Skip to main content
opinion

Jayne Eastwood, left, as Lady and Jackie Richardson as Rosie in CBC's original comedy series Hey Lady! about a wiry old 'lady' who refuses to let herself be put out to pasture.CBC

So it’s Monday, the day after the 92nd Academy Awards. You know how the conversation goes: Question: “Did you watch the Oscars?” Answer: “No. Well, actually only the first bit, where the celebrities walk the red carpet and tell you who designed the dress. It’s fun. You can shout insults at them.”

This column sympathizes. After the Oscars shindig, awards season is over. No more opportunities for a thundering denunciation of the scandalous lack of diversity in the awards categories. No more declarations about the unacceptable lack of women directors. No more staring at foreheads that never move and wondering how much that amount of Botox costs. Never mind that the only woman over the age of 50 you ever see during awards season is Helen Mirren.

After the Oscars, what comes next? Why, it’s Valentine’s Day. This year, you will get an extraordinary treat for Valentine’s Day. No, seriously you will. Not a box of cannabis-infused chocolate clusters instead of the usual box of boring chocolates. No, it’s even more imaginative than that. The CBC, of all people, will gift you the most uproariously funny and rude comedy it has done in, perhaps, forever.

Hey Lady! (streams on CBC Gem from Friday, Feb. 14) came to the attention of this column with a standard CBC news release. It said, “Prepare to be startled by the escapades of this ‘lady’ without filters.” Well, by heavens, I was. This series of eight short episodes is a delight, a journey from zany to lawless comedy raucousness.

Written by playwright Morris Panych specifically for its star, Jayne Eastwood, Hey Lady! is framed as a kooky conceit – the old “lady” believes she’s starring in a TV series and barks orders about moving on to the next scene when she’s bored. Is this some kind of senility? Nope. But the series in which she’s starring is often so rude and foul-mouthed that a ton of the dialogue can’t be quoted in this newspaper.

In Hey Lady!, Eastwood, who has been in dozens of Canadian movies and series, has the role of a lifetime. You can tell she savours it.CBC

There are, however, basic facts to convey – the main character has named her children after dogs. Thus her daughter the lawyer (Christine Horne) is named Lassie and her son, the one she torments the most (Zachary Bennett) is named Rover. She shoplifts constantly, yells insults at children, drinks copiously and, with her equally wisecracking, chain-smoking sidekick (Jackie Richardson) wreaks havoc daily in every possible location. (Scenes of the pair torturing baristas are priceless.) It’s the most extraordinary creation on Canadian TV.

For instance, the “lady” is obliged to go to a psychiatrist (played by Don McKellar, one of a number of familiar Canadian actors to turn up) who says gently, “Talk to me about something.” To which she replies, “You’re a very ugly man.” The shrink says, “That’s not very nice.” And she retorts, “Tell me about it, I’m the one who has to look at ya.” All the while, she’s mocking the fact that the other person in the room is an actor trying to look and sound like a psychiatrist.

In truth, it’s difficult to convey the flavour of this madcap little masterpiece of verbal and physical slapstick. (Episodes are directed by Adriana Maggs, Sarah Polley and Will Bowes, by the way.) It’s a celebration of the liberation that should come with old age. And it’s not as though we didn’t all dream of becoming that cranky, indomitable old man or woman, waving their cane as a weapon and issuing sassy insults at all and sundry.

Eastwood is 73 and has been in dozens of Canadian movies and series. In Hey Lady!, she has the role of a lifetime. You can tell she savours it. After all, it is rare to play a Mom who gets to say, after she’s introduced as her son’s mother, “I’m not his mother, I’m just the poor wretch who gave birth to the bastard.”

Hey Lady!, which screened recently at Sundance, is unmissable. You’re being alerted to it early because it’s one heck of a treat to anticipate for Valentine’s Day.