time to search and try to get that right.” That extended search saw Trickster land on the relatively unknown Oulette, who hails from Medicine Hat, Alberta, and only appeared in one other professional role, the feature film adaptation of Robinson’s Monkey Beach. Latimer said she wanted “somebody that was open and had an ease in front of the camera,” and that “you have to love him the moment you meet him and want him to succeed.” After watching the first four episodes, it’s easy to agree with Latimer that “Joel elicits that when he plays Jared.” The other main Trickster role is Maggie, Jared’s mother, a woman Latimer joked “could be french kissing you in the bar, but the moment you turn your back, break a beer bottle over your head.” She added that “as soon as I saw Crystle Lightning, I knew she had to be Maggie.”
Additional Trickster cast includes Kalani Queypo (Jamestown), Anna Lambe (The Grizzlies), Joel Thomas Hynes (Little Dog), Gail Maurice (Cardinal) and Georgina Lightning (Blackstone).
The compelling central mother/son relationship
The relationship that’s at the heart of Trickster is the one between Jared and Maggie. Oulette said that as soon as he met Lightning at auditions, “it was just magic in the room.” Lightning echoed those sentiments saying that she “felt a connection with him that was very strong.” That strong connection is vital to playing the strong, but sometimes volatile, relationship between Maggie and Jared. “They have this powerful love, but powerful co-dependency, and I had never seen a relationship like that on screen,” explained Latimer.
Lighting went further to explain that, “Maggie is the result of 500 years of colonization and genocide, and she’s also the second-generation survivor of residential schools, and she’s just dealing with life the way she knows how. She loves her son, there’s no question about that, and loves him more than anything in the whole universe. She will stop at nothing to protect him.” That fire and urge to protect one another results in a compelling relationship on-screen that viewers won’t want to look away from.
The intriguing Indigenous gothic elements
Latimer describes the Trickster story as being “Indigenous Gothic”. She said that “what’s special about Trickster is that it’s rooted in real mythology. It’s not vampires and werewolves but is rooted in real, traditional mythology.” That means that Trickster is rooted in a world of spirits, ancient magic, and deadly rites of passage unlike many other worlds currently shown on TV. “There’s a folklore genre that for a very long time has misrepresented native culture. Whether it’s the stereotype of the medicine shaman or the Indian burial ground that has come to haunt the people living there, that really misrepresents an entire community and race. It’s very stereotypical, and I wanted to subvert that,” Latimer said.
However, despite all the supernatural elements of Trickster, Latimer also noted that “there’s a huge infrastructure project going on with the natural gas pipeline being built in Kitimat.” This part of the story adds another layer in that “the idea is, ‘Are we really afraid of these monsters in the story and monsters of the mythology, or should we be afraid of the monsters within ourselves? The greed and consumption we inherited as part of colonialism.”
It’s absolutely beautiful
Latimer told us that, “It was really important to be true to Eden’s community and to root it in the specificity of that community.” Because of that, Trickster spent time shooting in the communities of Kitamaat Village and Kitimat, British Columbia, a small community located about 1,400km north of Vancouver, where Robinson’s Son of a Trickster novel takes place. The stunning location allowed for a beautiful backdrop to tell Trickster’s story. It’s a beauty felt by the cast as well. “I remember walking on set, which was a forest at night, and it literally took my breath away,” said Lightning. “There were trees that were hundreds of feet high and you can’t even see the end of them. There was just a power you felt there from the land, and it’s still there, that is just untouched. That was a real experience we had there and added to the intensity of the scenes.” Following the shoot in Kitimat, the Trickster team returned to Ontario and used North Bay as the home base for the remainder of its 48-day shoot.
Strong Indigenous representation
Latimer and her team aimed to bring meaningful Indigenous leadership, participation, and mentorship both in front of and behind the camera in every aspect of production for Trickster. For Lightning, the effect was felt in many ways. “As an actor, I’ve been at this a long time, and I always get these one-dimensional characters or period pieces where you’re on the back of a horse with buckskin. So to have something with so much stuff going on was really exciting.” She also saw the behind the scenes effect of having “at least two [Indigenous] people in every single department,” as well. Lightning said she had “a sense of pride walking around on set and this unspoken support. It was so powerful.”
Latimer and Trickster also created a director mentorship program. This was a paid opportunity designed specifically to provide television experience for experienced Indigenous directors with a body of independent film and/or digital production. Three directors, Helen Haig-Brown, Asia Youngman and Madison Thomas were provided the opportunity to observe Latimer on set during pre-production and production, and make contributions to the series.
An A+ soundtrack
From the very beginning of Trickster, the music sets the tone and is another character in the show. Latimer said she wanted to use the series to help “showcase all these amazing Indigenous artists we have. We have an over-abundance of amazing artists that I thought it would be so cool.” One group heard right at the top of the pilot is the Snotty Nose Rez Kids. Latimer said, “they are from Kitamet village where the books are set so that was a no-brainer.” While Trickster plays some original music, Latimer also wanted the Indigenous groups to cover traditional rock tunes and mainstream music as well. “It allows us to hear Indigenous artists’ versions of those. Music is definitely a character in the series, but it’s also a way to celebrate the breadth of talent we have in our community.”
Trickster premieres Wednesday, October 7 at 9 p.m. (9:30 NT) on CBC and CBC Gem.
Editor in Chief Bridget Liszewski comes from a long line of TV Junkies who fostered her love of television from a very young age. She's channeled that passion into covering both US and Canadian television shows, and is thankful everyday for the invention of the DVR. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she loves college football and is a fan of sports in general. Bridget is always up for talking TV and you can follow her on twitter at @BridgetOnTV.