Okay, simmer down class. The award-winning tween series Detention Adventure is finally back up and streaming for a third season on CBC Gem.
The shot-in-Toronto digital series, also seen on HBO Max, is very Hardy Boys meets Harry Potter. The young cast of academic adventurers is led by Simone Miller (as Raign), Alina Prijono (Joy), Jack Fulton (Hulk) and Tomaso Saneli (Brett). These kids travel well: Detention Adventures, licenced by Blue Ant International, has been sold to more than 125 territories, including the UK, Ireland, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East, Latin America, the Nordics and Hong Kong.
For these eleven new episodes — lasting roughly 12 minutes each — the gang is shipped off to an island school, a camp for brainiacs looking to demystify nature. There’s something about a particular painting by the Canadian Group of Seven grandmaster Lawren Harris, however, that has them peering past the peaks. What is the hidden message they are meant to uncover? And can new art student Dash (Danté Prince) help get them over the top?
Produced by LoCo Motion Pictures, the ambitious series offers a lot of looks on a Canadian digital dime. There’s comedy, horror, music and even a dab of art history in every episode.
I spoke this week with creators Carmen Albano and Joe Kicak about nursing Detention Adventures through a pandemic, seeing the young cast members blossom towards adulthood and answering the all-important question: just what were these two doing back in school to wind up turning detentions into a successful Canadian export?
You guys have done this for three seasons now. Was this the first season you had to shoot through the pandemic?
Carmen Albano: We finished shooting the second season two weeks before the pandemic hit. Everyone did get sick on set, so we wonder now if we did all get it at that point.
This season, we decided to do it at an island school, and it was about 80 per cent exterior. So we think that that sort of helped but obviously we faced the same challenges as any other show. We wore masks and tested daily, and we all tried to keep our distance. We also used rapid testing and it was a huge relief to know that everybody had a test that day and got the result.
Joe Kicak: Toronto islands, at the original island school.
Amazing. It looks like it could be anywhere Ontario, right?
CA: It doesn’t seem like you are right downtown, but there we were.
The special effects on episode three this season are very cool. How did you manage that on a digital short budget?
CA: Wait till you see episode six! There’s quite a big set piece that I actually built. We end up destroying it.
That’s the big secret behind Detention Adventure – Joe and I have our fingers in a lot of pies on the show. Joe’s ability to enhance stuff, on his own free time of course, is amazing.
JK: We write in things that we know we can do and that we can accomplish. So if it’s something like sparks and simple scene with fire, we can mix things in with a bit of practical fire and then smoke you can really sell it.
CA: Often the kids are reacting to nothing because everything that’s exploding is added later. So it was me off camera with, you know, with some fishing wire.
Were you guys pulling a lot of stunts back when you were in school? Did you get detentions for doing things like shorting out the school’s electric system?
JK: Well, in my high school, we actually had a prank club where we all competed to see who could do the worst thing possible. And there are some things I probably can’t talk about because it’s a PG show.
Where did you go to high school?
JK: I went to Etobicoke School of the Arts.
CA: I went to school in Branford [towards Ontario’s Niagara region]. So that’s why the series is set in Branford, right? In season one, we started tying it to Alexander Graham Bell, and now this season with Lawren Harris who is also from Brantford.
The biggest detention I ever got was at school in Brantford. We thought it’d be funny to call the parents of all the smart kids in school and tell them that they had been absent for the past week. Some parents took it better than others, right? We got in a lot of trouble for that but really they just stuck us in the library for like five days.
Very “Breakfast Club.” So I guess if you were going to do another season of Detention Adventure set in Brantford you’d have to reference another local legend, Wayne Gretzky.
CA: Well you know it’s funny. My parents sent me an article, maybe a month ago that somebody had actually broken into [Wayne Gretzy’s late father] Walter Gretzky’s house and stole some of Wayne’s trophies.
I don’t know if you know this, but if you went to Walter’s house at any time during Wayne’s career, he’d just take you into the basement and show you all Wayne’s trophies. They were just there. So stealing was like the worst thing you can do in Branford.
This is the third and final season for the main members of your cast. It must have been interesting to see them grow up over the three seasons.
JK: Yeah, we cast some of them when they were 11, you know, and now they’re bringing their boyfriends to the premiere.
It’s been amazing to watch them grow up. And we’ve tried to adapt the scripts to their age because, you know, I think, if you watch season one, it does feel a lot younger. And obviously, as we’ve gotten to know the kids, we’ve written a bit more towards their actual demeanors.
