‘The Mission’ pulls back the curtain on United Nations shenanigans

‘The Mission’ pulls back the curtain on United Nations shenanigans

Last week, we kicked off our coverage of the stellar web series concepts in the running for 2018 Independent Production Fund (IPF) financing with a story about ‘Hospital Show.’ Today we continue our IPF coverage with a story about another show we want to see go the distance: ‘The Mission,’ a comedy about the United Nations with the telling tagline “Some general assembly required.”

The Mission isn’t a documentary series – it is unequivocally and unabashedly a comedy, and even has Canadian improv icon Colin Mochrie in a leading role – but it’s a comedy built on truth, and serves up what is arguably one of the most accurate depictions of the inner workings of the United Nations to ever grace the small screen.

Marie-Marguerite Sabongui is Jaz in  The Mission . 

Marie-Marguerite Sabongui is Jaz in The Mission

The authenticity is directly related to the fact that co-creators Marie-Marguerite Sabongui and Benedict Moran worked within the hallowed halls of the United Nations (Marie-Marguerite as a climate negotiator, Benedict as a journalist).

“People who are sent to the UN to represent their countries, they’re bright and they are sharp and they are selected for important reasons, but they’re also just humans,” says Marie-Marguerite in a recent Skype call with YVR Screen Scene and her brother, Vancouver actor Patrick Sabongui (The Flash, Homeland), the latter of whom is The Mission's executive producer. “There’s a lot of raunchy stuff that goes down. People hook up, and it’s a world built on relationships, and that gets in the way sometimes.”

Marie-Marguerite stars as Jaz Rizkalla, a Canadian woman who just landed her dream job at the United Nations and quickly discovers that the world of international diplomacy is more high school than hallowed.

Whose Line Is It Anyway? alumnus Mochrie appears as Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations (“Ambassador MacDonald is such an affable, hilarious grandpa who’s still running this team, and so you have to be frustrated with him but also think he’s kind of lovable, and Colin just captures that so well,” says Marie-Marguerite”). Etan Muskat plays Shamil, an election officer and pothead.

While The Mission isn’t a direct dramatization of Marie-Marguerite’s time at the UN, the character she plays “is me in a lot of ways,” says Marie-Marguerite, who sits on the board of LeadNow. Like Jaz, Marie-Marguerite “went into the UN world with a lot of idealism as a young climate activist thinking that we’re going to go into these meetings and show the world what’s what and right all of these wrongs, and I had to quickly learn that that’s not going to happen.”

The series is also inspired by Marie-Marguerite’s experiences as a professional woman in the world “surrounded by men who think they know better than you, or just trying to manage people who are wild cards who’d rather just be in the back room smoking a joint or Instagramming their newest outfits. It’s very much based on me, but thrown into this imaginary circumstance.”

Patrick was drawn to The Mission by his sister’s vivid descriptions of everyday life in the UN, which included people sending drugs to themselves in diplomatic pouches and one particularly memorable instance in a meeting where somebody attempting to open up their PowerPoint presentation instead opened up a porn web site, twice. “As an outsider, what really stood out to me was how, from the outside, it’s this shiny bureaucracy with very important world decisions and they decide significant international issues, but on the day to day basis, there’s people in there smoking weed, doing blow, hooking up in the bathroom,” says Patrick.

But there’s also the appeal that The Mission is “about something real and it can illuminate the world we live in and, by illuminating it, affect change,” says Patrick, who in 2017 produced The Prince, a short film written and directed by Kyra Zagorsky. The Prince was inspired by a racist incident that the couple and their young children experienced on the SkyTrain in 2009. 

A scene from  The Mission , in which the Canadian delegation meets with representatives from Myanmar. 

A scene from The Mission, in which the Canadian delegation meets with representatives from Myanmar. 

Patrick notes that the trailer for The Mission is extracted from an episode they shot in Toronto last year about a bilateral meeting between Canada and diplomatic envoys from Myanmar. “We’re directly talking about the ‘alleged genocide’ – this is on the record so I have to use air quotes and use words like alleged – and we can rip issues from the headlines and address them head on without being preachy and without shutting people off and I think satire is one of the best ways to do that,” he says.

Since launching earlier this month, the trailer has logged more than 30,000 views on Facebook and upwards of 22,000 on YouTube. It’s been receiving love from all manner of people, including from those who work within those aforementioned not-so-hallowed halls.

“One of the best parts about having the trailer up on the internet is people that I don’t know who work in the UN world have been tagging each other and saying, ‘I just spit out my coffee, this is hilarious, this is so true to life,’” says Marie-Marguerite. “Another friend who I used to work with tagged her friends and said, ‘Oh, my god, that badge scene reminds me of the time we had last year when we had to sign in 9000 angry people to this conference.’ That is the best part, because it feels ripped from real life, and the things that I felt resonated from my experience working at the UN resonate with all these people too.”

Colin Mochrie as Ambassador MacDonald in  The Mission . 

Colin Mochrie as Ambassador MacDonald in The Mission

One of the ingredients that make The Mission so funny is that it’s about the Canadian mission in particular, according to Marie-Marguerite.

“I think Canada is funny because Canada is the affable, lovable kid sibling who’s just trying to do good, and that’s hilarious in the world of the UN where every player is self-interested,” says Marie-Marguerite, who adds that she and the rest of the team are “excited about the web format and doing these slices out of [The Mission’s] world, and we’re also excited about unpacking it and telling the full arc of the story and bringing in different characters.”

If you like what you’ve read and seen of 'The Mission' would like to see it get a shot at IPF financing, give the trailer a watch or two (IPF takes those views into consideration) and share it far and wide on social media. Follow @themissionseries and @PatrickSabongui.

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