The idea for the TV show One More Time came to D.J. Demers in the early days of the pandemic. The Kitchener, Ont., native and standup comedian was sitting at home in Los Angeles, where he was living at the time, and feeling the weight of living through a world-stopping global crisis.
“Everything just felt dark,” he says. “So I was like, ‘Why don’t I try and write something that just feels good. And then I kind of harkened back in my mind to when I was a teenager, working at Play it Again Sports. I thought, ‘Why don’t I take the positive feelings from that era and bring it to TV.'”
The new sitcom, which premieres on CBC on Jan. 9, features Demers as a fictionalized version of himself, managing a used sporting goods store in a medium-sized Canadian city.
Demers says that the fictional D.J. has some of his character traits, but turned up to 10. While Demers describes himself as an optimist, D.J. the character is relentlessly optimistic, against all reason.
“I think it makes for an interesting counterpoint to all the chaos that’s going to happen throughout the season,” he says. “This guy’s trying to keep positive, even though some crazy stuff is going to happen around him through the season.”
He adds that, beyond his own personal nostalgia, a used sporting goods store felt like a good place to set a sitcom, in part because it’s so prosaic.
“The idea of a used sporting goods store is kind of mundane,” he says. “I love the idea of doing these heightened, elevated things within this seemingly mundane environment.”
Both Demers and his character are hard of hearing, and while that’s not the show’s focus, it does provide some good material. In the pilot, D.J.’s hearing aids go dead after he loses an ill-conceived dunk tank bet, forcing him to lip-read with mixed results. It’s an absurdist riff on something Demers says has happened to him countless times.
“Hearing aids go dead pretty easily,” he says. “If you’re hard of hearing, you have to get used to the fact that if it’s raining or you’re sweating, you’re gonna be deaf … I’m lip-reading a lot more than everybody in my day-to-day life, just trying to piece things together contextually.”
While Demers has several stand-up specials to his name, One More Time is his first time both writing for and performing in a series. He enlisted veteran showrunner Jessie Gabe to lead the writers’ room. For her part, Gabe says she was instantly drawn to the series.
“I could see the world right away,” she says. “I could see the characters were great and well-developed, but the bigger thing is, I watched his stand-up and I thought, ‘You know, he’s funny, he’s charming, but he also brings a great, unique POV,’ which to me was the most important thing to make sure we bring into the show.”
One More Time is part of a broader resurgence of workplace comedies in the past several years, including shows like Bust Down, Abbott Elementary and the Party Down reboot, as well as Canadian series like Strays and Shelved. Gabe says that comes, in part, from people looking for stories about connection.
“People like to see a family,” she says. “It’s a workplace that feels like a family, and you want to be with them.”
“The workplace comedy, for me, is also a reflection,” adds Demers. “People see themselves on screen. Most people aren’t superheroes or presidents or whatever. They live regular, everyday lives at an office or a sports store or whatever. So I think it’s a chance to reflect them in that world, and then take them to a weird, funny, crazy place.”
One More Time starts Jan. 9 on CBC and CBC Gem.