I’d been worried, when I moved back to Canada, that there’d be nothing funny on TV. No more Kids in the Hall or SCTV, not even a Beachcombers 2012 to look forward to. It’s the mark of a great civilization that it can produce a great sitcom – Arrested Development, say, or Mary Tyler Moore or The Inbetweeners. Canada, I feared, had fallen down on the job.
But then I turned on the TV to find that there was, indeed, a side-splitting show, featuring a wacky main character on the loose in Canada’s largest city, surrounded by his even kookier relatives. This guy’s a bit rumpled, a bit red-faced, and he seems infuriated that he’s so permanently misunderstood. After all, he’s just trying to do the right thing. Wait, I thought: Didn’t King of Kensington go off the air 30 years ago?
Oh no, I was told. This is a new sitcom, and it’s called The Rob Ford Show. (I’m not sure the title is clever enough, but Anger Management is already taken.) It’s pretty damn funny, if entirely implausible. I mean, there’s no way on earth this guy could be elected mayor of Canada’s major metropolis, the economic heart of the country. But then, I spent years believing that Tom Hanks could pass as a woman and that Sarah Jessica Parker’s Manhattan apartment was affordable on a freelancer’s income. The rules are different in sitcom land.
Take the episode where the mayor is caught driving and reading at the same time. So he’s booting down the expressway in the middle of the city, driving his Cadillac Escalade, and he’s reading some papers at the same time. A bit like Mr. Bean, if Mr. Bean were in charge of a city of 2.5 million people. There’s a great punchline at the end of the show, when the mayor’s asked if he were actually multitasking on the freeway, and he says: “I’m a busy man.” I hope that screenwriter’s booked a ticket for Hollywood!
Now, this is not to be confused with the episode where the mayor appears to flip the bird at a fellow driver and her six-year-old daughter, or the episode where the mayor gets in a fight with a streetcar driver who feels he’s not driving safely. The mayor and his car are comedy gold, even though the producers took away his “Rob Ford” vanity plate. Stretched the limits of credulity, I guess.
Norman Lear once said that a great sitcom is entirely dependent on great characters, and The Rob Ford Show has some doozies. There’s the mayor’s niece, a graduate of the Lingerie Football League, who tweeted that women shouldn’t dress like whores if they don’t want to be raped. Immediately after this episode, I put my whore wardrobe away and I haven’t been bothered since. Who says TV isn’t edifying?
The mayor’s brother also makes regular appearances. He’s a politician, too, but he’s a bit like Frasier, because he’s got his own radio show, and a bit like Archie Bunker, because he once called the mayor’s wife a Polack on that radio show. That made me laugh, although it didn’t make Polish people laugh. Perhaps the joke’s not as funny 40 years later.
The police often show up on The Rob Ford Show, and you know that’s good for a chuckle or two. In one episode – sorry, I’m laughing too hard as I type this – the police arrived after the mayor got in an argument with a woman in his driveway who was dressed as a superhero called Marg, Princess Warrior. Another time, he called the cops because he felt threatened by a reporter half his size standing near his backyard. I imagine one day the producers will show us the police station, where there’s a giant red phone marked “Mayor’s house – I wouldn’t answer if I were you.”
Sometimes, the producers push things a bit too far and put lines in the mayor’s mouth that are just ridiculous. I mean, “Oriental people work like dogs” – who says things like that any more? And there was an incident where the mayor refused the gay community’s invitation to their parade, but I found it hard to believe they’d want to party with him in the first place. I understand there’s an episode coming up where the mayor, infuriated by all the journalists in town and their vile smears, decides his future messages will be delivered by a running back and a fleet of carrier pigeons. I’m going to PVR that one.
The good thing is, the whole country is united in its enjoyment of The Rob Ford Show. For so long, the rest of Canada loathed Toronto; now they’re laughing at us. That’s progress, and that’s the uniting power of great TV. Thank God it’s not real.