Awright, awright. Keep your city-pants on. We're gettin' Canadian here today.
Letterkenny, which has started streaming on CraveTV, is a heck of a thing. A half-hour comedy, it's funny, mad, droll, childish and spiky. In the context of Canadian TV, it's kind of thrilling to see it.
Small-town and rural Canada is where it's set and what it's about. (I nearly wrote "aboot.") Not since Trailer Park Boys launched have we heard the flavourful, salty Canadian vernacular used with such aplomb and abandon. Most of Letterkenny – its origins are in a web-only series of shorts called Letterkenny Problems – cannot be reprinted in a newspaper. It's eff this and eff that, in the way that many people – the sort who use the term "city-pants" – use the f-word, and worse, to punctuate conversation and give rhythm to it.
Buncha guys talking is the gist. About hockey, women, food, farm animals and drinking. Oddly static in style and miles away from slick, the series is about Wayne (Jared Keeso, who created it) and his buds not doing much in their small-town Ontario town. The town is divided into groups – the Hicks, the Skids, and the Hockey Players. There are also the Christians but nobody pays them much mind. Wayne, his sidekick Daryl (Nathan Dales), and Wayne's fancy-free younger sister Katy (Michelle Mylette) are all Hicks.
Basically, they yak, tell stories and inevitably encounter the Skids or the Hockey Players. Words are spoken and fists are flyin'. Mainly that's Wayne's fists because he's the toughest guy in Letterkenny and a man has to protect his reputation.
The gist of the humour is difficult to describe. It's long-winded, insulting talk. Keeso has referred to it as "chirping," by which he means guys riffing on absurd subjects, making outrageous analogies and similes and, in general being either a) really dumb or b) deeply insulting. In some parts of the English-speaking world what's at the core of Letterkenny would be a "slagging match" – competitive insult exchanges that rarely cause much harm but exist as a way to ensure equality in social life.
Some British shows have used variations on slagging with great originality and verve. The Royle Family was one – about an average, working-class family mostly watching TV, making tea and swapping insults. It was breathtaking in its simple, smart humour and uncomplicated theatrics. Simultaneously adoring and mocking its characters, it had that rare thing in comedy – integrity. Letterkenny has it too.
Again, it's hard to signal the texture of the comedy and language. Difficult to explain how something that opens with, "A coupla hockey players came up to the produce stand last week" can evolve into exquisite drollery. Or indeed to explain that three guys are standing chatting at a urinal, with one inevitably saying, "This must be where the dicks hang out," and it's actually funny.
There are very rare instances of poignancy – exactly why Wayne and his sister love throwing a kid's birthday party is a peculiar revelation. But there is nothing forced about it. Almost all the conversations are raw comedy and utterly plausible as small-town guy talk, not just in Canada but in villages and parishes wherever the grass grows. It takes as long to watch an episode of Letterkenny as it does to crack open a cold one and sip it, and the show is just as intoxicating and refreshing.
While there is great merit in Letterkenny, I'm in two minds about the merit of making it CraveTV's first gesture in original Canadian programming. It's a matter of taking an existing and polished web series and expanding it a tad. It's peachy that Letterkenny works beautifully and it's a bonus to see fiercely Canadian comedy, but Canadian streaming services need to be hugely ambitious to meet the demands of viewers who watch the very best all the time.
Frontline: The Fantasy Sports Gamble (PBS, 10 p.m.) is a Frontline/New York Times investigation of the daily fantasy sports business – or racket, as many would see it.
After an initial and lucrative success such companies as DraftKings are being impeded from operating across the United States. State by state, authorities are shutting down or curtailing daily fantasy sports sites, ruling that what unfolds is actually illegal gambling. It's a huge industry, this thing – Frontline says fans bet an estimated $2.6-billion in 2015.
The report says, "The daily fantasy sports industry as we now know it first emerged from a legal loophole created when Congress tried to shut down online gambling. The law, which was enacted with the support of the major U.S. sports leagues, made betting on sports illegal but created an exemption for fantasy sports – which, at the time, was a low-key, season-long pastime between friends."
Now, with new laws squeezing the industry, that industry is moving into other countries where, like everywhere, fools and their money are easily parted.