New Indigenous CBC drama ‘Trickster’ is a fresh-faced, spine-tingling take on a tired genre

Despite the never-ending output of teenage-centric streaming content from media giants like Netflix, it’s rare to see a distinct and well-made Canadian coming-of-age TV show. Even rarer are high school dramas centered around Indigenous protagonists and Indigenous stories.

Enter Trickster, CBC’s newest primetime drama. Adapted from Eden Robinson’s national bestseller Son of a Trickster, the show follows 17 year-old Jared, played by charismatic Red River Métis (Cumberland House Cree Nation) newcomer Joel Oulette, as he struggles to navigate the everyday messiness of adolescence while fending off strange, supernatural encounters in Kitimat, B.C. 

Trickster trailer, airing weekly on Wednesdays at 9PM EST on CBC.

The first episode establishes Jared as a teen trying his best to pick up the slack of those around him. He works at a local fast food place after school, where he also runs his own side business dealing ecstasy under the order of “extra salty fries”. He pockets his profits to help out his erratic, partying mother Maggie, played by the electric Enoch Cree Nation actress Crystle Lightning, and unemployed, mooching father Phil (Ojibwa actor Craig Lauzon). As the episode progresses, uncanny elements of the supernatural start to percolate into Jared’s everyday encounters, making him question his own sanity and sense of reality.

These supernatural elements may or may not be connected to Wade (Blackfeet actor Kalani Queypo), a cool, leather jacket-wearing guy who snakes in and out of the episode, leaving raven-shaped clues in his wake. Wade is actually the first character to appear on screen in the episode. We first meet him traipsing through a night-fallen forest, holding a crying baby as Maggie calls out in pain behind him. The scene presents many questions about the relationship between Maggie and Wade before Jared is even a part of the equation. Wade appears to be something other than, or in addition to, human; his eyes glaze over and turn completely black while looking at Maggie. Who is he and what does he want?

Jared barely seems to notice Wade–their one human encounter is met with skepticism and discomfort on Jared’s part. Plus, he has bigger things on his mind, like how to repay his mom’s drug debt.

Trickster’s key strength lies in the performances behind Jared and Maggie. Oulette has major star power; he portrays Jared with a low-lying confidence and boyish charm akin to Noah Centineo’s performance as Peter Kavinsky in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Lightning brings a ferocious enthusiasm to Maggie. She steals every scene she’s in by lighting up the screen with a neurotic, yet fun-loving energy. The chemistry between the two actors makes their tumultuous, yet tight-knit family dynamic feel true to real life. The love Jared and Maggie have for each other shines through in their small acts of service and teasing conversations.

Perhaps the most refreshing part of Trickster is the fusion of traditional high school TV show tropes with Indigenous mythology. Jared’s still crushing on the new girl next door Sarah (Inuk actress Anna Lambe), who happens to be a purple-haired, anti-pipeline activist. He goes to parties, rides his bike to school, and struggles with his grades. 

Two teenagers are sitting cross legged in a dark forest, kissing while little sparks of lights float around them.
Joel Oulette (Jared) and Anna Lambe (Sarah) in the first episode of Trickster (CBC)

At the same time, the incorporation of the trickster from Haisla mythology undercuts the mundanity with a spooky sense of chaos. In Indigenous culture, tricksters are polymorphic beings with the ability to provide wisdom in tandem while being disruptive and rebellious. 

In Trickster, the trickster is a Wee’git, which is a transforming Raven. The lore featured appears carefully considered in comparison to the often racist, stereotypical, and one-dimensional depictions of Indigenous people in much of Canadian and North American media. This is due in part to the behind-the-scenes prioritization of Indigenous people in positions of leadership both on and off-screen. In an interview with the Huffington Post, Algonquin and Métis co-creator and director Michelle Latimer, made it clear that this was a top concern 

Trickster is very much a reclamation of those old and dated ideas of what Indigenous culture is; it takes into the present where Indigenous people are telling stories their own way.” said Latimer in the interview.

Centering Indigneous voices in every step of the filmmaking process is an approach that is bound to leave a mark on Canadian audiences, shedding light on traditional practices while showcasing new voices and talent in a new generation of Indigenous actors. It is crucial to have Indigenous voices tell their own stories. If Indigenous stories are only told by members of the dominant culture, a.k.a white settlers, their stories will only be told through one specific lens, which often are completely one sided, inaccurate, or offensive. 

Luckily, there are numerous \Indigenous filmmakers in Canada who are making films about Indigenous peoples and experience for Indigenous and non-Indigenous audiences, such as Zacharias Kunuk (Inuk), Alethea Arnaquq-Baril (Inuk) and Adam Garnet Jones (Cree/Métis/Danish). 

Trickster cleverly and subtly interweaves white settler Canada into the story by positioning a new pipeline into the narrative. Not yet a central plotline, throughout the episode multiple trucks with oil and gas workers blow past Jared while he’s out walking. The inclusion of oil workers adds to an undercurrent of tension, specifically between Sarah and Jared. Sarah is vehemently against the pipeline, while Jared seems indifferent about it. The subtlety of the storyline speaks to the brilliance of the show and how it chooses to reflect on modern Indigenous life. The issue of the pipeline does not play out as a dramatic confrontation, but rather an underlying omnipresent threat that Jared doesn’t register. It’s a chilling reminder of the exploitation white settlers have inflicted and continue to inflict on stolen land.

Trickster is a bold and invigorating take on the traditional, and frankly worn out genre of coming-of-age TV shows. It’s so refreshing to watch a Canadian-made show, directed by an Indigenous woman, starring an Indigenous cast. Trickster is the perfect show for fall – spookiness and trouble galore.

Episodes of Trickster air weekly on Wednesdays at 9PM EST on CBC. You can find the first episode on CBC Gem.