By Dexter Brown
For our first look back at TV, it only makes sense to look at a TV show about TV. So grab a box of Frooty O’s, turn off Rex Reilly and snuggle up with your favourite cat as we present Twitch City in the first of our Rewind series.
Twitch City (CBC 1998-2000) may have been off the air for just about 12 years now, but already it feels like a relic of television’s past. While the satirical sitcom’s sharp writing, quick wit and laugh track-free scenes are commonplace for most modern-day network sitcoms, Twitch City does feel ancient in some regards. The show’s numerous references to some long-forgotten television shows, along with the old-school graphics for the opening title sequence, do more than enough to prevent Twitch City from holding as much of a timeless quality as much of the other memorable shows from the same era.
Twitch City nearly instantly comes across to viewers as the anti-Friends, anti-Seinfeld and anti-Caroline in the City, a play off of the single young friends in the city type sitcoms that were popular throughout the 90s. Gone are the bright apartments in a sprawling metropolis and the carefree 20- or 30-somethings. They are replaced by a grungy, dark dwelling somewhere in Toronto and a television-obsessed slacker.
Choosing to make television a centrepiece of the show, it only seems fitting that it is portrayed as an insipid wasteland. Surprisingly, some real-life television personalities make cameos in the show. They seem to unwittingly allow Twitch City to poke fun at them as vapid and vacant, like noise lost among itself.
One of the more memorable episode of Twitch City, the particularly surreal “The Planet of the Cats” — a spoof of Planet of the Apes — consisted of making light of the sci-fi genre, choosing to satirize the over-the-top acting and dialog and the tense drama by merely replacing the invading life forms with cats.
Strangely enough some of the scenes in “The Planet of the Cats” are eerily reminiscent of ABC’s remake of NBC’s 80s sci-fi show V. So strange in fact, it almost felt as if Twitch City got ahold of the scripts of ABC’s V some ten years before it aired, replaced the alien overlords with cats and filmed it in a townhouse in downtown Toronto.
The show, and particularly “The Planet of the Cats,” could be argued to share the humour of the recently canceled surreal sketch show Picnicface from The Comedy Network. Both built their foundation on low-budget absurdist humour but being developed several years later, Picnicface was willing to take absurdist humour to a whole other level.
With only a dozen or so episodes aired, you can’t help but wonder if Twitch City was on the wrong network at the wrong time as the show’s dark, surreal and absurdist humour seems to fit much of what aired on The Comedy Network in the past decade. Perhaps it may have lived a longer life there in the 2000s, as opposed to sharing time on the same schedule with shows such as The Fifth Estate and The Nature of Things.
Today, the CBC has decided to move away from more niche programs such as Twitch City despite a recent shot at a cable-like program, Michael: Tuesdays and Thursdays. While that show was critically acclaimed, it suffered greatly in the ratings. More mainstream shows such as Mr. D proved popular with the public and the network has since come off of one of its highest rated seasons ever.
Want to relive Twitch City or try it out for the first time yourself? Check out Twitch City episode “The Planet of the Cats” on YouTube right now.