Less Than Kind looks to fill comedy gap

Showrunner Mark McKinney hopes the new Winnipeg-set sitcom could fill the gap left by outgoing Canadian-mades Corner Gas and Air Farce

Maury Chaykin’s first thought after reading the script for Less Than Kind was ‘Are they actually doing this?’

The script for the Winnipeg-set sitcom ‘is not particularly nice, it’s not watered down… It shows all the characters with all their warts and edges,’ the noted character actor said during a recent press junket to promote its fall debut on Rogers’ Citytv.

‘At the same time, it was a wonderful, very funny, very edgy story about a Jewish family in Winnipeg,’ he added.

Chaykin (Dances with Wolves, A Nero Wolfe Mystery) plays self-destructive patriarch Sam Blecher in the 13 x 30 series — the brainchild of Vancouver’s Marvin Kaye and Chris Sheasgreen, who created Less Than Kind from Kaye’s one-act play They Have Mayonnaise in Montreal.

The story is centered on 15-year-old Sheldon — played by Montreal’s Jesse Camacho — an overweight teenager struggling to fit in with his dysfunctional family, which also consists of his failed-actor brother (Benjamin Arthur) and pyromaniac mother (Wendel Meldrum).

‘[Sheldon] is the only one who seems to have any perspective on life and what is really going on,’ noted Chaykin, who said he finds the lack of perspective in his character Sam both ‘frightening and amusing.’

Showrunner Mark McKinney (Robson Arms) oversees the story room for producers Peter Williamson and Ira Levy of Toronto’s Breakthrough Films & Television (Kenny vs. Spenny) and Phyllis Laing of Winnipeg’s Buffalo Gal Pictures (The Stone Angel).

McKinney had just finished The Movie Network/Movie Central series Slings & Arrows when Breakthrough came knocking with the script.

‘I liked the characters and liked that it was kind of based on Marvin’s life. It had a ring of truth to it, had heart… It was pretty easy to climb on board,’ McKinney says. The team of writers also includes Kaye, Sheasgreen, Jenn Engels, Gary Campbell and Rob Sheridan of Little Mosque on the Prairie.

Kaye says one of the biggest challenges was casting, especially for the character of Sheldon.

‘We needed a 15-year-old kid that is heavy, smart and charming enough to carry that [burden]. Jesse was actually the first guy we saw and we thought he was really good,’ Kaye recalls.

Once Chaykin signed up, there was a ‘cascade’ of other characters coming together, according to Kaye.

‘Once we found the whole family and saw them together for the first time, it was like ‘Wow, this works,” he says.

The crew wrapped 13 episodes in February in Winnipeg and is currently in development on another six eps for season two.

Kaye and Sheasgreen credit Rogers and the producers for giving the writers creative freedom.

‘They trusted us and basically said ‘Go where you want to go with this.’ This is my first experience on a show and I’m spoiled,’ Kaye says.

Less Than Kind airs on City Mondays at 10:30 p.m. starting Oct. 13, following Curb Your Enthusiasm. McKinney says the comedy has the goods to become the next ‘It’ sitcom as Corner Gas and Air Farce Live wind down. Robson Arms ended its run in the summer.

‘With comedy, I think there’s always sort of the Canadian gold medal expectation that we should have something really good… I’m really happy because I think Less than Kind is that,’ McKinney says.