Canada’s Most Memorable (English) TV Thing: The Sweet Sixteen

Remember earlier in this when people were choked up about trifling matters like Today’s Special going out in the first round, or Kenny vs. Spenny losing to The Newsroom?

That was child’s play compared to the angst we’re going to start seeing.

We’re now left with just 16 entries in this tournament, and every single one is known and loved, and every single one except arguably Street Cents is one of those instant shorthand references people use to reference the weird mosaic that is the Canadian television industry.

Now we have tough choices to make. Ones that, because this is now a stupidly national thing with newspaper columns and podcast segments devoted to it, has STAKES.

(Stakes apparently important enough for the official Corner Gas Facebook Page to get involved, and possibly flip one of the races last round. Not that I have SEVERE ETHICAL QUESTIONS ABOUT THAT OR ANYTHING)

But now I’m spoiling the results. To the bracket!

A few fun facts to me and literally nobody else from this:

  • There’s a surprising amount of generational diversity left: while 6 of the 16 started in the 1980s, there are multiple entries from every decade between the 60s and the 00s.
  • There’s also a surprising degree of unanimity of what constitutes the most memorable Canadian television: all but one of the 16 winners last round got more than 55 per cent of the vote. And all of the #1-4 seeds advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, with the exception of Road To Avonlea, which lost to its Lucy Laud doppelganger Anne of Green Gables.
  • CBC unsurprisingly dominates the children’s and drama brackets with seven of eight entries, but in the comedy bracket we have a CBC, CTV, Global and Showcase matchup, which I enjoy.

But you’re not here to read my ramblings. You’re here to tear your soul apart.

On to the voting.

(Polls close at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on Sunday)

COMEDY BRACKET

We’re now at the point where the heavy underdogs are worth really celebrating, both within the context of this game and as actual pieces of national culture. Like, Trailer Park Boys, whether it’s your cup of tea or not, was an early pioneer of the modern mockumentary genre, a giant rebuttal to the notion Canadian TV was full of warm and hokey middle-class problems, and the first real non-sketch comedy that was funny and important, not “funny and important for Canada.”

And yet, it’s gonna get crushed.

Don’t you get it? Am I the only one that gets it?

Okay, a lot of you made clear your disdain for Corner Gas as it was getting defeated by The Red Green Show.

But! Name me another scripted show in Canada that got 2.9 million viewers for its series finale? You can’t, because there literally is none.

The beauty of Corner Gas is how unsuspectedly it lulls you in. Yes, you can your first episode of it and be bored. But watch your next 20 and you’ll respect its consistency. And watch another 20, and you’ll start to appreciate the myriad of solid character dynamics (a mark of any solid ensemble comedy), the way Dog River, Saskatchewan feels fully lived-in, the way a show that makes no attempt to appear modern in pace or visuals feels utterly at home with great comedies of the last decade, wherever they were produced.

And yet, (gestures over to the 5,000 pound gorilla that is SCTV)

DRAMA BRACKET

The Final Four of the Drama Bracket excites me, because all four could plausibly win. Degrassi is probably the most influential today, Beachcombers is probably the most *Canadian* in tone and pervasiveness, and Anne of Green Gables — which we’re counting as the first miniseries, Anne of Avonlea and, Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story — is probably best from a prestige standpoint.

And then there’s Littlest Hobo. Which is the hardest to explain to someone not from this country.

(It’s going to win this entire thing, isn’t it?)

NOW WE COME TO THE DEATH MATCHUPS.

A reminder, because it matters now: for the purposes of this competition, The Kids of Degrassi Street, Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High are all one. The Next Generation doesn’t count, because it ended to recently. So draw your mind back, and think about whether the dated, stilted dialogue of the 80s Very Special Episode-heavy Degrassi matters to you, compared to the Beachcombers, a show Grant Lawrence described as “A Greek guy and his First Nations buddy drive around in their shitty boat collecting logs. Every week. For twenty years.”

Gah. This is a hard one.

CHILDREN’S BRACKET

How old were you when you considered the sets and the proportions of Rusty and Jerome and realized that the Friendly Giant was, in fact, not a giant?

Did it matter one bit?

No. No it did not.

The genius of The Friendly Giant was leveraging its simplicity in form to provide wonderful children’s education in function. If you were between 3 to 6 or so, it was easy to follow along because it was the same steps each time — intro, catchphrase song, drawbridge down, rocking chair, catchphrase AGAIN, conversation, book, song, wrapup conversation, rocking chair, drawbridge up, COW OVER THE MOOON — but along the way, you learned to have nice, simple conversations, talk about a book you read, and gain a basic appreciation of folk, classical, and whatever other musical genre the Jazz Cats could play.

It did not try to be anything else. It did not need to be anything else.

All that matters is, once upon a time, not long ago and not far away, two generations of Canadians got their first TV lessons in decency from a five-foot-nine giant, a giraffe and a rooster, 15 minutes at a time.

And we were better off for it.

(And there’s Fraggle Rock, I guess. IT’S MY TOURNAMENT I CAN BE BIASED)

The Raccoons is so gosh darn pleasant, such a wonderful convergence of classic animation and Canadian wilderness, so firmly rooted in mid-1980s environmentalism that hits the nostalgia sweet spot with many Millennials, that there’s a reason it’s still beloved today, even with only 60 episodes to repeat in syndication.

