Belly up to the bar boys and girls—the juice bar that is—and take a load off your shoulders, or your spirit over a carrot concoction or a protein shake.
Writer/producer Jason Friesen is serving up wheatgrass and a new series about to premiere on APTN. It caters to the health nut in all of us. And nut is the operative word here.
Health Nutz is a comedy about a group of new age yoga enthusiasts whose safe little world is taken over by a washed-up cynic of a con man, Buzz Riel Jr., who is played by Kevin Loring, who is nowhere near being typecast for this role.
This member of the Lytton First Nation of the Nlaka’pamux peoples is the recipient of the 2009 Governor General’s Award in Drama-English for his play Where the Blood Mixes. He not only writes but is an actor as well.
His character in Health Nutz, Buzz Jr., is forced by an accident to retire from professional hockey at the ripe-old age of twentytwo.
More than a decade later, he is jobless, and an alcoholic gambler, who discovers he has inherited everything from his estranged father, Buzz Sr. (PAUL STANLEY), including the successful Health Nutz Juice Bar in North Vancouver, and the patent to a lucrative energy drink, Buzz Berry Juice.
But junior is forced to change, or at least hide, his evil ways. In order to benefit from the inheritance, Buzz Jr will have to get sober and stay that way as a condition of his new-found wealth.
The series stems from the experiences of Friesen who spent time as a juice bartender during a six-year stint in Toronto. The Metis originally from Kamloops has lived in Vancouver for about 15 years, but had moved to the big smoke to study at the famous Second City there.
“I love improve,” he told Raven’s Eye, “so I went there and studied at Second City and did some stand-up for awhile.
Nothing to write home about, but just the experience, and ended up working in a natural health juice bar.”
There he met a wide assortment of characters who suffered from all these weird idiosyncrasies related to the natural health world.
“I started to realize it was very much like a bar in the sense that you have people coming in and sitting at the bar and telling you their problems.”
And all this talk would primarily take place over a glass of carrot juice.
“The thing you’ll find in the natural food and health industry in general, is a lot of people who have gone to (doctors) and they really do want a quick fix,” Friesen said.
“We did have a lot of eccentric types of people who came in and just start off talking about the weather and then all of a sudden they would just unload a lot of their personal problems.”
A press release about the new series describes Health Nutz as like the long-running television series “Cheers” without the beer.
Friesen wrote the pilot of Health Nutz, which premiered on APTN Dec. 27 (check your local listings for other dates and times), and is in development for six more episodes which he will write with producing partner Dasha Novak.
The pilot is directed by Tony Dean Smith. Included in the cast are Lucie Guest, Ali Liebert, Chris Gauthier, Chad Krowchuk, Chief Byron-Moon, David Hamilton Lyle, Cyler Point, Sam Bob, Jim Shield, Ken Lawson and Laura Mennell.
Novak said the show touches on subjects that are Native specific, but, like Vancouver where the action takes place, it features a multi-cultural cast that deals with a wide spectrum of issues that are not necessarily always specific to the Native community.
Liebert is upcoming actress who plays Tammy, a massage therapist/yoga teacher; young, blonde and in the style of a Pamela Anderson who has an aversion to germs so she only uses her elbows when she practises her craft.
“She’s naive, so perfect game for someone like Buzz Jr.,” said Friesen.
The pilot was shot in August at an old pub called the Astoria in the Downtown Eastside on East Hastings.
“It’s down and out,” said Novak.
The exterior of the bar was shot at Orange Number 5, a wellknown strip bar in the area. This is the second project the pair has produced for APTN.
The first is an animation series called The Adventures of Artie the Ant which is heading into its second season. The show features lots of music.
“The purpose of the music is for conflict resolutions,” said Friesen. Whenever Artie and his friends get into trouble, they all they break into song.
“We are all about grassroots,” said Novak. With the children’s program, they like to make the kids aware of the nature around them, inspire them to dig in the dirt and get dirty and look at the little creatures there.
The relationship with APTN began eight about years ago, and the television network seems to value the partners’ efforts.
“I always wanted to work in the industry,” said Friesen. “My initial contact with them was that I did documentary called Not Just a Half-breed.”
As for Health Nutz, a preview can be seen at the www.healthnutz.tv.
Initial feedback, said Friesen, is that people appreciate that the characters are just a bunch of wacky people who are trying to find their place in the world, and some of them happen to be Native.