The gift that keeps on giv'ring
Fubar: Age of Computer brings a beloved Can-cult franchise into the internet age
Heavy metal is, in a meaningful way, timeless. The genre stands outside of trends and swings in taste, either so transcendentally cool or so hopelessly lame. It's the rare genre where bands age, evolve and slump into oldness without seeming sad or frail, shielded by armour of denim and leather. Author Chuck Klosterman has a bit about how pimply faced teenage boys will always be wearing Led Zeppelin T-shirts. The same is true of Iron Maiden T-shirts, Black Sabbath T-shirts, Metallica T-shirts and cut-off Motorhead belly tops.
The metalhead, too, is unstuck in time. He (or she, but usually he) carries his teenage wardrobe of black T-shirts, scored at merch tables, well into adulthood, if not to the grave. Case in point: Terry (David Lawrence) and Dean (Paul Spence), the headbanging, hockey-haired, quintessentially Canadian stars of the ever-expanding Fubar franchise.
The 2002 cult classic mock-doc Fubar followed two Calgarian metalheads desperate to buck the realities of adult responsibility. While their friends settled down, Terry and Dean stalked the streets hooting, howling, high-kicking and shotgunning cans of Old Style Pilsner. Improvised by Lawrence and Spence and directed by Michael Dowse, Fubar was a riotously funny portrait of aging headbangers that also captured something of the strain of male friendships and the frailty of masculinity. In 2010, Fubar II, which transported Terry and Dean to the oil sands frontier town of Fort McMurray, Alta., premiered in a midnight slot at the Toronto International Film Festival. And now, Dowse, Lawrence and Spence are bringing their eternally hard-partying vision to the small screen with Fubar: Age of Computer, a new comedy series premiering Nov. 3 on Viceland and City.
"Me and the guys have always discussed doing an animated series," Dowse says, over the phone from Montreal. The costliness of animation checked their ambitions a bit. As with the original, super-low-budget Fubar, necessity became the mother of invention. "You have to come up with a show that works on a low budget," Dowse says, "in one or two locations."
The solution is at once lazy and brilliant: give Terry and Dean internet access. Age of Computer follows the duo back to Calgary in the wake of the 2016 Fort McMurray Wildfires, where they shack up with Terry's cousin Shank (North Darling) and are introduced to the worldwide web, about 20 years late. As Dowse sums it up, the show's high-concept premise is simple: "What if a headbanger got on the internet?"
"These guys are coming out of a time warp," Dowse explains. "The internet brings the world into your house. It lets those guys react off anyone they want or any situation they can create. It gives this show a scope that it normally wouldn't have and a level of irreverence."
Age of Computer works through these scenarios at a breathless clip befitting our era of hyper-connectivity. Terry joins OKCupid and catfishes his own wife (Terra Hazelton). Dean posts a Craiglist ad for his band, Nightseeker (an actual band that Spence performs in, in character). Shank Skypes with his estranged daughter and explores the more bizarre nooks and crannies of online porn sites.
The show is also distinguished by its form, which Dowse says was designed to reflect the business of contemporary image culture. Screens appear within screens, the image bisected and bisected again, with multiple jokes unfolding all at once. "People are used to watching a couple of things at the same time," Dowse says. "We wanted a dense screen with lots going on, and to make it as [overloaded] as peoples' attentions are these days." If Marshall McLuhan made a foul-mouthed sitcom about guys guzzling beer and kicking stuff, it might look like Fubar: Age of Computer.
As far as the cursing, Terry and Dean's prodigious deployment of f-bombs makes it to the small screen intact, sort of. On Viceland, the show appears unexpurgated, riddled with profanities and off-colour jokes. But on City, Age of Computer is presented in a heavily censored edit, to the point of it being downright nonsensical. "We weren't aware that the show would need to be censored when we were shooting," Dowse says, fully aware of how ludicrous a PG-rated Fubar show is. "There was no effort to watch the swearing or curtail any of our content. The censored version is highly redacted, as they say. Like literally a third of the sound is missing. It'll be interesting to see if people can even follow it."
Terry and Dean plunking into the middle of the online age also sees them emerging into a world that is, in Dowse's words, "a little more socially conscious and politically correct." Much of Age of Computer's humour – from its jokes about real-world wildfires to sight gags about way-too-steep wheelchair ramps – may strike many people as galling. But as in the previous, big screen Fubar adventures, Terry and Dean's beautiful obliviousness produces a genuine sympathy.
In Fubar as in his other films (the hockey comedy Goon, the intermittently smutty rom-com The F Word), Dowse has found the perfect balance of sweetness and vulgarity. It's an alchemy he, Lawrence, Spence and Darling create again for Age of Computer, amid the hectic split-screen maelstrom. Terry and Dean are still a bit coarser and rougher-edged than hoser contemporaries on Trailer Park Boys and Letterkenny, but it just makes those flashes of sincere affection that much more poignant.
These are the definitive long-haired metalheads adrift in time and blissfully unaware of shifting social mores. Their late-blooming quest to log on and keep pace with the speed of life online proves not only deeply funny, but weirdly resonant.