TORONTO — Russell Peters says his new TV series asks a simple question: “What would the average Joe do in this situation?”
Loved by audiences around the world as a successful stand-up comedy headliner, “The Indian Detective” — which premieres Thursday on CTV — casts Peters as a less-than-stellar Toronto police officer who finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation when he visits his father in Mumbai.
Think Eddie Murphy’s breakthrough 1984 comedy “Beverly Hills Cop,” he suggests, “without a budget or Eddie Murphy.”
There’s actually plenty of budget and plenty of adventure in “The Indian Detective.” The four-episode series was shot over two months, mainly in South Africa, but also in Mumbai and Toronto.
The concept was almost six years in development.
“We had so many people coming in and out of the project,” says Peters, “that I literally had to ask: ‘Is that person still involved?”’
Things changed, however, when Frank Spotnitz arrived. The former “X-Files” and “Man in the High Castle” showrunner took charge four years ago. Spotnitz stayed at Russell’s Toronto home until they had an outline both could embrace.
“The guy’s got one of those crazy, creative minds,” says Peters.
Still, the highly regarded executive producer confessed he simply didn’t know how to write jokes for Peters.
“Just leave that to me and you be Frank Spotnitz,” said the comedian.
Born in Toronto, raised in nearby Brampton and of Indian descent, Peters has made an impressive living sending up his own multicultural upbringing. Selling out arenas around the world, he regularly stands near the top of the annual Forbes list of highest-grossing comedians.
Despite his established comedy cred, Peters says he pushed for his series to be “less jokey.”
“I wanted my character to be a smart-ass and a bit of a screw-up,” he says, but felt it was also important that the character be “root-able. Viewers should feel he’s not as inept as he seems.”
The result, as Spotnitz describes it, is “a drama with a lot of comedy. I think if you’re a Russell Peters fan, you will recognize the sensibility of the show; it really was tailored for him.”
Told he’s a surprisingly good actor, Peters waves off the suggestion.
“All you’ve got to do is say these words,” says Peters, who insists his biggest acting challenge was the long days and early starts. “The hardest part of acting is waking up.”
Having appeared in several film and TV projects, including 2011’s sports-comedy “Breakaway”, Peters is now backed by a veteran cast, including Canadian icon William Shatner as a ruthless property developer.
“What a trip, dude,” says Peters of working with the Shat. “We start to do a scene and he says his line and I was so caught up with watching him I forgot mine.”
Peters finds it hard to fathom that Shatner is 86 years old. “He looks like a hard-drinking 62.”
Top Bollywood actor Anupam Kher (“Silver Linings Playbook”) steals scenes as Peters’s eccentric father. Christina Cole (“Suits”), Mishqah Parthiephal (“Snake Park”) and Hamza Haq (“Quantico”) round out the cast of international players.
On Monday, Peters threw his Toronto home open to cast, crew, family members, CTV officials and several reporters for a lively, Indian-themed launch party.
There were few signs a comedian lives there, aside perhaps from the four large figurines of the rock band Kiss in a place of honour on a dining room hutch. A life-size Gene Simmons cardboard likeness stands in the basement next to a “Family Guy” pinball machine. Both are steps away from a temperature-controlled, walk-in wine room featuring some official Kiss bubbly.
There are also a few trophies on the shelves in the living room, along with a coveted comedy album signed by Steve Martin, and a key to the city from the ex-mayor of Brampton, where Peters’s proud mother, Maureen, still lives.
There’s plenty of room left for a Canadian Screen Award or two — should “The Indian Detective” track down enough average Joe viewers.