Four years ago — before Samantha Wan and Amanda Joy had fully formed the idea that would become City's new sitcom Second Jen — they took the stage at a Canadian pitch contest and tried to sell an autobiographical comedy series that would explore the stories of the second generation and their families.
The judges were really not interested in their pitch.
"The judges were so not interested," Wan tells Popjournalism. "It was a two-fold thing. I think they weren’t interested in seeing people of colour and we were new to pitching — the concept can’t just be, oh, we’re diverse!"
Still, despite the disheartening pitch experience, both Joy and Wan went ahead and wrote their pilot anyway. Eventually, it caught the eye of Rogers, who picked it up for a six-episode run on its City TV network.
Much of Second Jen's early coverage has been about the diversity of its leads — Joy is Fiipino-Canadian and Wan is Chinese-Canadian. Second Jen is part of a new pack of culturally diverse programming on Canadian mainstream TV, which also includes CBC's Kim's Convenience and OMNI TV's Blood and Water.
However, considering Second Jen is a sitcom set in Toronto, the multicultural mix of actors and diversity-related topics are to be expected if we're talking about TV reflecting real life, right?
"I agree that our show's diversity is a seen as a big deal and it shouldn't be, but there aren't a lot of shows reflecting that reality on TV," says Joy.
"I think comedy and satire is the most subversive way to create change," adds Wan. "We want to open minds if they haven't been exposed to certain cultures, and we want the cultures being represented on-screen to feel more included. To not feel invisible, like I've felt Asians have been on TV."
Second Jen follows the struggle for identity and independence of two best friends Mo (Joy) and Jen (Wan), who move into their own apartment to prove to their immigrant families, and themselves, they can make it on their own. This being a sitcom, of course, hijinks ensure along the way.
The show is charming and has a Friends-like feel, and in addition to having the requisite wacky neighbours, Jen's overbearing family (mostly her mother) are also fodder for comic relief.
"Initially, we had the idea that Second Jen would be more serialized," says Wan, "but through the development process, we decided it should be more episodic."
So how did they choose which stories to tell in their first six-episode season?
"We pitched a bunch of ideas and the network picked from them, basically," says Wan. "Some of our pitches required character development that wasn’t possible in just six episodes, but we’re hoping we get to tell them in later seasons. If we get a second or third season, we can move beyond focusing on the girls and onto other characters."
"So really, as long as we experience life, there will be more storylines — because it’s basically our life story on TV."
About Robert J. Ballantyne
Robert J.Ballantyne is a senior editor at Popjournalism and Creative Director at Artsculture.ca. Previously, he was a journalist at the CBC on a number of news programs including the fifth estate, Marketplace and The National. He also worked as a staff writer at the Toronto Star.