Waterside Studios has found its first project in the miniseries “The Last Wish of Sasha Cade.” Created by Jacqueline Pepall, currently at work on “Horrible Histories” for the BBC, it’s based on a novel by Cheyanne Young.
Headed by Jeff Norton, who will produce, Waterside Studios is a new creative content venture from Canada’s Corus Entertainment and part of the Nelvana Studios group. The company was launched following an overall deal with Norton’s IP company Dominion of Drama.
The bittersweet story – pitched at MIA Market and billed as “All the Bright Places” meets “The Fault in Our Stars” – sees a high school girl trying to come to terms with her best friend’s passing of cancer. But Sasha keeps on revealing her secrets, as Rocki starts to receive letters written before she died. Sasha, who was adopted, had a brother she never knew. Now, she is asking her friend to meet him.
“It’s a triangle,” Pepall tells Variety in Rome, admitting she quickly embraced her protagonist’s erratic behavior.
“Rocky is suffering and she keeps making bad choices. But I want people to go: ‘Oh, that’s a terrible idea. I would have done it too’,” she says, admitting it was “joyful” to allow her to do things that would scare others.
“As much as it’s about loss, I want it to be a fun ride. I want you to watch this show and have a good time, laugh and get caught up in the salaciousness of what teenagers are doing.”
Pepall also lost her best friend to cancer.
“She died two years ago. When I was going through it, I thought: ‘Someday, I need to write about this.’ Everyone knows someone who has cancer. But it couldn’t be my personal story. It would have been too hard.”
“Because I have lived through that experience, I want to make sure these scenes are depicted in an honest way. I would never want it to feel emotionally manipulative or just play for tears.”
She was attracted to the youth of the characters, she says.
“When you are that young, you go from being completely bereft to driving with the windows down, listening to your favorite song. That’s why this story is not just about grief. It’s about friendship and all these wild emotions.”
“We all remember what it was like, being that age. Everything felt like the worst thing ever,” adds Norton.
“But the way Jacqueline structured it, which differs a bit from the book, is that so much of the story is about moving on. It has a very hopeful trajectory.”
Pepall and Norton are not planning to deliver another dark YA show.
“Not to knock ‘13 Reasons Why,’ but I found it so depressing,” says Norton.
Netflix’s show, about a young woman who takes her own life, has received criticism for its depictions of suicide and sexual assault.
“We want to show there’s a lot to life. It’s an important message to teenagers: ‘Yes, bad things happen, but you can always put one foot in front of the other.’ We have a responsibility to do that.”
“A lot of teen content is really grim,” agrees Pepall.
“I want to make a show where, as painful as it is sometimes, you still want to be this character, like in [Claire Danes starrer] ‘My So-Called Life,’ which I was obsessed with when I was younger.”
The miniseries, ready to begin shooting in the summer of 2023, is expected to clock in at eight episodes.
“These characters are still very young, so we could revisit them later on. But, coming back to the same example, ‘13 Reasons Why’ was a perfect season of television and really should not have returned,” says Norton.
“We want the audience to feel like they are getting a treat and don’t have to commit years and years of their lives to it.”