"Hey, do you need a hand there?” a young female says brightly to Brian, a wheelchair user, while shoving him forward, not waiting for a response.
“Hands off the chair, please,” he responds, annoyance coating his voice.
“Sorry, I just assumed you needed help.” The girl walks away.
“That’s exactly the problem.”
This interaction is one that actor Brian George has in one of the opening episodes of the comedy series, Roll With It. But also, a real situation he’s come across many times before. Good intentions, bad executions.
Created by Canadian Content Studios (CCS), Roll With It, is a comedy series starring George, that follows his character Brian, a wheelchair user, as he and his friends plan a heist of a rival appliance store. This is done while simultaneously tackling the topic of accessibility – for example, when people grab someone's wheelchair without asking.
“We wanted to pair heavier topics with comedy,” Sylvia Beirnes, Co-Founder at Canadian Content Studios said of the series. “We want the audience to learn something, but also have fun.”
The cast and crew have just finished filming season 2 of the show and are excited to continue the story of Brian as he navigates a heist.
Creating The Show
In 2018, George, who himself is a wheelchair user, attended a Christmas party. Upon arrival at the venue, it was inaccessible with no way to navigate into the building, and he couldn't attend.
George aired his frustration online, and woke up to a private message from Jonathan Torrens, Co-Founder of CCS.
Torrens offered to take George to dinner to make up for it. They had a great chat, and over the next few years, a relationship developed.
With a background in stand-up comedy, they thought working together would be an amazing experience. They would spitball ideas, but nothing really got off the ground in the first few years. However, a few years later, George was asked to be involved in a show developed by CCS called Vollies.
Vollies is a comedy series that follows the Essex-West-Essex Fire Department and the calls they get in rural Nova Scotia, while rarely battling fires.
“It was a wonderful experience,” George said of the first few seasons.
His portrayal of a firefighter in a wheelchair spurred ideas in the minds of creators, and combined with George’s lived experience, there was opportunity for more storytelling about accessibility.
Following season two of Vollies, George was approached by the Executive Producer and was asked if he would like to work on his own show, focusing on his own lived experiences and the barriers he, and so many others, face every day.
From this conversation, Roll With It was born.
“I knew immediately this was a project I wanted to be a part of,” George explained.
Engaging Viewers Through Authenticity
As a wheelchair user, George uses his own experiences to inform the show.
“It’s collaborative in a sense,” George said in an interview. “If something happened in my own life, I would suggest we put it in the show. The show has become therapy in a sense and it's more material for the show.”
Jonathan and Sylvia started Canadian Content Studios 6 years ago with the goal of creating great things with great people – something that Roll With It embodies.
“We wanted to highlight the everyday obstacles that a wheelchair user faces but present it in a way where the viewer can familiarize themselves in an engaging way,” Beirnes explained.
Both Beirnes and George raved about the collaborative aspect of the show and the joyous experience it has been so far.
Season one of the show aired in late 2023, and the team has been excited to see such a positive response to the work, despite it only being out for a few months.
“My experience is instrumental in making sure its authentic,” George explained.
George wants viewers to challenge their misconceptions of the show when they watch it.
“People might see me in a wheelchair and think I can’t do anything,” George said of the misconceptions that people have of wheelchair users.
“We want to show that this is absolutely not true,” Beirnes added. “We want to convey an understanding that everyone can live a very full life.”
“I had a conversation with another actor recently about what our perfect roles would be,” George said with a big smile. “I’ve already got it.”
Building a show so near and dear to the hearts of the cast and crew has been a rewarding challenge in so many ways. With the goal of teaching the viewers about accessibility, the team also had to learn.
“We have stumbled and learned from our mistakes," Beirnes noted about navigating a show focused on accessibility and barriers in the environment.
Season two is an exciting opportunity to expand the world of the characters and delve into their motivations.
“This is something I’ve always wanted to show,” George said. “It’s a dream, it really is.”