Kevin Tierney: Why Letterkenny is a gift to Canadian TV

The hit comedy is an absolute festival of language, from the very, very local to the bizarrely idiosyncratic.

Letterkenny, CraveTV’s first original series, has been the breakout hit of Canadian television. The winner of the Canadian Screen Award for best comedy series in March, it also won for best writing and best directing in a comedy series. In late April, it won the Writers Guild of Canada’s best comedy series award. Letterkenny Season 2: Ferda Edition (yes, that’s the official title) began streaming on Crave this week.

Full disclosure: my son, Jacob Tierney, is the co-writer, director and an executive producer of Letterkenny. This column is not about him.

Letterkenny is the brainchild of Jared Keeso, a former hockey player turned actor who is best known for his role in the TV show 19-2. In 2010 and 2013, he played the title role in the CBC miniseries Wrath of Grapes: The Don Cherry Story before starting his own show.

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The Letterkenny TV show is based on Letterkenny Problems, a web series Keeso created with Nathan Dales. The online edition was a decidedly different kind of Ontario whine. Basically, it was about small-town hicks who like to complain about important stuff, like the fact that all-dressed potato chips can’t be found in the United States.

Keeso played Wayne and Dales was Daryl — best friends, both angry and slightly befuddled. They reprise these roles in the much-expanded TV series.

Millions (yes, millions) of people watched it on YouTube, where such numbers are referred to as hits. Smart people looking for well-tested popular material trawl YouTube for such hit-riddled gifts.

Keeso came to Montreal to work on 19-2 in 2014 and is still here, now very much at home in the city. Letterkenny is shot in Sudbury, Ont., where the tax incentives are inviting, and it’s produced out of Toronto by New Metric Media.

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The show is loosely based on the southern Ontario town from which Keeso hails, Listowel. Though the town is within shouting range of Stratford, the Bard’s English is not reflected in Letterkenny.

Which is not to say the show is witless. On the contrary. It is an absolute festival of language, from the very, very local to the bizarrely idiosyncratic, especially when strung together by accents that are … well, different.

“Pitter patter, let’s get at ’er” is now officially ensconced in the Dictionary of Canadiana, or it would be if such a thing actually existed. My personal fave is “Get off the cross, we need the wood.” There are many others, but they might well change your whole sense of the scatological.

The Internet is, in fact, full of Letterkenny quotes that adolescents love to drop on the unsuspecting. For instance: “There’s two things I don’t like about you, and it’s your face.”

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Letterkenny is made up of a buffet of “types”: hicks, skids, jocks (hockey players, of course) and Christians, none of whom get along. There is also the rez — reservation — and an attractive First Nations woman, played with glee by another Montrealer, Kaniehtiio Horn. Don’t worry, Letterkenny doesn’t get all sociological. Or worse, Wayne doesn’t get “10-ply.”

“Ten-ply” is a toilet paper reference. Two-ply, you are soft. Ten? Well, you have to leave town.

It could be argued that the show is a treatise on the variations of masculinity in contemporary Canada. If so, we are not doing well as a species. Wayne, the show’s main mouthpiece, displays no patience for the trendy or modern. “Do you CrossFit?” someone asks. “You can cross f— off,” he says.

There is a lot of fighting, on and off the ice, but it’s more Larry, Moe and Curly Joe style than Game of Thrones. On the other hand, everyone walks around town saying, “H’are you now.”

Letterkenny is Canadian TV’s version of the little show that could. It just wrapped up shooting six new episodes, with another 14 to be shot later this year. In Canada, that is a tremendous achievement.

The next time you hear somebody say they would like to work in television but they “don’t know anybody,” tell them they would be better off whining on YouTube. There is a great future in it.

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