If you know you're only going around the track one more time, you might as well put the pedal to the metal and make it the wildest ride possible.
That seems to be the attitude of the producers and cast of Less Than Kind, the locally shot comedy series that has its fourth -- and final -- season premi®re on Sunday, June 2, on HBO Canada.
From its first episode forward, this home-stretch edition of Less Than Kind -- a smart, edgy comedy about a dysfunctional family operating a driving school in Winnipeg's North End -- is all about raising the stakes for each of its main characters to ensure that everyone involved exits with a sense that they went out with a big, resounding bang.
"You actually get to drive all the narrative forces toward a conclusion, which is interesting," says Mark McKinney, LTK's executive producer and showrunner. "The network was very turned on by the ideas we came up with, so they gave us an hour to wrap up the series. Rather than the usual half-hour show, we'll be doing our first hour-long show, which will allow us to pull all the narrative threads together."
Season 4 of LTK represents a particularly big year for the show's younger characters -- Sheldon (Jesse Camacho), Miriam (Brooke Palsson) and Danny (Tyler Johnston) -- who now have high school graduation behind them and are moving into a new phase of their lives.
"They have this natural waypoint ahead of them, which is what you do after you get out of high school," says McKinney. "The conversation in the writers' room quickly turned to a couple of things -- one of them was that summer when you got out of high school, and September no longer loomed in the same way. For the first time in 13 years, you weren't going to be together -- some friends were going to college, and some weren't; some were leaving to go abroad; suddenly, there was this complete dispersal of the world you knew.
"At the same time, it was really kind of fun -- there's no bedtime, there's first jobs.... And what that implies for the generation ahead of them is also big changes -- there's this emptying of the nest, and the family dynamic completely spins."
There are other big changes afoot for the Blecher clan -- widowed matriarch Anne (Canadian Screen Award winner Wendel Meldrum) is dealing with her latest high-anxiety crisis by engaging in a rather tawdry dalliance, while eldest son Josh (Benjamin Arthur) is grappling with the horrifying prospect of a shirt-and-tie/cubicle-and-computer day job after his blurted proposal to an increasingly demanding Shandra (Lisa Anne Durupt) has suddenly made shopping for a home in overpriced suburbia part of his daily ordeal.
Meanwhile, Sheldon has moved into a new stage in his relationship with Miriam -- one that he still hasn't found the time or courage to explain to his mother.
According to McKinney, the tone and direction of this final season of LTK are the result of the show's writers trying to reach a conclusion that the audience will feel is both authentic and satisfying.
"There's a kind of 'truthiness' to it, as Stephen Colbert likes to say," he says. "It's about how your best-laid plans crumble and fall apart, and how hidden personalities ultimately dominate. The theme is that the truth will out, and it does throughout the season. We find out what people are really made of, and where they're really meant to be."
McKinney, who went through his own rite of showbiz passage during the late '80s and early '90s as a member of The Kids in the Hall, adds that one of the true pleasures of working on this series has been watching its young stars mature into capable adult performers.
"Oh, my God, it has been amazing," he said. "On regular series, someone might gain a few pounds, add a couple of wrinkles or maybe have a baby or something. But we have literally watched these kids grow up -- we've seen them begin to play with far more complex plots; they literally were kids when we started, and they finished as adults, as actors and as friends."
As he discusses the process of wrapping up LTK's four-season run, McKinney repeats the oft-expressed sentiment that Winnipeg played a central role in establishing the attitude and atmosphere of the comedy. There were, in fact, some brief discussions about relocating production to Toronto after Season 1, but the idea was quickly dismissed.
"At this point, we can look back and go, 'Boy, that would have been a terrible idea,'" McKinney says with a laugh. "Winnipeg is absolutely essential; the sensibility of the show is very, very much like Winnipeg, because it's like you're soaking in it while you're there shooting. I can't imagine the show anywhere else, and I can't imagine having done it with another crew."
Looking back on his LTK experience, while at the same time looking forward with an eye to the show's legacy, McKinney says he hopes Less Than Kind exits as a show that has made a lasting impression on its fans.
"I hope this show is 'sticky'; in other words, I hope this becomes one of those show that people will binge-watch because they need to know what happens," he explains. "And more than anything else, I hope it's a show that people are still watching 10 years from now.
"I've had that experience with one of my other shows, Slings and Arrows, which is more popular now than it's ever been, and we also had that sort of thing with Kids in the Hall. That's my wish for this show; lasting is the ultimate compliment and the greatest accolade."
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