STUDIO: Phase 4 Films
RATED: NOT RATED
RUNNING TIME: 138 Minutes
Diary of the Douchebags – or – [Rec]reational Mayhem
Creator/Director: Mike Clattenburg
Writers: Mike Clattenburg, John Paul Tremblay, Robb Wells, and Barrie Dunn
Cast: John Paul Tremblay, Robb Wells, John Dunsworth, and Pat Roach.
From the looks of Heat 2, Michael Mann took all that “anti-digital” criticism a little too far.
Julian (Tremblay) and Ricky (Wells), two hapless Canadian best friends, return to their trailer park home after 18 months in prison. The former resolves to make something of himself and learn from his mistakes. The latter is all too happy to fall back into his old routine of vodka and chicken fingers. Will Julian be able to break the underachieving mold of his friends and neighbours or are he and Ricky stuck with one another, repeating the same mistakes forever?
In the days before it became Comedy Central, Trailer Park Boys was shown on the UK’s Paramount Comedy Channel. Like so many “hot” shows from across The Pond, it was given a brief run before making way for round the clock marathons of Scrubs, Everybody Loves Raymond, Scrubs, and Scrubs. The run was so brief, in fact, that I don’t even remember catching a single episode. Fortunately for me, the wait was worth it. Trailer Park Boys is a snappy, often hilarious sitcom, but it’s also got a warmth eager-to-please TV comedies like The Big Bang Theory lack. Beneath all the sex, drugs, and obscenities beats the heart of an indie film. Not the kind of twee quirkfest that plays like a teenage girl’s diary brought to the screen. Rather, the kind of picture Richard Linklater might have released in the early 90’s. Dazed And Confused And Armed, if you will. There is, if not reverence, understanding for the miscreants it follows. Yes, we’re invited into their stifling world to laugh at their many mistakes, but we’re also there to pity (or perhaps even empathize with) people stuck in a love-hate relationship with their narrow lives.
Forced into early retirement, Columbo sought his revenge through “drive by kidnapping.”
Julian and Ricky are released from literal prison outside Nova Scotia only to lock themselves up in another: Sunnyvale Trailer Park. Chances are the accommodation they escaped was more inviting than what awaits them here. Sunnyvale is a wretched hive of bums and stupidity that’s in dire need of a good cleaning. There’s a fine line to be navigated with stories like this. Julian and Ricky are effortlessly funny, not to mention a few Baldwins shy of an acting dynasty. To top it off, one’s dressed like a bouncer from 1987 and the other looks like the lovechild of Zach Galifianakis and Wolverine. However, if they become merely walking punchlines, the joke’s expiration date automatically shortens. The real strength of Trailer Park Boys is the likability of its not-so-dynamic duo. No matter how many times they refuse to help themselves, assured performances and quality writing keep us rooting for (as well as laughing at) them. Just about everyone knows a Julian or a Ricky, a lost soul looking for purpose and companionship, so the potential for identification is just as high as it is for hilarity. These aren’t exactly “nice guys”, but it’s hard to rag on them. Neither of them ever had much in the way of discipline (Ricky’s dad is a drunk and Julian’s only “family” is a doting fake grandmother) so it’s hardly surprising they turned out so badly when left to their own devices.
The main arc of the season is Julian and Ricky struggling to get on with their lives after their latest incarceration. Indeed, it’s the basis for the documentary they’re starring in within the mockumnetary show itself. Julian, being the more mature of the two, attempts to get shot of his partner in crime. Like Ricky, though, he’s a slave to old habits. Habits like breaking and entering and firearm addiction. These are the kinds of problems besetting them on a daily basis and it makes for tremendous television. This pair don’t need brains to be dangerous. They’ve got a neighbourhood of equally silly enablers and drug addicts to help them with that. Even the sub-plots like Ricky’s on-again-off-again romance with Lucy (a sassy Lucy DeCoutere) are wonderful, never once feeling tacked on or underdeveloped. Despite Julian’s best efforts to “coach” Ricky through life, things always go disastrously, uproariously wrong. Balancing drama and comedy is extremely difficult; Trailer Park Boys makes it look worryingly easy.
