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Mr. Dee asks, so Mr. D gets a visit from Peters

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TORONTO -- Getting comedy superstar Russell Peters to make a cameo on Monday's episode of Mr. D was as easy as making a phone call, says teacher-turned-comic Gerry Dee.

Reining him in once he showed up to ad-lib through his scenes was another matter.

"We went off for 15 minutes, him and I," Dee says of a key scene in which the two class clowns volley jokes freely.

"There was some really funny stuff."

Of course, much of that won't be seen because the exchange was whittled down for the show's season 2 première (Monday at 8 p.m., CBC), but Dee says the door has been left open to welcome Peters back in a future episode.

Peters debuts as a stuffy school board official who arrives at Xavier Academy to evaluate the performance of its newest educators -- Dee's bumbling character Gerry Duncan and his fastidious colleague Lisa Mason, played by Lauren Hammersley.

As the first season revealed, Gerry's teaching strategies generally involve bluffing his way through course material and passing the time with grandiose stories about his own youth.

Suddenly being under the board's microscope forces the phys-ed jock to pull his act together quickly, and that doesn't come easily for Gerry.

However, Dee says it was surprisingly easy to get Peters to appear on the CBC hit.

"I phoned him with one of those calls where it was like: 'Look, I know you can't do this, but I gotta ask,'" says Dee, who credits his wife with giving him the casting idea.

"And he called right back, which is unlike Russell, and said, 'I'd like to, I love the show.' And that was it."

Season 2 will offer a deeper glimpse into Gerry's personal life, promises Dee, who based the series and many of its gags on his own experiences as a former high school teacher.

That includes life at the bachelor pad Gerry shares with his bartending pal Bill, played by Darrin Rose, who gets plenty of attention from young attractive women.

"(There was) some great casting this year, I'll say that," Rose quips.

Gerry, however, is increasingly interested in finding a girlfriend. Accordingly, this season's storyline reveals that he's more than just a buffoon.

"We get to see a little softer, a nicer side of the character," says Dee, adding that striking the right tone was a delicate balancing act.

"It's got to be controlled, otherwise it's just becoming a soft comedy, right? Or a romantic comedy, and it's not. But it helps Gerry's character because we see that he's actually a good guy."

A show's sophomore season is often seen as a crucial test of its potential staying power.

In Mr. D's case, it will be the season that brings the show's quirky cast together and sees them settle into a groove as a whole, says Dee.

"It's probably tough for everybody in season 1," notes Dee, who mused on the show's evolution alongside Rose.

"But I had the pressure of, 'Oh my God, if this show's not good it's (all me).' So we're kind of past that pressure point, now we're more relaxed."

"And I think the writers know better the tone of your humour and also they know who to pair up," adds Rose.

"Like how you and I are funny together, how you and Jono (Jonathan Torrens) are funny together."

Dee says fine-tuning those dynamics means viewers can expect more screen time for Mark Forward, who plays librarian Wayne Leung, and Mark Little, who plays impressionable science teacher Simon Hunt.

Throughout, Dee says there will be a good dose of improv to keep season 2 chugging along.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 5, 2013 G7

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