Growing Up Canuck
A Canadian upbringing is about more than just playing lots of winter sports and having maple syrup instead of regular syrup on our pancakes. Regular exposure to Canadian television has long been an important part of what makes our childhood different from that of our brethren to the south. Now, Canadian television is decidedly less polished than American television. We grew up watching the genuinely awkward adolescents of Degrassi Street, not the beautiful airbrushed twentysomething “teenagers” of “Beverly Hills 90210.” Bizarre, crudely drawn National Film Board short cartoons such as “The Log Driver’s Waltz,” “The Big Snit,” and “The Cat Came Back” were a staple of the 1970s and 1980s, while American kids were tuning in to shows like the “Care Bears.” One of our most revered television superheroes was Mr. Canoehead, a dude whose crimefighting “superpower” was to knock out criminals by, well, turning around and whacking them with the canoe that was welded to his head in a freak lightning accident. As for Canadian game shows, well, let’s just say that Alex Trebek has come a long way since hopping south of the border.
Here are just a few of the formative elements of Canadiana that have helped make us the lovable hosers we are today, as well as one current show that’s helping to influence the next generation of Canucklets. — meaux
Bob and Doug McKenzie: Bob and Doug is an American success story, did you know? The series of “Great White North” spots were created as a sarcastic response to a CBC request to fill two extra minutes of local air time (the American running time being shorter) with exclusively Canadian content for the sketch comedy show “SCTV.” Bob and Doug were two drunken, back-bacon grilling hoseheads with limited attention spans and a marked dislike for authority. Creators Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis threw every stupid stereotype they could think of onto a ramshackle set stacked with boxes of Molson Canadian beer and improvised about 20 two-minute segments in one fell swoop — getting progressively drunker as the tape rolled on.
No one on the show was particularly impressed with Bob and Doug, including their creators, and no one was more dismayed when the characters took off (eh) in the States. Not only did the break-out success of Bob and Doug threaten the solidarity of the castmates, the fandom reached such heights of drunken hooligan rampage that they expressed serious regret at the booze-swilling and unsafe antics of the fans at a few of the live events they hosted as the characters in America. However, it was the first recognition any of the “SCTV” performers received and they were going to ride it for all it was worth, even while their castmates grumbled at Bob and Doug ‘headlining’ SCTV press in publications such as Rolling Stone and Playboy.
Bob and Doug went on to record the improvised album Great White North (featuring Geddy Lee of Rush on the hit single “Take Off” that went triple platinum in North America), to write and direct the feature film Strange Brew (a critical failure that is generally beloved in Canada), a 2007 live action DVD release entitled Bob and Doug’s “Two Four,” and an animated show, “Bob and Doug,” which aired on Global from April to June 2009.
Most Canadians do not have much in common with the McKenzie brothers…they are complete caricatures that hold the dubious distinction of representing a rather meek and self-effacing international impression of us, but they also feel exactly right on an elemental, gut level. They are your embarrassing Uncle up in the Kootenays, the rink rats who lost their zamboni privileges that time, your neighbours who help shovel you out, and on occasion they are your older brother, or your dad. They are the guys who will let you crash on the chesterfield when you have a few too many, and they are everywhere. They are our loveable fools and each and every one of us wishes we could steamroller our troubles away along with them. — Replica
Corner Gas: I know “Seinfeld” is supposed to be the show about nothing, but considering that it took place in New York and involved a plot line where Jerry pitched a show to NBC, it’s a little hard to take the claim seriously. Also, “Seinfeld” fucking sucked. If anything, “Corner Gas” fully deserves the title. Created by and starring Brent Butt, “Corner Gas” takes place in the tiny rural city of Dog River, where the tourism borders on non-existent and the townsfolk are constantly putzing about in each other’s business. Is it an exciting show? Hell no. Is it funny? Sweet holy Jesus is it ever. It’s like an inside joke that ever so steadily builds and builds and builds until the punchline comes crashing in. It’s a show about nothing, sure, but nothing never looked or sounded this good. — Jeremy Feist
Fraggle Rock: “Dance your cares away, worry’s for another day.” Words to live by, don’t you think? Well, that was life in “Fraggle Rock,” a magical underground land where shaggy, colourful muppets played and laughed and sang. When I was a kid, I couldn’t have cared less about “Sesame Street.” Big Bird? Ernie and Bert? Eh, whatever. The only muppets that mattered to me were the residents of Fraggle Rock: the tiny, hardworking little doozers, who spent their days constructing structures out of radish sticks; the giant, intellectually-challenged family of gorgs who lived nearby; and of course, the Fraggles themselves. The show centred on the adventures of Gobo, the leader of the gang; Mokey, the sweet, nurturing artistic one; rebellious and spunky Red; neurotic and negative Boober; and my favourite, the meek and wishy-washy Wembly. Rounding out the Fraggle cast was Uncle Travelling Matt, who chronicled the vast and confusing human world though frequent letters to his nephew Gobo back home in Fraggle Rock.
