Money woes. Fan campaigns. COVID-19. Inside a beloved TV show ‘back from the brink’
“Wynonna Earp” makes you believe anything is possible — as long as you’re willing to fight for it.
A supernatural western about a gunslinging demon hunter and descendant of Wyatt Earp, the Syfy series has followed Wynonna, portrayed by actress Melanie Scrofano, and her ragtag group of friends for three seasons as they’ve faced increasingly powerful foes.
When TV audiences last saw her, she had just triumphed over the demon responsible for placing a hereditary curse on her lawman great-great grandfather. The Season 3 finale ended with Wynonna preparing to save her sister and her baby’s father from the Garden of Eden while the rest of her friends were mysteriously MIA.
“Wynonna Earp’s” long-awaited Season 4, premiering Sunday, will pick up where the cliffhanger left off nearly two years ago.
“It really feels like we have come back from the dead,” says showrunner and executive producer Emily Andras in a phone call from Calgary, Canada. “I feel like we’re rising like a sexy, gay phoenix from the ashes a little bit. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a lot of pressure because the fans have been waiting so long for this premiere. I just really want them to feel like it was worth it.”
“Wynonna Earp’s” Emily Andras, Melanie Scrofano, Katherine Barrell, Chantel Riley and Greg Lawson discuss what they’re looking forward to for Season 4.
That the road to these new episodes was a roller coaster is an understatement. Despite Syfy’s June 2018 announcement that the network had renewed the series for a fourth and fifth season, financial troubles and executive turnover at production company IDW Entertainment led to delays and uncertainties over whether new episodes would actually happen.
‘We need some help’
Loosely based on a comic book by Beau Smith and proudly described as an “underdog,” “Wynonna Earp” debuted in 2016 to relatively positive reviews and moderate ratings.
At the center of the show is Wynonna, an initially reluctant hero who takes out demons with her family’s magical gun. Despite her insecurities and aversion to responsibility, she’s loyal to those she loves and knows it’s up to her to save the day. Her support network includes her younger sister Waverly, town sheriff Nicole Haught and immortal gunslinger-turned-vampire Doc Holliday.
It’s a show about family and love and embracing who you are meant to be regardless of other people’s perceptions and expectations, wrapped in a package that includes plenty of whiskey, donuts, steamy romance and creepy monsters.
“Wynonna Earp’s” feminist perspective and LGBTQ-inclusive storytelling quickly drew a passionate following of fans known as “Earpers.” It’s a TV fandom known not only for its commitment to the show but for its collective niceness.
“It’s [a fandom] built on kindness, acceptance, sincerity — the things the world’s lacking,” says Tim Rozon, who plays Doc Holliday. “You can express what you’re going through and find a community of people that are sympathetic to you.”
One element that has won fans over has been the series’ handling of Waverly’s relationship with Nicole, which was nurtured during a time when many queer women were being killed off on TV shows in order to advance their straight counterparts’ plotlines. Aware of the unfortunate trope, Andras promised viewers early in the show’s run that these characters would survive.
“It helped me understand my own journey with my sexuality,” says the performer behind Waverly, Dominique Provost-Chalkley, who recently came out as queer. “Meeting people that were so unapologetically themselves and found that strength through Waverly, meeting them stepping into their light and their authenticity... hugely influenced my own journey.”
And now the Earpers’ legacy forever includes helping to win the fight for the future of their beloved show.
Andras remembers the period between her realizing that “Wynonna Earp’s” future was in trouble and these troubles becoming public as a lonely time.
“It was a little bit isolating,” she says. “I had this piece of information and it felt like torture.”
Then she learned that some at the production company hoped waiting out the clock would get IDW out of its commitment to making more episodes. This prompted Andras to take the risky step of trying to rally fans with a tweet about not messing with her family.
“I was quite mad about the way things were going, quite honestly,” Andras says. “And then the Earpers kind of blew up.”
Andras says that Earpers, more than fans of other shows she’s worked on, “feel like they have some ownership in the show.” Some members of the cast even describe their relationship with them as symbiotic.
“I really thought it wasn’t fair to tell the fans that the body was in the morgue when it was still in the operating room and there was a chance to save it,” says Andras. “I felt passionately about that and I felt like I was willing to take the knocks of being the one to say, ‘We need some help.’”
Fans of Netflix’s canceled “The OA” unveiled billboards in New York and Los Angeles on Monday, as campaigns to save the beloved TV series become bolder than ever.
The Earpers rallied behind the #FightForWynonna campaign, which extended beyond a social media presence. They coordinated phone calls, sent emails and even organized to take out billboards in New York’s Times Square to show IDW just how much support there was for the show and to lobby for investment.
