CBC's Intelligence, premiering Tuesday at 9 p.m., isn't your usual crime show.
"In the cops and robbers genre there's a very clear protagonist and antagonist, and that's where this is a bit different," said star Ian Tracey. "The lines are often blurred - there's some questionable characters working in law enforcement and some good-hearted people breaking the law."
Tracey plays Jimmy Reardon, a third-generation crime boss maintaining his family's legacy in shipping and drug smuggling. "He's not a dark, hateful, violent criminal person at all, more of a businessman and entrepreneur," he explained, adding with a laugh, "some of the businesses happen to be illegal."
He's also a devoted father and brother, which makes him both vulnerable and fierce. "The moment the family was involved, all bets were off."
Intelligence is the latest series by Da Vinci's Inquest creator Chris Haddock. "I had been wanting to develop a show for Ian, and got the network on board to support that idea a couple of years ago," he recalled. "They had wanted me to develop a show to replace Da Vinci when it eventually retired."
To complement Tracey's engaging gangster, Haddock wrote the character of steely Mary Spalding, the head of Vancouver's Organized Crime Unit who has one eye on a job at the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) and another on her back-stabbing underlings. After a long search, he found Klea Scott to fill the role.
Despite having to move from Los Angeles and temporarily leave her husband, an American theatre director, behind, the Panama-born, Canada-raised Scott was eager to be part of Intelligence.
"The writing was fantastic," she said. "I had not seen a woman's role in the crime genre so well developed, with her personal life as well as her job. Often when they're looking for a native, Asian, or African actor, it's to round out politically correct numbers. Mary's complex and flawed, and that really appealed to me."
"She's fierce and ferocious, with a practical side," she continued. "She has an unapologetic confidence in her abilities, and a singleminded pursuit of ambition. The CSIS job is her focus throughout the season. She's had a taste of power, her kingdom expanding, and she feels this need to be in control."
In the pilot, a two-hour movie that first aired last year, Spalding and her team of spies - including Matt Frewer (Max Headroom) as possibly the most morally questionable character of the show - fabricated an uneasy alliance with Reardon as an informant. Though they're on opposite sides of the law, Spalding and Reardon have something in common, according to Haddock.
"Klea's character is fighting the system that she's within, so she's an outsider trying to upset the status quo. So that's what makes her a bit of an antihero," he said. "Same with Reardon, he's an antihero because he lives outside the law, but even though he lives outside the law he must be honest. He's kind of a good bad guy. He really struggles with some of the things he comes up against."
Tracey has not only worked on both sides of the cops and robbers genre, he's worked with Haddock for years, first on Da Vinci's Inquest, then Da Vinci's City Hall. "For the most part it's the same crew, the same people running the show, so it's comfortable, and I enjoy working with Chris," he said. "It feels like everything I've done was working towards this."
Despite the intense relationship between their characters, the two leads spend little time onscreen together. "It's a delicate recipe," said Scott. "They can't get too close, can't get too far. They have very furtive, secretive meetings. Their worlds are really separate, and they're leaders of their own orbits."
"Both sides are full of shit. No one is playing a fair game, everyone's out for themselves," said Tracey. Scott agreed. "Everybody's constantly betraying each other."
When we talked, Tracey was preparing to direct episode 10, an opportunity he first took advantage of on Da Vinci's Inquest. "I loved it, I was afraid of it, I did it anyway," he said about the experience, which allowed him to focus on another aspect of the work he loves. "When I'm not working, I don't know what to do with myself."
Though he's shifted from supporting character in Da Vinci to lead in Intelligence, Tracey said he doesn't feel that pressure, because of the large ensemble cast and a plot that moves like a "fast flowing river" between the different factions.
Still, expectations are high for the show, which already boasts critical acclaim thanks to a slew of Gemini nominations for the movie that kicked it off.
"If everyone else had been nominated except me, I would have felt really bad," Scott laughed, pointing out that apart from her nod, Tracey, Haddock, director Stephen Surjik, and the movie as a whole were recognized. She had found success in American shows like Brooklyn South, Millennium and the film Minority Report before Haddock lured her back to Canada, so, she said, "the Gemini nomination was a great welcome home."
"All of these nominations let us know up front that, starting out with the pilot, it's already garnered a bit of appreciation," commented Tracey. "Hopefully that means people will be looking forward to what else we have to offer."
"I think it's going to appeal to the same audience that's attracted to criminal procedurals, and also the CBC core audience," said creator Haddock of his new show. "But I think it's going to reach into a male and female demographic. Ian has great sex appeal, and I think he's going to help draw more of a female audience. And I think that the nature of the story, being gangsters, is going to appeal to younger men."
Intelligence airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on CBC, starting Oct. 10.