Reaction to rock’s new “supergroup”, The Red Hot Arctic Chili Monkeys, was mixed to say the least.
Over the course of the season, the eponymous scamps learn what we already know by the end of the pilot: escaping Sunnyvale isn’t as easy as it might appear. Julian flirts with leaving for community college, but, ultimately, everyone knows this is the best friends’ lot in life. They’re a family, “co-dependent” as Lucy and park onlooker Sarah (Sara Dunsworth) observe, making their many fights and reconciliations all the funnier. Trailer Park Boys is, at its heart, a coming of age story about two best friends, both of whom are old enough to know better but still far from getting it together. Like the gang from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, there’s an air of childlike buffoonery that keeps them endearing, no matter how ignoble their behaviour and circumstances become. Considering these include absentee parenting and making the lowest of low-rent porn, that’s quite an achievement.
An Alan Smuttee Film
Many of the show’s principals write as well as star, another similarity to It’s Always Sunny. Performances are excellent across the board, too. Wells’s obnoxious human wrecking-ball Ricky is the show’s M.V.P., its Homer, and John Dunsworth’s bumbling ex-cop turned park supervisor Mr. Lahey its irrepressible Newman. Their clashes are the show’s bread and butter yet they pop with cameo vigor throughout the entire season. No-none feels out of place in this warped little community. Each voice, no matter how minute, is realized. As the perpetually drinking Julian, John Paul Tremblay is the show’s anchor. The nearest thing to an everyman, he’s the Boy most likely to. That this doesn’t say much is more a reflection on those around him. Julian’s the somewhat well-meaning counterpoint to Ricky’s clueless chancer. He’s far from the finished article, but trying his best. Tremblay’s every sigh and defeated head-shake is a touching glimmer of the frustration within him.
The laughs here aren’t canned. They’re uncontrollable and frequent. Probably best not to watch with the family, though. Unless your family’s the kind that finds gimps, marijuana enterprise, and cat theft amusing. Competition for the funniest moment of the season is unusually strong – this show has episode titles wittier than entire episodes of Two and a Half Men (“I’m Not Gay, I Love Lucy. Wait a Second, Maybe I Am Gay.”) The clear winner, though, is also the source of my only complaint: Cyrus (Bernard Robichaud), the Fonzie-like villain from the opener “Take Your Little Gun and Get Out of My Trailer Park.” Julian and Ricky arrive home from prison to find Cyrus, a monumental douchebag, ruling their old turf by driving around in his red sports car and shoving a gun in people’s faces. He’s also helped himself to Julian’s trailer. Complaining about Cyrus’s brief appearance is irrational. He exists only to reinstate Julian and Ricky in their normal lives, thereby planting the narrative tracks for the season. I know this, but I don’t care. No villain as irresistible as Cyrus can serve his or her purpose after one episode. The man’s hatefulness is beyond compare. Truly, this is the kind of tool William Atherton would respect. Introducing a character like Cyrus only to remove him after one episode is a heinous tease… and just the excuse I need to check out the following seasons.
“You just gotta ask yourself one question: am I hard enough to be introduced by text? Well… are ya, punk?”
Strong though the central characters are, the trailer park itself deserves a special mention. A great sitcom needs more than just cracking characters, after all. It needs an interesting environment, one that infuses and shapes the characters instead of just providing a backdrop to deliver zingers against. The importance of atmosphere and charm cannot be understated here; it’s qualities like these that take a TV show to the next level (Freaks and Geeks) or leave it feeling hollow and artificial (Entourage.) Thankfully, Trailer Park Boys‘ grasp of “universe” is best deemed firm. Remember the collection of campers Alex Rogan flees in The Last Starfighter? Sunnyvale makes it look palatial. Everywhere you look there are outfits long past their prime (if they ever had one) door-less cars that just about sputter to wherever they’re going, or a Jimmy Kimmel lookalike who’s always inexplicably shirtless. Getting hammered is a way of day to day life for these people and they’ve got the community to prove it. The whole park looks like it’s been placed in suspended animation after a massive, chaotic party from which it can never recover. It’s simultaneously repellent and homely. A perfectly understandable place for Julian and Ricky to struggle with, then.
