The other day, I read about a new show coming to Afghan TV. (What a world we live in: Afghan TV's new fall season is on my radar here.) The show is called The Ministry and, as has been noted by those who have seen the extended trailer (you can find it easily online), it bears a strong resemblance to The Office. It's a mock documentary about the oddballs - those egotists, coots and passive-aggressive types who thrive in the workplace - toiling at a branch of the government called the Ministry of Garbage.
It appears to be well acted and, if the subtitles are accurate, the humour is cutting. Watching it is a strange, unsettling experience. Jokes about suicide bombers and such. And yet, as peculiar and hallucinogenic as it is, the show isn't half as unsettling as the demented new series cooked up by a trio formerly known as the Trailer Park Boys.
The Drunk and On Drugs Happy Funtime Hour (Showcase Action, Fridays, 9 p.m.) is written by and stars Robb Wells, John Paul Tremblay and Mike Smith - better known to an adoring following as Ricky, Julian and Bubbles. The new show has been long awaited and the basis of considerable legend. The fact that it has ended up on the obscure Showcase Action and the fact that the channel did little to promote it (Shaw-owned Showcase didn't provide advance screeners to the press, unless specifically asked) tells you that there is something weird unfolding.
The show is beyond perplexing and it's a failure, but a noble one.
The premise is this: Wells, Tremblay and Smith are actors on a TV sketch-variety show, The Happy Funtime Hour, which is made in a town called Port Cockerton. Everybody on the show is addicted to local berries that have robust hallucinogenic properties. They're addicted because the actor who plays scientist Dr. Funtime (the late Maury Chaykin) has fed the berries to everyone involved with the show.
Thus, these guys Wells, Tremblay and Smith wander through a town and TV show where the other actors and the locals believe that everything happening on The Happy Funtime Hour is real. Actually, everyone is phenomenally high. The actors believe they are the characters they play and the locals accept it too. To add to the bewildering concoction, Wells, Tremblay and Smith play a vast number of different characters, using wigs, vats of makeup and prosthetics.
Now, you don't need a special talent for spotting a subtext to grasp some of the meaning of what's happening on the show. Wells, Tremblay and Smith spent years trapped in character as Ricky, Julian and Bubbles, hard-drinking, doped-up lovable hosers in a trailer park. They never appeared out of character and part of the genius of Trailer Park Boys was its firm insistence that the fictional world of Sunnyvale Trailer Park was very real indeed. The line between fiction and authenticity became lost in druggy fuzziness.
To add to the sense of the show being a deranged commentary on TV, fame, drugs and the confusion of the real and the fictional, there are even scenes of a furious, foul-mouthed TV exec reacting with horror to footage of The Happy Funtime Hour after it has descended into drug-addled mayhem. Part of the Trailer Park Boys folklore is the, ah, delicate relationship with broadcasters on the matter of TPB language, drugs and delirious drollery.
With The Drunk and On Drugs Happy Funtime Hour, one gets the sense that being high would help with grasping the highly intricate, cockamamie satire. Finding a way into the show's weird world is a challenge. The laconic lunacy is unfolding, but you're not sure if you want to join in while sober and of sound mind. Wells, Tremblay and Smith (who are joined by Jay Baruchel on the show) are using humour and ingenuity to escape Trailer Park Boys. It's just that not everyone will want to take the same escape route. The show is a misfire, but there's no shame in being as inventive as these boys.
Meltdown (CBC, 9 p.m.) is a repeat of the final segment of a four-part series, Meltdown: The Secret History of the Global Financial Collapse. Made by Terence McKenna, it is the story of the bankers "who crashed the world" and the political response, and it has vignettes of ordinary families in Canada and in the U.S. "who got crushed." The final hour is particularly relevant right now as it "sifts through the meltdown's rubble" and it asks, "Could it all happen again?" Well, yeah.
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