Comedian Anthony Q. Farrell is back on his home turf. Following success as a writer on shows such as The Office and The Thundermans, he is now the creator and showrunner of Shelved, a brand new workplace comedy set in Parkdale’s Jameson Public Library. Check out our video interview above!
The show, premiering March 6 on CTV, centers around the Toronto library’s employees and attendees, who all believe the library should be run in different ways. Seriously underfunded but beloved by the community, their clashing personalities lead to wacky hijinks of all sorts, often dealt with by branch manager Wendy (Lyndie Greenwood, The Expanse).
Other major characters include day-transfer-turned-full-time-employee Howard (Chris Sandiford, What We Do in the Shadows), assistant branch manager Bryce (Paul Braunstein), junior librarian Jaq (Dakota Ray Hebert), and unhoused library patron Wendy (Robin Duke, SNL). The show features a diverse ensemble inspired by the Parkdale’s vibrant community, a melting pot of different skin tones, political orientations, and cultural backgrounds.
Fans of shows like The Office, Parks & Recreation, or Abbott Elementary will surely fall in love with Shelved, which uses a similar handheld aesthetic and deadpan tone. However, the show sheds the common documentary framing device, making the style feel fresh and breezy. Librarians and other avid readers will also enjoy the show’s modern literary humor, from Moby Dick references to one character’s nickname being “Big Library.”
That Shelf’s TV Editor Larry Fried got a chance to sit down with Farrell to discuss the show’s inception, how he infused his Caribbean roots into one of the show’s subplots, and why Kermit the Frog is the “ultimate showrunner.” You can watch the video interview above, or read the full transcription below.
You can keep up with Shelved on social media using #Shelved or by following CTV on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. New episodes of Shelved premiere Monday nights at 9:30 p.m. on CTV as well as online at CTV.ca and on the CTV app.
Anthony, welcome to That Shelf. It’s a pleasure to get to speak with you today about Shelved, your new workplace comedy. I got a chance to watch the first two episodes earlier this week and I really enjoyed them. I had a lot of fun with them. And it might be an obvious place to start, but my first question is where did this idea come from, and what was the inception for Shelved?
I mean, especially having the experience of writing on The Office, a lot of times people will come to me and say, “Hey, do you have any other office ideas?” because there are so many workplaces out there, and they really work as TV shows because they’re relatable, people find them familiar. It’s just an easy way into something that you want to quickly engage with. So, for me, when I moved back to Toronto in 2017, I spent a lot of time in Parkdale. I had a lot of friends down there. And I ended up at the library a couple times while I was just hanging out, waiting. That library especially, it’s so many things to so many different people, it just felt vibrant. Anytime I’m thinking about new places to put a comedy, you really want to think about what Episode 1 is, but also what Episode 100 is. Are you going to be able to sustain a series with this premise? So, talking to my co-producers at Counterfeit Pictures, we were just talking about places that were interesting. One of the partners for Counterfeit, Shane Corkery, is a huge library nerd. And we were just like, “I think it’s time.” We were like, there have been documentaries, there have been podcasts. We didn’t know a sitcom about a library, so we were like, “Maybe we’ll try! We’ll see what happens.” So, way back in 2018, we started talking about it. And I actually spent a day at the Parkdale library, just observing the workers and talking to the branch manager. There was an actual day transfer there that day, so I got trained with the day transfer.
Oh wow, that’s great.
So, that kind of led to a lot of figuring out different things with the library. What I love about it is that you talk about a couple different touchstones for the show, and you think about The Office, because obviously it’s a workplace, we have a lot of different characters and people who work there are all interesting. You also think about Parks & Recreation because of bureaucracy of working with the government, the idea of service and being a public servant and those kinds of things. But you also think about Cheers because it’s a workplace, but it’s a place where stories can walk in the door on a regular basis. For those reasons, I just felt like this premise had a lot of legs if it could convince a network to put it on TV. We thankfully found that in our best friends at CTV. But yeah. It’s one of those things where … as soon as we announced it last year, the outpouring of “I need to see this” was great. I was getting all kinds of people sliding into my DMs like, “I’m a librarian from Atlanta.” People from all around the world saying “I’ve got so many stories! I can’t wait to see it.” Everyone connects to libraries in a different way, so we’re already starting from a place where there’s that familiarity that you need to start a TV show. So, that’s where it all started.
