OMNI’s trilingual cop drama ‘Blood and Water’ targets Chinese audience

TORONTO – TV cop dramas are a dime a dozen.

But OMNI’s new Vancouver-set crime series “Blood and Water” hopes to shatter expectations on several fronts: each episode is only half-an-hour long; its script is a mix of English, Mandarin and Cantonese; and it revolves around a rookie female detective coping with racial and generational hurdles, family issues, as well as a cancer diagnosis.

“There’s a lot about this show that isn’t conventional and yet at the same point in time it’s not non-linear or inaccessible,” says executive producer Diane Boehme.

“Inevitably people are going to hate or love what you do but I think it’s been very, very gutsy.”

Steph Song stars as ambitious detective Jo Bradley, who lands a huge case when the son of a wealthy, prominent Chinese family is found dead. Her scenes are largely in English.

The investigation into his murder draws Jo into his tight-knit, secret-riddled brood, and that’s where most of the Mandarin comes in.

OMNI’s parent company, Rogers, says the predominant spoken language is Mandarin, followed by English and then Cantonese. When Mandarin is spoken there will be English subtitles and when English is spoken there will be Chinese subtitles, in traditional and simplified characters.

Song says she was intrigued by the story and overall concept, and by Jo’s complex background — she was born in China but adopted as a toddler by a white Canadian professor who raised her in Vancouver. As a result, Jo’s notions of family and identity are constantly questioned and she struggles when faced with a case that plays on her insecurities.

“She understands the culture but she’ll never really understand it because it’s not the way she was brought up,” explains the Malaysian-born Song, who came to Canada at two months old and later moved to Australia.

“So this role was actually quite good for me because I could understand it, having not been brought up entirely Chinese. I’ve got relatives in Malaysia and relatives in Hong Kong and you know I do kind of wonder at the way they were brought up.”

Boehme notes the broadcaster is so confident in the series they’ve already ordered scripts for a second season. She says there’s keen interest to reach a growing audience underserved by conventional television.

“The reality is the demographics in Canada are shifting so significantly that the Mandarin speaking population is one of the biggest populations per year, it grows every year by a sizable margin,” she says, adding they are also pursuing sales overseas.

The other odd aspect of “Blood and Water” is its half-hour format, also ordered by Rogers. Boehme says the request initially threw producers for a loop.

“We sort of went, ‘Oh my God, a half-hour drama? What is that? What does that look like? What’s the rhythm of that? What’s the rhythm of the storytelling? Half-hours are typically comedies,” she notes.

“We did a bit of research and there really isn’t anything to go by so we kind of had to make that up as we went along…. We had to be very surgical and quite economical in certain ways because we had a lot of characters and a lot of stories to serve.”

In the end, she says she’s a fan of the unusual format.

“Because it’s a nice tasty little drama bit in this day of shortened attention spans, people watching on handheld devices — you’re in a waiting room, you’re waiting for a plane, you’re on a commute, whatever it turns out to be,” she says.

“It’s less of a commitment but hopefully engaging enough that you come back for more.”

The eight-part series premieres with two back-to-back episodes Sunday on the multicultural OMNI network, which has five television stations in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. Nationally, new episodes will be made available Mondays on

Co-stars include Peter Outerbridge of “Orphan Black,” Elfina Luk, Fiona Fu, Simu Liu, Oscar Hsu, Loretta Yu, Osric Chau, and Russell Yuen.

Song says it’s about time these issues are being explored on conventional television, noting they offer a refreshing change from caricatures or fringe parts more often handed to Asian actors.

“I’m really grateful that roles like this are being written. She’s a strong Asian female lead on a show in Canada. Isn’t that amazing?”

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