Catherine Reitman wanted to share stories of women trying — and often failing — to have it all. Fast forward seven seasons, 83 episodes and dozens of awards nominations (including two International Emmy nods), and she’s ready to put that baby to bed.
“Workin’ Moms” was born following the creator, showrunner, star and sometimes director’s own first Mother’s Day, which she missed while shooting an indie movie. Along with her husband Philip Sternberg (who plays her on-screen husband Nathan on the series), they created the production banner Wolf + Rabbit and sold what was initially going to be a premium cable project to FX.
Reitman had spent a lot of time growing up in Canada with her family (her father was late Canadian filmmaker Ivan Reitman), so when FX passed, she looked north and sold the series to CBC.
“Honest to God, I was so hopeful that I would get to Season 2,” Reitman recalls to Variety. “The first season was so based off my real-life experiences, my terror was that people would think I was some indulgent actress who wanted to drag my audience along with what it was to be a working mother from my point of view.”
As the seventh and final season begins on CBC on Jan. 3 (with a global release on Netflix later in the year), “Workin’ Moms” looks slightly different than it did in that first season. For one, there are more characters for audiences to invest in than in Season 1, which followed new moms played by Reitman, Dani Kind, Juno Rinaldo and Jessalyn Wanlim.
Rinaldo exited the series ahead of Season 6, Enuka Okuma joined the cast, and original stars Sarah McVie, Ryan Belleville and Nikki Duval received more screen time as audiences got to know their characters and stories a little better. It was a necessary and natural evolution as the onscreen children aged, the problems shifted, and more people discovered and related to the series.
“To hear that people not only watched it but felt really seen by it or identified with it, I [began feeling] a responsibility in making the show,” Reitman says. “Not that I’m so important, but I felt a responsibility to the people who identify with it.”
Behind the scenes, Reitman wanted to fill the writers’ room with that same authenticity, which is why she insisted on an all-female writing staff in that first season (eventually the series added male writers as well). Reitman also hired the first ever all-female A-camera team in Canadian primetime history and put female staff in key positions. It was, in a sense, a set comprised of actual workin’ moms who helped originate the show’s unique tone and feel.
“We have a very specific tone of heart and comedy that’s not too broad or dramatic or after-school-special,” Reitman says. “To find people who can drive in that very specific lane, it’s complicated. It’s hard. So when I would find a script that nailed it, I would beg them to come work with me.”
In the final season, “Workin’ Moms” continues exploring themes of friendship, ambition, family and growing up. And while there may be more stories to tell about the next stage of motherhood, by the time Reitman began writing the sixth season, she felt as though she was potentially overstaying her welcome.
“We’ve all seen a show that loses its juice and keeps puttering and re-scrambling storylines,” she says. “I didn’t want that to be the case with ‘Workin’ Moms.’ Our fans have been incredibly loyal to us. I take that seriously.”
It was during that sixth season that the crew started talking about what an end would look like. And while there were plenty of stories to break and details to fine-tune, Reitman had the visual of what she wanted the final moments of the series to look like. They built backwards from that, knowing they had to consider certain touchstones for audiences, like a final potential flashback episode or the reappearance of past characters.
“There are flashbacks this season, and they nod to the hero’s journey of each of our characters,” Reitman teases.
One thing Reitman is firm on is that when audiences say farewell to these characters, that’s it. The creative is happy to leave the series as is, with no plans for any follow-up projects or movies.
“The shows I see that have turned into films, often they’re such an insult to the show,” she explains. “I don’t think audiences enjoy it. A show exists at the time and in its iteration for a reason. If an extraordinary concept came to me and the cast wanted to do it — if the perfect storm happened — I would never say never. But at this moment I feel we did such a good job of bringing these storylines to a close.”
Looking back, Reitman is proud of many of the show’s storylines and risks, like the abortion storyline, or the moment her character, Kate, realized her female idol was a bigger misogynist than any man in the room. She also points to the third season as the one with comedic moments that will forever make her laugh.
She adds Canada was a perfect place to cut her teeth on a series because she had so much ownership of it. And, while she doesn’t know what her future holds (she and Sternberg are back in L.A., five minutes away from her mom), she feels empowered and in a position where she can control her own fate and stories rather than rely on other people to “deem her appropriate” for a role.
“CBC was extraordinary as far as partners go,” she wraps. “There was nothing we were not allowed to touch, so long as it was justified in the character’s world. We were really given license to explore what it is to be a woman in this modern day. I don’t have any regrets.”
“Workin’ Moms” Season 7 debuts Tuesday, Jan. 3 on CBC and Canadian streamer CBC Gem. The full season debuts globally on Netflix at a later date.