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Andrew Barnsley Charts Another Hit Comedy with CBC’s ‘Son of a Critch’

Andrew Barnsley’s latest CBC project is a bona fide hit ­­– debuting at No. 1 on the public broadcaster’s streaming service and ranking in as its best comedy debut since 2016.

 

Andrew Barnsley

Andrew Barnsley, President of Toronto Film School

 

“We’re blown away by it,” Barnsley said of the success of Son of a Critch, whose 13-epsiode first season made its Canadian premiere on Jan. 4 on CBC and CBC Gem.

 

“When you’re putting a show together, you’re putting together elements that you think will resonate, that you hope will resonate, but the truth is, you don’t know until you know – and we now know that it’s working.”

 

Mark Critch, Son of a Critch co-creator

Son of a Critch co-creator, Mark Critch

 

Based on Canadian comedian-actor-writer Mark Critch’s best-selling autobiography, Son of a Critch: A Childish Newfoundland Memoir, the comedy series tells the very real stories of Mark’s childhood in St. John’s, Newfoundland in the 1980s, offering a heartfelt window into the life of a child much older inside than his 11 years.

 

Son of a Critch is described by Barnsley, who serves as one of its executive producers, as a part-Wonder Years, part-Derry Girls, part-Stand By Me coming-of-age story with a distinctly Newfoundlandian twist.

 

“It’s a dream. As a producer, when you look for shows, you look for shows that are both specific and universal at the same time. I know that sounds oppositional, but the shows that really hit are ones that are so specific in terms of a point of view and sensibility, but are somehow also really relatable,” he said.

 

“And that’s what we’re finding with Son of a Critch – it’s transcending the specificity of Newfoundland in the ’80s, and it’s landing with all these different buckets of audiences.”

 

For Toronto Film School’s Emmy-winning president, it was a combination of factors that personally drew him to the project – not the least of which was nostalgia for his own childhood summers spent fishing and swimming in his mom’s hometown of Corner Brook, Newfoundland.

 

A young Andrew Barnsley holding up fish in Corner Brook, Newfoundland.

A young Andrew Barnsley shows off his catch in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, during a summertime visit to his mom’s hometown.

 

“I would spend almost every summer there growing up in the mid-1980s, so I have this personal connection to that time and place, and to the material,” he said. “It spoke to me on a number of different levels.”

 

Barnsley was also keen to work with both the show’s co-creators – Critch, whom he knew from his work on This Hour Has 22 Minutes, and Tim McAuliffe, an L.A.-based Canadian producer who’s worked on hit shows including The Office, Last Man on Earth and MacGruber. So, when the pair approached Barnsley’s production company, Project 10, to help bring Son of a Critch from the page to the airwaves, Barnsley jumped at the chance.

 

Similarly enthusiastic in its response to the show was the CBC, to whom Son of Critch was pitched at the 2019 Just for Laughs comedy festival in Montreal.

 

“We were still in the room, and the CBC said, ‘We want this! Let’s get moving on developing it and putting the pieces together.’ That had never happened to me before,” Barnsley recalled with a laugh.

 

“That was July 2019. By July 2021, we were filming 13 episodes in St. John’s. Two years, to some people, may sound like it’s a long time, but that’s lightning fast.”

 

Cast and crew of Son of a Critch group shot

Andrew Barnsley (far left) on set in St. John’s, Newfoundland, with the cast and crew of Son of a Critch

 

Barnsley credits much of the show’s success thus far to its casting – namely British child actor and rising young star Benjamin Evan Ainsworth in the role of young Mark, and acting legend Malcolm McDowell as his grandfather, Pop.

 

The stakes were especially high, Barnsley said, in the casting of Ainsworth, on whose shoulders much of the show’s success rest.

 

“You’re building a whole show around that performance, so it’s a lot to put on a young actor, but Benjamin’s talent stood out from the beginning,” he said of Ainsworth, who previously starred in Netflix’s The Haunting of Bly Manor and will next lend his voice to Pinocchio opposite Tom Hanks’ Gepetto in Robert Zemeckis’ upcoming live-action remake of the Disney classic.

 

Son of a Critch cast and crew on set

Benjamin Evan Ainsworth (centre), who plays young Mark, on set with Andrew Barnsley, Mark Critch, and other members of the cast and crew.

 

“He’s a real pro at a very young age. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with an actor who works as hard,” he added, noting that Ainsworth pretty much had every script memorized before Son of a Critch even started production.

 

“He is a work horse and he delivered on every single level, and also brought just the right spirit and professionalism to the set. To have that kind of seasoned leadership out of a 13-year-old is incredible. He was a joy to work with.”

 

Equally heart-swelling to have on set was McDowell, an award-winning veteran actor perhaps best known for his portrayal of Alex DeLarge in Stanley Kubrick‘s A Clockwork Orange.

 

“We never thought it would be possible to get him, so I’d be on set watching Malcolm McDowell and hanging on his every word. I will watch anything he does, because it’s just so compelling, his delivery unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” Barnsley said.

 

“What’s interesting about the show, is that the core of it is really about the relationship between young Mark and his grandfather – so to see who we were able to cast in those two roles, it’s so special.”

 

With Son of a Critch now all but cemented as a classic here in Canada, Barnsley said he’s looking forward to sharing it with international audiences.

 

“We have a distributor who’s representing it all over the world, and I had a conversation with them the other night and they’re blown away, as well,” he said.

 

“It’s validating, but it’s also overwhelming to see the response that we’ve been getting.”

 

Son of a Critch is an inter-provincial co-production between Barnsley’s Project 10 Productions Inc. and Newfoundland-based Take the Shot Productions, in association with CBC and Lionsgate Television. It airs every Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.