Sometimes I long for the innocence of childhood, when I didn’t know or care if the shows I watched were Canadian or not. But it turns out many of the ones I remember most fondly were.
Inspired by a lively Twitter discussion about a post on the weirdest Toronto shows, here are my top 10 picks of Canadian shows that helped shape my early childhood, in no particular order:
The concept was perfect in its simplicity: a dog who wanders from town to town, helping people in need (just don’t ask too many questions about why or how plausible). Plus, that theme song remains the best/worst earworm of all time.
The show that spawned a constellation of Canadian stars that persists today, and that inspired a generation’s sense of humour. My brother and I used to use an old-fashioned tape recorder to perform sketches of our SCTV-inspired radio show. Mercifully we recorded over and over the same tape so no evidence survived past childhood. John Candy and Andrea Martin we weren’t.
Maybe it was eat your vegetables educational TV disguised as an animated series about a mouse, but we woke up early to catch reruns of Max and feel smug when we realized the events the little rodent witnessed had taken place more than 2000 years ago.
Yes I’m cheating by combining these, but even as a barely sentient child, I knew one or the other of Max or Kitzel was a knockoff of the other. I had no idea they were by the same production company and Paul Soles was the voice of both Max and Kitzel. The professor (pictured in the top image) and his time machine kept me entertained with more cheesy jokes, less smug.
Who was a bigger part of Canadian childhood than Ernie Coombs? Other than our parents, I guess. Casey and Finnegan were among my childhood BFFs, and I always wanted a Tickle Trunk of my own.
Street Cents came along later but Live it Up! was my first taste of a child-friendly consumer affairs show. It was bizarre, it was funny, it was bordering on boring for a kid, but I loved it anyway. I think I was seduced by the Watchdog and “What bugs you” lady, and hypnotized by that annoying theme song.
There were multiple versions of this show localized for various markets, and I have what’s likely a spurious memory of being at a taping. It may have been some random public access show, since I can’t find evidence of a Romper Room filmed in Edmonton, Calgary or Prince George, where I lived as a child, and I don’t remember being creeped out by that stalkerish Magic Mirror. Maybe it was all a fever dream, like Polkaroo.
This sitcom about a youth drop-in centre was by the producers of King of Kensington, and touched on some serious themes (with some serious guest stars — see video). Star Lally Cadeau made me want to be a psychologist when I grew up, until I realized I didn’t like people or their problems.
For the longest time, when people referred to the Red Green Show I thought that was their way of referring to one of this show’s signature sketches. Husband and wife Steve and Morag Smith teamed for this kinder, gentler, funnier precursor to that more famous series.
Looking back, the humour was likely too mature for my impressionable little head — though we would have been watching the sanitized CTV version — but we watched a lot of sketch comedy and adored John Byner and Super Dave Osborne. Oddly I never saw Super Dave, the more family-friendly spinoff.
No list of children’s shows could be complete without Friendly, Rusty and Jerome. That beautiful opening sequence and the show’s signature music is imprinted on my brain.