Wednesday, January 01, 2014

The Best Laid Plans


CBC -- Series premiere Jan. 5;
Mondays beginning Jan. 6

Party Animals

Ottawa's Backroom Shenanigans Get 
A Playful Political Jab In "The Best Laid Plans"

By Eric Kohanik

Jonas Chernick admits he hasn't really paid much attention to the scandals, backroom dealings and other political-party shenanigans that take place on Parliament Hill.

“I can honestly say that, while I knew that went on, it wasn't something that I've ever had an interest in personally,” the 40-year-old Winnipeg-born actor confesses. “I'm not the most political person. I keep myself aware of what's going on. And, of course, I vote. But I'm not a political junkie.”

Nevertheless, when the chance came along to play the political junkie at the core of The Best Laid Plans, Chernick didn't waste any time. He began his campaign to land the role with full force.

“I kind of lobbied for it at first when I heard that the show was going into production,” explains Chernick, who is perhaps best known for doing triple duty as writer, producer and star of a 2012 Canadian movie called My Awkward Sexual Adventure.

“I said, 'I know the story. I know the character and I think I'm right for this.' It was kind of a match made in heaven right away. I really feel like this is one of the best projects I've ever been involved in.”

The Best Laid Plans is a six-episode series that premieres Jan. 5 on CBC, with the remaining instalments airing on Mondays, beginning Jan. 6. Based on the novel of the same name by Terry Fallis, the series takes a lighthearted look at the behind-the-scenes lunacy that often infiltrates the political arena in Ottawa.

The production casts Chernick as Daniel Addison, a down-to-earth guy with a Ph.D. in English who has a passion for teaching but has been working as a speechwriter for George Quimby (Mark McKinney), the Leader of the Opposition.

An ethical guy at heart, Daniel gets overwhelmed by the backroom hijinks of the Hill, not to mention certain backroom "manoeuvring" involving his girlfriend, Rachel (Sarah Allen). And so, he decides to head back into the academic world, where he would be safe from the backstabbing he has endured. Or, at least, so he thinks.

Blackmailed into completing one final assignment by his boss – Quimby's chief of staff, Bradley Stanton (Raoul Bhaneja) – Daniel agrees to recruit and work for a candidate who will challenge the stronghold of a longtime political incumbent (Peter Keleghan). He soon discovers that finding a suitable candidate – or even a less-than-suitable one – isn't so easy.

Many current comedy series rely on documentary-style formats that have characters being “interviewed” to offer comments on their storylines. The Best Laid Plans takes a slightly different approach, using a more traditional theatrical device of breaking down the “fourth wall” by having Daniel (who also narrates the story) turn directly to the camera in various scenes.

“That was really fun and unusual,” Chernick recalls. “I had never done that before. I'm a real fan of that style. One of my favourite movies ever was Ferris Bueller's Day Off. That was the first time I became aware of that storytelling strategy. I spent a lot of time in my prep thinking about and exploring my character's relationship with the audience. That was a unique and exciting discovery for me – and really fun to play.”

The Best Laid Plans is brimming with familiar faces. Among them: Eric Peterson (Corner Gas), Jodi Balfour (Bomb Girls), Leah Pinsent (Made in Canada), Sonja Smits (Traders) and, of particular note, screen veteran Kenneth Welsh – who, without giving too much away, puts in a show-stealing performance as Daniel's gruff and grizzled landlord, Angus McLintock.

Chernick is effusive in his praise for Welsh. “Ken is literally a living legend,” he says. “He is one of the greats in the industry. Acting with him, across from him, is like a master class in film acting because he is truly a natural. When the cameras are rolling on him, anything can happen.

“It's just miraculous to be there with him when that magic is happening.”

The Best Laid Plans – CBC – Series premiere Jan. 5; 
Mondays beginning Jan. 6 

(First published in Channel Guide Magazine - January 2014.)