Back to school

Photos: Tammy Fancy

When the CBC comedy Mr. D piloted in January 2012, it was an instant success. The show, which centres on the career of an incompetent private-school teacher, ended its first season with an average of almost 800,000 viewers. Viewership keeps growing and the show has won multiple awards, most recently a 2015 Canadian Screen Award for supporting actor Jonathan Torrens, and a 2015 Canadian Screenwriting Award for “Old School” by Andrew De Angelis.
“We’re growing every year,” says lead actor and director Gerry Dee. “I started watching Seinfeld during season three, and I think that’s what’s starting to happen to our show. People are starting to go, ‘Yeah you should check out it out, it’s Canadian.’ We’re delighted to be starting our fifth season.”IMG_7908-resized
When the next season starts on January 16, there are big changes at Xavier Academy. At the end of season four, principal Mike Callaghan (Booth Savage) announced his retirement, revealing that that Lisa Mason (Lauren Hammersley) will be replacing him. This leaves vice-principal Robert Cheeley (Jonathan Torrens) shocked and devastated. By the end of the finale, we also learn that Lisa won’t be renewing Gerry’s contract.
In the fifth season, viewers will see how all those faculty changes play out. According to executive producer Michael Volpe, Gerry will start his school year at a different school after being fired. He’ll eventually end up back at Xavier, but “there’s a bit of a process to that.” Meanwhile, comedian actress Emma Hunter (Shooting Oliver) play’s Gerry’s Xavier replacement.
Viewers will also see Xavier Academy open its doors to younger kids this season. In previous years, the school taught Grade 5 onwards, but now it’s taking kids as young as four. One of those new students is Dee’s daughter, Alyce Donoghue.
“Alyce plays a bit of a nemesis character to Gerry,” says Volpe. “She’s a little blonde girl with kind of a dark heart, and she definitely steals some scenes. It can be a lot of pressure being the star’s daughter, but she really is an incredible actor. Gerry’s other daughter Faith makes a guest appearance as well, and she’s terrific, too. Acting definitely runs in the family.”IMG_7942-resized
Recently, Halifax Magazine visited the set for the taping of an upcoming episode where science teacher Simon (Mark Little) and his mother (Angela Vermeir) throw a key party at Gerry’s apartment.
“I’ve never been to a key party,” says Dee. “This is all new to me. But we have such a talented, funny cast and talented, funny writers, and that makes for a great combination.”
For the record: Mark Little has never been to a key party either. (We asked.) We also asked if anything new would be happening with Simon in season five. “For Simon, it’s really just more misadventures,” Little says. “I think a few of the characters are going on huge, weird story arcs this season, but Simon’s just keeping things real,” says Little.
And that’s been pretty typical of Simon all the way through.
“Simon’s kind of similar to how I am in uncomfortable situations, when I’m trying to be polite to someone,” says Little. “Mostly I think of him as being a little kid surrounded by adults. He’s excited about what’s going on, but doesn’t understand everything. I really have fun when an episode takes him from kid to teenager. I like to play it sassy, like ‘I’m done with this.’ But there’s one episode this season where he’s thoroughly logical, pretty adult.”
Finally, viewers will have a couple of special guest appearances to look forward to, including a visit from gold medalist Donovan Bailey.
“I think we’ve tightened it up a lot this year,” says Dee. “We all have a different sense of what’s funny and the actors are all very comfortable in their role, so that’s really the key to our show. We’ve surrounded ourselves with talented people.”
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This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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