WINDSOR, N.S. — It takes faith to make a Canadian TV drama about a Mennonite community coerced into the dirty business of drug trafficking — especially when it appears that all hope is lost.
Take "Pure," described as an Amish "Breaking Bad," which took years to sell and get into production. It ran one six-episode season early in 2017 and then was abruptly cancelled by CBC.
Television, however, sometimes works in mysterious ways.
After a two-year hiatus, national premium pay-TV service Super Channel will start airing the six original episodes Jan. 22 and then pick up the story with a second season starting in the spring. Both will air on Super Channel Fuse.
On a sunny day late last summer, cast and crew assembled on a rolling hillside to film a scene from one of the new six episodes. Director Ken Girotti was overseeing a tense standoff between Mennonites and mobsters. On one side, a Klondike workhorse stood hitched to a boxy wagon. Its passenger, straw-hatted pastor Noah Funk (Ryan Robbins), seemed hopelessly outmatched opposite gun-toting cartel leaders. Their getaway ride was very 21st century: a gleaming white helicopter.
The key season 2 confrontation brought the modern Mennonite dilemma into sharp focus.
But last year, Girotti had begun to doubt the scene would ever be shot.
"I thought this was six feet under, absolutely done," says Girotti. "And then, all of a sudden, somebody tells me it's got a pulse. I don't want to get all biblical on you but this is a whole Lazarus situation."
Halifax-based executive producers and showrunners Michael Amo ("The Listener") and David MacLeod ("Haven") also had their faith tested. "This series has always seemed star-crossed in its fortunes," says Amo, whose grandparents were Mennonites.
"Pure" was originally developed at Shaw Media before CBC made it their last pick up of the 2016-17 season. It bowed in January of 2017 to more than 850,000 overnight viewers and far exceeded the average take for several other CBC shows.
Dark, edgy and controversial, CBC nevertheless found it an odd fit and passed on more episodes. The producers credit Cineflix Studios, the company that distributes the series, for pushing forward.
"They just wouldn't give up," says MacLeod.
Cineflix had U.S. deals pending, but those depended on the series lasting at least two seasons. When CBC backed out, the distributor shopped the series to Super Channel just as it was emerging from creditor protection. The Edmonton-based network saw "Pure" as pure gold for its new Fuse brand. The casting of Alyson Hannigan ("How I Met Your Mother") as a lapsed Mennonite peaked U.S. interest; Zoie Palmer and Victor Gomez have also joined the series.
Hanging by the phone through all these ups and downs was Ryan Robbins ("Battlestar Galactica," "The Killing"). The Victoria, B.C., native loved playing tormented Mennonite pastor Noah Funk and was "devastated" when the show was cancelled. "I wasn't 100 per cent ready to give up on it," he says.
When the option on his contract expired, however, Robbins accepted an offer to join "Sacred Lies," the first scripted series for Facebook. Shortly after, of course, Super Channel stepped in and rescued "Pure." Amo and MacLeod pushed production back three weeks and shot around Robbins for another in order to allow him to finish on "Sacred Lies" and go directly back into "Pure."
Joining Robbins on season 2 is Alex Paxton-Beesley as Noah's wife Anna Funk. Her character goes rogue in the new episodes. "We knew the second six were going to focus on Anna being forced into the drug business," says MacLeod.
Also going through a dramatic transformation is Noah's son Isaac Funk, played by Toronto native Dylan Everett. "If you see where he ends up this season, it's such a crazy turn," says Everett, interviewed between takes on that Nova Scotia hillside. "It's very 'Breaking Bad.'"
Girotti had no doubt that the young actor was ready to tackle the dark side.
"We saw the writing on the wall last year," he says. In the six new episodes, "you can see the burgeoning shoots of the badass he's going to have to be in season three."
A third season? Perhaps — even CBC has retained a streaming window on the second.
Amo has six more episodes all mapped out. He is, after all, a man of faith.
—Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont. While in Nova Scotia he was a guest of Super Channel.
Bill Brioux, The Canadian Press