As the television industry works to become more and more diverse, both on and off screen, CBC’s Coroner proved once again how important diversity and representation is to the stories it’s telling. In this week’s episode, “Crispr Sistr,” the writer, Nathalie Younglai, and director, Winnifred Jong, are both Asian, as well as the two lead guest stars, Eileen Li and Alex Mallari Jr. Younglai, who spoke to The TV Junkies as part of our weekly Coroner postmortems, shared that the power of this moment did not go unrecognized by her, Jong, and others.
Younglai, who is also founder of BIPOC TV & Film (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour in Canada’s TV and film industry), also shared some insights on writing this week’s episode, which saw Jenny (Serinda Swan) and Donovan (Roger Cross) investigating the death of a lab assistant that hit very close to home for Jenny and her father, Gordon (Nicholas Campbell).
The TV Junkies: You were a part of the show last year and co-wrote the Season 1 finale. What was it like to come back to this room for Season 2 and then be given an episode on your own?
Nathalie Younglai: It was very exciting to be back in the room with Morwyn and the other writers. Morwyn has such an interesting mind in how she sees things and we just follow her lead. Our conversations go into great depths and that gets translated on screen. When we came together to talk about the big picture Season 2 stuff, Morwyn already had some clear ideas on direction and where to go.
It was scary to write an episode on my own. Scary and exciting! At the same time though, it’s cool because you have the room as your safety blanket. We shape and break the story together, as well as talk about the characters. Everyone has a part of that, so it’s not like you’re thrown to the wolves. In the writing process there’s so much support, feedback, and help if you’re stuck. It’s really nice.
TTVJ: You and the other Coroner writers recently participated in a panel for BIPOC TV & Film, an organization you founded, to discuss diversity in the writers’ room. We discussed that quite a bit in Season 1 with Morwyn and Adrienne, and its importance to the series. How does that diversity in the room really come into play in Season 2?
NY: Without spoilers, I think that we had some guest characters that we fell in love with, and they were born out of us being such a diverse room. We pulled from our very different experiences and the characters and stories we could explore feel very rich. That’s on a guest appearance level and on the larger scale as well.
TTVJ: I was excited to see Winnie Jong was back again this year to direct. What was it like working with her to bring this episode to life?
NY: It was so great and really funny because we’re both Asian and would say ‘Asian power!’ [laughs] One day we were both wearing the same sweatshirt saying “Babes supporting Babes,” that we hadn’t coordinated, and we’d say ‘Twin power!’ Which of course also had to do with the episode.
It was such a special experience because we both recognized how rare it is in Canadian TV to have an Asian director, writer, and guest. Eileen Li is an incredible actor and she put a huge amount of work into this. It was really emotional in some ways to be taking a step back and realizing all of this.
Our key hair stylist, Renne Chan, is also Asian and this episode really highlights her talent and work. Eileen Li plays both people and Renee found a way to transform her really fast just with the hairstyles. We also had Mal as the guest who was Asian, our 3rd AD was Asian, and it was just a really cool thing to see on set. It was not planned that way, but it was just nice.
TTVJ: Do I have to yell at you or Winnie though for that stabbing of the eye shot?
NY: That might be me! [laughs]
TTVJ: I don’t know, Winnie had that gross shot of the snake last season…
NY: Oh right! At the beginning of the season we all thought ‘What did we love from Season 1? What sparked joy?’ We all agreed we needed some really cool and gross body thing. For my episode it was the eye.
TTVJ: It was terrible! I couldn’t look away though no matter how much I told myself.
NY: A real eye was not used. [laughs]
TTVJ: We see the case of the week become very personal for Jenny, as it touches on a new treatment for dementia. Meanwhile, Gordon seems to keep getting worse and worse. Is it safe to assume we will see some of his problems coming to a head soon?
NY: I think what’s exciting is that Jenny’s dad has an incredible storyline this season. Nick is an amazing actor and we get to see him in full force. Even in the Season 2 premiere, when he punched that guy, that’s what we have in store. We get a chance to go deeper into Jenny’s relationship with him and how things are passed on between generations. We see how two people have experience from something and how differently they deal with it.
TTVJ: It’s very relatable in that Jenny clearly knows there’s something going on with her father, and he’s getting worse, but she’s got so much else she’s dealing with in her life that she’s brushing him off a bit.
NY: It’s so heartbreaking too because a lot of us have parents who are aging and it’s a hard thing to deal with. I thought of my own dad a lot while writing this and that part of their relationship feels very relatable.
TTVJ: This is a major episode for Liam. He’s already been dealing with some issues of his own, and now his friend Mal attempted suicide. What does this do to him and how does he try and deal with it going forward?
NY: We do spend time with Liam’s emotions and everything with Mal wasn’t just a plot device. It’s really important to see the after effects of being so close to someone who has attempted suicide. You see the range of emotions that people go through.
When we see Mal, previously, he’s so full of life and joy. People have this impression that if you’re depressed or struggling that you show it all the time. That’s not true. You’re not moping all the time, and you can never tell what’s going on deep inside of people. It was really important for us to have space for that in the series. That also kind of reflects Jenny’s emotional journey as well.
TTVJ: We see that Mac has planted a secret phone so he can keep in contact with Noor. What’s behind him doing that?
NY: He’s a smart man and he’s always got something going on beneath the surface. Maybe that’s all I can say… [laughs]
TTVJ: I’m a little curious about this, so thought I’d ask, but is there a story behind Mac and the cane this season? Was that a choice by you all or did Roger like hurt himself playing basketball or something and you had to cover?
NY: No, that’s something we did. [laughs] He’s a great physical actor and we thought it’d be a great way to externally represent some of his emotional journey. It was just a fun thing to make him do.
TTVJ: In the lab we see River joined by Casey Winter, the new pathologist who is replacing Dr. Allen. Can we expect him to stick around a bit, and what was it like developing that character?
NY: We had a lot of discussion in the writing room about who this pathologist should be, and Morwyn came in with this really strong vision that he would be the kind of person who’d wear a cape. It just went and grew from there. That became a touchstone for casting and the type of person he is. We also wanted to distinguish him from Dwayne because he was such a spiritual person and really deep.
TTVJ: What can you preview about next week’s episode?
NY: It’s a really emotional episode and there were some scenes that were shot where I was almost in tears in rehearsal. It all just gets a lot deeper for Jenny and Donovan, in different ways though, and the case triggers something in both of their lives.
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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.