seed

Link: Canadian Sitcoms: Local, Lonely and Short-Lived

From Sofie Mikhaylova of Paste:

Canadian Sitcoms: Local, Lonely and Short-Lived
This March, Canadian sitcom Schitt’s Creek was renewed for a second season by American broadcasting network Pop. This is a big deal—generally, Canadian comedy doesn’t matter. Continue reading.

Greg David
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Greg David

Prior to becoming a television critic and partner at TV, Eh?, Greg David was a critic for TV Guide Canada, the country's most trusted source for TV news. He has interviewed television actors, actresses and behind-the-scenes folks from countless programs. Survivor winners, Donald Trump, Jerry Bruckheimer ... he has interviewed (literally) hundreds of TV people over the course of his career. He is a past member of the Television Critics Association.
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10 thoughts on “Link: Canadian Sitcoms: Local, Lonely and Short-Lived”

  1. The half-hour comedy, be it American or Canadian, is a format I find rather poorly done these past 15 years or so with a few exceptions. In the 90s, there were many American comedies I watched and really liked –Home Improvement, Blossom, Friends, Full House, Family Matters, Roseanne, etc. but Canadian shows, not so much. The only Canadian comedies in the 90s I enjoyed, discounting sketch comedies, which I generally liked, were Made in Canada, Breaker High, Big Wolf on Campus and Student Bodies. Since those, the only Canadian comedies I really liked were Mixed Blessings, Moose TV , Life with Derek and Mohawk Girls. So in the last 25 years, that’s 8 comedies, not a heck of a lot. I find it odd that in 25 years, only one Canadian comedy I liked, Made in Canada, came from the 4 major networks. All in all though, the last 10 years of Canadian half-hour comedy for me isn’t much worse than the American half-hour comedy. In the last decade, the only American sitcoms I liked were Reba, Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, The Goldbergs, Trophy Wife, Selfie, Young & Hungry, Baby Daddy and Fresh off the Boat. Nothing else really gained my liking.

    Comedies usually fall off my viewing schedule because they are seldom must-see. I enjoy serial dramas (as opposed to procedural dramas) way more because they get more into depth in the story and more time is spent on character development and ongoing plot development, something a half-hour comedy really can’t due in 22 minutes. That lack of time a sitcom has to flesh out its story is a major reason I think, when it comes to awards shows like The Emmys, they shouldn’t be competing with hour-long dramedies. It’s like comparing meat with vegetables. Both are good but one is much more filling and satisfying.

  2. What an oddly selected bunch. No mention of Trailer Park Boys, Slings & Arrows, The Newsroom — all critically acclaimed & successful. No Little Mosque, which whatever your opinion of the show, made an impact worldwide. No Fitz, no Less Than Kind…But Naked Josh? That other one I’d never heard of. Mmm. Ok.

    Comedy’s subjective, and articles about comedy even more so. But that article’s pretty sloppy.

    1. I haven’t yet seen either The Newsroom or Slings and Arrows. I’m gonna give the latter a try though this summer as I managed to get the episodes on my DVR this spring when it appeared on Movie Central–I think I’ll like it. As for The Newsroom, if it ever appears on Netflix I’m fair game. I’ve watched every episode of Trailer Park Boys (the other half likes it) but I neither like or dislike it, I wouldn’t watch it on my own though. And Little Mosque I watched straight through just because it’s a Canadian show though I never found it that good. I found Less Than Kind well-done but it never gelled for me and I dropped it. Oh, I forgot to put That 70s Show to my list of American shows.

      I do like and watch a few Brit comedies that I find hilarious.

    2. This is the sort of piece I can find myself reverse engineering in my head – and I suspect her main interest was writing about Seed, and just kind of wrapped it up in a piece about Canadian sitcoms to make it more current. But maybe it’s better to have someone writing SOMEthing about CDN TV than no one writing ANYthing. And she makes a tough point about the audience stigma a lot of homegrown comedies face — as opposed to the Pollyanna articles that begin: “If there’s one thing Canadians do well, it’s comedy…”
      .
      The main issue I had was her claim that Seed was doing great in Canada until it lost its American window when my understanding was its Canadian numbers were always weak and the only reason it got renewed at all was because of the conviction it could land an American spot. It’s hard enough to have discussions about CDN TV without possible false statistics. It reminds me of how fans of the old drama Traders like to remember it as an underdog that died from lack of network support…when it ran five years and was a joint production between Global and the CBC!
      .
      The funny thing is I really didn’t like Seed on so many levels – but I get the impression people who liked it liked it a lot, making me wonder what I was missing. A lot of reviewers seem to write about how charming Harry (the main character) was – when I found him a bit of a d*ck! Different strokes, I guess.

