People like to talk about is how "television is the new movies," how the post-Sopranos premium (and basic) cable landscape has ushered in a golden age of TV drama and comedy. There are compelling arguments on both sides of the TV versus movies smackdown, even if it's an ultimately pointless debate that tends to ignore arguments of medium-specificity in favour of sweeping generalizations of quality, sort of like asking, "are doughnuts the new pears?" But nothing reveals TV's latent anxieties about its own worth quite like the spinoff movie.
Enter Corner Gas: The Movie, a feature-length adaptation of the popular and, I'm told, beloved CTV sitcom, which for six seasons transposed the well-meaning, sometimes backbiting folksiness of Stephen Leacock's Sunshine Sketches onto the no-horse prairie town of Dog River, Sask.
Funded by a consortium of Telefilm, CTV and the provincial tourism board, Corner Gas: The Movie feels like an ad for sleepy Saskatchewanian hospitality, spinning a triumphant yarn about Dog River's attempt to save itself from bankruptcy after the mayor (Cavan Cunningham) rolls the town's coffers into a series of inadvisable – and highly topical! – real estate investments in Detroit.
The crisis draws in all of Dog River, even the apathetic Brent Leroy (Brett Butt), who buys the out-of-business hotel bar in order to reinvigorate the local economy (or at least keep the down-and-out denizens of Dog River plastered). Elsewhere, Brent's thickheaded best buddy Hank (Fred Ewanuick) courts a predatory Timmies-ish coffee chain, oblivious to the effect such competition would have on the local diner owner Lacey (Gabrielle Miller). Also, Wanda (Nancy Robertson) opens an illegal casino, Sergeant Davis (Lorne Cardinal) is forced into early retirement and goes fishing with Graham Greene, and Brent's ornery dad (Eric Peterson) buys a horse.
Yes, all the fan favourite characters of Brent Butt's admired Cancon tax deduction are in attendance, bound to satisfy all the hardened Butt-heads who have been mindlessly surfing through CTV and CBC sitcom lineups since Corner Gas took its prime-time bow in 2009. Having never seen a full episode of Corner Gas, yet vaguely aware of its popularity, it's nonetheless exceptionally easy to keep up with who's who and what's what in the Corner Gas universe.
After all, it's a franchise. And like so many franchises, it trades almost exclusively in stock types. But more than the broad stereotyping of the characters – bossy city girl, sarcastic man-child, cranky old man, dopey metalhead, cranky old woman – Corner Gas deals with the broadest, most palatable assumptions of Canadian identity.
We're nice, but not too nice. We help each other, but we do it while sniping and bickering and calling each other dummies. Our earthy, down-home peculiarities are forever endearing. It's pretty much a basic cable Trailer Park Boys, pruned of all the weed and swearing (and jokes). As one character puts it, offering up a Corner Gas thesis statement that might as well be rendered in
needlepoint and hung above the entrance to your quaintly ramshackle farmhouse, "Friends and family is all we need."
It's a lazy, boring, self-validating attitude. But it's hard to want to argue with.
To the embedded Corner Gas fan base dedicated to this well-meaning folksiness, criticizing the movie for its niceness, or for its barn-broad jokes, or the way you can practically hear it groaning as it stretches the half-hour sitcom format to 90-plus minutes, probably just smacks of so-much snarky, big-city gum-flappin'. And considering that the only thing more obvious than Corner Gas's abundant amiability is its total innocuousness, I'd have a hard time arguing with that, too.