Roundtable #13 – CanCon Edition

In this edition of the Roundtable we talk about quintessential Canadian television, what that means and if we watch. 


Kerri: I thought we should start this edition of the Roundtable by talking about our picks for the most “Canadian” of Canadian TV shows. Any picks?

Katie: Hockey Night in Canada, Just for Laughs, Mr. Dressup, Degrassi

Kerri: My picks are Hockey Night in Canada, Trailer Park Boys and Degrassi.

Jane: Road to Avonlea, Twitch City, Slings and Arrows

Kerri: And the big question, of course, is why are these shows so Canadian?

Hockey Night in Canada is hockey so that’s obviously insanely Canadian. Also, it includes a segment with Don Cherry called Coach’s Corner. The weird thing about Don Cherry is that he isn’t what you would automatically think of as a Canadian. He’s brash, he’s not polite, he has opinions. He’s sort of this strange Canadian icon that is at odds with what people think of when they think of Canada. But he represents hockey, which is the one place we allow ourselves to get a bit crazy.

Katie: Encountering Hockey Night in Canada is almost unavoidable if you live in Canada. If you don’t watch it in your home, you will watch it somewhere. If there is a hockey game on that involves Canadian teams, HNIC is playing in a bar in your town. Through osmosis presumably, I can recognize a good 40% of hockey player names, and I don’t follow the sport.

Kerri: A passing knowledge of hockey is sort of bred into you.

Jane: It is very un-Canadian of me to admit that I don’t watch hockey, but from a young age I knew who Don Cherry was.

I think there are many reasons these shows are “Canadian”. My favorite Canadian shows tend to take more risks with subject matter. I remember the first time I remember hearing a swear word on TV was during Twitch City. It goes farther than language though. I tend to think shows on Canadian TV trust their audiences more. They aren’t afraid to throw them curve balls.

Kerri: I think that in some ways you are allowed to do more on Canadian TV. In a lot of ways though, I think Canadian TV is light years behind what is going on elsewhere.

I can’t really remember the last time I watched a Canadian series. I guess Slings and Arrows would be the last one.

Jane: The one show I tune into consistently is The Rick Mercer Report so that is what I have to go on when saying I don’t agree that it is behind anything that is happening on American TV.

Katie: If we are comparing quality, I think Canadian TV has produced equal quality comedic programming as anywhere else. We certainly don’t have as much programming though. Side note: we have a ton of stand-up programming on the air. Much more than I ever see on American channels.

Jane: I agree, Katie. I think The Mercer Report rivals The Daily Show for my comedic buck.

Kerri: I guess the issue is (and this is not slagging on Canadian TV) that because there is less of it, there is less diversity and less that interests me specifically right now. I’m hoping for a renaissance of Canadian TV.

I did want to bring up Degrassi. I think that show is quintessentially Canadian because, for one, they didn’t cast supermodels to play teenagers. They cast real teenagers. I think, in Canada, because we don’t have a real star system we are more used to seeing normal-ish looking people on TV. Would you gals agree?

Jane: That could be the case. I would like to think that the writers, directors etc. wanted to cast “normal” people in the roles to represent a “real” elementary, junior high or high school environment.

Katie: Degrassi Junior High, Degrassi High, Degrassi the Next Generation… etc. etc. always felt distinctly Canadian to me, not just because it was set in Canada, but because the character’s goals always seemed… attainable. They dreamed small. That is a Canadian trait.

Kerri: Absolutely, Katie. And that fits in nicely with what Jane and I were talking about. Of the Canadian shows I can think of, none of them have the “sheen” of Hollywood productions. I think that is a good quality. Maybe we are less image obsessed because of this. I don’t know. We are so bombarded by what the U.S. produces but I like to think that we are more interested in other things.

Katie: To put it into perspective, The Big Bang Theory had 19 million viewers last week. Canada has a population of 34 million. Essentially, to make a show in Canada, you have to be assured that a pretty big percentage of Canadians will watch it, otherwise it isn’t worth making, financially.

Kerri: Yes. So the scales are smaller, in all ways. But that doesn’t mean good shows don’t happen. I think Slings and Arrows is a great example. Such a lovingly crafted, beautiful ensemble show. Canadians seem to have a knack for those (see: Road to Avonlea, Degrassi, etc.)

Jane: I think the shows you mentioned were all adept at figuring out how to get around budget constraints. They rely on great storytelling and acting.

Kerri: What would you gals like to see more of on Canadian TV?

Jane: I guess what I’d like to see on Canadian TV is the same thing I want to see on American TV, well-written and imaginative stories.

Katie: I would like more comedies that aren’t so obsessed with displaying their Canadian-ity. A lot of popular comedies in recent years have relied on “the quirks of living in Canada” as their hook – Corner Gas, Little Mosque on the Prairie, Red Green. Focus more on straight up, funny storytelling.

Kerri: I think I’d like to something more edgy than what we normally get. I’m not sure what that would be exactly but I wouldn’t want a carbon copy of what we get from U.S. television. That was and incredibly a vague answer to my own question!

Katie: We don’t know what we want, but it better be good and it better be better than the Americans.

Jane: That is SO Canadian!

Five Dolla Bill Y'all

Kerri: OK. Game time. Are you gals ready? I have to thank Pop Culture Happy Hour for the inspiration for these trivia questions.

