Behind the scenes 'Package Deal'

Citytv’s locally shot sitcom pulls out all the stops.

I step onto the set of Package Deal a couple of hours after binge-watching the entire first season. I’ve been on soundstages before, so the realities of set life no longer take me by surprise, but today there’s something disorienting about knocking down the fourth wall so soon after getting to know all of the characters in the comfort of my own home.

The cast and crew of Citytv’s shot-in-Vancouver-but-set-in-Toronto sitcom – about a man, his girlfriend, and his off-kilter brothers – are shooting the penultimate episode of their second season. Over the span of two months, they’ve taped two episodes a week, a marathon schedule virtually unheard of in the sitcom world.

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As my eyes adjust to the ultra-bright lights, I spot series star Randal Edwards (who portrays Danny) seated at a table in a set I recognize as the neighbourhood bar; his “brothers” Sheldon (comedian Harland Williams) and Ryan (Jay Malone) are lingering by a bar door. A dozen background performers mill silently around the set. Everyone seems to be waiting for direction from the key creatives, who are quietly conferring near a couple of monitors.

The publicist leads me past the live set and towards the adjoining ones, dark but alive in my mind due to the recent the binge-watch: Danny’s apartment; his girlfriend’s tea shop; his law office. Facing these highly detailed sets are empty bleachers.

Within the hour, a live studio audience will stream in and fill those seats, the publicist says. They shoot everything with and without a live studio audience; the final edit of the show will be a mix of audience and closed-set footage, stitched together with that old staple of sitcoms, the laugh track.

Package Deal is one of only a handful of sitcoms currently in production in Canada, and one of two filmed in Vancouver (the other, YTV’s Some Assembly Required, is filmed right down the street). Sitcoms represent new territory for the Vancouver scene, and it’s a territory that Thunderbird Films – the production company behind both Vancouver shows – is developing with glee.

In Package Deal’s first season, they pulled out all the stops. Pamela Anderson and Eugene Levy guest-starred. Plots involved over-the-top gags: Gift-wrapping every item in Danny’s apartment; shooting underwear out of Nerf guns; dressing a hot tub up as a bed; that time Sheldon got into the XXXXL-coffin business.

The result was a second season and a slew of award nominations, including one from the Banff World Media Festival where Package Deal went head to head against stalwart global hits like Arrested Development and The Big Bang Theory (the latter of whom took home the top prize).

“We had a really fun, big season one,” says the affable Edwards, now seated on a couch in the greenroom in a brief lull before the live taping. “We appealed to a pretty wide audience, and I think what we really wanted to do this year was narrow down who that audience really is.”

Thus a second season in which they’re upping the ante with what Edwards describes as “sexier, more mature” writing and top-drawer guest stars like sci-fi icon Amanda Tapping and Jason Priestley, that dreamy-eyed grad of Beverly Hills 90210. “We made the show edgier, and a lot less gag-heavy,” he says. “I think the show is better. It’s snappier. It’s faster, and it’s got a great edge to it.”

Edwards had a lengthy list of dramatic credits to his name (including a six-episode arc on The Killing) but zero sitcom experience when he was cast as Danny, a lawyer who’d been raised by his wacky older brothers after his parents died.

“It was very scary going in, but I’ve had the best time of my life,” says Edwards. “I’ve learned the most I’ve ever learned in my career in this genre.”

And he also treasured the opportunity to get up in Priestley’s grill.

“There’s this one scene where I’m right in his face yelling at him and every time I got lost in his baby blues,” laughs Edwards. “I’m like, ‘I’m yelling at Brandon Walsh right now.’ I’m waiting for Shannen Doherty to come through the door and give me a flying elbow.”

Package Deal resonates because its subject matter – well-meaning, meddling relatives – is relatable, according to Edwards.

“Whether you have siblings or you have just those really close friends in your life, everyone loves to get involved in other people’s crap so they don’t have to deal with their own,” says Edwards. “That’s what Package Deal is.”

Package Deal returns for its second season on Sept. 12 at 9pm on Citytv. Catch up at Citytv.com/Toronto/Shows/Package-Deal

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