April 12, 2002
Cool show
Chris Isaak series back for second year
By KEVIN WILLIAMSON
ALL WISE. All nude. All the time.

That about sums up Mona, the naked nympho that Calgary-born Bobby Jo Moore plays on the oft-uproarious The Chris Isaak Show.

"She was very wise and quiet, very oracle-like," Moore says, recalling her first reaction to the pilot script for the show, which enters its second season on MuchMoreMusic tonight at 9 p.m.

And very naked. Mona, for those who haven't seen the show, resides in the basement of Bimbo's, the nightclub Isaak's band plays at.

On a revolving bed she appears to be floating in the club's aquarium, thanks to trick mirrors.

"I do forget I'm naked. It almost becomes a costume and that just reflects on how everyone else feels. It's kind of a floating joke."

Lest you think Mona is merely a male writer's fever dream, she's based on -- as is everything else is in the show -- reality. Sort of.

"In the real Bimbo's, there is a real girl on the turntable," says Andrew Schneider, who created the show with his fellow-Northern Exposure veteran Diane Frolov.

"We never talked to her, but we thought, 'Wow, is there anyway we can use that? What kind of role would she play?' God, she's in the basement, which is like a cave, so maybe we can make her like an oracle," Frolov says.

EVERYDAY LIFE

Naked, dropdead-gorgeous oracles aside, the show is grounded in Isaak's everyday life. Forget the rock star as god. This is the rock star as ordinary Joe.

"In real life, Chris does live in a little house in the sunshine distract of San Francisco," Frolov says. (Actually, while set in the City by the Bay, it's shot in Vancouver.)

"He does know all his neighbours. He drives the car he drives on the show. He does live a pretty regular life. He surfs. He's frugal -- he'll admit that to you."

"His living room on the show is actually bigger than his own living room," Schneider adds.

The reality extends to the show's casting.

Most of the musicians in Isaak's band, such as drummer Kenney Dale Johnson and guitarist Hershel Yatovitz, are in his real-life band. The exception is Canadian actor Jed Rees (Men with Brooms).

Both Frolov and Schneider admit they knew nothing of the rock 'n' roll realm before signing on.

"We knew a few classical musicians," laughs Andrew.

"It's been a complete education."

Rees isn't entirely non-musical -- he studied piano at the University of British Columbia for two years -- but he does admit being the only actor among the fictitious bandmates has its advantages.

"I'm the only actor, so I get to be the prima donna."

Like Northern Exposure, The Chris Isaak Show gets tagged as "quirky" -- understandable, perhaps, given that past storylines have included a production assistant who dances nude in front of her window every night, and a contest winner best described as gender dubious.

But it's a label that Frolov and Schneider shrug off.

"We're always looking to keep it fresh and the result is quirkiness, but it's not quirky for quirky's sake," Schneider says, calling the show "sweet."

"We have some nudity and some profanity, but it's actually an innocent show. Nobody gets hurt. The sex is not sadistic or mean ..."

"... or even very sexy," laughs Frolov.

Rees admits: "People say to me they like the show, but some of the women tend to think it's a little gratuitous as far as the female characters go."

"But my answer to that is it's a male Sex and the City. It's about the problems men are having with men, rather than the problems women are having with men. We have a pretty large heterosexual male audience."

His approach to his role as Anson is just as simple.

"In doing the character, I just thought of the guys who I knew who were into rock growing up in east Vancouver. You know, metal head guys who were a few brain cells short of most people. But with a child's heart."

MASS APPEAL

In the U.S., the series airs on cable channel Showtime. It's a perfect fit for the producing pair.

"Right now the (big three) networks have become more and more concerned about being broad-based marketers. It's very hard to get a show on that's unusual or plays to a specific niche," Schneider says.

"They're determined to have mass appeal shows. That makes it tough if you're looking to do something else."

With Showtime, he adds, "the budget is much less and the audience is smaller, but there is a lot more room for experimentation."