New series Strays is about life at a Hamilton animal shelter

Strays, a spin-off series of the beloved Kim’s Convenience, is premiering next week with Hamilton as the backdrop for its hilarity. 

The original series, produced by Thunderbird Entertainment, follows Shannon (Nicole Power) as she moves away from Toronto for a new life as the executive director of the Hamilton East Animal Shelter. 

Nikki Duval, who plays Shannon’s apathetic cousin Nikki, described filming the series as a “wild” attempt to navigate the distractions of adorable puppies, squawking birds, and bunnies copulating.

“I just can’t wait for the public to see it and laugh with us,” she said. 

CBC’s Conrad Collaco will speak with members of the cast and crew at noon on Sept. 13 on Facebook Live. 

The half-hour comedy series launches on Sept. 14 on CBC TV and CBC Gem. 

Nikki Duval, who plays the character of Nikki, says she fell in love with her character upon reading the script. (CBC)

Frank Cox-O’Connell plays the animal care manager Kristian — a character who’s “great with animals, humans not so much.”

The actor comes into the series from a background of live theatre — a life that he says fell apart amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. There was some “bitter sweetness” in Shannon’s story, he said, of moving to Hamilton and trying to find hope in a new, exciting life.

“It feels like it really mirrored what was going on for a lot of us,” he said. 

“There was this time of great change where we were trying to start afresh and start something new and find a sense of home, which felt like it was really the story of 2020/2021 for a lot of us.”

Frank Cox-O’Connell, who plays Kristian, says he found parallels in Shannon’s story of moving to Hamilton and trying to find hope in a new life. (CBC)

He says “it feels so right” for the show to be set in Hamilton.

He described Hamilton as a steel-worker town that’s home to “salt-of-the-earth,” no-nonsense people. But he also noted the mass of “young, hipster” newcomers from Toronto that are effectively gentrifying the city.

It sets the scene well, he said, to have the setting be a place of change, but also a community with history. 

Strip N’ Bowl

“It’s not like Shannon is showing up to a blank slate. She’s arriving at a place that has life and she’s trying to find a sense of home in a place that’s already ongoing,” he said. 

For some time, a Strip N’ Bowl sign adorned a building on Barton Street as part of the show’s set. Duval laughed as she described a misunderstanding on social media, where residents thought the business was a real one. 

Half of the people were appalled, she said, while the other half was genuinely “very excited.”

The actors described the series as a long time coming. Duval said the comedy will be familiar to Kim’s fans, while bringing in new, dynamic characters. 

The “beating heart” and spirit of Kim’s carries through, Cox-O’Connell said, but Shannon’s journey is at the centre.

Ferrets as costars

Cox-O’Connell worked with a variety of animals, juggling the difficult task of managing them in the background of scenes.

“There’s no such thing as a well-trained ferret,” he said.

“Playing with cute animals all day, if that’s your job, it’s exactly as fun as you think it would be.”

Kevin White (Kim’s Convenience, Schitt’s Creek) created the series. The cast also includes office manager Joy (Tina Jung) and the building’s maintenance worker Paul (Tony Nappo). 

Another new original series slated for the 2021-22 broadcast season, Run the Burbs, will star Andrew Phung, who played Kimchee on Kim’s Convenience, as a stay-at-home dad in the suburbs.