If being human means having regrets, Erica Strange is very, very human. The central character of Being Erica, which premieres January 5 on CBC and will also air later on SOAPnet and BBC, has enough regrets to fuel a 13-episode season and beyond.
Erin Karpluk (Godiva's), who plays Erica with winning charm, describes her character as a 32-year-old woman who's overeducated and underachieving. "She's really candid and flawed and awkward, but she's also really resilient in overcoming adversities in life. It's about a woman trying to make the most of her life."
In the pilot episode, Erica is dumped by her Lavalife boyfriend, loses a job she's overqualified for, faces the disapproval of her family, and goes into anaphylactic shock at a coffee shock where she seeks shelter from storms literal and metaphoric. In the hospital she meets the mysterious Dr. Tom (Michael Riley, This is Wonderland), who gets her to write out her list of regrets and unwittingly commit to time-travel therapy. Each episode will focus on one of her regrets and her attempts to rectify past mistakes.
"By no means is it science fiction," Karpluk explained. "The time travel is more a catalyst for Erica to explore her past. She's learning from the past which enables her to make stronger decisions in the present which then shape her future."
In the first episode, for example, Erica is taken back to a high school dance where she felt her life started to unravel, allowing Karpluk to model 90210-era Shannen Doherty hair and high-waisted tapered jeans, as she laughed. The soundtrack is full of familiar '90s tunes, too, adding to the nostalgic fun of the flashback scenes.
Erica has little time to regret past fashion disasters as she struggles to improve on the poor decisions her younger self had made. "With the lessons in the show it's just like lessons in life – they're not tied up in a neat little bow," explained Karpluk. "It's not 'I've learned not to be bullied,' you know, she just learns to stand up for herself a bit more. There's definitely an evolution in her character in the present as she starts getting her act together. Physically she changes a bit, and her job starts getting better."
"It's My Name is Earl meets Pretty in Pink meets Back to the Future meets Sex and the City," Karpluk described the series. "It's very unique. Each episode takes on a different feel depending on what the regret is. I've never felt like we've repeated anything."
Karpluk, normally based in Vancouver, was relishing the experience of shooting in Toronto for the first time, despite the 16-hour days and chatting with me just before a night shoot in a cemetery in mid-December, filming the last episode of the first season. Full of praise for the cast and crew, she said "I feel like I'm really in my element when I'm working all the time and collaborating."
She's also impressed with the writing, led by creator Jana Sinyor (Degrassi: The Next Generation). If the premise seems limiting, Karpluk is convinced the execution of it is not. "That was my concern after we shot the pilot; I mean, how long is this list of regrets does she have?" she agreed. "I've been really surprised with what the writers have done. It seems instead of painting ourselves into a corner, it's opened up a lot of different doors."
With Canadian, American, and British broadcasters currently on board, and other international sales in the works, Karpluk hopes that wider audience will ensure future seasons of regrets and revelations.
"The season ender is a kind of cliffhanger, and it has more to do with the doctor than it does to do with Erica. You find out more about him as a person as opposed to him just being this all knowing doctor. It opened up the doors to so many things, and the crew and the cast were like, what's going to happen if we come back?"