CBC is bringing a new female role model to the forefront with Frankie Drake Mysteries. The series, which premieres Monday, November 6, stars Lauren Lee Smith (This Life) as title character Frankie Drake and TV newcomer Chantel Riley as her crime-solving partner Trudy, two private detectives living in Toronto in the 1920s. It follows their adventures, tackling the cases that the local police won’t take.
“It has elements of everything,” Smith told The TV Junkies during a visit to the set. “The period aspect, the action-adventure aspect, the drama aspect, and the somewhat procedural aspect in that every episode the audience will know that there’s some conflict that needs to be resolved. It melds the best of all of these little worlds.”
We could tell you all the reasons why we’re excited about the series, but instead we thought we’d let stars Smith and Riley explain why Frankie Drake Mysteries is a show you won’t want to miss.
The all-female lead cast
The series may be called Frankie Drake Mysteries, but it’s full to the brim with strong and smart women able to take on dangerous cases. “There’s four female leads in this show, which is pretty unusual,” says Smith, whose character is joined by her partner Trudy, Morality Officer Mary Shaw (Rebecca Liddiard), and Morgue Attendant Flo (Sharron Matthews). “The four main characters are these vastly different women but all equally kick ass, equally ahead of their time, and doing things that are a little bit unconventional for the time. It’s great to see these gals all in their get-ups, throwing punches and kicking butt.”
While Smith admits that having four female leads is unusual for a series, she notes that we’re at a point in time where it really shouldn’t be. “I’m glad we’re seeing it more and more, because this is the way it should be,” says Smith.
“It’s about time, right? Not even just in TV, but in films people are stepping up to tell stories from the female point of view,” says Riley. “There’s a change happening, but it takes time, and I’m grateful for this moment.”
An epic partnership
From the start, the series depicts a solid friendship and partnership between Frankie and Trudy, who both bring their strength and intelligence to the forefront. “It’s a sisterhood. There’s a special bond and a kinship between them,” says Smith. “They see something in each other that sparks something. They trust each other, they are the best of friends, and the best of co-workers.”
“She can definitely hold her own, and she’s very strong,” says Riley about Trudy’s side of the partnership. “It’s two brave, strong, powerful women ready to kick ass, and not be afraid of who they are. I love that about them.”
Trudy is far from a clichéd sidekick, and she comes with her own past, which only aids in establishing her as an asset to the team. “She comes from a big family, a Caribbean family, which is what I am in real life,” says Riley, explaining how Trudy grew up working with her mother, before ultimately deciding that domestic work wasn’t what she wanted to do. “You get to see an artistic side to her. She has such great love and loyalty for Frankie, she’s always fighting for her and wanting to protect her.”
Commitment to diversity
As great as Canadian TV has been in the last decade, it still suffers from a sore lack of diversity. Frankie Drake Mysteries is about to challenge that with a number of roles for persons of color, including Trudy and Grace Lynn Kung’s Whiskey Wendy. “Shout out to CBC for taking that huge step in TV and making that possible for us,” says Riley. “With this show, having a black female lead, you don’t really see that much on television here at home. It’s great that we’re taking that step forward, and it’s great to be making that step with them.”
Riley, who started her career as a theatre actress on Broadway, before moving on to film, and television, remarks on the importance of seeing actors and actresses who looked like her on screen growing up. “I’ve always wanted to be a part of that. Now this opportunity came up, and I get to be part of the conversation and have a seat at the table.”
Its sense of style
When it comes to period shows, you can’t go without mentioning the beautiful costumes each character gets to wear. “It’s so lovely getting to work with these costumes because it does half of the work for us,” says Smith. “You instantly get transformed into these characters—you walk different, you hold yourself differently. It’s really fun.”
Style is essential for Frankie, who stands out from the rest of the women in 1920s with her pants, leather jacket, and motorbike in tow. “Her appeal is that she doesn’t conform to what everyone should be at the time,” says Smith. “She makes her own rules, dresses in her own way. She’s been a world traveller and has picked up these pieces from her travels, and that influences the way she dresses.”
An exciting lineup of guest stars
Like any procedural show, the season is full of stellar guest stars, starting with Saving Hope‘s Wendy Crewson, who is a victim of a crime that is quickly discovered to have a surprising connection to Frankie. Other top notch Canadian guest stars include Charlotte Sullivan (Rookie Blue), Laura Vandervoort (Bitten), Lucas Bryant (Haven), and Steve Lund (Reign, Bitten)–and, while Smith couldn’t confirm any names, she did hint that there are some fun guest stars that we haven’t heard about just yet.
Frankie can handle herself
As a private detective, Frankie is no stranger to a little bit of danger, so it’s no surprise that the character is just as tough physically as she is mentally. Smith put a lot of work into preparing for the role of Frankie Drake, which included six weeks of boxing training. “They wanted me to throw a punch and look like I know what I’m doing, but also the physicality of someone who boxes,” explains Smith.
Of course, not only does Frankie get into a few fights along the way, she also rides in style with her iconic motorbike–which Smith had to learn to ride before shooting, and get a license for. “I had literally never been on a motorbike in my entire life,” says Smith. “I was scared, I’m not gonna lie! First day I was almost in tears, but on the second day I found my groove.”
It shows a different side of Toronto
Audiences who live or grew up in or around the Toronto area will instantly recognize the streets and locations mentioned in the series, including Yonge Street and the Hudson’s Bay Company. However, what they may not quite recognize is the seedy underbelly that came with living in a city in the 1920s. “You see a darker side of what it was like to be in Toronto in that time,” explains Riley, who says she learned a lot of new things about Toronto while filming. “We have this stigma in Canada that everything’s so perfect, we’re so sweet, but not really. There was drugs, booze, and all that other stuff that went down. You definitely get to see the bad side.”
What are you most looking forward to on Frankie Drake Mysteries? Sound off in the comments below.
Frankie Drake Mysteries premieres Monday, Nov. 6 at 9 p.m. ET on CBC.
Associate Editor Kelly Townsend always had strong opinions on TV growing up, so it was only natural to evolve from couch musings to online journalism. She can't ever choose a favorite series, so please don't ask. Her writing has also appeared on IndieWire and Tribute.ca. You can find her on Twitter at @kellybtownsend.