New CTV sitcom focuses on libraries, and the people who use them
Anthony Q. Farrell has been around the TV block a few times. His experience in Canadian TV goes back as far as later seasons of Little Mosque on the Prairie, the early 2000s surprise success that, as the New York Times wrote, challenged the assumptions of some Canadians and Americans at the time.
Since, he's had turns behind the scenes on everything from Run the Burbs to The Thundermans — with, of course, his time as an Emmy-nominated writer of The Office as the credit most point to.
But since moving back to Canada in 2017, Farrell has been on a mission to bring that humour home. And while he's already launched one show here — 2021's Overlord and the Underwoods, a family sitcom about, among other things, alien overlords — it's his newest creation, Shelved, that really succeeds in that regard.
As a comedy about Canadian libraries, and all the people that inhabit them, it has its fair share of contemporaries. Abbott Elementary, Superstore, Parks and Rec, and of course The Office — when talking about Shelved, it seems it's all anyone can do to call it the Canadian version of our current glut of workplace comedies.
But when it comes to being called a new version of what's already out there, does Farrell mind?
Shelved is Canada's Abbott Elementary, and its creators are fine with that
Shelved creator Anthony Q. Farrell and star Chris Sandiford created their show out of a passion for libraries. It's been called everything from Canada's version of Cheers to The Office — and they couldn't be happier at the comparison.
"I'm excited when people make those comparisons because you're comparing it to really good shows," he told CBC News in an interview. "I'll take those comparisons any day."
But as to it being a knockoff, that's a different story. While Shelved has all the mockumentary camera styles and sight-gags of The Office, Farrell saw the public institution as being a unique place to tell topical stories. Using its leads — fish-out-of-water Howard Tutt (Chris Sandiford) unwillingly transferred to the fictional Jameson Public Library in Toronto's Parkdale neighbourhood, and bubbly branch head Wendy Yarmouth (Lyndie Greenwood) — as a way in, Shelved draws from the political flashpoint libraries have become.
There's Bryce, the assistant branch head (actor Paul Braunstein's obvious amalgam of Ron Swanson and Dwight Schrute) who argues libraries are "a public service for tax-paying citizens and landed immigrants who came here the right way." There's "Lamestream Media" podcast host Patton Jefferson (Steve Valentine) who leads a brigade of red hat-wearing "Pat-riots" on a livestreamed protest against the library.
And there's the most recent episode, which sees Paige Phlip (played by real-life drag artist Daniel Fernandes) lead a drag storytime — to not insignificant protest.
"We've been working on that story for years," Farrell confesses, saying it was interesting to see the raft of similar real-life parallels occur as they were filming last summer.
Libraries, kinship and conflict
It's part of what drew him to the idea of a library for a setting in the first place. While a setting so seemingly innocuous was a bit of a hard sell (Farrell shared they originally developed it for CBC before they turned it down, and the idea and team was picked up by CTV), he says it's actually the perfect place to walk the line of controversy — and comfortable low-stakes comedy.
"As you can tell with the characters we created, all the characters — they have places where they overlap," he said. "There's kinship, but there's also conflict. There are places where they don't overlap, right?"
So far, the feedback has been good. It's proven to him that making a show about the daily workings of a library makes it impossible to escape librarians' attention — and sometimes their (good-natured) ire.
He often gets messages from librarians about their own stories, or already messages that the first few episodes have echoed their own experiences. Even when researching for the show, he spent a day working in the real Parkdale library under branch manager Miranda — going through training with a day-transfer worker, whose story essentially ended up being punched-up and retold as Howard's first day in the Shelved pilot.
And while he's had more than his fair share of experience since — and a growing appreciation for and protectiveness of that "underfunded part of our society" — on that day, Miranda kept him in check.
"I wasn't allowed to help anyone," he reveals, laughing. "I'm not a real librarian."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jackson Weaver is a senior writer for CBC Entertainment News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @jacksonwweaver
Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca