Entering the chilly bowels of the Roy Building, a Halifax landmark on storied Barrington Street, you might expect to see a rat scurry off in the darkness - after all, you're only a few blocks from the docks. But there are none to be found. Perhaps they've been scared off by the film crew huddled around what looks like a mad-scientist laboratory.
This is the lair of German scientist Doctor Funtime, played by Maury Chaykin, looking every bit like the animated madman in the opening credits of the maniacal comedy series Robot Chicken. The journeyman actor, best known for his work in feature films ( Whale Music, Blindness) and television ( Entourage), has concocted a strange blue substance that's both hallucinogenic and addictive. Three burly, mustachioed men, named Blaise, Rico and Chip, are his guests, there to collect the product for their druggie clientele. The exchange is expletive-filled and caustic. Funtime eventually loses patience, urging the men out at the muzzle of his submachine gun.
Once the director calls cut, the three drug dealers head out to the rain-washed sidewalk for a smoke. They're played by local heroes, John Paul Tremblay, Robb Wells and Mike Smith, the artists formerly known as Trailer Park Boys, totally unrecognizable under wigs, makeup and, for Tremblay, an enormous blue nose.
When they'd step off set during the decade of success on that hit show, Smith would remove his trademark Bubbles glasses for a little anonymity. (Tremblay and Wells weren't so lucky. Every trip to the grocery store to get milk, "instead of it taking 10 minutes it takes half an hour now," Tremblay said at the time.) In this new venture, though, they play 24 characters between them, many requiring prosthetics. They also play versions of themselves with no makeup. So much for Smith's anonymity. "It's looking that way, maybe," he says. "But maybe no one will watch the show."
With six episodes finished shooting last week, Showcase is expecting people will watch. The Drunk and on Drugs Happy Funtime Hour - the name itself should give a sense of its tone and the theme, carried over from TPB, of bawdy humour around substance abuse - is difficult to summarize. But here goes: The Happy Funtime Hour is a variety show starring the three leads from Trailer Park Boys. On set, a powerful narcotic derived from local berries transforms the cast, leading them to believe they are the characters they're playing, including pirates, superheroes, a mafia family, gay radio hosts and drug dealers. Tremblay, Wells and Smith, who created and scripted the show, will be performing in many scenes opposite themselves. It's directed by sitcom veteran Ron Murphy, a recent helmer of CBC-TV's Being Erica.
"This is much more of a surreal kind of journey," says Smith, encapsulating the direction of the new show. "The audience gets dragged through these floaty, kinda weird transitions, where Trailer Park Boys was pretty straight up and easy to follow."
John Dunsworth, Mr. Lahey from TPB, joins his former colleagues as Papa Karlson, an armless pizza maker who creates his pies with his feet ("Feetza Pizza"). He concurs on the show's strange vision. "It's non-derivative, it doesn't copy anything that's out there, the way it can shift from one reality to another."
He's right about it not looking like anything on North American TV, though the elements of variety and grotesquery may owe something to British shows such as League of Gentlemen and Little Britain. Dunsworth, who has 40 years of experience on stage and screen, is especially impressed with the ambition that Tremblay, Wells and Smith are bringing to this new creation.
"Some people might think they're slouches. They walked through their parts as Trailer Park Boys, but this show will prove how hard-working they are. They spent a good, solid year writing this," he says, adding, "people who have a fervent belief in religion, they're going to be scathed. [Tremblay, Wells and Smith]are so irreverent, it's unbelievable."
That comedic irreverence attracted some big names to the show's cast besides Chaykin and former TPB veterans Dunsworth and Pat Roach (Randy). Guest-starring is Hollywood's newly minted comedy superstar, Montrealer Jay Baruchel, playing two characters - Private Prosciutto, a soldier, and Falcon, a wacky ambulance driver. Also on board is Amy Sedaris ( Strangers with Candy), who plays TV executive Katherine Money (pronounced "Monet").
Notable by his absence is the TPB big cheese, Mike Clattenburg, who wrote and directed the seven seasons and the two hit movies. He's gone on to direct the CBC series Republic of Doyle, and a new comedy feature coming in 2011, Afghan Luke and the Burgundy of Hash.
When the three stars are asked how it feels to be working without their former ringleader, there's a pregnant pause. "We've loved working with Mike," says Wells. "He's moved on to do some other stuff, and we've moved on to this. We love playing Ricky, Julian and Bubbles, and we'll still do it in a live show. It's exciting to do something brand new, finally, after all this time playing the same people."
"It's fun to come in in the morning and look at the call sheet to see who you're going to be that day, you know," says Smith. "Some days we play five completely different characters. It's a hell of a lot of work, because there's lots of makeup and prosthetics. It makes for really long days, but it's a blast."
Special to The Globe and Mail