Warning: This article contains mild spoilers about the first two episodes of The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers season 2.
When Lauren Graham returned to The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers for season 2, it felt like a totally new show. Not only did the Disney+ show relocate its set from Canada to Los Angeles as the young team heads to an elite hockey summer camp, but Josh Duhamel also joined the cast as the new male adult lead after Emilio Estevez exited the series last year over the show's COVID vaccination requirement. But despite all the changes, Graham still felt like she was coming home when production began on season 2, even though "it took forever" to begin filming.
"The world of streaming is a very different schedule than how you have certain dates you know you're going to hear in network television, because they have to make a decision by a certain time or they don't have anything to air in the fall," Graham tells EW with a laugh. "So this took a longer time, and there's nothing you can compare it to, you know? You can't look at the ratings. There's nothing to check and see which way the wind is blowing, so it was just a mystery until they announced it. But it was great to come back for another season."
Even before the news of Estevez's exit broke, Graham was already expecting massive changes for the new season. "The show had always been pitched to me as like a sports movie where it has a different premise every year," she says. "And that was one of the things I thought was appealing about it as opposed to knowing you're going to go back to the same sets and the same location. We had discussed the idea of this sports camp, we had discussed Josh's character, and of course the missing piece definitely was not having Emilio, but because of how the show was conceived, it was something that they could work with — everything about this season was different, we had already departed from what the movies were, so it still felt like the show. It worked out perfectly."
And in a case of art imitating life (or life imitating art), Graham's main goal this season was to make sure everyone had more fun than they did while making last season, which she really took to heart while stepping behind the camera to direct an episode. "We filmed season 1 during a very intense COVID time, and in Canada, and everyone was away from their home, and so just naturally I think there was an ease that we had this season," she says. "People were driving from their houses and just able to be more social, and especially for kids, you want that for them, and we definitely had that more this season. I just wanted them to have more fun."
In the first two episodes of season 2 (streaming now on Disney+), Graham's Coach Alex Morrow has already butted heads with Duhamel's Coach Colin Cole at his EPIC hockey camp because she wants to make sure the Mighty Ducks are actually enjoying their summer, whereas he wants to churn out future ruthless NHL players. That dynamic was Graham's favorite part about season 2 because it turns into a "good classic screwball comedy" as they start to get closer.
"Josh was so impressive and commanding, and we had a blast," Graham says. "He really brings a great energy, and he was a really fun partner to spar with since the characters are very different and in such different places at the beginning. Alex comes in wanting to sing campfire songs and have a fun summer, and he is this guy who takes sports and competition really seriously, and over time, over the season, we start to learn a little bit from each other. He takes life so seriously that she enjoys poking holes in his uptight demeanor and soften what he's trying to do as a parent, and with the struggles he's having trying to be both an authority figure and a warm dad, I see a little vulnerability there and I can help him out, so we slowly start to understand each other a little more."
While they were filming season 2, Duhamel told Graham all about how he's become a fan of her previous series, Gilmore Girls. "He was really sweet about it when we started filming," she says with a laugh. "He said his fiancée at the time, who's now his wife, had gotten him into the show, and he was just really kind about it. We talked about it, for sure."
Since there was so much time in between seasons 1 and 2, the young kids at the center of the series grew up a lot, and Graham loves how the show is aging up their stories to grow with them.
"The show philosophically looks at some of the pressures kids have through the lens of sports, especially as young teenagers now," she says. "Of course everybody enjoys winning, but at what cost? And what's more important, is it your effort, your team spirit, or the results you get? Is it how you conduct yourself and what kind of character you have? It asks those questions in just a slightly more grown up way, because the kids are a little bit older now, there's a little more romance, there's a little more peer pressure kind of issues, and it's all in the spirit of being a good team player, which I think is really sweet. And the stakes are higher this season, so it's a little more challenging in terms of what the kids are facing."
Graham teases that upcoming episodes will show how Alex's relationship with her son Evan (Brady Noon) is going to evolve even more now that he's getting older. "He's trying to push away from me more, and I get that he's got to make his own mistakes, and I can't save him from having some bumps along the road in terms of getting his feelings hurt or having his first relationship," she says. "And it's also the intensity of summer camp where we're all living together. But I try to give him some more space this year and let him make his own way."
New episodes of The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers debut Wednesdays on Disney+.
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