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June 18, 2013

Package Deal’ cast bonds over bizarre sport


Greg David / The Loop

It’s important for the cast of a new television show to bond fairly quickly. Doing so not only brings the actors together professionally, but on-screen for viewers as well. It’s particularly important for a sitcom like Package Deal, which revolves around three brothers who have their familial bond tested when a pretty girl is inserted into their midst.

The three male cast portraying those siblings — Harland Williams, Randal Edwards and Jay Malone — connected over the most unlikely of things: badminton.

“I grew up playing badminton,” Williams told TV Guide Canada during a January set visit. “I’ve played it my whole life. On my way to work I pass a badminton club. One day I stopped in there and they have all these great courts. I asked those guys if they wanted to play, and we do that two or three times a week. It’s heaven. A sitcom and badminton!”

“Harland moves like a ninja,” Malone confirmed. “I was so cocky when I showed up, because I’m pretty physical, but I was obliterated. Harland is unstoppable. He’s so lanky he covers the whole court.”

One of just three Canadian multi-camera sitcoms shot in front of a live studio audience (CTV’s Spun Out and YTV’s Mr. Young are the others) City is giving Package Deal a summer sneak peek Tuesday before Season 1 continues on Mondays this fall. Williams (Dumb & Dumber) is Sheldon White, a dude who’s always looking to make a quick buck through some outrageous business plan; Malone (Worst Week) is Ryan, a sensitive neurotic; and Randal (The Killing) plays Danny, a successful lawyer who falls in love with young, hot tea shop owner Kim Mattingly (Julia Voth, Bitch Slap).

Sheldon and Ryan, not accustomed to sharing their brother, feel threatened by Kim and strive — in tonight’s debut — to make her feel unwelcome.

Voth’s co-stars made her feel anything but unwelcome. The Saskatchewan model-turned-actress had never done a sitcom before. Williams, Malone and Edwards, alongside Emmy-nominated creator Andrew Orenstein (Malcolm in the Middle), made sure she acclimatized to the new performance arena.

“I’ve had moments where I was overwhelmed and wondered what I had gotten myself into,” Voth admitted. “But Andrew and the boys make me feel so comfortable on-set; everyone is just very encouraging. If something’s not working, we talk about it and it’s always worked out.”

On the other side of coin is Williams, a veteran of the standup circuit and big and small-screen projects dating back to his memorable role of a state trooper in Dumb & Dumber. With children’s book author, podcaster, voice-actor and standup comedian all on his resumé, one wonders why he’d commit to a four-month television gig shot in Vancouver. The Toronto native revealed it was the family dynamic of the characters that got his attention, but admitted the man in charge had a lot to do with it.

“I was also excited because Andrew had so much experience as a showrunner,” the avid fisherman outlined. “I don’t know if I would have been here if it wasn’t for his experience. I don’t think I would have ventured into being on the first live sitcom in Canada without having a good captain of the ship. He was definitely the catalyst for me having the confidence in this project and having me jump in.”

The soft-spoken Orenstein has written and produced the aforementioned Malcolm in the Middle, 3rd Rock from the Sun and Everybody Hates Chris, and produced 18 to Life and Good Luck Charlie. And while it’s true that Package Deal is a rare home-grown beast in that it’s filmed in front of a live audience, he downplays any suggestion the program is breaking new ground.

“It’s a great medium and, when done well, it’s the most fun to make and watch at home,” he said during preparation in advance of the live taping. “I hope they’ll do more of it. The more people that have been trained, the more that will be done.”

The man who counts Seinfeld, Cheers, Mary Tyler Moore, The Bob Newhart Show and The Cosby Show as his Top 5 sitcoms of all time admitted the live format can be a challenge.

“Live audiences let you know,” he laughed. “We write and rewrite all day and then we get out there and for reasons I don’t understand, stuff dies. And then it’s like, ‘Guys, huddle over and let’s fix this right here and right now.’ There’s an immediacy that’s scary.”

Package Deal’s sneak peek episode airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on City.