September 25, 2013

City sitcom ‘Package Deal’ puts U.S. spin on Canuck laughs with live audience

Cassandra Szklarski / The Canadian Press

TORONTO – Sometimes it’s all about the packaging.

City’s new comedy “Package Deal” presents its Canuck laughs in a decidedly U.S. style — by taping the Vancouver series in front of a live studio audience in the vein of “The Big Bang Theory” and “I Love Lucy.”

It’s a marked departure from the norm in Canadian TV, where comedies are generally single-camera operations shot on a closed set.

“The show is done kind of following the American blueprint and it’s long overdue in my opinion,” says co-star Harland Williams, who injects his trademark lunacy into a role as a demented meat salesman.

“I’m glad we finally got here. And I hope Canadians dig on it and support it because I think Canadians — actors, writers, producers — can offer just as amazing a product as what the Americans offer. … It could really, if it works, open up opportunities for many more of these shows.”

“Package Deal” follows the lives of three overly close brothers, and the disruption caused when one of them gets a serious girlfriend.

Randal Edwards stars as youngest brother Danny, a charming and successful lawyer who seems to be the whole package to his girlfriend Kim — until she meets his overbearing siblings.

Williams plays the abrasive eldest brother, Sheldon, while standup comic Jay Malone is the neurotic middle child, Ryan.

Their parents died when they were young, leaving Danny to essentially be raised by his two misfit brothers, explains Edwards.

“They are, for better or worse, kind of (Danny’s) parental figures,” says Edwards, who was seated alongside Williams, Malone and co-star Julia Voth for a round of interviews last June.

“They somewhat treat me as not only a little brother but sometimes kind of as their pride and joy. And so when the lovely Kim here threatens to take that away from them they get pretty defensive.”

And while Danny grew up to be relatively even-tempered, the same could not be said for Sheldon and Ryan, notes Williams. Ryan is extremely insecure while Sheldon is “a shady kind of weaselly guy.”

“And so you’ve got these two book-ending nut jobs kind of squeezing in on his very kind of traditional and normal and grounded life.”

Malone said show creator Andrew Orenstein — a Canadian expat whose writing credits include “Malcolm in the Middle” and “3rd Rock from the Sun” — welcomed his actors into the creative process.

“One thing that he said from Day 1 is: ‘In my house, funny rules. So if you have something funnier, I want to hear it. My words aren’t precious. Let’s put out the best, the funniest product that we possibly can,'” says Malone.
“And it made for the most unbelievable working environment I’ve ever been a part of.”

Voth says that meant she got to help shape her character Kim, the woman who shifts the bro dynamic.

“I sat him down many times — I was like, ‘I have questions, I wanted to go this direction, I like this, I didn’t like this,'” says Voth, who modelled for years before scoring the sitcom role.

“It was great. I feel very proud of Kim because there’s so much of me in there too.”

The multi-camera series makes ample use of its two standup comic stars, Williams and Malone, by allowing for plenty of improv.

Williams says each taping generally features two or three straight run-throughs of the script, followed by some footloose free-styling.

“The hardest part about the job for me was literally trying not to laugh at Harland,” says Malone.

“He’ll drop bombs that the audience cannot tell were written in his mind in that moment. It’s impossible. And they’re not just punchlines — they are pages and pages of the most hilarious dialogue you’ve ever heard in your life.”

“He wrote a haiku once, off the top of his head,” adds Voth incredulously.

Shooting in Vancouver was a treat for the Vancouver-bred Edwards.

“My family was able to come out and watch almost every show,” he says. “I had like 30 people a show — my dad had his own seat. It was awesome.”

And shooting in front of a live audience actually makes the show funnier, Voth suspects.

“There’s a whole different pace and timing to a multi-cam sitcom than to, say, a single camera,” she says.

“It moves fast and when we’re shooting it it changes all the time. They write jokes on the spot and they come to us: ‘You’re saying this, you’re saying this, you say this, now go.’ And you have to make it work. So I think that just heightens the energy — everyone’s on their game and I think personally it just makes it funnier.”

“Package Deal” debuts Monday on City.