Forced to Watch: Gas Jokes

Who says Canada can't produce a decent sitcom? Brent Butt's Corner Gas pumps out laughs.

By Steve Burgess 23 Feb 2004 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess is a freelance writer and the author of Who Killed Mom?, published in 2011 by Greystone Books.

Born in Norwalk Ohio, home of the famous virus, Steve was raised in Regina, SK, and Brandon, MB. He writes a regular column for The Tyee, often reviewing films but also, sometimes, detailing his hilarious world travels for Tyee readers. Steve is a former CBC Radio host and has won two National Magazine Awards. He has also won three Western Magazine Awards.

Reporting Beat: Travel, pop culture, politics, cobbling, knife sharpening, furnace repair.

Twitter: @steveburgess1

Website: Steve Burgess

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When reading reviews, one must account for the Canadian factor. Reviewers generally want to be supportive of local product. This often leads to grade inflation. In order to determine the true worth of a Canadian feature, it is sometimes necessary to knock one-and-a-half stars off the review.

All of which made Jason Chow's review of Corner Gas particularly surprising. The National Post TV critic was not too impressed with Brent Butt's new CTV sitcom, set in a fictional Saskatchewan town. Chow picked away at the portrayal of Prairie life and pronounced Corner Gas, which airs Wednesday at 8 p.m .on CTV, a missed opportunity to find true Canadian comedy on the plains.

OK, Jason. Good for you. You have broken the co-dependent cycle of fawning critics who enable lame Canadian TV projects. But the thing is-Corner Gas is pretty funny.

People actually tuned in

CTV reported an initial audience of over a million for its new sitcom, which makes it a bona fide Canadian hit out of the box. Will it hold that audience after the initial promotion dies down? It deserves to. With the help of a solid writing team, Butt has translated his laid-back comedy into a very likeable ensemble show.

Butt is the award-winning Saskatchewan-born, Vancouver-based stand-up comic who long hosted weekly comedy nights at the Urban Well. In addition to writing and co-producing the series, Butt stars as Brent Leroy, gas station proprietor in Dog River, Sask.

Gabrielle Miller plays Lacey Burrows, a big city gal who has returned to run the coffee shop and attempt to introduce big city innovations like Wing Night (locals think it's a tribute to the sitcom that was "the Dharma and Greg of its day") and Pilates (locals are suspicious-after all, Pilates was the guy who killed Jesus).

Fred Ewaniuk is Hank the wacky friend, and Eric Peterson plays the Brent's irascible dad, Oscar. Oscar's people skills are such that he chases a customer out of the gas station for attempting to take advantage of the "Take a penny, leave a penny" tray ("What are you," he barks, "some kind of communist?"). His parenting philosophy includes the belief that 13-year-olds ought to be able to hold their liquor. Meanwhile local cop Karen (Tara Spencer-Nairn) works on the town's most troublesome cold case-who painted "Grad '68" on the water tower? (Turns out it was the dyslexic Class of '86.)

B.C. populates the plains

Many of the cast members are West Coast locals, but the show is filmed in Rouleau, Saskatchewan. Very authentic, but perhaps we should be concerned-this sort of runaway production may be an ominous sign for our local film industry. It's when Rouleau stands in for Vancouver that we'll know we have a serious problem.

Corner Gas aims for a slightly surreal brand of comedy and often nails it. It's gentler than the current champ of Canadian TV comedy, Trailer Park Boys, and yup, it has clunky moments. But not enough to really knock you out of the flow. Corner Gas is a welcome entrant from CTV, a network not frequently known for its dramatic output.

So kudos to you for your bold criticism, Jason Chow. We could use more such scathing honesty in the Great White North. Next time, though, aim your guns at The Mike Bullard Show. See how your CanWest Global masters like them apples.

Forced to Watch is an occasional column at The Tyee about what's good and not on television, and widely published writer Steve Burgess is hogging the control.  [Tyee]

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