“The uncertainty of the show coming back was such a whirlwind and was a very difficult pill to swallow,” says Provost-Chalkley. “I knew how much this show meant to so many people, and how it would impact a lot of people’s lives had we not come back and had we not won the fight. It was a very intense thing to go through.”
Katherine Barrell, who plays Nicole Haught, says it “was not a fun feeling” to be stuck in a state of uncertainty for so long.
“But I think we all just knew we couldn’t leave it like that,” says Barrell. “We just couldn’t. There’s no way we couldn’t go back and wrap [the story] up.”
In July 2019, almost a full year after the original news of “Wynonna Earp’s” renewal, it was announced that Season 4 was set to begin production. The fight for Wynonna was won.
‘Canary in the the coal mine’
For Scrofano, who says she never truly lost hope about the show’s future, the biggest lesson she learned from this experience was that “you’re never too insignificant or small to make a difference.”
“When you come together, you can achieve anything and I just never knew that,” she says. “It’s just been such a course-correct for me to watch the way people who cared about something … figure it out together. It was so inspiring and empowering.”
Being able to start production on Season 4 “just felt like a long overdue homecoming,” Scrofano says. “But once we actually started, it felt like we hadn’t missed a beat.”
For Rozon, Season 4 has felt special since his very first day back.
“I was with Dom when we started because that’s where we left,” says Rozon. “I remember the two of us sitting in a tent — it was freezing outside in Calgary. I look over and she looks at me and we both just had these giant smiles and we didn’t have to say anything … knowing how happy that it made us to be getting to play these characters again.”
Barrell says that starting production on these new episodes also involved a touch of nervousness, “in a good way.”
“The first scene back that we shot, Nicole is in a different place than we’ve ever seen her before,” Barrell explains. “So that was a real adjustment for me as an actor because it was getting back into Nicole after almost two years, but also getting into a new version of her that I’d never explored.”
“I remember really heavily leaning on Melanie Scrofano, who is directing the episode, to just guide me with the tone of that scene,” she adds. “So it was like the nerves of being back and then also this sort of added layer, but it was a pretty special moment.”
Andras describes the upcoming Season 4 episodes as fraught, hilarious, heroic, emotional and shocking. She adds that certain themes explored this season “serendipitously” reflect the mood of 2020, including fighting for what you believe in and holding on to those you love.
“Season 4 to me, in a lot of ways, feels like a rebirth of Wynonna in the sense that she’s being thrown again into a new world that she doesn’t understand,” says Scrofano. “This time she’s more ready for it, but she doesn’t have [her gun] Peacemaker.”
“In Season 1, Episode 1, [Wynonna] was struggling with her identity and who she is and what her place is in the world,” she continues. “In Season 4, it felt very much the same way. It felt like ‘now, without Peacemaker, who am I?’ … It was the feeling of, again, discovering her place in the world and whether or not she has worth within it.”
According to the cast, there are elements within episodes this season that have been affected by the show’s journey and fight to be able to continue its story.
“All of us realize how close we were to losing our show,” says Rozon. “When you’re so close to losing something you love, it hurts so much, especially when you’re aware of how much you love it. … I think [the writers] had that in mind this season. Because this is the season that Earpers deserve.”
Scrofano recalls one scene she “couldn’t get through without crying.”
“I definitely thought about the fight for Wynonna in that scene and when you see it you’ll probably know exactly which one,” Scrofano says. “The Earpers were in my heart and in my mind in that and I just couldn’t get through it without feeling the positive weight of what people had accomplished for us to be able to do what we were doing in that moment.”
But the fight for Wynonna is not entirely over.
In March, as the production entered a scheduled midseason break, Canada and the U.S. began shutting down in response to growing concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. “Wynonna Earp” had completed shooting on the first six episodes of the season before the series was, once again, put on pause.
Production on the remainder of the series resumed earlier this month in Calgary, complete with routine testing, mandatory masks and other safety precautions.
“It feels a bit like being the canary in the coal mine, to be honest,” says Andras. “Everybody is so dedicated to making sure it’s a safe working environment and really keeping communication open. … It’s kind of emotional to see how determined everybody is to really take care of one another.”
The schedule shift will bring new experiences for the cast and crew, including filming in the summer and working on new episodes while the current season airs. But the cast was looking forward to getting back to work once again.
“The season keeps on coming back from the brink,” Barrell says. “It’s such a perfect symbol of what this show is. It’s just so strong and refuses to go away.”
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