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O Canada September 3, 2007

Posted by Jim Berkin in Movies, Television.
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My education as to the culture of our neighbor to the north continues!

Via a Canadian refugee colleague, I’ve been lent assorted materials to build upon the foundation begun by watching SCTV all those years ago. Then the local PBS station ran the first two seasons of The Newsroom, an extremely dark and funny Larry Sanders-esque sitcom taking place behind the scenes at a fictional cable news network.

Look at that… one brief paragraph, and I ought to have blown your entire DVD budget for the next couple of months! Maybe you should take a second job.

Anyway, the most recent example of Canadian television comedy I’ve been treated to was Trailer Park Boys, pretty much the story of some Nova Scotia white trash scheming to make money by growing pot. Each season begins with Ricky (Robb Wells) and Julian (John Paul Tremblay) getting out of prison, and each season ends with them going back in. While this show is a hit in Canada and has been sold in some other world markets, it hasn’t found its way to the USA for some reason, except for a brief run on BBC America where the foul language was censored… and if you watch this show, you’ll soon realize that it becomes a silent movie once all the foul language is censored. Visit their website and see what I mean. After watching the first two seasons of this on DVD over the summer, I realized a number of things – (1) That I had never known that Nova Scotia was the butt of Canadian jokes the way Americans make fun of Appalachia or the south and (2) This is the show that My Name Is Earl ought to be since it’s basically about the same people, only they’re even stupider and there’s absolutely NO attempt to add any sort of sentimentality to the proceedings. At first I kinda liked it, and then as I watched more episodes and got into the rhythm of it all, it grew increasingly funny.

Then came 2 films from the Canadian art-house circuit. The Delicate Art of Parking uses the same comic mockumentary style as Trailer Park Boys, only here the “film maker” becomes part of the plot, following some parking cops in some small unnamed Canadian city and humanizing them to some degree. While the film has some funny moments playing off its characters and the faux-documentary set-up, it gets a little repetitive and starts to remind you how thin the overall premise is to begin with.

The other film was The Rhino Brothers, which really could have blended in with a lot of the material playing the art house circuit these days – imagine a story where a mother, frustrated by her own limited life, vicariously tries to live through her 3 sons by pressuring them to achieve a nearly unattainable goal. This maternal pressure has turned the brothers against one another by adulthood – they are bitter rivals, the oldest became a drunk after failing at mom’s dream and tries to undermine the middle son’s more likely successful attempt at it. The youngest son finds solace in his wife and children. I can’t put my finger on it, but I know I’ve seen this movie before after a load of Merchant-Ivory previews and ads for public radio.

But, as Bob & Doug McKenzie up top might put it, what is the Canadian content here? Well, mom’s dream is that her sons play professional hockey. So, the oldest son crapped out of a hockey career and plays for the local beer league run by the youngest brother. The middle one comes home for mom’s pep talk after disollusionment with the game in general and must deal with the elder’s anger and jealousy….

And so on.

Not a bad movie, though I think anyone who loved hockey (and my colleague has taught university courses on hockey in Canadian culture) would love the film, and since it had that indy-film vibe, the ending was not a Hollywood formula one, but you could substitute nearly anything for “hockey” like “acting” “medicine” “law” or “porn” and basically have the same movie.

Okay, “porn” would make it a different movie. And “Canadian porn” would make it even more of a cultural breakthrough. Pass the Molson and cut down on the back bacon, baby, it’s time to be a star! Cut to Ron Jeremy in a toque downing a trough of Poutine….

So HOCKEY makes it Canadian! And all that beer drinking! And houses with sunken living rooms and paneled walls that make me wonder if Canada 2007 = America 1976. Who knew Bob & Doug were cultural anthropologists masquerading as parody? Beauty, eh?

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