‘Shelved’ is a sitcom that shows a deep love for public libraries
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TORONTO – When Toronto’s Lyndie Greenwood received the script material for CTV’s library-based comedy “Shelved” more than a year ago, she was living in California and prepared to say goodbye to her acting career.
“The profession can be a really hard slog mentally and emotionally and it just wasn’t working,” says Greenwood, whose previous credits include CW’s “Nikita,” Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow” and the Toronto-shot sci-fi series “The Expanse.”
“I was desperate, and it was almost like I was just booking anything, but I didn’t actually care about what I was auditioning for, so I said I’m done — I’ve had some success, it’s been lovely, but it’s also not working for me right now.”
Greenwood says that her decision to take a break, which lasted a year, gave her a bit of time and space to find her joy again and be someone she truly wanted to be when “Shelved” entered her orbit.
The eight-episode season created and co-written by Anthony Q. Farrell, a former writer on “The Office” and current showrunner on “Run the Burbs,” will air on CTV starting on Monday.
It stars Greenwood as the ever-positive Wendy Yarmouth, who runs a branch in Parkdale, a neighbourhood in Toronto’s West End.
Shooting took place in the city in a studio that was filled out by 21,000 books — most of them loaned to the production by the Toronto Public Library.
The half-hour sitcom also stars Chris Sandiford as a newcomer and self-serious librarian looking to improve the culture of the underfunded branch.
Canadian SNL alum and “Groundhog Day” actress Robin Duke plays an unhoused regular at the library and self-described “wackadoo,” who finds a safe space in the struggling book depository.
Greenwood says she felt a new-found energy for acting when she read Farrell’s characterization of a librarian who fit closely to who she was as a person.
“It was so authentic to my personal experience because Wendy is an aspect of myself, but just in a really sort of amped-up way,” she says, alluding to Yarmouth, who faces her own levels of professional struggles while finding ways to remain endlessly optimistic.
“She’s community-driven, positive, funny and loves people and that’s what I most resonated with. It was a dream to go to work every day and just laugh in a world that can be pretty stressful.”
Greenwood herself grew up around the Spadina Avenue and Dundas Street area and would attend the Lillian H. Smith library frequently as a lover of sci-fi.
“One of the beautiful things about working on this show back in Toronto was being reintroduced to the library,” adds Greenwood. “I started going back and it’s a love that I’m really happy to have rekindled.”
Farrell and his collaborators filmed the show with an interest in not only the types of people who work in what some may consider a thankless job but for the frequent visitors who find communities in these public spaces.
The character of Wendy Brown — an unhoused regular and addict in the process of recovery — was written as one such character.
“It was a usual take on an unhoused person and it was so genuine,” says Duke. “What drew me in was the truth in it all.”
The 68-year-old, who’s appeared in an array of film and TV series such as “Schitt’s Creek” and “SCTV,” auditioned for the part because she thought the writing was so good, it would allow her to portray someone as complicated as Wendy.
“I’m not particularly ambitious and I don’t have, what my husband calls, a desire for distinction, I sort have always just gone with the flow,” says Duke. “The co-creator of SNL, Dick Ebersol, said to me once that I lack the gorilla instincts of a Gilda Radner, so that says it all.”
Once she read the script, she reached a complete understanding of who Wendy was through the writing, which she felt was clear and sympathetic to unhoused individuals.
“The conversations and script were about keeping this character as real as possible and not becoming a caricature of an unhoused person,” says Duke. “She has had an alcohol addiction for a while, but she’s in recovery and is just trying to find her way back.”
Duke got a chance to speak to a group of unhoused women during the filming of some scenes at the Parkdale library, which helped to ground her into the realities of the character.
“So much of their situations were circumstance, and one woman I spoke to just had everything fall apart at once,” adds Duke. “These women referred to their housing situations as couch surfing, where they go couch to couch, people’s homes and oftentimes, libraries.”
Even though Duke would never describe herself as ambitious in her own words, she says she’s fortunate to land roles that add new experiences to her life.
“I don’t know what it is, but projects like these fall into my lap,” says Duke. “This show is another blessing.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2023.