For Tracey Forbes, the question is not “who done it” but more so “why done it”.
The Beach area resident is referencing the new CBC police crime drama Cracked, a show she co-created, writes and produces.
Premiering in early January, the show features a newly formed Psych Crimes Unit headed by Inspector Diane Caligra (Karen LeBlanc) and comprised of officers, psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses. It is their responsibility to respond to any crime or crisis that involves a person with emotional distress, psychiatric disorder or mental illness.
The audience is able to watch a complex cast of characters and criminal investigations through a psychological lens.
Each episode portrays an individual with unusual behaviour, or someone affected by mental illness. This could be the perpetrator of the crime, the victim, the witness or a character who provides a key piece to the puzzle to be solved.
“We go to great lengths to portray them [people with mental illness] fairly”, says Forbes. “We show them as people who have family and friends. They love and they work, . They have hope. And they have mental illness.”
Forbes structures each episode around a character with behaviour that at first, you don’t understand. Slowly, you get to know the individual, know what their life is like and how they are involved in the case.
The viewer will come to realize mental illness is not to be feared and one should not equate it with guilt or crime.
The initial idea for Cracked stemmed from veteran Toronto police officer Calum deHartog, who produces the show with Forbes.
Dr. Steven Cohen, a psychiatrist from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) joins the team to help Cracked achieve the best possible balance of drama and authenticity.
“We want to create an awareness of mental health issues,” says Forbes, “but unlike many other shows, not further demonize mental illness.”
Each episode develops its main and guest characters, portrayed in both complicated and emotional roles.
In the pilot episode, lead character Detective Aidan Black, played by Canadian born David Sutcliffe (Gilmore Girls) has a public break down where he clucks like a chicken. Detective Black, who lives with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is “diagnosed” by the unit’s forensic psychiatrist Dr. Daniella Ridley, played by Vancouver born Stefanie von Pfetten (NCIS).
Her assessment of the detective is that he is “not broken”, but “cracked”.
Forbes, who has written other television shows including Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Flashpoint, says that Cracked has been able to attract excellent guest actors by writing complex and emotional roles often with behaviour associated with mental illness.
Cracked, seen Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. ET on the CBC, is filmed in Toronto. Although the city is not specifically identified as such, the images of the skyline and references to neighbourhoods and landmarks make no attempt to disguise it.
As the first season nears its end, Forbes says the show receives positive feedback from both the mental health community and the fans. She looks forward to deepening the characters and their relationships in future years, especially the dynamic between characters Aidan and Daniella.