TORONTO — Comedian Mark Critch is reliving his childhood for all to see in the new TV series “Son of a Critch” – but he’s doing it in his father’s shoes this time around.
On the set of his semi-autobiographical comedy, the former “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” star brought along mementos of his real-life adolescent home, from the radio nestled on the kitchen counter to a patch sewn into a coat he wears as he plays his father.
“To wrap yourself in your father is quite strange,” he said in a recent interview.
“Occasionally I’d look down and I’d see my father through my own eyes, because there in my peripheral vision is actual furniture that was in our house.
“Sometimes we did get a little melancholy, you’d go back to the stresses, the worries over money. But then you’re reminded of how much love was there.”
“Son of a Critch,” which debuts Tuesday on CBC and CBC Gem, finds its humour in the dark and light of growing up.
Based on Critch’s 2020 memoir, the series follows the comedian’s childhood in the 1980s as he came of age in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His old soul made him something of a misfit in school, and his colourful family and quirky friends only added to a hilariously unique young adulthood.
“It’s a lot of truth,” says Critch, who pulls triple duty as writer, actor and co-creator. “But the casting and creation of who these characters are changed a lot for the TV version, and then took on a life of their own.
“It’s not a biopic, it’s not a documentary, but the spine of every episode is a true story.”
Still, there are a few departures from Critch’s book and real life.
The character of Fox (Sophia Powers) – young Mark’s bully-turned-crush – was written as female for the series. And Richie Perez (Mark Rivera), Mark’s best friend and the only person of colour at his school, gets to have a far more fleshed-out story on television.
His family, though, remains larger than life and includes the mischievous grandfather Pop, played by Malcolm McDowell and Mike Sr., portrayed by Critch himself.
The endearing 13-year-old Benjamin Evan Ainsworth stars as the young Mark.
Shot over one summer on location in Newfoundland, “Son of a Critch” feels specifically Canadian. Its humour, though, has an unmistakable British twinge. Consider it “The Goldbergs” meets “Derry Girls,” a cocktail you’re unlikely to find anywhere else.
“I don’t look at it in terms of nationality,” says McDowell. “Yes, the show is Canadian, but this is a very universal family. That’s what’s so delicious about it.”
The 78-year-old actor, who’s starred in an array of film and TV series including “A Clockwork Orange,” “Star Trek” Generations” and “The Mentalist,” was selected by a U.K. casting agent and signed on after reading Critch’s book.
Once he was on the ground in Critch’s hometown, he learned that he was walking alongside a Canadian celebrity with a particular connection to his community.
“It’s embarrassing to be out with Mark, he’s like the mayor of bloody St. John’s,” McDowell quipped.
“You can’t walk down the street without 20 people bugging him, so it takes you three times longer to get anywhere. But that’s because everyone is so fond of him, and you’ll understand why when you see this.”
But Critch is no one-man show, with Montreal-born Tim McAuliffe serving as co-creator and showrunner.
He and Critch met in 2007, and worked together on “This Hour Has 22 Minutes,” writing sketches on cocktail napkins on Tuesday nights out before they were due the morning after.
When McAuliffe moved to L.A., working on projects including “The Last Man on Earth” and “The Office,” he would still find time to co-write “Just for Laughs” sketches with his old comedy partner.
That’s even in light of the considerable pressure Critch and McAuliffe might feel following in the footsteps of CBC’s last hit family sitcom, “Schitt’s Creek.”
But McAuliffe and Critch say they aren’t sweating it.
“Oftentimes, you talk about laughs per minute, but when we were creating this, I never wanted to be worried about when the next laugh comes,” Critch says.
“Let it breathe, let there be dramatic moments, let there be uncomfortable moments, let there be heart.”