With Season 3 of Durham County now underway via HBO Canada, addicts of the series can further watch what newer and weirder elements will challenge the Sweeney family, and maybe send them packing back to the raccoon-infested environs of Toronto.

Perhaps that’s an exaggeration (Raccoons in Toronto? Preposterous!), or maybe it’s a stereotype taken to a biased extreme, much in the way Durham County is characterized as an expansive, beautified suburb whose civic domiciles custom built for nuclear families shelter deep, dark secrets.

Some may be a bit curious about the innards of the series, and how such a dark, somewhat Lynchain vision (witness the striking main title sequence) was created when most portrayals of life in the ‘burbs tend to emphasize the comedic, the absurd, and urban paranoia.

Recent films like Lakeview Terrace (2008) fixated on the racial and psychological discontent behind gleaming mini-mansions in sunny California, but Durham is uniquely different because while its swanky subdivision is all shiny and new, the events that salt up old wounds for a lot of characters are decades old, and the children of the show’s adults really suffer for their parents’ indiscretions, murderous deeds, and marital discontent.

It’s the shrill social conflicts of society compressed into a compact narrative, set in the industrial, electrified world that exists everywhere there are hydro towers, nuclear power plants, coal furnaces, or massive industries. There’s little doubt the horrors of Durham County, Ontario, couldn’t exist in the civilian homesteads built around the Alberta Tar Sands, or a giant hydro plant in central Quebec.

Suburbanites can relate to the peculiar dichotomies of their world, and in this lengthy interview edited together from separately conducted conversations, series co-producer/co-writer/director Adrienne Mitchell and co-producer/co-writer Janis Lundman discuss the series genesis, character highpoints, and making a Canadian show for an appreciative international market.





Mark R. Hasan: How did the concept of Durham County begin?


Janis Lundman: The concept started with myself, Adrienne Mitchell (my business partner with Back Alley Film Productions), and Laurie Finstad-Knizhnik, a writer we were working with on our last series, Bliss (2002-2004).

Bliss was coming to an end, we really got along creatively, and we all sort of talked about what could we do next, and how we could work together, and we all started talking about growing up in the suburbs and what it was like there.


Adrienne Mitchell: All of us had similar, kind of weird horror stories where we were living in this sort of anesthetized, pretty public, face forward environment, but behind the doors all these very strange things were happening.

I mean, up the street from me a dentist killed his family and committed suicide. I hung around with all sorts of middle suburb, no-class kids whose parents weren’t around, and [the kids] were just playing all sorts of strange sadomasochistic games in a way that was really unhealthy and destructive, but it was in a very beautiful, pristine environment!

Janice had similar kind of stories, and Laurie of course had really strange experiences growing up in Pickering, which was surrounded of course by the hydro towers. There’s a lot of suspicion around the health effects of living so close to the nuclear power plant, so that sort of shaped her growing up there.

There were all these attempts to beautify the area with emerald green, pristine dog parks, and a little boardwalk that kind of ended at the entrance to the Pickering [nuclear] tower that kind of looked like the Wizard of Oz’ yellow brick road.

[Ed.: a still used at this site perfectly illustrates Mitchell's comment.]


Janis Lundman: Laurie had also been doing a lot of reading (in terms of crime genre, detective novels) and really wanted to get into that, so we came up with the idea of Durham County, which combined our questioning about the suburbs, and at the same time allowed Laurie to work in that police procedural crime genre.


Adrienne Mitchell: I know it seems a bit abstract, but all that sort of led us to ‘Well, what would happen if you came back to the place you grew up, where you thought it was this idyllic place?’

When [Detective Mike Sweeny] comes back, he wants to get away from the city - he’s had a partner that was shot. He wants to move his family back to the place where he grew up, and where part of him is just remembering the environment (the suburbs, the white picket fence vibe) - and then [he moves] across the street from a nemesis from the past: Ray Prager, who was this guy that he got into a lot of unhealthy stuff with when they were teenagers.

[It’s about] what happens when you reconnect to that person, and what does that brings up for you: in your own secrets, and the darkness that was there, way back when.


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