I love that Cheers comparison because what makes this show very unique from a lot of other workplace comedies, from what I noticed—there are many things that make it unique—one of the things that I especially related to is that this is a community space, like you were talking about. Much like Cheers, how a bar can become a community space, or a barbershop can become a community space, so too can a library. But it also has that appeal that I think shows like Abbott Elementary also have, where it’s that it’s an underrepresented space on TV, in terms of the people who work there, especially, which sort of leads into my next question. What is your connection to libraries? Do you have fond memories of libraries yourself from your childhood or even your adulthood?
Yeah, absolutely. Even today, going back to Canada, we eventually found ourselves living in Markham, just outside of Toronto. And the library system here is excellent. Every community center has a library and they’re all fantastic. I take my kids there and we get books. It’s just one of those things where it feels warm and great. For me, as a kid, I always remembered using the library for all kinds of … I’m of that age when we didn’t have computers in our home all the time, so we would have to go and look things up in what we call books. [both laugh] I spent a lot of time in my childhood library up in Hillcrest, up near Leslie and Cummer, so I was there quite a bit doing my projects. And then even in high school when I was going to the bigger libraries, I went to Fairview and the central library up in Mel Lastman Square, I was there all the time doing work. And it was a quiet place to work. I had a younger brother and sister and there was always people in the house. You need some place to focus in and do that sort of stuff. And also, for me personally, my wife and I, we met in high school. And we were friends. We met doing a play. She went to the all-girls school across the street from my all-boys school.
Wow. I love that.
And we were doing a play together, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Yeah. “There I was standing with baskets of bread.” [both laugh] And she was one of the wives. So, we were friends while we were doing it, but then we started hanging out together in libraries. She was doing her homework, I was doing my homework, so that connection happened too in the library. So, there’s a lot of history for me in libraries. I’m glad that I get to explore some of that in the show.
Yeah. It can be sort of a romantic meet-cute space which is what we’re seeing with some of the characters in your show.
So, another great thing about the show that I think makes it very unique from a lot of other workplace comedies is that there are no side interviews, there’s no documentary artifice around it. It sort of uses the stylistic tenets of those comedies to streamline the tone and the flow and the comedic delivery and everything. Was there ever a version of this that included more Office-style interviews at all? Was there a conscious choice to want to shed that from the execution?
Yeah, it was a conscious choice to not include it from the very beginning. We really … I mean, I love that device, obviously.
Of course, yeah.
The mockumentary device is fantastic. I really felt like we didn’t need it for this show. I didn’t feel like we didn’t need to step out of the world. Also, I’m a purist with those kinds of things. For instance, I love the way The Office did it, but I don’t love the way Modern Family did it, you know what I mean? Modern Family’s a great show, but I would always find myself like, “Why is it documentarian there? Why are they doing that?”
I would always ask those questions, but I didn’t want to get to a place where I was trapped in a place where my brain wouldn’t let me do something in front of a camera. There is a place for certain shows. I love moments in Parks & Rec and The Office. I love Abbott Elementary. I think it’s great. I love those moments where you’re doing something in front of a camera and then that person sees it. I think that’s fantastic, but for this show I didn’t want to go down that path. It was a very conscious decision at the very beginning. Then once we got the green light to make the show, we absolutely were like, “Well, let’s use … it just feels like the right kind of tone for a library show.” You think about documentaries and just documenting what’s happening. And not judging. That’s also part of the thematic thing. It’s like, we’re not trying to judge the people who use this space or the people who are in this space, we’re just trying to tell their stories. So, that’s why we went with the documentarian angle with the stylistic choice we made there.
It’s a great choice because it’s a very quiet style. “Deadpan” is one word to use for its style, which is perfect for a library where it’s very quiet and it is sort of a deadpan environment. And also, it’s so validating to hear you say all of that because I do sometimes watch these comedies and I’m like, “But … are they shooting a documentary? It doesn’t seem like they’re acknowledging it at all in this show.”
When I worked on The Office, I loved writing scenes where the cameras had to work to get information. Do you know what I mean?
And it’s funny because Randall Einhorn, the DP for The Office for many, many years, he is one of the lead directors for Abbott Elementary. You can totally see he’s bringing that style. He’s been a cameraperson for doc stuff, so he loves those moments where the camera finds things, right? So, you can tell Abbott really honed in on that as well.
For sure. Absolutely. I would love to hear a little bit, also, about the set.
I am personally an American. I am learning a lot of new things about Canada and its wonderful towns. So, I have to ask, as a total layman, is this the Parkdale library? Or was it a reconstruction?
