Leaving home is never easy, but one Canadian series is showing that the journey into adulthood can be just as fun and messy as it is stressful and overwhelming.
Second Jen is the story of Mo (Amanda Joy) and Jen (Samantha Wan, Private Eyes), two second generation women from Chinese and Filipino families who decide to leave home and try to make it on their own in a bid for more independence. Created by Joy and Wan, the series, which airs its second season on OMNI Television starting August 4, shows the unique challenges second generation Canadians deal with, as well as the universally understood struggles of transitioning from adolescence to adulthood. Episodes in the show’s first season revolved around the initial struggles of living on your own: affording rent, learning to not depend on so much on your parents, and constantly comparing yourself to your much more successful friends.
Now that Jen and Mo have officially moved from home and settled into their new, more independent lives, Season 2 will delve more into what comes next. “The big thing in Season 2 is now that they’re more separated from their families,” Wan tells The TV Junkies. “It’s that issue of being an adult and what that means for our generation right now, especially because it’s not the same as their parents where you get one job and you have that job and benefits and then you decide to have a family. It’s trying to navigate the new economy in the world.”
Part of that equation is the complications of modern dating. Second Jen‘s Season 2 welcomes two new cast members, Lovell Adams-Gray (Slasher) and Oscar Moreno (Shadowlands), as Marcus and Diego, who are described as potential love interests for Jen and Mo. “We have a bunch of amazing comedians who were part of Second City family, and the sketch comedy family,” says Wan of the number of guest appearances in Season 2, including Jim Annan (The Beaverton), and Sunnyside‘s Pat Thornton and Patrice Goodman. “There are some amazing performances we’re really excited about this season.”
Bringing the series to television was a four year process for Joy and Wan, who say they felt the shows on television weren’t representing life for second generation women. “The show was inspired by our experiences in our everyday lives,” says Joy. “We wanted to tell stories that were true to us.”
Wan and Joy created the spec pilot, which they self-funded and produced, and brought it to the Banff World Media Festival. It was there that production company Don Ferguson came on board with the project, helping Wan and Joy create the series bible while pitching to broadcasters.
They continued to submit the spec pilot to different film festivals, which led them to ReelWorld Film Festival in 2014. While networking with industry influencers, Wan and Joy met with Rogers, who said they were very interested in the series. After forwarding the series materials, Wan and Joy largely forgot about the conversation, since rejection in the industry is so common. “We didn’t stop working on the project and we were still writing very furiously and pitching,” says Joy. “Then a few months later we got an email from Rogers asking us to come in for a meeting and from there it just took off.”
Second Jen went into development for a year after that, which is when writer and Season 2 showrunner Carly Heffernan came on board. After what Joy describes as a “whirlwind” production, the series’ first season premiered on City on October 27, 2016 with a six-episode run.
OMNI Television is home to the series’ second season. Second Jen made the switch from City to OMNI when it was renewed in 2017. “OMNI gave us a great opportunity because they’re looking to produce and to broadcast more original content and our show felt like a perfect fit,” says Joy. “It gave us the freedom to be a little bit edgier and to take a few more chances because OMNI itself hasn’t established its original narrative content as a specific brand yet.”
That freedom has translated not only to the writing of the season, but its format as well, incorporating more handheld shots, which Wan says captures more of the “chaos happening in their life.”
“Everything is a little grittier, a little more real while still having that sense of fun and friendship that the girls share,” says Joy. “One thing we feel is, you know, guys come and go and jobs come and go and anything could happen, but your friend will always be there. That’s the through line that we carry into the second season.”
Landing a second season has also allowed Joy and Wan to increase their involvement behind the scenes. Joy wrote three of Season 2’s six episodes, and Wan had the opportunity to co-direct this season’s third episode, “Like a Girl.” It’s a monumental task to co-write, co-direct and star in your own series, which comes with its own set of challenges. “When you wear so many hats in production it can be hard to take certain ones off at certain times, like when you’re just supposed to be acting,” says Wan. “You have to focus on one thing when you’re doing that one job.”
Of course, being the face of your own series isn’t always easy either. “I think there’s more weight to what we show on screen of ourselves in the idea that this is our truth,” says Wan. “So you have to really make sure that, yeah, I want to do this because it’s different than just being an actor on another show.”
Part of representing their truth is bringing much-needed Asian representation to Canadian television. Bringing Asian stories to the forefront is a long overdue conversation, but it’s one that has gained steamed in mainstream media recently because of American films and television series such as Crazy, Rich Asians and ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat. In Canada, CBC’s Kim’s Convenience has received rave reviews for bringing a fresh perspective on immigrant families to Canada’s comedy scene. Second Jen is doing much the same, while telling a very different story about modern-day young adulthood.
When it comes to keeping up the conversation and increasing Asian representation in the media, Wan and Joy say a key aspect is bringing in diverse voices at all levels of the industry. “Our broadcaster is married to someone who’s Filipino, so when we were talking about our experiences she really related to it,” says Wan. “It really makes a big difference in our industry if we have people of color in all aspects.”
Second Jen walks the walk when it comes to representation on-camera and behind-the-scenes. Not only does it star a diverse cast, the series’ director, Romeo Candido, is the first Filipino television director in Canada. “It definitely helps to have more than one person of color and more than a couple of people of color because, oftentimes, we call it the cycle of the person of color in the workplace,” says Joy. “You’re hired on as this token hire, you’re supposed to make things more diverse, but if you say anything that people feel is outside of the status quo or what they’re used to, then you become the villain.
“When you have other people of color and we can say ‘no, that’s a valid point,’ it helps. We show that somebody is not a lone person who’s noticing something and who’s ‘easily offended.’ It’s actually something that people, in a larger sense, would take issue with.”
So, what advice does Wan and Joy give for adding more diversity to the industry? While there are no easy solutions, the best thing is to make your voice heard on every level. “Every single aspect, from the broadcaster down to the viewer, can contribute in some way,” says Wan. “I think it’s obvious how broadcasters, directors, and creators can contribute to diversity: You just have to speak up for it. But even going further down from casting directors and agents bringing it up or trying to find more diversity, and then down to actors to be as goddamn good as you can so that when I fight for you they can’t deny that you’re amazing. Then it’s down to the viewer who is what changes a broadcaster’s mind. You need to vote with your dollar.”
What are your thoughts on Second Jen? Sound off in the comments below.
Second Jen Season 2 premieres Saturday, August 4 at 8:30 p.m. ET on OMNI Television.
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.