Canadian Sitcoms: Local, Lonely and Short-Lived

Comedy Features
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This March, Canadian sitcom Schitt’s Creek was renewed for a second season by American broadcasting network Pop. This is a big deal—generally, Canadian comedy doesn’t matter.

Co-produced by Eugene Levy, it’s no big surprise the show is receiving some international attention—it features a wealthy couple who have lost all their assets, blending comedy and schadenfreude into one fairly funny show. Still, despite its renewals from both Canadian and US broadcasting networks, the show continues to receive mixed reviews on Metacritic. It’s okay; perhaps that’s all it is.

Last summer, Canadian comedy show Seed was abruptly cancelled after being picked up by The CW for US broadcast. Two episodes aired for the American public, received low ratings, and the show was promptly pulled. A real tragedy—as far as Canadian shows go (and comedies specifically), Seed had it all: charm, likeable characters, a diverse cast, an interesting concept, and lots of room for good character development.

Starring Adam Korson as Harry Dacosta, the show follows Harry, a bartender, and his various misadventures (usually revolving around trying to have sex with women) as he tries to maneuver life with his newfound relatives and biological children from his foray into sperm donation years prior.

What made Seed so great? Beyond the soft humor of the show, it was also unique in its voice—it was, at times, really base comedy similar to The Big Lebowski or light stoner comedies, but it also had a unique concept that, though similar to Canadian film Starbuck, still managed to stand out on its own. Even over the course of two short seasons, the audience saw Harry grow from an immature bachelor to an emotional, sensitive guy and a slightly less questionable father figure.

The cast of Seed was diverse—Billy, one of Harry’s biological offsprings, was a nine-year-old boy being raised by an interracial lesbian couple. This! On fairly prime time television on a popular broadcasting network!

Seed had it all, but America didn’t want it. Shortly after, Canada didn’t want it either—neither local nor international audiences had any interest in the Canadian sitcom, and Seed isn’t the only one to be denied.

Canadian comedies—and frankly, Canadian television in general—is really not taken seriously by the public. It’s got a bad name, a bad reputation. People don’t even want to know, and that’s the worst part. Because Seed was doing great until the American audiences completely rejected it.

Still, we can’t completely blame the Americans—some Canadian comedies have been the masters of their own demise, and some of the problem comes straight from home too. Because of the unfunny reputation Canadian comedy shows have, interest in them immediately wanes once people realize it’s Canadian. Most Canadian content is not known to be that good—and Canadian comedy isn’t exactly taken seriously.

Similarly, Fries With That?, a Montreal sitcom for teeangers about teenagers working in a fast food restaurant, lasted two seasons before being cancelled due to low ratings. Naked Josh was running on Showcase—a specialty Canadian broadcasting network—before its silent demise: after three seasons, it simply wasn’t renewed. The world was done with Josh Gould, the anthropology teacher who has never been on a nice date, and done with Canadian attempts at general humor. Though Naked Josh aired somewhat briefly on America’s Oxygen Network, it was only the first season that got this minor airtime and after that, was promptly forgotten.

Granted, there are a few shining examples of Canadian shows gone on to have international success: though not a comedy, Degrassi is a big hit in the States, creating laughter all across Toronto as everyone in the city knows at least one person who was or still is on the show.

Corner Gas is another example of a success story in Canadian comedy. The deadpan comedy show became an instant hit in 2004, and ran for six highly promoted seasons. Despite it finishing its time on-air, reruns of it are still shown, and its success spawned a short movie last December.

Ultimately, though, the reason for Corner Gas’ success is the absolute nature of its comedy: dry, deadpan, generally “unfunny” to a large chunk of audiences, local. Taking place in fictional Dog River, Saskatchewan, it’s basically in the middle of nowhere. A reimagined working life in a small prairie town is exactly what a lot of Canadians were looking for, and the show’s success proved that.

Perhaps Schitt’s Creek will show the world what Canadian comedy can really be—dry, forward, honest, raw. Perhaps Eugene Levy’s show will succeed internationally, and American audiences will be not only interested, but intrigued in his new attempt. A girl can dream. But maybe there’s only one way for Canadian comedy to be—and that’s local, lonely and completely underappreciated.

Sofie Mikhaylova has written for Vice and Noisey. Follow her on Twitter @sofiesucks.