Health Nutz, season two, airs Saturdays at 6 p.m. on APTN. Info: healthnutz. tv or aptn.ca/pages/healthnutz.
OVER the course of his approximately two-year stint working at a Toronto natural health clinic as a juice bar bartender, Vancouver filmmaker Jason Friesen saw it all.
A stock broker who followed ecstasy-soaked weekend binges with weekday cleanses, a man with a mysterious back rash and women who felt no shame in airing their intimate feminine health concerns no matter how uncomfortable or unfamiliar he was with the topic, his patrons ran the gamut.
After moving from his native B.C. to Ontario to attend classes at Second City, Friesen connected with a friend who was attending a naturopathic college. Welcomed into the natural health community by the friend and his peers, Friesen often found himself being called upon to serve as a guinea pig for their burgeoning practises, like acupuncture and yoga.
"That whole world was new to me," he says.
Friesen's new friends also helped him get a job at a juice bar, now closed, that attracted a host of regulars interested in sharing their personal plights. Nothing was off limits.
"It just started to turn into this thing where people would come in and it was
like working in a bar," he says. "They would tell me their problems - everything like you see when you're in a bar or you see in the movies - but there was no alcohol. I was making them carrot shakes and protein shakes."
"It was just kind of odd-bally. . . . You got a total run of the mill of all these different characters, but at the end of the day, when these people came in and they sat there, it was like they wanted to be a part of a community," he adds.
While some of Friesen's patrons may have had a certain "wacky" factor to them, he developed a strong affection for each and every one of them and was so inspired, he decided to make a short film based on his experiences. Years later, the short paved the way for his spirited primetime TV comedy series, Health Nutz, currently in its second season on APTN.
Friesen, who is Métis, works as a writer, director and producer and is the founder of Chasing Pictures Inc. He created Health Nutz, and wrote and produced it with partner Dasha Novak (Snow Crow Productions). Friesen's previous credits include his work on animated series The Adventures of Artie the Ant for APTN and documentary film Karl May & The Wild West.
Health Nutz's six-episode second season stars Toronto actor Wesley French (Cashing In, Shania) and Lucie Guest (Edgemont, Repeaters). Guest stars include Brian George (Seinfeld, Big Bang Theory), Loverboy's Mike Reno and Rock 101 FM's Bro Jake Edwards.
The show is set in North Vancouver and is centred around a fictional First Nation. It focuses on Axel Salmonbelly (French) who's appointed by his father, the nation's chief, to manage the Health Nutz Juice Bar, a popular community hang out on the reserve, after its owner fails to return from Las Vegas. Axel, a former professional golfer who is struggling with his sobriety, is "like the proverbial fish out of water, or more appropriately, the drunk out of work with no money," according to show producers.
Health Nutz follows Axel as he tries to turn his life around with the support of the juice bar's colourful staff and patrons, like a yoga instructor, played by George, who's more into bettering his financial situation than the health and well-being of his yogis and often uses hypnotism to his advantage.
Racy at times, the outlandish situations the characters find themselves in is intended to be taken all in good fun and the show has found a broad audience.
"The thing with comedy where I think it works is you've just got to escalate it and that's what I do," says Friesen.
"The characters say things a lot of times that you wish you could say or they're just like 'Oh my God I can't believe you did that or he is going to do that.' And I really like to do that because I think a lot of times we wish we could be more like that," he adds.
While Health Nutz focuses on those involved in the natural health and First Nations communities, it's not intended to make a commentary or speak to a certain stereotype, rather the show's humour is derived from the choices of each individual character, not the industry or culture they happen to be involved in as a whole.
"It's not the yoga that's the problem, it's the guy teaching the yoga," says Friesen.
The crux of the show is its emphasis on community.
"Everyone wants to be a part of a community and they want to be accepted for who they are and not judged," he says. "When you look at the show as a whole everyone has their own little odd idiosyncrasies, but they're all welcome."
Friesen set the show in North Vancouver because he likes the area's strong sense of community. "I grew up in Kamloops and when I go there, it just makes me feel like I'm in a small town again," he says.
While most of the series was shot at Burnaby's Bridge Studios, the upcoming episode, directed by Carl Bessai and featuring a sexually confused sasquatch, will go to air Saturday, Feb. 9 at 6 p.m. and was shot in Lynn Valley back in November 2011.
Following shooting, Friesen donated the set, props and costumes to his alma mater, Capilano University. He attended the school's Aboriginal film program, and was aided in getting Health Nutz on APTN thanks to connections forged while a student.
Friesen is currently shopping Health Nutz to bigger broadcasters throughout North America in hopes of increasing his audience.
"It's really cool just to remember when I was working in that juice bar and then now you're at Bridge Studios and the set's built and now it's become a reality, it's pretty mind blowing," he says.