Trailer Park Boys: Discovering a National Treasure

Originally published by LondonFUSE

As I mentioned on our podcast this week, even though I’m 14 years late to the party, I’ve just started watching Trailer Park Boys. Maybe it was my limited cable package, which only went up to a black-and-white soundless MuchMusic, but the show was never on my radar. My understanding of the series was limited to a vague notion of a guy named “Bubbles,” informed only by bad impersonations.

In the name of full disclosure, I’m still only two seasons in, but damned if I don’t love this show. It’s a dry, funny comedy filled with despicable characters who become inexplicably endearing. But even more than that, Trailer Park Boys sets itself apart with its unique brand of Canadianness.

Until watching Trailer Park Boys, I had never really considered how sanitized Canadian content is. Growing up with Red Green and Road to Avonlea, Canadian content was dependably comfortable and safe. The American imports (a.k.a. 95% of my consumed content) were the ones that had swearing and that ever-so-sought-after adult content. The raciest Canadian I could remember was Colin Mochrie, who made naughty improv innuendos on Whose Line is It Anyway?.

In starting Trailer Park Boys, I couldn’t help but feel skeptical when I saw the logo for its home network, Showcase. The logo is made up of a grainy 4×2 grid of clips, three of which feature people engaged in acts of sex or seduction. It’s as though the channel is demanding to be taken seriously as a dispenser of Baby Blue 2-esque softcore pornography. “Don’t worry, Canada,” it announces, “you don’t need to sit through all that boring quality content on HBO to get to the sex stuff – – we’ve got it all right here.” And isn’t that a hallmark of Canadian television? When we try to replicate American TV, it feels like a sad imitation. When we try to make something distinctly Canadian (I’m looking at you, 2010 Olympic Closing Ceremonies), it’s even more embarrassing.

What makes Trailer Park Boys different is that it feels genuinely original and lets its Canadianness exist as a natural byproduct rather than an intentional effort. The show’s main talking points (poverty, crime, and community) are universal but the show is also not ashamed to be Canadian. The characters speak Canadian Maritime English, they eat (and mispronounce) Miss Vickie’s Jalapeño kettle chips, and when the boys pull off successful heists, the real value is in the brown money, not the green. The show isn’t trying to be Canadian, it just is.

Trailer Park Boys’ Canadian identity goes beyond its culturally familiar set dressings. For instance, the show has a particular relationship with marijuana.

Legalities aside, a recent Stats Canada survey suggests that over 3.4 millions Canadians got high in 2011. When it comes to Trailer Park Boys, anything is up for grabs in the name of comedy, whether it’s pornography or child endangerment. But if there’s one thing that the Boys always take seriously, it’s growing dope. While robberies and carjackings are good for acquiring extra spending money, the production and sale of marijuana is the primary source of income for our anti-heroes. In the rare instance where a person of authority, like park supervisor Mr. Lahey, challenges Ricky and Julian on their grow-ops, the argument crumbles under the weight of hypocrisy as Mr. Lahey is, himself, a customer. Even if, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently claimed, the majority of Canadians aren’t screaming for the legalization of marijuana, there is an undeniable pot culture in Canada.

The show does a similar thing with guns. Everyone at the trailer park is locked and loaded. It’s not a western, where the guns are tools of chivalry and honour. Gun violence is shown to be absurd and embarrassing. Most of the time, when a gun is fired, it’s because Ricky is overreacting to a squirrel or some other nuisance. In the rare instance where a bullet actually hits a person, it’s usually Ricky and it’s generally played for laughs.

In many respects, Canada defines itself by its absence of guns. We look down our noses and shake our heads at our neighbours to the South, with their endless stream of news stories about gun violence. Hell, we’re so notoriously gun safe that Michael Moore used our country as a living example of how to leave peacefully in his documentary Bowling for Columbine. In Trailer Park Boys, it’s when the guns come out that we, as the audience, know it’s time to distance ourselves from these characters and catch back up on the other side — usually once they’re out of jail.

This is not to say that Trailer Park Boys is explicitly pro-marijuana or anti-gun, but it’s refreshing to discover that there is distinctly Canadian content that isn’t afraid to look outside of the political world to find its humour. Weed is real, guns are real, crime is real and it’s okay to talk about that, especially in that special kind of cathartic conversation that can only happen in comedy.

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