So I came back to discover that Corner Gas: The Movie had been dissed. Here, there and some other places. I am outraged.
Some background – let me tell you a story. Some years ago, the editor of Television Quarterly, the august journal of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences – the people in the United States who do the Emmy Awards – wrote me a very nice, sincere letter. The gist was an invitation to write an essay for the Journal, explaining Canadian television.
I replied in a nice, sincere manner and agreed to do it. I wrote mainly about Trailer Park Boys and Corner Gas. "What Makes Canadian TV so Different?" was the title, as it appeared on the cover, accompanied by an excellent photo of Bubbles, Ricky and Julian surrounded by weed.
Since then, Trailer Park Boys spawned several movies. Now, there's Corner Gas: The Movie airing tonight (CTV, 8 p.m.) after a short theatrical run.
The Trailer Park Boys movies left film critics baffled. They got snooty. And the Boys didn't care. The movies got people into theatres and paying cash to see their heroes have another, longer adventure. Along comes Corner Gas: The Movie and, well, you know what happens – people who get paid to watch Jennifer Aniston rom-coms and movies about superheroes aimed at 12-year-olds got snippy. You know, it's, like, not really a movie. It's just a TV show at 90 minutes long.
That attitude misses the point. Yeah, it's a TV show and in the case of Corner Gas, a great one, a unique Canadian creation, one adored. Ours. Us. What we like.
The movie is a quietly demented, outsized episode of the classic show. We enter Dog River five years after we waved goodbye. At first, what we see is a riot. Literally, a riot – chaos and confusion and really angry people. Then we find out what led to this. The wee town is bankrupt. Occasional power and no water. The police force – officers Karen (Tara Spencer-Nairn) and Davis (Lorne Cardinal) – are affected. One, Davis, is let go. He becomes a private eye. Like you do when you lose your job.
Essentially what unfolds is a series of reactions to the crisis. Hank (Fred Ewanuick) concocts ludicrous ideas to make money, including opening a coffee shop franchise. That might put the Ruby Café, run by Lacey (Gabrielle Miller) in financial danger. Brent (Brent Butt) opts to buy the town bar. Wanda (Nancy Robertson) opens a speakeasy bar in Davis's basement. Like you do. Lacey, bossy as usual, enters Dog River into some newspaper competition to be named Canada's Quaintest Town.
Things go awry. There's a lot of spitting because the hated, neighbouring town of Wullerton is involved. Those who know, well, they know why.
It's terrific entertainment, often hilarious, the casual wordplay, the brief zany excursions into the surreal. Sure, it drags out a teensy bit, but when you think it's dragging, along comes an immensely clever joke.
Me, I have some issues with it. Lacey's shoulders for a start. They appear all too briefly and I take the amount of time they remain covered, as a personal affront. Also, it's way, way, too long before Oscar (Eric Peterson) says, "Jackass!"
That aside, I will tell you, and the snippy movie critics, what I wrote in Television Quarterly years ago. Corner Gas is us at our best – on the surface a nitwit nation but under the surface, droll and devoted to gentle comedy and appreciative of whimsicality.
Corner Gas was one of the few standout Canadian series of recent years and its success was also an inconvenient truth for some people in the Canadian TV industry. Some in the industry believe that to succeed with audiences, Canadian TV shows should mimic the U.S. network style and content. There's a tendency to think that anything else isn't smart. The deft, light sophistication of Corner Gas escaped those people.
Its sophistication also escaped some critics of the movie. It's like they didn't notice the message of the theme song – "You think there's not a lot goin' on/but look closer baby, you're so wrong." The running gag about a coffee shop taking root in Dog River ends up being a deft satire of Tim Hortons and our silly obsession with the coffee-and-doughnuts chain.
In fact the entire movie, about a tiny town going bankrupt, is really about how we, in Canada, react to crisis. It's about us at our best and worst. The humour is absurdist, never mean-spirited. The look and feel of Corner Gas, the show, the movie, is distinct from U.S. comedy – it feels Canadian, without everyone talking about being in Canada, and there's genius in that.