A woman approaches an "admissions office" desk and begins speaking to the receptionist. "I cheated on my taxes, I slept with my sister's boyfriend, I killed a dog …"
The receptionist interrupts her. "This is university admissions."
"Oh, my gosh," the woman responds, embarrassed. "I plagiarized my essay, I slept with my calculus professor, I defaulted on my student loans …"
This skit is from the Baroness von Sketch Show, a new CBC TV sketch comedy series, which premieres June 14, With the online release of a bunch of very funny teasers and sketches, the show is generating buzz ("hilarious sketch" was "another reason to move to Canada" raved a post on New York Magazine's The Cut blog) and could – should – bring the CBC back to its Kids in the Hall-era sketch comedy glory days.
The show is much more Kids – urban, contemporary, eccentric – than, say, Royal Canadian Air Farce. Baroness is shot single-camera, entirely on-location, with no studio audience (or laugh track) and a quirky, sophisticated sensibility. The show is created, executive-produced and stars four women: Carolyn Taylor, Meredith MacNeill, Aurora Browne and Jennifer Whalen – all comedy veterans in their 40s, all now living in Toronto.
"I'd worked on many shows that were certainly interesting and gave me a lot of experience in the industry, but weren't in my voice. I was writing in the voice of another show," says Taylor, who is originally from Montreal. "And so it was a hunger; it was like I need to write in my own voice, I need to write with people who want to write in their authentic voice – and women."
They wanted an all-female show, and Taylor brought in two other veteran comedians – Browne and Whalen, old friends and collaborators from The Second City.
"It was so wonderful and freeing to be able to do exactly what we thought was funny," says Whalen, a Toronto native. "You're just with three other women who totally get it."
The vision was to create observational comedy grounded in reality.
"We didn't want crazy wigs, we didn't want crazy costumes," says Taylor, the showrunner. "Obviously we go to some kooky places sometimes, but we really tried to ground the emotions and ground the interpersonal dynamics. That's what we wanted to see more than putting somebody in a crazy scenario."
MacNeill, 40, chimes in: "We wanted people to be able to go, 'I know that person, I've been that person, I don't like that person.'"
"'There's my sister, there's my mother, that's me' – oh, my God," adds Taylor, 43.
With a DIY approach and a shoestring budget, they put together a sizzle reel, got Frantic Films on board and, after a second demo, CBC was in.
The show is not what one might think of as typical CBC fare. There is mature subject matter, (blurred-out) nudity, and un-bleeped F-words (bleeped in one case – but for effect).
The first full-length sketch to be released online was Locker Room – where a woman visits the gym for the first time since turning the big 4-0 and learns that she has graduated to the section of the change room where women are extremely comfortable with their nudity.
"Welcome to your forties, Kelsey," says the health-club employee as the camera pans across a group of legs-spread, naked, middle-aged women. "Welcome to not giving a shit at the gym." With the release of that sketch, the Baronesses braced for Internet trolls. But the haters were mostly silent as Locker Room went viral.
"The best moment was just the response back from those women," says MacNeill, who plays the 40-year-old woman. "Not to be a cheesebag, but the fact that the ladies were responding, saying, 'I thank you.'"
When I ask three of them (Browne couldn't make it; she had pink eye), over lunch at Toronto's Gladstone Hotel, if they were giving away all their best bits with the online release of those sketches, they laughed. There are more than 90 sketches in the first six episodes that make up the first season, running without conventional transitions such as in-studio intros. They compare the show's structure to a mix tape.
Later by phone, Browne explains that they wrote some 300 sketches, shot about 120 of them – all on location – and did it in 31 days.
"But we really got it to look like what we wanted, which was so, so satisfying," says Browne, 43, who is originally from Thunder Bay.
"We were able to hire our extremely funny friends from the local Toronto comedy scene," she adds. "Canada hasn't always made comedy up to its full potential so then to be able to make something like this, we're like, 'Yes, we can totally do it, we don't have to live in the States, we can live here, literally in our own neighbourhoods and make it and make it really, really good.' We knew we could do it; we just wanted the chance."
The show's content is obviously driven by a female sensibility – with women dominating the writing room and crew (including the director and cinematographer) as well as the cast. The series is certainly not targeted at women exclusively, but its creators did go into it with the goal of speaking to women in a new, authentic way.
"I feel like when I watch television, the voice of women is not really represented – how funny women are, how they really talk to each other. Women talk to each other in very specific ways on television, which I don't think represents … who we are," says Whelan, 46. "And this show really allowed us to kick open that door."
Baroness von Sketch Show premieres on CBC June 14 at 9:30 p.m. (10 pm NT)