Shaun Majumder and his wife Shelby Fenner are shown in stills from "Majumder Manor," debuting Monday night at 8:30 p.m. on W Network.
If you're a fan of Shaun Majumder, you may have noticed a different side to him over the past two years or so.
For the first time, the actor/comedian from Burlington has opened up his public persona to something beyond the jokes and fooling around to expose a side that's personal, heartfelt and genuine.
It started with the announcement of his plan to "revitalize" Burlington, a town of about 350 on the Baie Verte Peninsula.
Majumder had purchased an old three-room wooden schoolhouse on a plot of land in the town, and had the idea to do something with the spot to entice tourists to the area.
He and American actress Shelby Fenner - then his fiancée, now his wife, since the pair was married two weeks ago in Indonesia - decided to create a high-end, eco-lux lodge with a restaurant. It wasn't ever a plan to make money, he has said - it's all about breathing a new life into the town, with all profits earned going back to the community.
Last spring, with the release of a documentary special, "Every Word is Absolutely True," viewers witnessed the beginnings of the project, as well as some personal times in Majumder's life: the moment he was told his show "Detroit 187" had been cancelled, his audition for "The Firm" (a role he later got), and the story about his mother's death of a heart attack while they were on holiday together.
The film ends with a touching sequence of footage, recorded for Majumder's personal use, of him scattering his mom's ashes in locations around the world.
Majumder's manor project eventually turned into a TV series, "Majumder Manor," which will premiere Monday evening at 8:30 p.m. local time on W Network. With a theme song by Codroy Valley musician Sherman Downey and narration by Mark Critch, the series debut continues with a look at Majumder's personal life, reality show-style.
"My idea has always been to document the project, and originally I wanted to do a documentary film," the "22 Minutes" actor told The Telegram.
"The TV show now is almost exactly in the place that I envisioned it when I first pitched the idea."
Not that the project hasn't had its share of bumps: it saw a setback when Majumder and his team presented their business plan to the provincial government, which pointed out a few holes.
The government suggested the manor would need about a dozen rooms to be viable, instead of the five or six proposed. Majumder came up with a plan to build cabins before the manor is constructed, but had been having a hard time finding land for them in Burlington.
The team did build a community greenhouse in the centre of the town, and Majumder centered The Gathering, a pay-what-you-can food and music festival, around the first harvest last August.
The show also underwent a few changes when it came to production.
"Before, when it was in some other producers' hands, it really wasn't going down the road I wanted it to go down, so we had to make changes there," Majumder said.
"On the positive tip, the network has been incredibly supportive of us telling the stories that are happening on the ground and also trusting that we're going to make it entertaining and funny and heartfelt and all the things that they want. We've been able to bring it back around and now I am incredibly proud of this TV show."
The "Majumder Manor" premiere episode starts with a visit to Burlington by Majumder and Fenner, who are based in L.A., to scope out the land, speak to area residents, and get some feedback from Majumder's family members.
His older sister, Rani, seems to have inherited the comedy gene- whether she knows it or not - and has the potential to be a sort of breakaway favourite character.
There are scenes in a boat, in the local diner, where Majumder introduces Fenner to a meal of onion rings and fries with dressing, gravy, ground meat and hot dog weiners, and in the home/local history museum of Burlington resident Alonzo Saunders, who explains he has the same reasons as Majumder for creating his unique space: a love of the community and a desire to draw people to it.
Viewers will also see Majumder conducting a town meeting, where he shares his idea for the manor with members of the community - and not without some opposition.
"Episode One is really about introducing the world to the town; introducing them to my dream. We get to see where it is, exactly, and what the things are that motivate me," Majumder said.
"Different episodes are funnier than others, and different episodes are a little more heartwarming.
Les Stroud, Survivorman, visits Burlington in the second episode, and we're picking an architect in the second episode. Shelby and I have a bit of a falling out in the third episode, so there's a bit of personal drama there, but it's all about the project."
The more relationship-related bits are included in the series as a way to show the effect the project has had on the couple, Majumder explained.
Majumder acknowledges people are likely wondering, at this point, when the lodge is going to be built, and says all those questions will be answered in the first half of the series.
The season finale will be set around The Gathering.
"Basically we build up to the festival by the end of Season One, but it's also after having been through a lot of ups and downs and challenges, and it's how we've dealt with those challenges and how we're responding and how us taking different steps at the forks in the road lead us to another path moving this project forward."
The manor project will go ahead with or without a Season Two of the show, Majumder said, and his passion for it will be just as strong whether the show gets picked up or not.
"At the core of what motivates me to do this is I want to share that little corner of the world with as many people as I can," he explained.
"I want to make sure that it becomes a sustainable, viable business in a community that fuels an economic engine locally."
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