It’s fun. It deserves to be considered, as this tournament shows, the most memorable animated show in (English) Canadian history.

And it’s gonna get crushed so bad by Mr. Dressup.

MISCELLANEOUS BRACKET


Jonathan Torrens got two shows into the Sweet Sixteen (RIP Jonovision). Do either advance to the Elite Eight? These are the pressing questions of our times.

Street Cents is in tough though, because Body Break got 85% against Téléfrancais, and 77% against Jonovision, and yeah, I enjoyed Body Break as a child, but damned if I can remember a specific thing about it today.

Remember, we’re not talking about the new, more dramatic Heritage Minutes. We’re talking about the simple and exposition-heavy and delightful Heritage Minutes of the 90s, of which I have watched and rated everyone, in case you thought this was a one-time situation of me being deeply weird about Canadian culture.

But Wayne and Shuster, 30 years after they last performed, still have a ton of cultural currency in this country among the 50+ crowd, and there could be some backlash to the Minutes and Body Break having such a deep run.

Sooooo we’ll see.

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30 Comments

  1. Phoebe Rose

    What a great thing you setup here….something funny yet nostalgic for all of us Canadians. Given the crap that is on now (22 minutes…rick mercer…Mr D…Kims Convenience….et al it is nice to review some good (not great in cases) shows that were on in Canada for the past few generations.

    Well done and glad to see this is getting some attention….maybe setup a British bracket next !

    Cheers

  2. Greg

    Kim’s Convenience is good and getting better with each episode.
    Mr D has slid from it’s first season, but still a few laughs.

    But really, can that compare to the Kids in the Hall “Censored Sketches”? Hitler f*cks a donkey!

  3. herecomesthesound

    Hey Justin solid list I love this. All my votes were the ones in the lead. Street Cents was a staple of my youth. Caught a spelling error on Lucy Maud just fyi.

  4. Arblemarch T. Fruitbat

    Degrassi gets three shows to take on Nick, Jessie, Relic, Molly, Cst. Constable, Capt. Jack and the gang in Gibsons?

  5. @carsjam33

    You’ve prompted quite a bit of nostalgia, for example the persistence of Heritage Minutes reminds me of that old Patrick Watson historical dramatization (too lazy to Google) and Rick Green had an early project on TVO… someone here will remember these.
    Pity that talk shows were not included, Gzowski, Bullard and Thicke being examples.
    I was also reminded after a lament about Wok with Yan’s elimination that Urban Peasant and Galloping Gourmet were left out. Pity.

    • The Patrick Watson show was called variously Titans and Visitor from Yesterday (Wikipedia thinks they are two different shows but if so they are very similar formats) or at least those are the ones I think of. Lots of people now probably think Patrick Watson is just some Canadian in a band (well he is but that is a different Patrick Watson)…

      In terms of Rick Green Prisoners of Gravity is the only TVO show that I know Green did, slightly earlier was the Frantics (that belonged in the comedy section but that was a CBC thing and was an extension of a comedy troup that also did live stuff and radio) and much later was History Bites (which was History Television and too late for this pole).

  6. Jeff Rose-Martland

    This is a great concept, but it’s so easy to name the great, memorable, nostalgic shows. What about the rest? How about a matchup of the mediocre but persistent ones? (The Edison Twins? The ones starring Chris Makepeace? The Forest Rangers? Wayne Robson wandering all over?) Or the must-meet-CanCon 70s shows?

    Or the just plain bad? The Starlost – the best intended, worst executed travesty that remained in syndication? Rocket Robin Hood? Do It For Yourself with Mary Bellows?

    And the incredible second and third tier comedies, like You Can’t Do That on Television and The Hilarious House of Frightenstein?

    Basically what I’m saying is that we demand more battles over nostalgia.

    (There’s probably also enough for a whole range of imports that only Canada remembers. Like Barbapapas. And Astroboy.)

    • Astroboy is easily one of the most recognizable icartoon characters on Earth, I mean ignoring how famous he is in his native Japan he is very well known in the US. I don’t think any of his cartoon shows were only successful in Canada.

  7. Chris Green

    I was so choked that you missed a Game Show bracket in the Round of 64 (Definition vs. The Mad Dash!), that I failed to vote in the Round of 32.

    Given what’s left, my money is on the Littlest Hobo. Go, Dog, Go.

  8. Robert W

    My calls for the next round: SCTV over Kids in the Hall (tough though, tough). Littlest Hobo (Littlest Hobo could be a finisher) Friendly Giant vs. Mr. Dressup? (this is not a call anyone should have to make – I want a Brewster’s Millions option of ‘None of the Above’, or in this case both) but I think the edge will go to Mr. Dressup. In the Misc.: Heritage Minutes over Body Break to finish out the round.

  9. Brent C

    Pro Friendly Giant. I *begged* my mom to take me to the castle so we could sit in the big chair together.

    Pro Mr. Dressup. Same deal. Casey and Finnegan are real. Always have been, always will be.

    Pro Wayne and Shuster “Adieu, mon vieux, a la prochaine, goodbye till when we meet again!” Seriously, words don’t get better than this.
    Plus “Frontier Psychiatrist” made music history decades after the sketch. Plus the whole show seemed to take place on a pseudo-stage that was in fact in some weird abstract black space lit by spotlights.

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