The Classics of Canadian TelevisionOn December 3rd 1988, the first television broadcast occurred in Canada, bringing an exciting new technology to that primitive frozen northern hellhole. This was an amazing accomplishment considering Canada has only had electricity since 1979. And since the late eighties almost ten series have been produced for Canadian television. Today we look at many of these fine gems.
It's worth noting that television in Canada is heavily funded by the Canadian government. This is because Canadian TV is apparently not profitable on its own, as Canadians would rather sit and watch American TV in their igloos after a hard day of hunting and gathering. Take that Canada.
This was an animated cartoon starring a young boy named Pelswick who goes about his everyday life while dealing with his wacky family and friends. Yes, a pretty standard premise, but the unique thing about this program is that Pelswick is confined to a wheelchair. I consider this groundbreaking. Wheelchair bound characters are very rare in television cast ensemble. And usually when a kid in a wheelchair is part of a kid's show, he or she is just a background character included solely to demonstrate diversity. Think of Wheels from the Burger King Kids Club. And most of the time, they won't even get around to including a crippled character unless the producers have extra room left over after adding a black kid, an Asian kid, a Latin kid, a girl who is good at sports, and a nerd who has friends. But in Pelswick, the person in the wheelchair is the star of the show.
Though the animation was very poor because it's hard to draw when you have to wear gloves all the time, Pelswick was a special show, but not really for the reason I mentioned before. The main reason I enjoy Pelswick is because most of the humor comes from making jokes about disabled people. I love it. You could not get away with having a kid's show that included so many jabs toward disabled people in the United States, I'll tell you that.
Here's an example. Pelswick is taking a stand on something when he'll say, "It's time for me to put my foot down. Or at least pick up my foot and set it on the ground." Ha! I imagine the point of this cartoon is to show respect for the disabled by allowing us to laugh at them. Works for me!
The Red Green Show
The Red Green Show is Canada's Seinfeld. It is currently the country's most popular show, drawing in as many as 400 viewers each week, more than double the average audience for a home grown Canadian program. It has only ever bested in the ratings by the NHL playoffs.
Red Green centers around a grizzled old outdoorsman as the title character and his homosexual nephew, Harold, who spend most of their time in Possum Lodge, a popular men's club in downtown Toronto's Possum Lake district. The show is more of a sketch comedy show than a sitcom, although unlike most sketch comedies it utilizes the same characters in every show and each episode usually has some overall plot. I liken this format to the first season of Nickelodeon's old show Welcome Freshmen, which was a sketch comedy show with the same characters used all the time before becoming a regular sitcom. That was odd.
Anyway, most episodes involve Red doing some kind of handy man thing with hilarious consequences. Also, duct tape. Allegedly, Red is married to a woman named Bernice. But we have never seen her on the show. In fact, I don't think they has ever been a woman on this show.
There's not much I can say about Degrassi that I haven't said at Boycott the Caf, our spin-off website devoted to this show. Degrassi is a low budget 1980's high school drama show that later became a somewhat better funded modern day middle school drama show.
Kenny vs. Spenny
Oh, Kenny and Spenny, you two are supposed to be best friends, why do you always have to compete against one another? The success of reality TV game shows in the States such as Survivor, Survivor: Australian Outback, Survivor: Africa, Survivor: Detroit, um...some other Survivor seasons, and other shows such as uh... I guess some people must watch Big Brother, if that is still on. Anyway, Canada wanted its own reality game show, but not having a lot of money to throw at it, they turned to Kenny Holtz and Spenny Rice, two orphaned Eskimos who were adopted by the Prime Minister, and thus, property of the nation of Canada.
Each episode of KvS involves Kenny and Spenny competing in some sort of contest, such as who can sit on a cow the longest, who is a better boxer, or who do old people like more? Kenny tends to win because he cheats. At the end of the show, the winner gets to have the loser perform some kind of humiliation. So this part is Kenny showing how mean he can be to Spenny. Kenny really sets out to damage his friends here. Like one time Spenny punished Kenny by making him eat canned dog food. And that was pretty mild compared to that one time Spenny sodomized Kenny with a baseball bat while Kenny's mother was forced to watch. I couldn't sit through that.
Kids in the Hall
This was Canada's answer to Saturday Night Live, except unlike SNL, Kids in the Hall was only a half hour long, pre-recorded, and funny.
A common misconception I hear about the Kids in the Hall cast was that all of the performers were gay. That is not true, only one, Scott Thompson is homosexual, but he was kind of the leader of the troupe. So he did force the other guys to have butt sex with him every once in a while. But some people assume the cast were gay because they dressed up as women a lot. Sever times per episode in fact. But they only had to wear drag because there were no females on the cast. Now that I think about it, I can't name that many Canadian shows that had women in them.
The Simpsons is an American program, that be true, but I wanted to include it here because the CBC, the sole channel in Canada, broadcasts this show every weekday around 5pm. I applaud this move because it means everyone in the nation can watch The Simpsons at the same time. At least everyone who can get TV reception in their igloos. Some cable companies in the US carry the CBC, so this is how I became in expert in Canada's crappy low budget TV offerings. I was recently watching the CBC play The Simpsons the other day with Johnny Dangerous, but the signal went off the air four times in one half hour. I guess a very strong blizzard kept knocking the power off the one backwater UHF station Canada depends on to broadcast all their TV. Either that or a polar bear was chewing on the antenna. What ever the reason, that was unacceptable Canada, get your act together or we will declare war. And since 1812, we've only become stronger and more warlike, so you had best watch yourself this time.
You Can't Do That on Television
Oh, of course we have to end on this show. Jesus Christ, this was the show that made Nickelodeon, introducing a young cable channel to slime. And what a wonderful show it was. Ok, my memory of the show is a little fuzzy because it went off the air when I was ten. So I doubt the show was really that funny. If I ever caught an episode today I imagine I wouldn't find it that funny. Come on people, we have to admit this. I know insulting You Can't Do That on Television on a semi-humorous pop culture site is akin to going to a left wing blog and pointing out that Bush is not the world's biggest terrorist, but it has to be said. We should admit this. The early years of SNL weren't funny either. Stop reminiscing about Chevy Chase and "ignorant slut" old people.
Oh hell, maybe You Can't was a funny show. I don't remember and I won't pretend to remember this show very well. I didn't have cable when this was on. But as a person born in the 80's, I have a legal obligation to hold this show in my heart. And I do.
According to my exhaustive research, over 100 kids appeared on YCDTOTV over the years. Reminds me of this edition of Toothpaste for Dinner. The show went off the air in America when Canada had to ask Nickelodeon to stop airing it because the government couldn't afford to keep paying the large number of actors royalties. Canada was on the verge on bankruptcy in 1992 because of this and had to rely on massive international aide to avoid collapse.
Interestingly enough, one of the early kids to be cast was Alanis Morissette, well known light whine rocker. Man, she must have been 6'2" when she was 12.