CBC’s SkyMed Takes the Drama to the Skies

CBC's new series takes the medical drama genre to unseen heights in northern Canada

CBC’s new series takes the medical drama genre to unseen heights in northern Canada

SkyMed creator Julie Puckrin is no stranger to dramas set in a medical environment, having spent two seasons as a writer and producer on Nurses, before joining the Transplant team in their second season. But when it was time to create her own show, she took the inherently high-stakes world of medicine to another level. “Medical shows are always great television, because the stakes are so high, it’s literally life and death,” says Puckrin. “This show just takes that to 11, because you’re in the back of an airplane, and you’re going out to these remote places where it’s literally just you and the patient, without any other support.” SkyMedCBC

The series about nurses and pilots flying air ambulances in remote Northern Canada was inspired by Puckrin’s own sister and brother-in-law. “I always thought that this would be perfect for a TV show,” she says. “It’s young pilots right out of flight school, who are building their hours, and young nurses that are going there for money and experience. They’re having really intense professional experiences and when they’re not flying together, they’re living together, partying together and blowing off steam, so there were a lot of hookups and a lot of breakups.”  

And then there’s the actual medicine, a MacGyver-kind of approach to procedures that even for Nurses star Natasha Calis was a unique test of her skills. “Having to learn these procedures, we worked with EMTs and pilots closely, and we had a full day of training right before we went into filming,” she says. “They definitely prepared us, but making it seem like you’ve been doing it every single day for a long time, it definitely brings its own challenges. And filming on these locations in the middle of winter—it was sometimes minus-40 C, my face was frozen, and I felt like I couldn’t talk—it obviously added to the performance, and it made it very authentic.” 

SkyMedCBCCalis is the audience’s entry into Thompson, Manitoba, as labour and delivery nurse Hayley Roberts, who has left Toronto for a fresh start. “She moves to Thompson in an escape from her life back home and some of the demons that she’s facing back there. She wants to forget about all of that, so she packs up everything, moves into the crew house, and is thrown into this world that she’s not used to,” says Calis. “All of the things that she thought she knew about nursing and this world get turned upside down when you’re in the air.”  

Thoroughly unimpressed by newbie Hayley is Crystal Highway, a veteran flight nurse who hails from the Indigenous community SkyMed is serving. “Crystal does everything with and for her community,” says Morgan Holmstrom (Day of the Dead). “She’s used to not having the resources and not being cared for the way that she really deserves. It’s deeply personal to her. These are her people, this is who she is. She feels accountable to her community. Seeing new flight nurses come in and out, and feeling like Hayley might be another one of those, there’s a little animosity there because she’s really seen it all.” SkyMedCBC

Actually flying the planes is pilot Austin Bodie (Ace Nadjiwon), who appears to be on a clear path to a career in commercial aviation. “Bodie is described as the golden boy. He’s using this place as a stepping stone for a career and he’s confident,” explains Nadjiwon. “But when life takes some unexpected turns for him, we get to see him handle that and learn more about himself.” For moral support, Bodie relies on his friend and fellow pilot Jay “Chopper” Chopra (Praneet Akilla), but even that friendship is not unconditional when pushed to its limits. “Chopper is everybody’s little brother, instantly there for everyone whenever they’re in need,” explains Akilla. “His journey is discovering that it’s OK to be a little selfish, and maybe it’s OK to look out for himself once in a while.”  

SkyMedCBCAlthough built around harrowing medical cases, Puckrin doesn’t view the show as a procedural. “To me, it is first and foremost a character show,” she says. “There were two major themes that emerged for all of the characters this season. The first one is the north makes you grow—or makes you grow up, I should say. All of our characters are growing up in some way. They all have something that they need to face about themselves, or overcome, or understand. The second one is: we take care of our own.” Fundamentally, says Puckrin, it’s a show about the family you choose. “Watching what my sister, brother-in-law and all of their friends went through [in real life], it struck me that it was a really formative period in their lives. They came through it by building their own little family in the north, when they’re all so far from home. I was excited to explore that.” 

SkyMed airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on CBC