Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Laurie Finstad-Knizhnik Wrote 'Durham County' With No White Gloves

As it begins its third and final season on the Canadian premium cable network HBO Canada, the TV series Durham County promises to be darker. For the show's creator, Laurie Finstad-Knizhnik, life as it is shown in TV series doesn't need to look full of joy.

With splashes of blood, guns, corpses and even psychologically disturbed characters Durham County will leave a lasting impression on viewers. However, specified Finstad-Knizhnik, the violence you see in the show she created with Janis Lundman and Adrienne Mitchell isn't "gratuitous".

Shot in Montreal, Durham County follows Mike Sweeney (Hugh Dillon), a homicide detective from a police department of a suburb of Toronto. In the third season of the show, he's investigating on a very brutal double homicide of two teenagers. This double homicide is related to drug trafficking. Moreover, Mike is also helped by a colleague (Michael Nardone) who, behind his mental armour, is an ex-military hiding a dark secret. Mike's daughter, Sadie (Laurence Leboeuf), just graduated from the police academy and his wife, Audrey (Helene Joy), is expecting a baby. I sat down with Finstad-Knizhnik and she talked about why Durham County is the way it is whether one feels comfortable with it or not.

Anh Khoi Do: Honestly, Durham County is by far the darkest and most violent cop show I've ever seen. Why is violence the central theme of the TV series?

Laurie Finstad-Knizhnik: With all the crime TV series on the market, you feel that this genre can be brought in other waters. The reason why Durham County is an analysis of violence in the society is because this idea wasn't the reality of other dramas you see. In fact, many TV series or even films do talk about the presence of violence in people's behaviour, but they don't look at the way how people actually feel when they confront violence.

With a constant use of a grey sky and a heavily dark tone throughout each season of Durham County, don't you feel that the atmosphere in Durham County is a little bit exaggerated?

No, because TV is a medium that allows us to elaborate a hypothetical analysis of how people would feel if they were put in tragic and depressing circumstances. I'll also add that this dark atmosphere even allows a multi-dimensional depiction of the female characters in a show that deals with violence. With that said, the idea of creating Durham County was born because I didn't want to create another show that just uses women as mere props who witness violence or are, on the surface, victims of it.

Still, can someone's life be as depressing as the life of the leading characters in Durham County?

Without a doubt, it can be. It must be cool for some TV characters to be part of a Glee club or a constantly happy family. However, this kind of TV writing is formulaic and doesn't deal with other things that unfortunately can be part of life. After all, given all the topics that Durham County deals with, I just took any people who are initially happy in order to wonder how they would feel if they have to face tough facets of life such as divorce or death.

With that in mind, how close is the show Durham County from our reality?

In the department of realism, we've seen cop shows like NYPD Blue and The Wire, which both are rooted in reality in their own way and have a wonderful story. When I wrote the show, I thought of some cops I know who married nurses (note: the character of Audrey is a nurse). I was imagining how it's like for a cop to marry a nurse in the first season. As for the second season, the challenge consisted in imagining how a married couple made of a cop and a nurse would deal with divorce.

Just by the way you describe the show's plot, are you surprised that the first two seasons of Durham County didn't create much of a controversy in the USA when they got picked up by the cable network ION?

Well, I was quite glad that the show interested an American cable network, because Durham County is definitely not the kind of show that will be on a TV network. Besides, the show even got a nice review from American newspapers just like the New York Times. At the same time, if a fascinating show like Dexter, which talks about a normal-looking serial killer (Michael C. Hall) who works as a blood spatter analyst for the Miami police department, didn't avoid controversy, don't expect Durham County to get away with its content. Indeed, besides being introduced to criminals, viewers from Durham County also come across a cop (Hugh Dillon) who isn't diagnosed as a serial killer and travels in the darkest area of his psyche. All in all, I'd say that any work of fiction reflects the mentality and the fascinations of the people who live at the time when this work was created.


Durham County is aired on Monday nights at 10 PM on HBO Canada. Moreover, stay stuned, because an interview with Helene Joy, a regular actress on Durham County, will be published tomorrow.

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