Australia only getting apprised of the brilliant Canadian comedy series Letterkenny a full seven seasons into its run is grounds for dissolving the Commonwealth.
Right now, all six episodes of 2016’s Season One are up on SBS on Demand, with Season 2 due to follow in early November and, hopefully, the rest to cascade down on us in due order. I can’t wait. Every so often something comes along in the culture that just clicks for you on an instinctive, baseline, almost religious level, synching up with your attitude, your sensibilities, your humour, your past, your experiences, in a way that’s like what Minnie Driver in Grosse Point Blank called “shakabuku” – a swift, spiritual kick to the head that alters your reality forever.
If you dive deep enough and long enough into art, that happens perhaps more often than for the average punter – the more you see, the more likely you are to find stuff that just blows you way (and the more blasé you become about the vast majority of popular media, but that’s a rant for another day). For me, the last time this happened was literally yesterday, and the cultural artifact was the deadpan, ribald, foul-mouthed, hard-fisted, big-hearted Letterkenny. Like Tom Cruise had Renee Zellweger at hello, it had me with the opening scene. Check it out:
Take a moment. I’ll wait.
Letterkenny is sublimely simple: in the titular tiny town, farmer Wayne (series creator Jared Keeso), his best bud Darryl (Nathan Dales), fellow hick Squirrelly Dan (K. Trevor Wilson), and Wayne’s sister, Katy (Michelle Mylett) just kind of… hang out, dealing with whatever issues drift into their relatively narrow field of vision. Sometimes it’s the local hockey team needing to be taken down a peg or two (Katy is dating two bro-tastic members thereof); more often than not it’s the local “skids”, methed-out metalheads led by the manic Stewart (Tyler Johnston) causing trouble with some half-witted get-rich-quick scheme; occasionally it’s friction with the local First Nations Reservation. Generally, though, it’s just sounding out the everyday injustices handed out by life with a kind of benign puzzlement.
It’s like Seinfeld with tractors, except that while the sitcom about nothing reveled in misanthropy, Letterkenny is warmly humane. Even nominal villains, like no-hoper Stewart, is deserving of a brew at bar at the end of the day. There’s plenty of violence (Wayne, the toughest guy in town, needs to defend his title on the reg), savagely barbed wordplay, foul language, drugs, sex, you name it, but none of it is mean-spirited. The tone is unlike anything else on TV, threading an incredibly narrow needle, and you just know that in less nimble hands the show would seen slide into petty meanness; however, Keeso and his partner, director Jacob Tierney, keep it all precisely on point.
It’s also defiantly, deliciously Canadian, and incredibly specific to Keeso’s own experiences and the culture he grew up in, never deigning to sand down the rough edges or simplify the often byzantine slang the characters use. Perhaps paradoxically, this makes it even more engaging; Letterkenny is about as far from generic as its possible to get, and its idiosyncrasies ring with authenticity.
It’s also funny as hell, which is the only metric that really matters. I have howled with laughter at every episode and while I’ll freely admit that trying to explain why something is funny is a mug’s game, there’s just something in the precise combination of language, tone, delivery, setting, and characterisation in Letterkenny that absolutely slays me.
Hopefully it’ll have the same effect on you. If nothing else, you’ll learn a lot of hockey slang you’ll never have any use for. Have at it.
Watch Letterkenny on SBS On Demand here.