  3. loved made in canada too

    how about

    Wonderland and Living in My Car

    Air Farce – before John Morgan died

    and

    most of those old good american comedies had canadian writers

  4. DK, it strikes me that ye olde “cultural cringe” argument — which is not something I’m deploying to expiate the real sins of Canadian sitcoms (most of which are bad in the same way that most sitcoms everywhere are bad…you’re talking about a genre with a 95% death rate) — but laughter requires a loss of self-consciousness. The cringing or self-conscious laugh is not enjoyable…maybe to fans of OFFICE-like Brit comedy, but that’s it. You ladle the self-consciousness of the bred-in cringe to comedy and it’s impossible for anything to break through.

    Kids in the Hall did it in its time because it broke through that with shock, and with incredibly confident performances. Those performances gave you agency to calm yourself and enjoy.

    It’s funny to me that even the tone of comments from people who don’t like Schitt’s Creek in the USA sound different than Canadians who don’t like it. Most of the time the Canadian “oh no this is baaaaaad” feelings come out of embarrassment. You can’t make someone laugh when they are that fatally uncomfortable in their own (cultural) skin.

    1. Denis,
      A Psychology Department could do a whole study on the whys and whats of “cultural cringe.” I suspect it varies from self-deprecation taken a wee bit too far, to genuine self-loathing, to essentially bigotry (not “self”-loathing because the person sees themselves as separate and superior to other Canadians, in much the way that different regions of this country like to run down the other regions). “Cultural cringe” exists as a factor but one, I believe, that needs to be pushed through — not simply capitulated to. Particularly as there’s been enough successes over the years to show that it’s not insurmountable – and may even be just a very vocal minority. Unfortunately I suspect more than a few professionals in the entertainment biz suffer from “cultural cringe” themselves and simply use vague claims of market forces and audience resistance as a convenient justification to do what they intended to do anyway. But I’m cynical that way. :)
      .
      Just as a sidebar, I’m reminded of a TV programmer who once ruefully remarked that a bad drama is just a bad drama, but a bad comedy is embarrassing.
      .
      Context I suppose is also a factor. Your “Schitt’s Creek” example might also relate to the expectations engendered from it being on a small cable station in the U.S. while in Canada it’s kind of the Jewel in the Crown of a major network.

  5. Traders wasn’t a co-pro between networks. CBC aired a season of it but I don’t think they had creative involvement – at least not in the 35 eps. I did. I think the underdog thing came from it having to run against ER for 5 years and a bit of a story grew that Global did that deliberately to “prove” Canadian shows couldn’t draw numbers and that they kept it on the air that long to hammer home the point

    1. Lou,
      I confess I used “joint production” simply as short hand :) — I merely meant that it had, at one point, aired twice weekly on two different networks. I’ll put my bias up front: I wasn’t a fan of Traders. But (if memory serves) I believe it was the most expensive Canadian series of its day, it was supported by two different networks, I recall commercials up the kazoo (commercials which themselves received corporate sponsorship – I recall the announcer saying “This Traders’ preview has been brought to you by ___”) and though I remember the “ER” thing it seemed more an indication of how convinced the Global executives were it would be a big hit. Though eventually they blinked and moved it to a different slot (and the CBC aired it at still another time, too). Despite all that, the ratings were never very good — but Global kept it going for I believe five years. And yet the mythology is it was a show that was never given a chance! (How long did fans want it to run? 10 years? 20?)
      .
      I’m not trying to dump on “Traders,” per se. I just find it problematic when trying to analyze CDN TV if history gets rewritten. Whether claiming “Seed” was a hit until it lost its American window or the way fans of “Intelligence” blame its cancelation on some Harper conspiracy and paint the CBC as the villain when the CBC kept it alive for two seasons (and a movie) despite chronically poor ratings.
      .
      We all have favourite series cancelled too soon, but that doesn’t mean they’re all victims of network neglect or a conspiracy. Sometimes the ratings just weren’t there.

  6. Most Canadian comedies have been really bad. Arguably, Corner Gas, Beachcombers, King of Kensington and Trailer Park Boys were the most successful comedies on Canadian television and that is because none ever shied from its setting and tried to be American. This seems to be a recurring theme on this website, the talk that Canadian shows try to be American but it’s a theme we will keep coming back to. Canadians can be very funny but in television it often gets watered down so it’s unrecognizably Canadian (to a less trained eye) and its a shame. We have a great big country so why not take advantage of all our eccentricities and individualites? Canadians will watch it IF it gets a good title, timeslot and premiere date.

    Currently, I myself watch one Canadian comedies–Mohawk Girls, It’s a show that’s a bit rough on the edges but its lack of polish kind of makes for a better comedy. Sometimes the rough draft is better than the final copy. I find myself laughing out loud in the show and the characters all seem real to me, not wonky over-the-top characters I’ve seen in several comedies made in Canada. The interesting thing about Mohawk Girls is that its a comedy made from a documentary made by Tracy Deer who also is the creator of both so the comedy series mined real life events/people in its creation. I wish there were more Canadian comedies that actually did that, take real Canadian experiences and settings and used them to make a Canadian comedy series.

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