It was a place of wonderment and discovery where I could spend hours with my head buried in a Judy Blume, The Baby-Sitters Club, or Nancy Drew book. Or I would sit and sift through encyclopedias and microfiche to read about interesting trivia and tales of past events that intrigued me.
I can’t say I have maintained that level of love for libraries today, but showrunner Anthony Q. Farrell is bringing me right back to it with his new show Shelved, starring Lyndie Greenwood (The Expanse), Dakota Ray Hebert (Run Woman Run), Chris Sandiford (What We Do In the Shadows) and Paul Braunstein (Baroness Von Sketch Show).
The program takes place in an underfunded Jameson library branch in the Parkdale area of Toronto. It follows an eclectic staff and the outlandish personalities of its patrons. Needless to say, it sounds like plenty of laughs abound.
It’s all comedy—Anthony Q. Farrell’s work and origins
Farrell has served as executive story editor on the hit show Little Mosque on the Prarie and had his original sitcoms Overlord and The Underwoods on CBC and The Secret Lives of Boys on CBBC in the UK come to fruition. He is known as a sitcom writer on the popular Nickelodeon family show The Thundermans and the fan favourite, The Office. He’s definitely accrued an expansive and well-rounded resume. One that has seen him receive accolades for Showrunner of the Year from Playback in 2021 and the Writers Guild of Canada in 2022.
Farrell was a theatre kid. He loved to have the crowd eating from the palm of his hand. He realized early on that making people laugh was his gift, and taking it to the next level may just be his calling. “I would be the kid who would write speeches that would make everyone laugh, and I would get to go down to the gym and do my speeches. One year in sixth grade, I did a speech on my Saturday nights. I had a little remote control and was like, ‘at eight o'clock, it's the Golden Girls!’ (laughs) and everyone was laughing. I won the speech contest and thought, I think I'm good at this. I liked the feeling of entertaining crowds and entertaining people. I didn't realize the spark had hit, but I knew I wanted to do more. I was good at math because both of my parents were accountants. So while I was doing all the math, I was also doing theatre and drama. But I think around then is when I realized I like entertaining people. And it wasn't until later that I realized I was actually going to try and do it as a career.”
He is also a comedian and actor, so his playfulness and timing are on point. His transition from comedy to television was honed at Humber College's Comedy Writing and Performance school, where he graduated in 2001. For one year, Farrell was immersed in classes that brought out the many facets of comedy he enjoyed—from clown school to screenwriting and everything in between. “That year kind of really got me to see there are so many avenues into comedy, so many avenues into this world, and I started exploring all of them so that when I eventually moved to LA, I was doing improv, trying to get into the groundings.”
“I was doing standup, trying to do open mic nights. I was doing theatre, acting in plays, writing and directing plays. As an island kid, I'm a hustler. I'm always trying to figure out the way in. So once I had the way in, which was, I got myself a literary agent, and a literary manager, she started putting me in places where I was writing scripts. I was getting them to the right people, meeting showrunners, and meeting executives. That's what really opened the door to me getting into different programs that led to me working on The Office. I basically used that schooling to try and figure out how to hone my gifts and comedy skills. From there, it was just a matter of exploiting all those gifts in as many ways as possible until I found the right door. It was just knocking on all the doors until one of them opened,” says Farrell.
Libraries, community, Parkdale and more in ‘Shelved’
The relentless pace and work he put in paid off. Created and executive produced by Farrell, Shelved is said to be his love letter to the public library system. A service and resource that is slowly losing its footing in communities today. Since the internet continues to reign supreme in everyone’s lives, the beloved library system has become an underutilized outlet. After being asked countless times where he thought a good setting for an ‘Office-type’ of show could be done, Farrell found the library to be just the spot.
“At this time, I'd spent quite a bit of time in Parkdale because I had many friends down there. Honestly, the library is a great place to set an office show because you have interesting characters that work in the space. You're going to see them all the time and interesting characters who come through. So you kind of get something like The Office, but you also get Cheers because people are coming in and out of this place.
“It felt like an opportunity to create something where you would get to explore a lot of different themes, a lot of different characters, and a lot of different moments. Stories would literally walk into the door. So it felt like a smart choice. And everyone's got connections to libraries. You can go to these places, and you don't have to buy coffee to stay. You don't have to pay any money. In fact, they will give you things for free and tell you to take them home! (laughs) In this world, in this capitalistic society, that is a unicorn. That is a diamond in the rough. It felt like a place I could do comedy. I could do heart, and I could do drama. You could get all the fields in a library, and everyone I talk to has a library story. Everyone's got library stories from childhood to adulthood,” says Farrell.
The one thing we can’t overlook is the Parkdale area as a backdrop. Rich in culture and diversity, Farrell intends to infuse the essence of the local into the show to the best of his ability. His research entailed observing the environment at a library branch in Parkdale. He even spent time with the librarian to see how she conducted her day. That alone was crucial to him, and the catalyst and inspiration for future shows brewing in his mind. Farrell is fired up and ready to go. “So, for me, it's always about authenticity and representation. One of the producers lives in Parkdale. So there were many of opportunities to be down there to talk to people.”
“We talked to PARC, the Parkdale Activity Recreation Center. We had a conversation with them. One of the characters is unhoused, so we talked to two members of their board who had experience being unhoused and got them to read the scripts to get a sense of what we did right and what we did wrong. Those kinds of things. So I take that stuff really seriously when it comes to making sure things feel authentic. Then when it comes down to casting, I’m looking for people who will be in the background of the shots that represent the people in Parkdale,” states Farrell.
‘Shelved’ sounds like a well-rounded and thought-out comedy that will become another fan favourite from Farrell. His stories are always told in an intelligent and side-splitting way. You never know; maybe the awe and fascination the library once held between pages as a kid may be revived again for some in adulthood, just through a different medium. Better yet, maybe, just maybe, after your comedy fix and bout of nostalgia via the show, you’ll head back to your local library branch. Or, just tune in weekly to live vicariously through the characters. Either way, Farrell will have you right where he wants you.
You can catch Shelved premiering Monday, March 6th and airing Mondays at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT on CTV and the CTV app.