It’s a reconstruction. It’s fairly similar to what it used to look like. So, they got some upgrades a couple of years ago. Actually, right after I went to visit them and hung out with them, they were waiting for upgrades at that point. It kind of looks like Parkdale a little bit before the upgrades where it’s not seen a lot of love. The set was great. Brendan Smith, who did the set, was fantastic. The artists really went into the walls and created watermarks and burn marks and all kinds of stuff to make it feel like a space that had not seen a lot of love since the 1960s. On top of that, we have to thank the Toronto Public Library for lending us 16 pallets of books. We were in a place where we were like, “What are we going to do? How are we going to find books?” That was the big question, and we went to the library, and they were like, “Well, we have all these books that are out of service. They’re not in circulation anymore, they’re just kind of sitting in the factory. How many linear feet do you want?” And we were like, “Linear feet?”
[laughs] That’s amazing.
So, we literally borrowed the books from the library. We have them on extended loan. We took them back after we were done shooting, and we’ll get them back again if we’re lucky enough to get a season two. Then we’ll have them there again. So, thank you to them for letting us use those books. Of course, we have a bunch of books. And we got some books as well from a few different publishers that let us have … they were like, “Here’s a box of 150 of our titles. You’re cleared to use them.” We went to a lot of different places to see if we could fill the space. And some very, very nice people let us use their things. And then, like I said, the team that built the set and decorated it, I can’t say enough the wonderful artists that put their time and efforts into creating that set. We had librarians come into the set. They walked around and they were like, “Yeah. This works. You did it.” And we were just like, “Yeah!” Felt good.
That’s awesome. I have to imagine that this is a wonderful show for librarians or library nerds to watch because there are some really fun wordplay moments, modern wordplay, thrown in the script. Howard’s nickname is “Big Library,” which I thought was hilarious. And there’s also this one great line where Jack says something like, “Oh, that’s just straight fiction section. That’s pure fiction section,” which is so funny. And I was wondering, do you have a favorite little moment of library modern wordplay that you got to throw into one of the scripts? Maybe it’s in a script that we haven’t yet seen.
You know what? I love when we take … there’s an episode entitled “Moby Dick” later on, and there’s a monologue. I’m not going to tell you whose monologue it is, but there’s a monologue in that episode that kind of harkens back to Moby Dick in a way. And moments like that where people who get it are going to really get it. And they’re going to be like, “Oh! I see what you did there, and I see how you used the book and these characters and what they’re going through to really use the literary device in that book in the show.” Moments like that, that’s one of my favorite moments of the season. That monologue that will happen in … I think it’s Episode 6.
Yeah. But I think in every episode there’s little connective tissue. I mean, I love doing it, but my writers had a lot of fun putting this stuff into the world, so we had a blast making the show. I feel like all the writers, I can speak for all of us and say we’re all nerds. We all love that stuff. We love putting that into the world and then getting our amazing actors to say those words out loud. That was an absolute treat.
Speaking of nerds, I’ve got to tell you, as a Muppet nerd myself, all of these Muppet Show references are so killer. And I love seeing that Muppet fan representation that we need on television.
We need it.
As a fan, I have to ask, is this a writers’ room of Muppet fans? What was the inspiration to include that as a trait for Wendy’s character?
Yeah. First of all, I’m a huge Muppet fan myself and a lot of the other writers are too. I mean, here’s the thing. For me, Kermit was the ultimate showrunner. You know what I mean?
[laughs] I love that. Absolutely.
Kermit is the ultimate showrunner. And I always feel like I’m living that Kermit lifestyle because I constantly am surrounding myself with weirdos to make a TV show. That’s my life. And I look around set and I’m just like, “This is the dream. I’m living that Henson life.” Wendy is like that too, right? Wendy is that person who is the Kermit of the show. She’s the person who’s got to pull all this together and turn it into, like we say, a beautiful mess. That’s why we felt like it just felt right. We don’t do as many Muppet connections later on, but we definitely wanted to set up that Wendy’s a character who loves her some Muppets.
I love that. Season 2, try to throw in a Sweetums reference just for me.
For old time’s sake. I was actually just at Disney World in Florida recently, and they have a Muppets attraction there, and Sweetums is the only actual puppet character that’s in the ride. They have a full body performer who does the shtick.
Yes! I remember because we went to … was it Disney World? I think it was Disney World a couple years ago. Yeah, I remember going on the Muppet ride and having the person come through like “[insert Muppet onomatopoeia].” Yeah.
