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5th season of 'The Listener' features 'a new boss, new baby and a new bar'

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Every TV series evolves over five seasons. "The Listener," however, has gone through more changes than a set of quintuplets.

The CTV drama, about a special forces cop who uses his intuitive powers to solve tricky crime cases, returns for a fifth season on Monday.

It wasn't always so easy to describe lead character Toby Logan (Craig Olejnik). Even in the new press kit, he's called a "telepathic former paramedic." This new season, we are told, is all about "a new boss, new baby and a new bar."

The new boss is really an old boss, Insp. Brian Becker (Anthony Lemke). He's returning to the Integrated Investigative Bureau (IIB) after a four-year absence. He's not exactly Toby's biggest fan, still blaming him for the death of his police partner and never sure what the deal is with his crime-fighting "spidey-sense" — even though Logan is now a full-fledged and trained police officer.

The new baby belongs to Sgt. Michelle McCluskey (Lauren Lee Smith), on maternity leave from the IIB as the season starts. She's also now married to Adam, played by Kris Holden-Ried ("Lost Girl").

The bar belongs to Osman (Oz) Bey, played by Ennis Esmer. When the series started, he was Toby's best friend and good-natured paramedic partner. Now he's switching careers from hospital administration to bartender/owner of the popular gastropub Pasazade.

It's on the large and modern Pasazade set — housed in the new home of "The Listener," Toronto's mammoth Pinewood Studios — where the cast and producers have gathered to promote season 5.

Esmer is literally working the bar. The 35-year-old points out that only one of the many bottles of liquor behind the bar contains real booze — and he knows which one. A native of Turkey, he also recommended the west-end Toronto caterer who had Turkish delight spread out on the bar for visiting reporters.

Canadian TV actors tend to have comedy mixed with drama in their resumes — it's their only way to make a living. Esmer definitely plays both sides of the fence, training at Toronto's Second City and stand-up comedy clubs, hosting the short-lived local music/variety series "The Toronto Show" and eventually specializing in comic relief roles on dramas such as "The L.A. Complex." He's received more attention for his role in last year's indie production "Sex After Kids."

An ever-changing role and a schedule on "The Listener" allowed Esmer to juggle his day job with these other projects, including one stint as comic co-host (with Jonathan Torrens) of "Wipeout Canada." He hopes this left turn into the bar is a "Listener" move that will stick. "I'm basically in 'Cheers,'" he says. "It's great."

His character has always been a little detached from the show, he says. "It's like this soft science-fiction police procedural," he says, "and then I'm in, like, a little bar comedy."

The Shaftesbury producers put the new bar set to good use this season. Toronto's brutal winter forced the cast and crews back indoors as scenes were rewritten to escape the snow. As a result, season 5 finds several cast members sorting out their police and private life back at Oz's bar.

Executive producer/showrunner Peter Mohan — whose own credits range from gritty cop shows like "The Bridge" to genre shows such as "Lost Girl" and "Blood Ties" — says having a versatile actor who can juggle drama and comedy is a big plus on "The Listener." He finds Esmer "can hit the dramatic beats that bring tears to your eyes and two seconds later he can be wickedly funny and goofy and hilarious. When you've got a resource like that you use it to the nth degree."

Mohan says the light touch brought by Esmer and others helps "The Listener" not become "as earnest as Canadian stories sometimes do." Allowing his drama "to be goofy and let some air into the thing" is what Mohan believes keeps bringing viewers back to "The Listener" — no matter how many times cast members switch jobs or CTV switches time-slots.


Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.

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