‘Coroner’ Is Not Just Another Procedural, Say Producers Morwyn Brebner & Adrienne Mitchell
Coming up with a new take on an old formula is a tough ask. Even so, Adrienne Mitchell and Morwyn Brebner think they’ve found it with ‘Coroner’, a new Canadian mystery series that comes to the UK this month. The show was inspired by a best-selling series of novels by British screenwriter Matthew Hall. Yet, although it was made in North America, it won’t be another cliched crime show, the pair tell Geektown when we speak to them on set in Toronto. What’s more, it’s a Scottish TV classic that they credit with helping them find a different approach.
“There’s such a pressure to do a procedural,” says Mitchell, an executive producer and director on ‘Coroner’. “It’s all about the case. Let’s get lost in the case. I think that’s kind of old school and I think we’re moving away from that. I think we lean a bit more towards the British model like the beautiful series way back when, ‘Cracker’, where you have his personal life intertwined with the case.”
Brebner, Mitchell’s collaborator and the creator of ‘Coroner’, is originally from Britain. She was born in Wales but moved to Canada when she was very young and went on to a successful career as a television writer. She previously created the series ‘Rookie Blue’ and ‘Saving Hope’. Her accent still has a Welsh lilt to it, however, when she recounts how ‘Coroner’ came together. Like Hall’s novels, the series revolves around Jenny Cooper, a coroner who investigates deaths that don’t add up. In transplanting Cooper to the other side of the Atlantic, though, the writers have made changes.
“In the books she works in sort of a tumbledown house and there’s no infrastructure, but in Toronto our actual coroner’s facility is one of the most advanced in the world,” Brebner explains. “So, we thought, we can’t replicate that sense of not having a computer that’s in the books. That’s not how it is here. We said, ‘Okay, if she were Canadian, if she lived in Toronto, how would she be?’ We didn’t try to retain things that didn’t feel correct to our circumstances, but we did try to retain her spirit.”
Playing Cooper is Canadian actress Serinda Swan, who played Medusa in ‘Marvel’s Inhumans’. Her character in that show was renowned for her long red hair but in ‘Coroner’ fans of Swan will see a very different look. The star cut her hair short for the role and it changes her personality, says Mitchell.
“She’s a different person with short hair. She just feels more vibrant. You lean in and you go, ‘Who is that person?’. There’s a quality to her that makes you want to watch her more.”
Aside from changing the location of the stories from the West Country to Toronto, Brebner and Mitchell also altered the Cooper family dynamics. As in Hall’s stories, the new Jenny has a son named Ross, but her connection with him is much stronger than the one Hall’s characters shared.
“In the book her relationship with her son is much more contentious, but in our show we really love the sweetness and the closeness of that relationship,” says Brebner. “She’s a young mother. She had her son when she was young and it’s a beautiful, beautiful relationship that really grounds them.”
That bond between mother and son comes out of the sudden death of Cooper’s husband, who is not at odds with his wife and son like his still-living counterpart in the novels. Brebner explains that they had originally intended to keep their Mr. Cooper alive, too, but the decision to kill him off early in the series was a catalyst in their development of the show.
“Like in a Disney movie where they kill off the parents and you go on an adventure, that’s what it was like. The adventure of the show just snapped into place, and it was fun and it was fast. It allowed Jenny to experience things without the drag of that on her. We talked a lot in the development of the show about the suddenness of the character. She’s not like, ‘I’m going to tell you what I’m going to do and then I’m going to do it’; she’s like, ‘I’m doing it!’”
With the changes Brebner and Mitchell have made it would be reasonable to expect that the author of the books might feel aggrieved. After all, just a few years ago the BBC got into hot water with Hall over a series called ‘The Coroner’ that bore more than a passing resemblance to his creation. Still, according to Mitchell, Hall was okay with a different take on his work.
“He just was very happy for us to do what we wanted to do,” Mitchell recalls. “And as soon as we said we were setting it in Toronto and it’s a bit of a different system, he said, ‘Absolutely’. So, he seemed to trust what we were going to do, and he was happy for us to do it. It was a good relationship. I’m really curious to see what he thinks.”
‘Coroner’ Season 1 gets it’s UK on Monday, 21st January 2019 at 9pm on Universal TV.
Mike Simpson is a British expat contributor based near Vancouver, Canada. He has a background as a professional scientist and is now an entertainment and technology journalist gleefully writing about sci-fi and other geek stuff.