In every episode we’re treated to the park’s sundry ne’er-do-much-of-anythings engaging in the kind of mundane activities that don’t sound particularly funny or interesting on paper, but translate beautifully to the screen. Thus, Wells’s Ricky strutting about like he’s John Wayne in ugly tracksuit bottoms and swearing at all before him becomes as powerful as Kramer sliding into a room unannounced. It’s not just the principals that provide all the chuckles, though. “J-Roc” (Jonathan Torrens) a now familiar white rap stereotype is still funny almost ten years after the show debuted. Appropriately enough, the wannabe drug-crime magnate with an upside down Adidas sun visor steals every scene he’s in by over-using the term “y’know what I’m sayin’?” and displays of misogyny so casual they make Chris Brown look respectful. There are lots of little details like these dotted across the season and a big part of their success comes from the Canadian actors, many of whom I suspect embellished their aboots and threw in a few extra eh’s for good measure. It’s delightful, gripping stuff all of this local colour, making each 20 or so minute running time feel annoyingly brief.
“Who ate all the piiies? Who ate all the piiies? Ron Liv-ing-ston, Ron Liv-ing-stone; Ron ate all the piiies!!!”
Director Mike Clattenburg gives the show a cinéma vérité feel reminiscent of Curb Your Enthusiasm and (either version of) The Office. Unlike various films to employ the hand-held narrative “format” in recent years, Trailer Park Boys treats it shrewdly enough to avoid slipping into intrusive or gimmicky territory. The benefits of this approach to the show are twofold:
- The naturalistic, P.O.V. look perfectly fits the less than glamorous subjects and tone. This is no Cloverfield style conveniently indestructible camera tailing Ricky and Julian. It feels at all times like a character’s guiding the lens (even before this is expanded on wonderfully in a later episode) thereby enabling the “it’s how we the audience are looking at them!” metaphor to work unencumbered.
- It allows another layer of laughs to build underneath the vulgarities traded between neighbours. The site of a drunken, passed-out Ricky face down in the middle of a road would be funny however it was shot, but the jerky, hand-held approach Clattenburg employs elevates moments such as these to the realm of the truly hilarious. If you’re the kind of person who snickers at a stranger sliding on a wet floor in real life, you’ll find plenty to love here. Witness the introduction of Bubbles (Mike Smith) Sunnyvale’s resident guidance counselor for a fine example of this. When Bubbles offers Julian a place to stay for the night during the Cyrus debacle, a sly little camera swing towards his garden shed of a home and back again draws the viewer right into this painfully insular world. It’s amusing and cynical without ever feeling dismissive.
It’s rather convenient that I mentioned UK television at the outset because this show’s reminiscent of it in some ways. Notably, the entire first season constitutes only six episodes, much like under-rated Anglo output such as The I.T. Crowd. An audience used to bloated American seasons loaded with filler stories might balk at such a short span, but the result is a Canadian production that soars precisely because of this highly focused approach, not despite it.
The show’s tag-line reads “big plans, little brains.” Bubbles would doubtless agree that this disc’s tag-line should read “great show, frig all extras.” Obviously, this programme was a labour of love for its creators so the omission of any bonus content is glaring. Even the worst kind of token interviews or featurette might have been enough to justify bumping the score up another notch or two to the level the show alone deserves.
This disappointment aside, the overall presentation is fairly good. Each episode is given a decent transfer and the funny menu screens feel like they belong on a fancier disc. You’ve got your 2.0 stereo sound and your 4:3 (1.33:1) letter box specs… and that’s about all you’ve got, unfortunately. A great little show tarnished by lackluster packaging.
Alright. If you’re curious, go ahead and bump another point onto the score below. It’s the least the show deserves… ya know what I’m sayin’?