'Fakes': Vancouver-based CBC, Netflix show explores friendship through fake ID empire

Producer and writer David Turko has taken a higher stakes, Canadian approach to a story about high school teens getting in trouble with fake IDs in the new series Fakes (now streaming on CBC Gem in Canada, Netflix internationally), telling the story of best friends Zoe Christensen (Emilija Baranac) and Rebecca “Becca” Li (Jennifer Tong) who “accidentally” built one of the largest fake ID empires in North America.

“Thematically, I wanted to kind of explore a story of two lifelong best friends and what friendship looks like at that age of early adulthood, and how much that best friend means to you,” Turko told Yahoo Canada. “A step further, I wanted to see how much you can really throw at that friendship and how much it could take.”

“That is how we married it with this kind of the crime world of fake IDs.”

Tryst (Richard Harmon)  in
Tryst (Richard Harmon) in "Fakes" Season 1 (David Astorga/CBC/Netflix)

At the outset of the story, this tale is told through the perspectives of two conflicting and unreliable narrators. One of girls ends up in jail, the other didn’t, and as both characters talk directly to the audience, Zoe and Becca each reveal how they got into the fake ID empire situation, which largely involved having to pay back a man named Tryst (Richard Harmon).

“In terms of the fourth wall breaking, talking to the audience, I always knew that would be part of the show from its genesis, essentially, in terms of knowing that the structure of the story was,...two best friends competing for that last word, I felt talking directly to the audience is the best way to do that,” Turko said. “We are very specific and careful with where that's used because you don't want that to become overused and get redundant.”

“It's telling us more about their character in terms of how they view the world and the certain things that they decide to show us, or not show us, when they're telling their side of the story.”

“The most exciting prospect to me, off the beginning, had to do with the unreliable narrators and it's a very rare opportunity for an actor to be able to have zero continuity in how he plays his role,” Richard Harmon added about playing Tryst. “I don't need to keep anything the same, I can completely change myself in any given scene, or any given episode.”

Rebecca (Jennifer Tong) and Zoe (Emilija Baranac) on
Rebecca (Jennifer Tong) and Zoe (Emilija Baranac) on "Fakes" Season 1 (David Astorga/CBC/Netflix)

'It isn't about boys or crushes,'s about, are we going to get arrested?'

Something that stands out about Fakes is that this isn’t a story about two teenage girls where the tension is fighting about a boy, a common trope in high school stories. Conversely, it’s really about the evolution of this friendship and what happens when a very real threat, with very real consequences, enters their world.

“It was also really refreshing to see a female Asian character that rebels against the stereotypical qualities that are kind of pushed upon Asian women, she's rebellious and she's smart, but she's not nerdy,” Jennifer Tong said about playing Becca. “It isn't about boys or crushes, or we want to go to the prom with the same guy, it's about, are we going to get arrested?"

"I just feel like sometimes you see in media, it's two girls pitted against each other, and then they have to fight over the guy,...and now they're not best friends anymore... But even if you get into a fight, then you talk about it and you work it out, and it's OK, it just makes your friendship stronger. It just felt like a really real and genuine friendship, with complexities.”

“I just thought that it was such a fun, fresh take on a high school female friendship and it's not just about high school, it's all this other complicated stuff that's going on, and I really felt like the characters were also relatable because of how complicated they were, and messy," Emilija Baranac added about playing Zoe.

Rebecca (Jennifer Tong) and Zoe (Emilija Baranac) in
Rebecca (Jennifer Tong) and Zoe (Emilija Baranac) in "Fakes" Season 1 (David Astorga/CBC/Netflix)

Another poignant aspect in Fakes is how David Turko introduced Becca and Zoe's mothers. Becca's mom, in particular, is pressuring her daughter about university, constantly pushing her to strive for excellence and success, specifically Becca's mom's definition of success.

“When the character is first introduced, shows a lot of Rebecca's vulnerability and I think that relationship with her mom...explains why Rebecca is the way she is,” Tong said. "I think that I relate to Rebecca in a way where there is a lot of pressure that I feel a lot of children of immigrants face, where their parents have worked so hard so you have to work equally as hard, there is a lot of pressure there.”

“I hope that when people watch it, they can either feel something or feel a sigh of relief that there are people who are also feeling that, and go through the same stuff.”

Zoe's mom, while less pushy about her daughter's career prospects, is largely absent and has her focus elsewhere.

“It's complicated because her family's kind of absent in it for different reasons, and that weighs heavily with Zoe, it's just something that she carries with [her,]” Baranac said. “Those scenes are so important to better understand who Zoe is and what she's dealing with.”

“It's hard for her, her mom is working and she's not really there, and as a teenager, not having a mom to really rely on is a difficult thing when you're trying to figure things out.”

Rebecca (Jennifer Tong) and Zoe (Emilija Baranac) in
Rebecca (Jennifer Tong) and Zoe (Emilija Baranac) in "Fakes" Season 1 (David Astorga/CBC/Netflix)

'Vancouver very rarely gets the opportunity to play itself'

While the characters are fun to watch in this amplified, larger than life teenage experience, for Canadians watching, we also get to see Vancouver actually portrayed as Vancouver, opposed to U.S. cities, which is more typical.

“Everything about the process was just exciting,” David Turko said. “So much shoots here but Vancouver very rarely gets the opportunity to play itself.”

“We were able to proudly shoot Vancouver for Vancouver and every location was what it was. We got to go to the same beach I went to in high school when I was a teenager and we had our two teenage characters there at night doing cooler things than I did… It was such a treat and an honour to have something set here,...that opportunity doesn't happen very often.”