It may have been a while since we last checked in with one of our favorite television families, but thankfully the second season of CBC’s This Life wastes no time in reuniting us with the Lawsons. The Canadian drama returns to CBC on Sunday, October 2 at 9 p.m. with Natalie (Torri Higginson) facing two major fights on the horizon. After receiving what she thought was a life-threatening cancer diagnosis in Season 1, Natalie comes into Season 2 having just signed up for a clinical trial that is allowing her to have hope about her future for the first time in a long time. Elsewhere, she’s facing a custody battle over her children now that their father David (Motive’s Louis Ferreira) has returned. Her brother Matthew’s (Rick Roberts) marriage is also in trouble after sister Maggie (Lauren Lee Smith) revealed to his wife that he had a son from an affair years earlier.
In This Life’s second season premiere, “Stay Positive,” written by showrunner Joseph Kay and directed by Lyne Charlebois, Natalie struggles with the idea that she may be taking the placebo and not the trial drug she desperately needs. Her children Caleb (James Wotherspoon), Emma (Stephanie Janusauskas) and Romy (Julia Scarlett Dan) all react to their situations in different ways as she prepares for a custody fight with David. To get a closer look at what’s to come on this season of This Life, The TV Junkies spoke exclusively with showrunner Kay about Natalie’s mindset this season and what lies ahead for other members of the Lawson family.
The TV Junkies: How is Natalie dealing with the uncertainty around her clinical trial in Season 2?
Joseph Kay: She starts dealing with that uncertainty by choosing to believe that she’s getting the drug. It was really important to us that we framed the season with the idea of hope. There’s a careful balance to be had between Natalie being hopeful and Natalie living in denial, so we have a character like Romy that can point that out to her. We didn’t want it to appear like she was living in denial, but we really wanted her to be in a genuine position where she was allowed to be hopeful. So we frame the season by allowing her to hope that she’s getting the drug. We felt that starting her hopeful was a great way to gracefully and gently reset the storytelling a little bit in Season 2. In Season 1 we begin the entire season with this bleak bit of information and to be able to organically pivot away from that weakness–without ever betraying the central conceit of the show–it’s important to us and was always the plan.
TTVJ: One thing that’s kind of refreshing in Season 2 is that now all the Lawson children are fully aware of Natalie’s cancer being back. How will they deal with this knowledge in Season 2? JK: It’s sort of freeing because she doesn’t have to hide it from them and because we’ve engineered a situation where there’s a legitimate hope, they don’t have to be saddled with the truth of it all the time. Everybody is going to react to it in their own way–Romy is going to react to it differently than Emma and naturally Romy is going to think about it more than Emma would think about it. We’ve allowed for some breathing room for that kind of heaviness where they don’t have to walk around all the time thinking their mother is about to die. They are allowed to go on their own journeys that are definitely inspired by that piece of information, but that take them in much different directions.
We always thought it was entirely feasible if you look at Romy and Emma that Romy is the kid that would stay in that place, or whatever choices she is going to make about her life right now are going to relate strongly to what’s going on with her mom, whereas, Emma naturally would not. Emma would be the kind of teenager to have the information told to her and let it absorb her but then just go back to life and not let it really affect her. We just felt in terms of the kids and not having to have them deal with that heaviness we felt really freed and that there’s kind of an open road for them with the storytelling.
TTVJ: Natalie was also forced to confront the return of her children’s father David. What are his motivations for coming back and can he be trusted? JK: And that is the question! [laughs] We felt in the writers’ room that he’s a guy that contains many things. Obviously he made mistakes because he’s been absent in his children’s lives, but he also has a way of being very straightforward and present tense about what he wants that is very disarming. There are no villains on our show so he was never going to be a straightforward bad guy. It was really interesting to us to build up this man that has abandoned his family–something that is generally unforgivable–but then to build him up in that way and then try to write a character that you could like in some way or asks us to like him, the whole time not knowing if we can.
He’s never doing anything evil, but can we trust him? We really want to put the audience in Natalie’s perspective. Natalie would have a very, very, very hard time trusting him obviously, so then you get the point of view of Romy who is this super cynical teenager. If she wants to trust him, well then the audience must be pulled in that direction because who can resist a kid like Romy wanting to put her faith in somebody? We just thought it was a really interesting thing to explore and it animates both our insight into Natalie and the tension this season in a big way. We had a great ensemble off the top and Louis Ferreira is fantastic and it’s a really delicate performance that I think he pulls off beautifully.
TTVJ: So he’s going to be sticking around then throughout the season? JK: Yes. The whole story is something we invest in quite a bit.
TTVJ: Matthew’s marriage was in a pretty bad place after Maggie told Nicole (Marianne Farley) the truth about his son. Is it possible that he can still somehow salvage that relationship? JK: Like Natalie, he has hope. He manifests his hope in different ways and Matthew is a really fun character to write because he always believes he can control everything until he can’t. That came crashing down in the end of Season 1, but I don’t think it fully crashes down for him. He has hope.
It was really interesting to us when we knew what we were going to do to their marriage in the first season, that if we got a second season we would fully commit to the aftermath. It was never going to be the kind of thing where that happened and it’s over now, we wrote Nicole off the show, we never were going to do that. We also knew we can’t fix it that easily. It’s an interesting idea–a betrayal that large, but also nuanced in a way because it was from a long time ago–how can a marriage recover and if it can’t recover what is the status quo that develops? We’re just looking at the way families change, evolve and the way dynamics change and being honest and deliberate in the approach to our storytelling there.
We’re also having a lot of fun though with the characters because it’s dramatic, but also funny and the actors really bring that flavor to it. We don’t let go of that.
TTVJ: What about Matthew and Maggie’s relationship? Can it recover from her telling his secret to Nicole? JK: Yes, because again you have big fights with your sister and brother and they seem relationship ending, but then what happens? Sometimes you’re forced to be in the same place with them. We don’t ignore that that happened and we don’t race to forgiveness nor keep them apart. We force them together and try to follow the natural rhythms about how that would drive them apart permanently or try to come back from it. That rift takes most of the season to get a sense of where we’re going.
Are you excited for the return of This Life? What do you want to see happen in Season 2? Add your thoughts in the comments below! This Life airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on CBC.
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.