TORONTO - The new year promises to return several small screen stars to Canuck TV, with Dave Foley, Enrico Colantoni and Andrea Martin among the homegrown luminaries helming new ventures.
Martin plays a self-involved mother in the ensemble comedy "Working the Engels" on Global, about a family of "ne'er do wells" saddled with a mountain of debt when the patriarch dies.
The series brings the American-born "SCTV"-star back to Toronto where she lived through much of the '70s and early '80s, and Martin says she relished returning to series television after spending much of her recent career in theatre and doing small TV guest spots.
"It all came together at the right time," says Martin, who most recently performed in the Broadway revival of "Pippin."
"I loved the script, I was talking to two other shows in L.A. at the time and I didn't know if I could work it out.... I'm not going to mention the other two shows, but this actually was the better script out of all of them."
Martin plays Ceil, who along with her beleaguered family is forced to run her late husband's storefront law firm, despite having little experience with the law.
Only youngest daughter Jenna, played by Kacey Rohl, is qualified to practice, while the clan's eccentric relatives pick up the rest of the duties. That includes pill-popping receptionist daughter Sandy, played by Azura Skye; and bad boy son Jimmy, played by Benjamin Arthur, who becomes the firm's investigator.
Guest stars are set to include Martin's fellow "SCTV" alumni Martin Short and Eugene Levy, and Kids in the Hall member Scott Thompson.
Also headed to Global is the new medical series "Remedy," starring Colantoni of "Flashpoint" and "Just Shoot Me!"
The amiable TV star says the hospital-set serial includes plenty of laughs, offering a welcome switch from the heavy material he previously tackled on CTV's "Flashpoint," about an elite tactical police unit.
"It's charming and dramatic and funny and the dialogue is quick and exciting and it really is unique in that it's a family drama that takes place in a hospital," Colantoni says in a recent interview from the set.
Colantoni plays the hospital's acting chief of staff, Allan Conner, a man passionate about his work but also passionate about his children, who also work at the hospital.
Dillon Casey stars as his son Griffin Conner, a med-school dropout who returns to Bethune General Hospital as its newest orderly. Sara Canning is the disciplined daughter Melissa, a general surgeon with her own set of issues, while Sarah Allen is eldest daughter Sandy, an ICU Nurse and bride-to-be. Martha Burns plays absentee mom Rebecca Chestnut, described in publicity material as "the high-functioning family drunk."
Colantoni says the focus is primarily on the dynamic between father and daughters and son, with up to three and four storylines going on at once.
"I'm playing him, so he's not your grassroots doctor, you know what I mean — he's going to be a little offbeat," he adds of his character.
"He's constantly juggling between his love for medicine with his love for his children and at the same time being the politician within the hospital."
Foley, meanwhile helms the new CTV sitcom "Spun Out," a multi-cam workplace comedy about a public relations agency.
The Kids in the Hall comic plays an "eccentric company figurehead" named Dave, while Paul Campbell stars as a failed writer named Beckett who becomes a new addition to the firm.
The series shot in front of a live studio audience, which posed extra challenges for cast members not used to playing off of a crowd.
"The learning curve is very steep," Campbell said while shooting over the summer. "It's the energy that makes the difference, with multi-cam. And with an audience, there's an electricity you don't find anywhere other than theatre."
Holly Deveaux, who plays Beckett's roommate and former flame, Abby, admits she found the live element nerve-wracking.
"I didn't know what to do, I kind of wanted to keep my head down, say my lines and get the hell out of there," says Deveaux. "It is terrifying. There are so many eyes looking at you, waiting for you to do something funny."
Meanwhile, over on CBC-TV, Jonas Chernick stars in the political satire, "The Best Laid Plans," based on author Terry Fallis' award-winning novel.
Chernick plays Daniel Addison, a speech writer for the leader of the opposition who is eager to leave politics. But before he can, he's coerced into one last task: To find and manage a candidate for a federal riding that is impossible to win.
Daniel lands on eccentric engineering professor Angus McLintock, played by Ken Welsh, and the two agree to mount a campaign they secretly intend to lose.
"And of course, through the absurdity of politics, we actually start to pick up some steam," says Chernick.
Chernick describes his character as "well-intentioned" as he struggles with ethical questions and tries to do the right thing. Given the state of recent politics in Ottawa and the city of Toronto, Chernick says the timing is great for a series so earnest about public office.
"I think the show will be an antidote to the kind of cynicism and the embarrassment and the sort of darkness around Canadian politics right now, given this whole scandal," he says, referring to the ongoing saga of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
"This show is not cynical. Yes, it's political satire but it's got heart and there's a purity to it and an innocence. This is a feel-good show — you come out of this show feeling warm and fuzzy, I think, but also thinking about politics in a different way."
The six-part miniseries premieres Jan. 5, and moves to Mondays on Jan. 6.
Other new Canadian shows on the way include:
"19-2" — A Bravo drama that revolves around the lives of two reluctant partners of the Montreal police department, played by Adrian Holmes and Jared Keeso. It's based on the award-winning Quebec series of the same name and debuts Jan. 29.
"Masterchef Canada" — CTV welcomes a Canuck spinoff to the popular culinary competition, featuring 50 amateur home cooks including a stand-up comic, an opera singer, a tattoo artist and a female plumber. Finalists compete for a $100,000 cash prize. It premieres Jan. 20.
"Chopped Canada" — This Food Network Canada series adds some Maple Leaf flavour to the popular U.S. series "Chopped," inviting culinary talent from across the country to turn a basket of mystery ingredients into a delicious meal for a panel of judges. Hosted by Dean McDermott, it features a rotating panel of judges including Lynn Crawford, Chuck Hughes, Michael Smith and Susur Lee. It starts cooking Jan. 2.
"Bitten" — Toronto's Laura Vandervoort plays the world's only female werewolf, Elena Michaels, in this 13-episode, one-hour original dramatic series on Space. Based on the New York Times best-selling novels by Canadian author Kelley Armstrong, the series follows Elena's dangerous struggle between the new life she's created among humans and her loyalty to The Pack. It debuts Jan. 11.
"Four Rooms" — The producers of CBC's "Dragons' Den" are banking on this new venture centred on the world of art, memorabilia and antique collecting. In each episode, Canadians try to entice one of four expert buyers to spend big money on a prized possession they think could be worth a fortune. The first two episodes air Jan. 5 and Jan. 12 and feature items including a mummified cat, a rare Canadian flag, and a letter from reclusive "Catcher in the Rye" author J.D. Salinger.
— With files from CP reporter Adrian Lee