Such a highlight. Speaking of highlights, I would love to talk a little bit about the second episode. One of my favorite scenes is when we meet Sheila and her father in the coffee shop. I thought that was such a great little vignette there. And I have to imagine that that kind of dynamic between Sheila and her dad does not come from nowhere. [both laugh] So, I have to ask, what inspired that dynamic to be included in the show? And from what I gather, that is not the last time we’re going to see Oswald, am I correct?
No, that’s not the last time. You’re also going to meet Sheila’s mom in a later episode.
So, Oswald and Deena—Deena is Sheila’s mom—they’re loosely based on my actual parents. So, my parents are divorced, and they just can’t be around each other. It’s funny because they’re actually going to be around each other on Monday. We’re doing a little tiny launch party and I invited them both.
Oh, that’s great.
We’re going to see what happens.
Oh boy, here we go.
My parents are from Saint Kitts and Nevis. My dad’s from Nevis, my mom’s from Saint Kitts, and I actually grew up on the island a little bit when I was a kid, so that’s also the reason why there were Saint Kitts and Nevis flags and I made the character from my old homeland. So, we actually got some stuff from Saint Kitts’ tourism group for the set, which was great. They were like, “Yeah! Take some stuff.”
That’s great. That’s awesome.
It is absolutely based on not just my dad and my mom, but especially for people from Toronto, there’s a lot of people from a Caribbean heritage here. And we all know that “that man.” [both laugh] We all know who does not want to be bothered and will look at you hard when you’re trying to get him to change his ways. He’s very much a character that people will connect to and understand. Having Sheila’s parents be a part of the show to me just made her feel like she’s got even more dimensions now. As a show, you want to have an external place to have scenes and have commentary and have people go and take their breaks, so I was really into having a coffee shop that was run by parents. The story goes that Oswald and Deena run the shop, but they can’t ever be there together at the same time. That’s the reason why Sheila’s usually there in between, to cover that transition.
I love that. And this show does not make a huge stink about race. It’s very much not an element of the show, but at the same time, it does feel substantial that we have a show here, two Black leads, running it. And then we have these other perspectives, your Caribbean perspective that you’re throwing in there. You’ve spoken a lot about how you struggled as a writer of color post The Office, and I’m wondering, was it important for you from the very beginning to incorporate those kinds of perspectives in the show?
Yeah, absolutely. I feel like it’s one of those things where it’s underrepresented. There are so many points of view, there are so many different ways to get into these worlds, and this is one way. I think what’s nice is that you can have this version, but there are other stories from other people that will be different and valid and you should watch those too, right? I always feel like, in my world, I’ve always had a diverse group of people around me, just growing up, so it feels like the most … especially if you’re going to set something in Toronto, it feels like a natural way. And that’s one of the reasons why we chose Parkdale is because Parkdale feels like a really … not just race, but socioeconomic diversity. Even with people with different abilities and some people who are disabled. It’s a lot of different people who live and work in Parkdale, so it felt like a natural way to include that diversity without making it feel forced. Do you know what I mean?
I feel like it’s one of those things, like you were mentioning, the show just feels natural. It doesn’t feel like anyone’s out of place, it feels like everyone belongs. That was important to me, for sure.
It is kind of beautiful. The show is really a tapestry. You have characters with different political affiliations, you have a character who’s unhouse, you have all of these different perspectives all coming together, and it makes for this wonderful melting pot of a series, which was something that I think is going to appeal to a lot of people.
My last question here for you is, you worked on The Office, and you’ve done some work for The Thundermans, and now it seems like you’re thoroughly back on your home turf. You’re showrunning this show, you’re also working on the second season of Run the Burbs, how does it feel to be honing in on Canadian content again being back on your home turf?
It feels great. There’s so many stories to tell, and it’s nice to be home, to be able to really delve into some of these shows, being able to be a part of it. Also, being a mentor for a lot of writers. Even before this call, I was talking to another writer, another person who had some questions about what they’re working on, right? So, it’s nice to be here and to help use my experience in the US and UK and here to help people find their way and find their footing so that they can be the ones that are helping other people in the future. It’s been nice. It’s been a lovely homecoming. I’m really glad to be back.
Well, we are glad to see you back. New episodes of Shelved begin on March 6th with new episodes Mondays at 9:30 p.m. on CTV as well as online at CTV.ca and on the CTV app. Anthony, thank you so much for joining us and best of luck on the first season.
Thank you so, so much. Appreciate you.