Although technically a Canadian-American-British co-production, we selfishly consider “Fraggle Rock” our own; partly because the show was filmed in Toronto, but mostly because the Fraggles themselves are just so darned Canadian. So pleasant and cheerful, polite to a fault at times, madly in love with their home and native land while at the same time relishing the success of our compatriots who dare to venture forth into the big, wide world. Truly, Fraggles are just a toque short of hoserhood. — meaux
Hinterland Who’s Who: It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg question: Was mini-meaux so entranced by the Hinterland Who’s Who PSAs because she was born a little nature geeklet, or did watching these PSAs make her the biology nerd she is today?
Hinterland Who’s Who was a series of mini-documentaries (animal infomercials, if you will) produced by the government wildlife department in the 1960s and ’70s. Opening with a familiar flute refrain, each 30-second installment featured a well-known resident of the Canadian wilderness. Footage of, say, the noble Beaver in the wild was paired with dry, understated narration about the habitat and habits of the animal; non-Canadians may have seen the YouTube spoofs of this format, including the chemically enhanced “Wood Spider” and the young-man-eating “Cougar.” For more information on the species in question, viewers were encouraged to contact the Canadian Wildlife Service; somewhere in my parents’ basement is a cache of CWS Animal Fact Sheets that I ordered and devoured like a fanboy would read comic books.
Recently, “Hinterland Who’s Who” was re-launched with peppier music and a chipper female narrator. Instead of sending away for fact sheets, viewers are told to “check out HWW.ca” for more information. While part of me cringes at the desecration of an old classic, I do like to imagine that some child somewhere is watching in wonder and wanting to learn more about the Black-capped Chickadee. Oh, and I did check out HWW.ca, and found the original “vintage” videos and fact sheets posted. I spent the following few hours in a blissfully nostalgic haze. — meaux
Mr. Dressup: “Mr. Dressup” was a kids’ television program that aired from 1967 to 1996 and was produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation because we’re all Commies and refuse to do anything without government funding. In my part of the country, Mr. Dressup was part of the weekday morning Holy Triumvirate of “Mr. Dressup,” “Mr. Rogers,” and “Sesame Street” (remember when there was good children’s television). I watched it religiously; however, in my short time as an adult, I can’t help but wonder if that religiosity hasn’t left some permanent damage.
“Mr. Dressup” was hosted by Mr. Dressup, of course, along with two puppets named Casey (A Children of the Corn-like ginger) and Finnegan (some sort of mongrel dog). The show took place in Mr. Dressup’s home and also his yard that had the most awesome tree house ever and was occupied by the aforementioned ginger and mongrel. Every morning, Mr Dressup would take us through a series of stories, games and crafts. However, the time that every Canadian girl and boy looked forward to with ADHD-like excitement was dress up time.
Now you know fear.
At this time, Mr. Dressup would adjourn to his trunk of costumey delights to, well, dress up and regale the children watching with a story of his own creation. At least I assume it was his creation, since no CBC program at the time could afford actual writers. He would dress up as a fireman or a cowboy or even some sort of non-terrifying monster. Whatever costume he needed would magically appear in the Tickle Trunk. Did I forget to mention it was called the Tickle Trunk? Why was it called the Tickle Trunk? Well because sometimes it would refuse to open and let Mr. Dressup steal its innocence so he had to “tickle” its stubborn childlike lock to let him in! Sorry. Anyhow, Mr. Dressup was a Canadian icon for many, many years and has left a lasting legacy with children of many generations. Oh look, a DVD collection, and just when I finally got over the nightmares. — Admin
Road to Avonlea: From the comments from a recent article extolling the coolness of a certain Canadian actress/director, I realized that I’m not the only one out there who still sees her as “Sara Stanley the Story Girl, all growed up.”
“Road to Avonlea,” which aired on the CBC from 1990 to 1996 and starred a young Sarah Polley, was loosely based on L.M. Montgomery’s book “The Story Girl.” It was set in the early 1900s in the fictional Prince Edward Island town of Avonlea, which allowed for appearances by supporting characters from the popular Anne of Green Gables films, including Anne’s adoptive mother, Marilla Cuthbert, and the busybody neighbour we all loved to hate, Rachel Lynde.
