Nestled somewhere in the vast boreal forest in northern Manitoba is the remote community of Grouse Lake First Nation.
The small, fly-in community lives by its own rules and is home to a tight-knit group of family and friends, not unlike many First Nations across the country.
While the First Nation is fictional, the stories featured in CTV Comedy Channel’s new sitcom “Acting Good” are not. The 10-part series premiering Monday is loosely based on the life of Anishinaabe comedian Paul Rabliauskas.
The series was co-created by Rabliauskas, who also stars in it, and fellow comedians Amber-Sekowan Daniels, Eric Toth and Pat Thornton.
“Acting Good” follows Rabliauskas’ character as he returns home after a failed attempt at living in Winnipeg.
The show is being touted as a first of its kind when it comes to Indigenous storytelling in Canada. The series showcases the quick-witted, sharp and satirical humour found in Indigenous communities instead of being rooted in trauma and drama so often depicted in television and movies.
“To have a show out there for the Canadian audience that’s pure comedy is so important,” Rabliauskas said in a phone interview.
“The old stereotypes that you’re used to seeing — none of those are there. It really is just about a silly family that just happens to live on a reserve, that just happens to be Native.”
Much of the situational humour on which “Acting Good” relies comes from Rabliauskas’ own experiences growing up in Poplar River First Nation, about 400 kilometres north of Winnipeg. The standup comedian spent his childhood in the community before moving to Winnipeg with his family for school.
Though the comedian has more than a decade of experience on the standup scene, this is the first time he has ventured into scripted territory.
“The acting was a little scary and intimidating,” admitted Rabliauskas.
Transitioning into the new role was made easier with help from a veteran crew, including Cree actor Michael Greyeyes, who directed some of the episodes. Greyeyes is fresh off his role as Terry Thomas in Peacock’s sitcom “Rutherford Falls.”
It also helped that the character is based on Rabliauskas, but he said he doesn’t have any plans to go on any auditions now that the first season has been shot.
The show also tapped Anishinaabe director Darlene Naponse, whose latest feature “Stellar” premiered at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, to direct, as well as series co-showrunners Daniels and Toth.
The series also stars Thornton as the manager of the local grocery store and the “only white guy on the Rez,” as well as a lineup of Indigenous actors including Billy Merasty, Roseanne Supernault, Gabriel Daniels, Avery Claudia Sutherland, Cheyenna Sapp and Tina Keeper.
Keeper’s company, Kistikan Pictures, produced “Acting Good,” along with Buffalo Gal Pictures.
The Cree actor portrays family matriarch and Rabliauskas’ character’s mom, Agnes.
Keeper got to know Rabliauskas’ real-life mother, Sophia, during her time as a Liberal member of Parliament. The elder Rabliauskas has been internationally recognized for her work as an environmental activist.
The role did come with some new challenges for the veteran actor. Despite years of experience acting in dramas, including “North of 60,” Keeper hasn’t had much opportunity to act in comedic roles.
Keeper said structural changes in the industry have forced the people in positions of power to create space for diverse and inclusive programming reflective of community realities without relying on damaging tropes. For years, networks failed to recognize the humour in Indigenous communities.
“People had their blinders on. It’s not that it wasn’t there. It just wasn’t being picked up,” said Keeper.
“The times are changing. The systemic, structural changes are really important.”
Rabliauskas hopes the show appeals to Indigenous and non-Indigenous audiences alike. But what would make his effort a success is that Indigenous communities can watch the series and see themselves in it.
“I definitely want my people to love the show — I hope there’s a lot of pride that they take away from it,” he said.
Being greenlit for a second season would also be welcomed, he added with a laugh.
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