Let's go online. Not to gawk at Instagram pictures or gag at the insults being thrown around, but to watch actual comedy and drama content.
Recently, in some undoubtedly complicated manoeuvre, the Canadian Media Fund and YouTube launched the online channel Encore+. It offers a small treasure chest of old-ish Canadian drama and comedy series, plus some mini-series and feature films.
Among the series included are, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Da Vinci's Inquest, Degrassi High, Degrassi Junior High, Due South, Emily of New Moon, Little Mosque on the Prairie, Mr. Dressup, Northwood, Slings & Arrows, This is Wonderland, and Yo-Yo Ma: Inspired by Bach. All good picks, and all worth your attention.
But it leads you to wonder, what is happening right now online? What Canadian web series require your attention and offer weird or wonderful pleasure? Here are three you need to know about.
Barbelle (on the YouTube channel KindaTV) is a great acid-tongued comedy set in the Canadian music world of now. A kind of rowdy anti-romance love story it is officially described as "A lesbian Spiceworld in Toronto, and a love letter to the Canadian music scene."
If that's a love letter, I'd hate to see the hate-letter. It stars Gwenlyn Cumyn and Karen Knox as Alice and Veronica, respectively, the queer duo and music hit-makers Barbelle. Things kick off two years into the duo's fame and hit songs. They announce to their record company that they're breaking up. That is, as a couple. They are, however, obliged to continue as a music duo.
It's one nasty, zinger-filled breakup. Veronica accuses Alice of putting boring stuff on Instagram, ruining their hot brand. Alice accuses Veronica of going on the CBC radio show Q to praise a book she hadn't even read. Into this fraught scenario comes Lulu (Cynthia Hicks) a teen star brought in to help the former lovers write new songs. Veronica is contemptuous, knowing that Lulu has dated Shawn Mendes. Lulu shoots back, "If you don't wanna work with me, then good luck finding someone who hasn't slept with Shawn Mendes." They don't skimp on the loving but biting jokes about the Canadian entertainment racket on Barbelle.
Karen Knox, who is terrific as Veronica, has called Barbelle "a story that follows two queer pop musicians as they navigate the ups and downs of celebrity in the digital age." It's that, but joyous and flinty in its wicked humour. A total pleasure to snack on.
Filth City (YouTube) is already a movie, but best enjoyed as 10-minute episodes online. "When a mayor running for re-election is caught on video smoking crack, he'll do whatever it takes to keep it out of the wrong hands. Inspired by true events." That's the gist and yes, it's inspired by the Rob Ford era in Toronto. What it nails, in online segments, is the dark absurdity of the story, the garish obnoxiousness of many involved and it applies stoner humour that is the best tool to capture the craziness.
Directed by Andy King and written by King and Danny Polishchuk, it features Pat Thornton as the juvenile, loudmouth Mayor Tom Hogg. But the real meat of the black comedy material, as it unfolds online, is with the hopeless cops who are trying to nail down the mayor's alleged crimes. The banter in cop cars veers from the ridiculous to the lividly profane. Watched online Filth City is clearly anchored in the arena of Fubar and Trailer Park Boys humour – on the surface dumb as a plank but alive with real mischief under that surface.
How to Buy a Baby (CBC's website) bears a resemblance to a snippity segment on Baroness Von Sketch Show. That is, it's rooted in bourgeois angst about infertility and having a baby. As rude as it is, sometimes, it's more of giggle festival than it is a laugh-out-loud comedy or searing satire. But it's very entertaining, consumed in small bites online.
Created by Wendy Litner it has Meghan Heffern as Jane and Marc Bendavid as her husband Charlie, who are desperate to get pregnant and doing all the necessary acts. Much of the humour is derived from their tactless friends who ooze total joy and pleasure from parenthood. Meanwhile, Jane and Charlie are obliged to admit that, well, there's an issue with his sperm and her uterine wall.
Both actors are fine in the roles but the parenthood-needy comedy can be larded a little too heavily. Jane announces, for instance, while out of sorts, that she works in Human Resources and that means that all she does every day is plan other people's maternity leave. And there's a bit of weird-uncomfortable humour when Charlie's sister, (Emma Hunter, from The Beaverton), who is heavily pregnant, announces she will have a baby for Charlie and Jane. "Once this one's cooked, I'll have one for you. I love being pregnant!"
Of the three, How to Buy a Baby has the most lavish production values and a more experienced supporting cast. But while it has pleasant buoyancy, it lacks the cannonading sharp comedy that often defines web series. It seems oddly impersonal. Barbelle and Filth City are, on the other hand, outrageously good at the roughhewn madcap humour.