Justin Rawana is over the moon about his job as an executive story editor on the popular CBC comedy series Son of a Critch—a show that delves into the experiences of an awkward boy growing up in Newfoundland in the 1980s. The series is based on the life of Mark Critch, the actor, comedian, and regular on the sketch comedy This Hour has 22 Minutes.
"It's got a Wonder Years coming-of-age vibe to it," Justin says. "It revolves around Mark's heartbreaks, his relationship with his parents and grandfather, and his struggles relating to other kids at school."
Son of a Critch's heartwarming moments are balanced with some punchier ones. In a January 10, 2022, review, The Globe and Mail newspaper commented: "The dark humour, the biting sarcasm and the sheer weirdness of the place is what makes this show worth your while."
As well as playing his father Mike Sr. on the show, Mark Critch is also the showrunner, which means that he oversees the producing, casting, and writing of the series. Justin is part of the writing team that works closely with Mark to develop the story episodes.
Justin is still a little shocked that he's been able to break into a very tough industry.
"During my teen years, I was all about movies and TV. I was constantly watching director's commentaries on DVDs because I was fascinated by writers and directors—though I didn't think it could ever be a career for me. Thunder Bay is so far removed from the film and television world."
Instead, he studied English at Lakehead because it was the field closest to his interests.
"My favourite class was Dr. Scott Pound's 'Writing in a Variety of Modes and Genres.' One week we would write a short story, the next week a poem, and the next week a movie review. Dr. Pound took me aside after one class and said, 'Your stories aren't so good, but you can be a good writer,' and that really motivated me."
Following his graduation in 2010, however, Justin made the decision to teach in London, England, for two years.
"They were starved for teachers, so I thought 'Why not?'" he says. "I taught all kinds of classes that I wasn't trained for like math and the fundamentals of dance."
When his contract came to an end, Justin was faced with a choice: Should he keep teaching?
This brought about the realization that he could live with teaching, but he wouldn't love it, and spurred him to enrol in the Vancouver Film School's film and television program. He completed his diploma in 2013 and moved to Toronto because, as the largest filming hub in Canada, it offered more opportunities.
To be a good TV writer you have to be flexible and able to take criticism because everything gets rewritten or cut.
He says that he prefers comedy to drama—as a teenager he loved watching shows like The Office and Parks and Rec—and that he's more drawn to TV than to movies.
"TV allows you to tell a longer story and really dive into characters and investigate themes. I also love being with other writers in the writing room and being able to bounce ideas off them. The energy and chaos of the process appeals to me."
Justin's first job was an entry-level position as a writer's assistant on a TV drama called Mary Kills People.
"It involved script coordinating, editing, and getting coffee for the writers," Justin says.
He was subsequently hired as a writer on The Next Step, a Canadian dramedy series about teens in a competitive dance troupe.
"It had been on the air for seven years when I started, so the biggest difficulty was pitching ideas that hadn't been done before."
By the time the pandemic hit in 2020, Justin was working as a coordinator on the TVOKids show ODD Squad: Mobile Unit. It's an Emmy Award-winning series featuring four kids modelled on the agents in the Men in Black movies, except they solve crimes using math.
"The child actors are unbelievably good—they taught me that even if you have a good script, casting is crucial. There's also an alchemy between the script, the actors, and the director."
In 2021, Justin's agent put him up for the Son of Critch script coordinator position when the show's previous coordinator unexpectedly left.
"I was a panic hire," he says.
Being a script coordinator is a gruelling job with hours that start at seven am and don't end until around midnight.
"I had to take my laptop to my wife's grandmother's wake," Justin says.
The script coordinator compiles edits from the showrunner, the director, and the actors before production starts and then sends the revised script to the network for their notes and further revisions. Once a script is finalized and filming begins, a whole new set of problems arises. For instance, if a venue becomes unavailable or bad weather prevents an outdoor scene from being shot, the script needs to be rewritten.
Justin flourished under the pressure, and he was kept on as script coordinator for Son of a Critch's second season and allowed to co-write a script. For the third season, he was promoted to executive story editor, which means that he is now writing scripts full time.
"We did a six-week writing room over Zoom this summer with writers from Newfoundland, Los Angeles, and Toronto, and came up with episode ideas. Once a story concept gelled, Mark assigned a writer to it, and we each had one to two weeks to have our first draft ready for the network."
"To be a good TV writer you have to be flexible and able to take criticism," he adds, "because everything gets rewritten or cut."
They shot the third season over the summer, which will focus on the new challenges Mark is facing as he begins grade 9.
"I really like the dynamic between Mark and his best friend Richie, who's Filipino and the only person of colour in town at that time," Justin says. "I see a bit of myself in Richie—it speaks to me about growing up in Thunder Bay in the 1990s. The two episodes I've written so far are very Richie heavy because Mark knows that's what I'm drawn to.
Although Justin is revelling in being part of a hit TV show, he has even bigger dreams.
"One day, I want to be the showrunner of my own series."
The third season of Son of a Critch will air in January 2024. Watch the season one trailer to get a taste of the show.