When I first read the news Corner Gas would be returning—this time as an animated version—I scratched my head and asked myself a few questions. Why are they doing this? Didn’t everyone do what they wanted over six seasons of live action? What would make this different?
“I didn’t want to do something for the sake of doing something,” creator, writer, actor and executive producer Brent Butt says of Corner Gas Animated, debuting Monday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The Comedy Network. “The legacy of it was too important to me. I’m up for a shameless cash grab—don’t get me wrong—but it had to feel right.”
“I honestly thought that the movie was it because Brent is a man of his word and said that was it,” Tara Spencer-Nairn says. “But then I busted Virginia Thompson one day in a Shoppers Drug Mart shortly after the movie came out. I was in line and saw Virginia and she was on her phone saying loudly, ‘I don’t like how the Oscar character looks.’ I was like, ‘Virginia, I’m right here!'”
Thompson, the show’s executive producer alongside Butt and executive producer David Storey, admits the idea for an animated take on the lives of the folks living in small-town Saskatchewan has been in the works for years, but really gained momentum following the success of 2014’s Corner Gas: The Movie. After six seasons on CTV and a final farewell to fans with a feature film, Thompson figured that was it. But an outpouring of support—and demand for more stories from Dog River—caused the trio to recall something they’d kicked around as a joke years ago: an animated series.
“Brent, David and I got together and had lunch and said, ‘What do we want to do?’” Thompson recalls. “The animated concept kept popping up. We’re really excited about this because it really does come from Brent’s imagination and brand of comedy. It’s a different angle to Corner Gas.” Butt’s love of comic books—he and a friend started a publishing company and his first comic, Existing Earth, was nominated for a Golden Eagle Award before he left that for a standup career—and skills as an illustrator (he designed Corner Gas’ station logo) means that the world can expand beyond the limitations of physical television production.
“I think graphically,” Butt says. “I think in cartoon terms. Corner Gas was always written to be a live-action series because it was loosely based on what I imagined my life would be like if I hadn’t pursued stand-up comedy.” During production of the original Corner Gas, some of the ideas he came up with were dismissed as “too cartoonish.” Butt jokes he spent six years de-cartooning Corner Gas; now he can let Dog River and its citizens go wherever he wants with no live action constraints.
Being unfettered pays off within minutes in Monday’s debut “Bone Dry,” when Brent and Oscar Leroy (Eric Peterson) argue over Brent having forgotten to order more fuel for Corner Gas’ tanks. They’re dry, leading Oscar to surmise the small town will devolve into a world where people fight to the death for gas. Cut to the elder Leroy’s imagination and a riff on The Road Warrior with Oscar, hilariously, as The Humungus. Butt and Peterson are reunited with the rest of the original Corner Gas cast—Gabrielle Miller as Lacey Burrows, Fred Ewanuick as Hank Yarbo, Lorne Cardinal as Davis Quinton, Spencer-Nairn as Karen Pelley, Nancy Robertson as Wanda Dollard—with Corrine Koslo taking over the role of Emma Leroy following the death of Janet Wright.
With half of the cast based in Vancouver and the other half in Toronto, a unique way of capturing their voices for the first season’s 13 episodes was decided on. The technology is good enough that each group could enter a recording studio in their perspective city and do a group read of the scripts.
“We had this lightning in a bottle with these people who were cast to populate this world and interact,” Butt says. “We had that magic chemistry that sometimes happens. That chemistry is a big reason for the success of Corner Gas. Having the actors from each city together means they can react to each other and react over the phone line in Vancouver.”
“We all play off each other,” Spencer-Nairn says. “I feel like if we didn’t do it this way we’d miss a lot of beats. There would be so much comedy lost if we weren’t working together this way and able to react to what the other person is saying live.”
“We could have done it piecemeal,” Butt says. “But there is an intangible chemistry and magic that these people have when they get together and the way they interact is magic and sorcery.”
Corner Gas Animated airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The Comedy Network.
Images courtesy of Bell Media.