TORONTO — Patricia Heaton is back in the sitcom world with the new series “Carol’s Second Act,” and she’s teaching her Canadian co-stars the ropes.
The former star of “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “The Middle” plays a divorced mother and former teacher who faces ageism as she pursues her dream of becoming a doctor at age 50.
Alberta-born Ito Aghayere co-stars as a doctor at the hospital, while Toronto’s Sabrina Jalees and Jean-Luc Bilodeau of Surrey, B.C., play interns.
“(Bilodeau) is trekking around Europe right now, staying in hostels, and I was like, ‘You know you’re on an American sitcom, right? Prime time? You’re way too Canadian. I’m going to have to teach you the American sitcom actors’ ways of being, because that ‘ain’t it,’” Heaton, who lives in Los Angeles, said with a laugh an interview this summer when Corus Entertainment announced its fall/winter lineup.
Jalees, meanwhile, says she’s been given a taste of the American sitcom actors’ ways, “and I LOVE it — that deep hotel bathtub, that front (airplane) pod,” jested the comedy actor-writer whose other U.S. credits include “The Mayor” and “Transparent.”
Airing Thursdays on Global and CBS starting Thursday, “Carol’s Second Act” reflects a reality many people face these days, as longer life expectancies have them considering new careers and retirement goals at later ages.
“We’re all living longer, we’re taking better care of ourselves,” said Heaton, 61, who won two Emmy Awards for playing the mother on “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
“It’s funny when you look at pictures of our parents when they were in high school and they look like they’re 45 years old.”
The show also reflects a reality many women face, as they find themselves pursuing their own identity and new opportunities once their children grow up, added Heaton, who has four grown sons of her own.
“I think there are a lot of women out there who will take inspiration from this,” she said.
Heaton’s character, Carol, faces an uphill battle when it comes to proving herself a formidable colleague next to her young counterparts who judge her.
But they come to realize Carol’s age might give her edge, including her supreme multi-tasking skills from raising a family.
Heaton said that rang true of her own experience.
“I found that I was a really quick decision-maker and worked really hard at work, because when I went home I knew there was no time to do anything else except be with the kids.”
“I think a lot of women are like that. If you want to get something done, give it to the person who already has a lot of things to do, because they know how to do that. That’s really like a superpower that women have, which is really something the world could use.”
Yet Heaton wasn’t immediately sold on the show’s concept, figuring there wasn’t much humour to mine in the sad storylines of a hospital.
“When I was first presented with the idea I was like, ‘A: crappy wardrobe, and B: people are dying all the time. So why would I want to do this show?’” Heaton said.
But she concluded that the setting and storylines touching on health crises anchored the comedy and raised the stakes for the audience. Her character has the life experience to understand what the patients are going through and can coach them in ways that touch them and her colleagues.
“I’m at the age where the friends you have that are going to get cancer are starting to get it,” Heaton said.
“Like two weeks ago … I went up and visited a friend at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital who’s very sick with cancer, and you just see it all the time. She’s a mom and I’ve known her for over 30 years. So I get it.
“The speech that Carol gives in the end of the pilot, like, ‘Look, I bring this experience. I know stuff you’re not going to know for another 20 years’ is really true and I think that’s what’s really going to vibrate with the audience.”
For Jalees, the series came after creators Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins, with whom she’d worked on “The Mayor,” texted her asking if she wanted to audition.
She wasn’t keen on trying out for parts at the time, feeling there’s more power in writing, but was drawn to the creative team and Heaton.
Jalees was mistakenly given old portions of the script for her audition and thought the mixup had ruined her chances, because she wasn’t able to perform the new material that the casting director was looking for.
“I was like, ‘Well this is a wash. I should never have paid for parking,’” she said.
“But the casting person was really chill and she was like, ‘Just do the old ones, we’ll work with it,’ and I just had so much fun. The script was so funny that I immediately started envisioning, ‘Well what if this was real?’ And now here we are, eating free bananas and mints in the Corus building and I’ve got to pinch myself.”