Do you find your audience has grown along with these performers?
JK: On season two people did mention that the series got darker.
CA: We’d hear that, “It got a little bit more Harry Potter,” which is sort of what we wanted. Obviously, you’re always going to get new kids coming in, but it’s keeping the attention of the older ones, right? My daughter’s 11 and she’s been in it and watched since the inception. And she brought her best friend to the screening. And to all the romantic parts, they were really oohing and ahhing, and it was really quite funny. I don’t think they would have done that in the first two seasons. So it’s funny to see how they are maturing in that direction.
The very first scene this season made me jump. Then things got funny right away. Is that the secret? To step on the scary with a laugh?
JK: I find the fact that it’s so intense is what the joke is, right? That it’s for kids. So yeah. And we did fight, we pushed back on that because producers were worried that was too dark. But CBC gives us a lot of latitude, to punch it with a laugh or trick ‘em with a tearjerker and that’s sort of the way we write.
You often hear that tweens are the hardest TV audience to hold, that they’re the most fickle. What’s your secret to holding them?
JK: I think personally, having them challenged and I think not speaking down to them. We always take it from a point of if we can make an adult laugh, then the joke hits, right? If it’s a little bit more sophisticated, we hope that those kids can feel that and appreciate it. We’re definitely just not pandering to the kids.
CA: I mean, I know my kids react to me with dad jokes and that sort of thing and I kind of have a sense of what their will make them laugh. And I think that translates to the page a lot as well.
Did you get into this series with a mandate to educate as well as to entertain younger viewers?
JK: Yeah, we love documentaries, we love, you know, history docs. So our focus is entertainment first and educate light.
I mean, the best example that I’ve always given is that the number one thing that taught people about the Renaissance was the Ninja Turtles, right? They never mentioned anything about the Renaissance or those painters, honestly, just that their names are Michelangelo and Leonardo. People then decided to go out on their own and explore.
You seem to have added a lot of music in season three.
JK: One of my best friends Antonio Naranjo is one of our four composers. Music rights are very expensive, around $20,000 for a song that was a top 100 Billboard hit, right? So obviously, when we’re editing, we’ll cut to something that sounds like a Beyonce song, and then we’ll give Antonio the task of writing something in that vein – and, of course, throwing in a couple of Starkbucks coupons for his efforts.
Simone Miller (who plays one of the main students, Raign) sings beautifully in episode three.
CA: She’s an incredible singer, yeah. And we always knew that we wanted to go in the musical direction for this season to basically showcase her and the other kids’ talent.
You have a very funny adult supporting cast. You must be grateful to have such a deep pool of improv players in the Toronto area to draw from, right?
CA: There were so many takes we didn’t use. It almost became hard not to ruin takes.
Stacey McGunnigle, from This Hour Has 22 Minutes, is a big part of season three.
JK: She’s very funny. Stacey and Rod [Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll, seen on Kim’s Convenience]. I don’t know why it took us three seasons to realize they should be in scenes together.
Your episodes are around 12 minutes each. Everyone has a shorter attention span now but does that format work best for tweens? You’re competing with things like Tik-Tok for eyeballs, right?
JK: If you look at episode one, I think there are 12 different locations and it’s a 14 minute episode. So the idea is just to keep things moving as fast as possible.
Can you tell us a little more about what fans can look forward to this season?
JK: I mean, it’s quite personal for me, but it is very much the end with these kids and it really goes off on a tangent. I don’t know if you’ll see where it’s sort of going, but yeah, it is quite fine.
CA: If we look at this is a trilogy, this is definitely the end of it.
If there’s a season four, would you recast it with a new group of younger actors?
JK: Well, that’s not for me to decide because I think I’m done. But I do think that the idea would be new group, new town, maybe, something like that. The producers are looking at continuing, but we haven’t heard anything 100 per cent.
Finally Carm, you mentioned that Group of Seven painter Lawren Harris figures prominently in season three. Besides the fact that he’s from Brantford, why him?
CA: Well, I went to art school and studied the Group of Seven and Harris was always the top for me. That mountain painting with the fish and the other Lawren Harris paintings in the series? I was the one who made the paintings.
So you have a whole new side gig now as a forger?
CA: That’s yes, I think. Yeah. Moving into my new place and into the Bridal Path.
JK: Probably more lucrative than getting into children’s television!
Detention Adventures third season is streaming now at CBC Gem.