Angela Galanopoulos and Andrew Barber were tired of the cookie-cutter TV shows created for the U.S. market, so they created a uniquely Canadian show.
And of all the towns in all the provinces and territories in Canada, they opted to base it in Hope.
A pilot for Michelle’s — a soap opera set in a fine dining restaurant, riddled with Canadian cultural references — made it to the top of a Storyhive web series competition, winning $10,000 for the production of a pilot episode. The pilot then went on to win $50,000 to produce five more episodes, which Galanopoulos and Barber are now busy writing.
“There’s something very interesting about Hope: it’s a very picturesque place, you’re surrounded by beautiful mountains,” Galanopoulos said.
“At least from an outside eye, (it) feels very secluded. So there can be this kind of drama that exists there, at least fictionally, where the outside world doesn’t really play a part. The drama kind of festers in this secluded area. And as you see, when it’s finally finished, things are going to get really crazy,” Barber laughed.
Inspired by Twin Peaks, the creators set their story in a similar kind of town that affords the show a type of magic because of the mountainous setting and the seclusion.
As a place that connects one part of the province to another, “you never know who is going to roll into this town,” Galanopoulos said. The villain, played by Cameron Bancroft who played the role of Joe Bradley on Beverly Hills 90210, is the first surprise guest to roll in.
Barber added the name itself, Hope, is “a wonderful name for a town that a soap opera is based in.”
The idea for the show started as a sketch comedy skit, a commercial for Michelle’s restaurant. The creators are both performers on the Theatresports improv comedy stage on Granville Island, this is the longest work they’ve done together so far.
Many of the cast members are part of the Theatresports ensemble, whose parts in Michelle’s were written specifically for them. Maxwell Baoteng plays Alphonse the sous chef, Elizabeth Bowen the child beauty pageant queen turned server. Both of the creator go in front of the camera: Galanopoulos becomes restaurant diva Michelle and Barber plays her lover and head chef Rene. Tanya, the waitress fresh out of prison, is played by Clare Filipow; Cameron Macleod is Don the city alderman.
Ellie Harvey, who plays a disgruntled customer in the pilot, is an alumni of Theatresports whose long resume includes The New Addams Family TV series.
The pilot is filled with uniquely Canadian references, some obscure and some more obvious —such as the server offering to prepare the villain a drink, a “mean Tommy Douglas”, and a reference to Justin Trudeau cheating on a board game.
“We actually heard through a friend, who knew (Trudeau) back in the day, that he cheated on a game of Monopoly with his family,” Barber said. “So we put a small joke in there that people, I don’t think, have really caught on to or maybe were just confused by.
“We would love to make a show that Canadians like and Canadians are proud of, and that is unabashedly Canadian and has references in it that Canadians get,” Barber said.
“To add to the Canadian comedy culture, as opposed to taking a risk on trying to get America’s interest.”
The result is a specific brand of comedy: the Canadian soap opera.
“I think of it as a serious comedy. It’s grounded but it’s absurd. We tell the actors to really play the part and the lines very committed and seriously. So it’s a committed, dramatic comedy, in my opinion,” Barber said.
Both creators are restaurant industry veterans, so the setting, characters and inside jokes abound. Canadian restaurant chains become “The Old Timey Linguini Mill” and the “Fikus Lounge,” Michelle and chef Rene get into a spat over a side of tartar, and the list goes on.
Barber said the creators will see how far they can take Michelle’s with the $50,000 they’ve won. They are also looking for support from the District of Hope and local businesses.
“We’re hoping to have the city of Hope play a role on the show and have the feel of it be another character on the show,” he said.
The creators would also like to film parts of the show in Hope, but the costs of bringing the cast and crew up can be prohibitive.
“One of the things that we’re really going to be focusing on in the next little while is seeing in what capacity the city and local businesses would be keen to have us come up there and do a little bit of shooting up there,” Galanopoulos said.
“It would mean a lot to us to be able to actually shoot there, and include the city and the landscape and all the things that we really actually love about Hope.”
The pilot of Michelle’s can be found at storyhive.com. By the end of the year, the creators are promising those eager to find out how the show evolves will have more to sink their teeth into.