“Road to Avonlea” told the tale of young Sara Stanley, a rich girl from Montreal who, after her mother’s death, is sent by her father to live with her maternal relatives in the village of Avonlea. There, Sara struggles to fit in with her small-town relations, including her bossy cousin Felicity King and her mischievous brother Felix, the stern and often disapproving Aunt Hetty King, and Hetty’s sweet-natured younger sister Aunt Olivia. Sara soon makes a name for herself as a skilled and spellbinding storyteller. Her passion for weaving tales eventually leads her to leave Avonlea to study writing abroad; by that time, the show’s main focus had shifted away from Sara’s adolescent angst, and more toward the lives of the entire King family. Maiden aunts and country cousins were being wooed by worthy suitors; indeed, what young Canadian girl didn’t harbour a certain affection for the ruggedly handsome Gus Pike, or the awkwardly sweet and artistic Jasper Dale?
The show went on for a couple of years without the Story Girl, but like all good things, it eventually came to an end. To this day, however, “Road to Avonlea” is fondly remembered by legions of Canadians of a certain age, especially by those of us who grew up in a small rural town feeling just a little out of place. — meaux
You Can’t Do That On Television: When I was a child my older brother and I had a … rocky relationship. A daily onslaught of mental and emotional abuse was not uncommon. In fact, if given the choice I would have gladly spent time stuck in a snowdrift with an emotionally fragile moose stomping on me repeatedly rather than spend time with my brother. Except, that was, for a single hour every Saturday morning. I bonded with my turd of an older brother over a Canadian produced, low budget variety show called “You Can’t Do That on Television.”
We laughed and giggled and snorted when various cast members were sprayed with water or had green slime dumped on them. We invented elaborate and detailed plans on how we would entice our mother to say “I don’t know” just so we could slime her. In fact, we created our own dubious concoction of green slime that was two parts Pert shampoo and one part lime jello powder. Fortunately for my mother (and knowing her fiery temper, for us too) we never actually had the balls to go through with our sliming plan. We did, however, famously re-enact the “Firing Squad” scene at a family reunion with my brother playing the part of El Capitano and myself and four of my cousins waiting for execution.
And no one can forget the brilliant actor, Les Lye. Lye was initially the only adult cast member and he played dozens of different characters, including Ross Ewich, the studio director, the aforementioned El Capitano, Snake Eyes, the crazy ass bus driver, and my personal favourite, Barth Bagge. Barth was the owner and chef of a local diner where he regularly grossed out viewers with his burgers made of everything but actual beef. It’s been years since I watched an episode of “You Can’t Do That on Television,” but I still remember vividly how smoking hot my crush was for regular cast member Alasdair Gillis, and despite the fact that she was a cast member for only five episodes nearly everyone knows that this show is where Alanis Morissette got her start. And I know I wasn’t the only Canadian kid who dreamed of one day being stuffed into a locker for the infamous “Locker Room” sketches. “Hey Kelly?” “Yes, Alasdair…” — Kelly
And finally, we present a taste of what the Canadian kids are watching today:
6teen: While I can’t verify if all kids like this show, my six and nine year old love “6teen” … and so do I. “6teen” is an animated situational comedy on TeleToon (the Canadian cartoon channel) about six 16-year-old friends who all get their first jobs at The Mall. The six teens learn to lean on each other as they go through the trials and tribulations of teenage life and all the firsts that come with it. Of course, with firsts, there are good experiences and bad ones, which allow for the tons of comedic gags.
Because I am often feeding the “parasite” in the living room, I watch a lot of TV with my kids and this is the ONLY show that I am not totally annoyed with. It is just a group of normal teenagers going through life. They are not super rich, they are not secret spies or split personality singing twivas, nor do they have their own web show. What the cast does have is individuality, and it shows my kids that they can be themselves while pursuing their goals, even if it is different from their friends. It is OK to be a jock, a singer or a shop-aholic; as long as you treat your friends with respect they will be there for you through anything. And of course, what would a teenage show be without the life lessons and the cliques. The thing that I like about this show is that they don’t make the characters strive to be in the cliques. Plus, who wouldn’t love a kids’ show that has an episode about zombies! (Season 2 special.) If you would like to know more about this animation, visit www.6teen.ca or teletoon.com. - Mrs. Admin
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