“I’m awesome!/No you’re not, dude…”
That song by Spose was the perfect theme music for Mr. D (CBC, 9 p.m.) which ends its remarkable run tonight with a series-finale episode.
It’s not the strongest ever episode, nor is it the ideal ending as it unfolds. Yet, that doesn’t matter. Mr. D has always been peculiar that way: Episodes of genius and episodes that contained a few minutes of greatness. Those small bits of outrageously funny material kept it going. There’s always been that cheerful, expansive weirdness to it that characterizes such shows as Trailer Park Boys and the late and lamented Seed.
From the get-go in 2012, Mr. D was dumb and adorable, and ours. A very Canadian kind of idiocy pervades it, especially the fun that’s had with language and insults.
It’s rare for a Canadian stand-up comedian to get a sitcom vehicle in Canada, and in this instance it worked. Comedian – and former high-school teacher – Gerry Dee developed the show and savoured playing a seriously underqualified but seemingly ambitious teacher stumbling through classes and school politics. But not ambitious at all, really, this guy. More the weasel who doesn’t want to work, ever. There’s no laugh-track, the tone from the start was stoner-impassive and the humour has always come from the barely plausible but utterly cringe-worthy attempts by the teacher to get through a class and please the principal.
Made in Halifax and anchored subtly in the Maritime humour that takes a mocking view of authority, the show has morphed over the years from being rooted in awkwardness-and-cringe to a more wide-ranging kind of surreal humour. The conversations between Gerry Duncan, the teacher, and the little kids at Xavier Academy, which got increasingly strange, have become its signature. And some have been priceless.
A recent episode that amounted to a demented tribute to Breaking Bad was representative of the show’s recent style and form. Principal Duncan – the shift from Gerry the dunce-teacher to boss was deftly done this season and made a deranged kind of sense – banned that Slime goop from the school and then realized he’d created a shortage and could corner the market in the illicit Slime. A ridiculous plot line, but nicely done and it gave Mark Little another chance to shine as the mommy’s boy Simon, a teacher just as hopeless as Gerry.
In fact, the entire cast has been outstanding over the years. Darrin Rose as Gerry’s roommate Bill was impeccable. Lauren Hammersley gets to strut a bit in the finale as Lisa, who was married to Gerry twice, if I recall. Bette MacDonald has always been near-perfect as the choleric Trudy, who has to roll her eyes at Gerry about five times an episode. Jonathan Torrens stays fairly quiet as the button-down Robert and he has sometimes carried episodes with his gift for zaniness. Naomi Snieckus and Emma Hunter are great, too, and have been an essential part of this gang forever. Suresh John as the stoic and very wise Mr. Malik has been superb at minimalist humour.
Mr. D has always puzzled some viewers and, I suspect, at times puzzled CBC executives. When it first aired in January of 2012, it was an almost instant hit. That month, which seems like a very different era, the public broadcaster had a very strong start to the year. Five CBC shows were hitting the one-million-plus benchmark in the Canadian ratings – Marketplace, Mr. D., Arctic Air, Dragons' Den and Republic of Doyle. Wisely, CBC seems to have left Mr. D alone, allowing it to evolve and adjust.
Me, I’ve hear from readers who loathe the show and condemn it. What some viewers don’t grasp is that it’s a texture thing. Temperamentally and tonally, the gist of the series is captured in the lyrics of the theme song – the assertion, “I’m awesome” followed by the answer, “No, you’re not, dude.” It’s not a milestone show or a turning point. It’s just dopey fun and always sprinkled with inspired surrealism. Thankfully, it will be in re-runs for years on several channels. Well done to all involved. Walk away and take the bus home, satisfied.