Katie: Ready!

Jane: Yep.

Kerri: Question #1:

Which is NOT the name of a real Canadian Game Show?

A.) Sorry!

B.) Talk About

C.) Puppet People

D.) The Joke’s on Us

Katie: A. Sorry!

Jane: Ummm, the only one I’ve heard of is Talk About. I’ll say D.

Kerri: Katie is correct! Sorry! is not the name of a real Canadian game show.

Question #2:

Which is NOT the name of a real Canadian Talk Show?

A.) The Alan Thicke Show

B.) The Weaker (?) Sex

C.) The Real Magees

D.) Chat with Mag Ruffman

Jane: I’ll say D. Although, I’d love to be wrong on that one.

Katie: I haven’t heard of any of these, but I assume A) comes from the Maritimes.

This is the saddest list of titles I have ever read. I’m going to say C)

Kerri: Jane is correct! Mag Ruffman did not have a talk show but she DID have a home improvement show!

Katie: Good ol’ Mag.

Kerri: Question #3:

In the 1992 made for TV Degrassi movie School’s Out, which swear word was heard for the first time on Canadian television?

A.)  Ass

B.)  Fuck

C.)  Shit

D.)  Bitch

Jane: I’ll say Bitch.

Katie: D.) Bitch!

I bet fuck was all over French CBC before that. Or better still, tabarnac!

Kerri: The answer is B.) Fuck.

Snake says: “Joey Jeremiah spends his summer dating Caitlin, and fucking Tessa”. It was changed for the American broadcast.

Katie: Ooooh. I remember that movie. Fucking Joey Jeremiah. Tessa wasn’t worth it.

Kerri: The score is tied. One question left!

Question #4:

As a child, which Canadian actor played the beloved literary character Ramona Quimby in the show Ramona?

A.)  Sarah Polley

B.)  Neve Campbell

C.)  Evangeline Lilly

D.)  Rachel McAdams

E.)  Molly Parker

Jane: Sarah Polley!!!!!!!!!!!!! I watched AND loved that show!!!

Katie: D.) Rachel?

Kerri: Jane is victorious! Sarah Polley is correct!!!

Katie: Dammit Jane, you win.

Jane: I still remember that show vividly. My fave episode was when Ramona wore her new pjs to school because she wanted to be just like a fireman. She had to go home sick because she overheated.

Kerri: I remember when the cat, Picky-Picky, died.

Alright. Good game. Final shout outs.

Jane: Bumper Stumpers, Made in Canada and Street Legal.

Kerri: I’d like to give a shout out to Under the Umbrella Tree, The Littlest Hobo, Fred Penner’s Place, Canadian Sesame Street, The Edison Twins and all of the other fine Canadian children’s programming that I’d watch as a kid.

Katie: Holla at Street Cents!

Image credits Melissa Bowman, quinn.anya, scazon

9 thoughts on “Roundtable #13 – CanCon Edition

  1. Nice piece. I must admit that the only Canadian show I sat in front of the television to tune into every week was Kids in the Hall. Others I enjoyed were The Beachcombers, The Nature of Things, and, as you’ve mentioned, Degrassi (in al its forms) and Slings & Arrows. I did happen to catch an episode (my first) of Flashpoint last night, which I believe is a co-production between CTV and CBS. It made me miss The Beachcombers.

    • Good call on The Nature of Things. That should have been mentioned as one our our quintessentially Canadian shows. A Canadian icon and great science programming.

  2. Was Ready or Not Canadian? I loved that show!

    Also, do you guys remember a show that played on the cbc years ago called the Newsroom? It was sort of dry comedy about a workplace. As I recall people at the time couldn’t seem to decide if they liked it or not, and then it went off the air after a short time. But now that I think of it, it was basically the same premise and style of humour as the Office, which became a huge hit.

    • Ready or Not was Canadian, Meghan! Good call. That was a great show. At least it was in my memory. I do remember The Newsroom and, although I wasn’t an avid viewer, I know many people who loved it.

      • I’ve recently rewatched The Newsroom as it was but a hazy fog in my memory and wow, so good. I’d describe it as equal parts The Office, The Larry Sanders Show, and Canada Dry–and that ain’t bad. Definitely worth checking out for those who havent seen it. Also, not only is it Canadian, it was created by Ken Finkleman who is from Winnipeg. (This probably explains its dryness!)

  3. I just need to say that I never got SCTV. I’ve been bombarded with it my whole life. Every pop culture guru has told me it is the quintessential sketch show. Some of Martin Short’s stuff is fine. Andrea Martin never did it for me. And there is a reason that Dave Thomas could only get work afterward on Grace Under Fire. I’ve probably seen every episode. Could recite lines, but never liked it. As a dark horse, a show called This is Wonderland was on CBC like 5 years ago was very fun. Kind of a Canadian Ally Mcbeal about a spunky girl lawyer, who was pretty but not slutty. Powerplay on CTV was good. It was about a Hamilton hockey team and it’s brash Gm and Al Waxman as their grizzled coach. It had Kari Matchett (sp?) who is pretty, and a little slutty.

    • I’m not an SCTV expert by any stretch of the imagination so I can’t really say. The clips I’ve seen have been funny enough but I definitely didn’t seek out the rest of the series. Thanks for bringing up This is Wonderland!

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