TORONTO – Whether it’s the father “Dre” on “Black-ish,” “Appa” on “Kim’s Convenience,” or especially Homer Simpson on “The Simpsons,” when sitcom dads talk, nobody seems to listen.
Here then is a novel TV twist: a dad who cannot talk but won’t be ignored.
That’s the deal on “Crawford,” a new CBC comedy that begins streaming this Friday. All 12 episodes can be binged before the show is broadcast this summer on the main network, making this CBC’s first major series to launch first digitally.
Owen (played by John Carroll Lynch) is a former police chief who lost his ability to speak when he was shot in the head in the line of duty. He communicates, however, by typing words on his smartphone that are read aloud by a computerized voice.
Jill Hennessy plays his adored yet openly unfaithful wife Cynthia, who’s also a celebrated cereal company executive. Kyle Mac plays Don, a fallen rocker turned raccoon whisperer. Alice Moran plays Don’s long-suffering older sister and Daniel Davis Yang plays his weird younger brother. The street they live on? Crawford.
The series was co-created by Nova Scotia native Mike Clattenburg, the driving force behind “Trailer Park Boys.” He worked with Mike O’Neill, half of the ’90s-rock duo the Inbreds who went on to co-write “Trailer Park Boys: Don’t Legalize It” with Clattenburg.
At a CBC press launch late last year in Toronto, Clattenburg said the intention going in was to “write something that would attract some big fish and catch us some actors who would be interested in playing unique roles.”
Not every Hollywood agent, however, took the bait. Some were reluctant, for example, to recommend a non-speaking role to their actor clients.
“When does the character start to talk?” some asked. “Never,” was the answer.
Lynch, however, grasped the challenge as soon as he read the script. “Hell yes,” was his response.
“Physical comedy is something I really aspire to,” says the Colorado native, who first came to prominence through his role as police officer Marge Gunderson’s painter-husband in the 1996 Coen brothers feature “Fargo.”
Too often, he feels, physical comedy is relegated to fleeting sight gags. Lynch longed for an opportunity to do physical shtick that was character driven.
While it seems as if he would never have to memorize a line, Lynch says knowing the words are key to his physical performance.
He’s mindful of the long history of inarticulate fathers on TV sitcoms, especially, he says, dads who are emotionally unexpressive.
“Ed O’Neill’s character on ‘Modern Family’ has some of these tendencies,” says Lynch. “He doesn’t know how to express himself emotionally.”
What’s interesting about Owen, says Lynch, is that “this father can’t speak at all, yet he is very emotionally articulate. You know exactly how he is feeling about everything.”
The other reason he likes this conceit? “Quite frankly,” he says, “having the mechanical voice is a licence to steal every scene in the show.”
His co-stars, however, don’t surrender their screen moments easily. Hennessy, an Edmonton native best known for her years on American network shows “Law & Order” and “Crossing Jordan,” walks the line as a sweet and caring mom who has an open, extra-marital affair with a beefy hunk.
“I’ve never seen that relationship before on any show,” says Lynch, calling it, “the blithe acceptance of infidelity.”
Mac’s character, sort of a prodigal son in eye shadow, eventually helps dad round up the critters who have crawled into the walls of the family home.
“They were adorable,” says Mac, who bonded with lead raccoon Maria.
“These are show raccoons,” kidded Lynch. “Maria is in the top 5,000 on the IMDb pro charts.”
— Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.