Thursday, May 21, 2015

On Trailer Park Boys

I am a big fan of Trailer Park Boys (2001-present), a Nova Scotia-produced "mockumentary" comedy series about the wacky denizens of Sunnyvale Trailer Park, especially Julian, Bubbles, and Ricky. The show originally (seasons 1-7) aired on Canadian television, though I first saw it streaming on Netflix, which it still does. Netflix is now producing new seasons of the show: Seasons 8 and 9 (2014-2015) are available now and Seasons 10 and 11 are in the works.

Trailer Park Boys is wonderful because it is one of those comedies in which very smart people are making comedy about very dumb characters, doing so with a lot of warmth, humanity, and love. The show's messages are in fact quite humanistic and optimistic, despite the show's constant swearing, pervasive drug use, and occasional gunplay. There is absolutely no mean-spiritedness about this show that I have ever been able to detect in my repeated watchings. Most importantly, the show is consistently hilarious. I place it alongside Party Down, Arrested Development, Fawlty Towers, PullingPeep Show, and the British version of The Office as one of the all-time funniest and cleverest television comedies I have seen.

Comedy genius Christopher Guest describes British comedy as "Silliness framed in intelligence. Even when it's stupid, you know intelligent people are doing it and that makes it a different joke." This principle applies to Trailer Park Boys.

The first five seasons of Trailer Park Boys are all excellent, with seasons two, three, and five particular standouts. I would say that probably season three, the one in which Julian and Ricky and co. save money toward a cruise, is the all-around best, though I also have strong affinity for season two, the "Freedom 35" season featuring Ellen Page as Mr. Lahey's daughter Trina.

So maybe season two, the Ellen Page season, is the very best overall season of the show. Although I am partial to season one (for reasons I'll come back to near the end of the review), the show really hits its stride in season two. It includes fine episodes like "Jim Lahey is a Drunk Bastard" (Ep02), about a crucial trailer park supervisor election, "A Dope Trailer is No Place for a Kitty" (Ep04), depicting the burning of Bubbles' shed and his relocation to J-Roc's van, and "The Bible Pimp" (Ep05), featuring (among its many delights) some suspicious bible peddlers and several classic Sam Losco moments during an extended conflict over discarded hot dogs.

Sam Losco will be sure to take care of the problem. 

That said, "Kiss of Freedom," the season three opener, is probably the best episode of the entire series. It is tightly scripted with a brilliant climactic payoff involving Jim Lahey's bare bum and it stands as one of the clearest articulations of the whole series' core values. In the episode, Ricky goes from prince to pauper in swift and hilarious fashion, yet he never loses sight of what's most important to him: his family, especially his daughter Trinity. "Kiss of Freedom" is as funny as any TPB episode but is also has the most heart of any of them.

Two highly enjoyable musically themed episodes, "Who's the Microphone Assassin?" and "Closer to the Heart," occupy the middle of season three.

Late in season three, "Where the Fuck is Randy's Barbecue" (S03 Ep06) is a favorite, especially Ricky's balcony pepper spray battle with an elderly man and Lahey and Randy's big reveal at the end. Plus this episode introduces Constable Erica Miller into the mix and opens with one of the best Ricky vs. Randy battles, culminating in a spatula spanking for the ages.

"We're about to sail into a shit tidepool, Randy, so we better pull in the jib 
before it gets covered with shit."

Really, the whole narrative arc of season three, with the boys saving for a cruise and Constable Erica Miller complicating things for Julian, is pretty damn good.

By contrast, season four is a bit uneven, with flat-out great episodes sitting alongside some pretty mediocre ones. Yes, "The Green Bastard" (S04 Ep04), with its mighty showdown in the wrestling ring, is one of the best eppies ever, and "Conky" (S04 Ep05) is wonderfully off the rails, but "Rub 'N Tiz'zug" (Ep03) ain't great, recycling Cyrus as its villain in a mostly uninspired plot. And "If you Love Something Set it Free" (Ep06), the one with Steve French, bores me a little too. But the season finale, "Working Man," is pretty damn great, doing what most of the best eppies by this point in the game tend to do: going over the top.

Season four's outdoor dope fields, located away from the park, are clever way to integrate new locales into the series. I especially like the use of the King of Donair as a kind of funky musical hangout in "Working Man," yet overall there isn't much urgency in this season until right near the end. "Propane Propane," while not the most tightly scripted episode, flows well and has some terrific bits like Lahey and Randy's "cowboy and indian" outfits and blind Bubbles trying to get his rig license. "Propane Propane" makes for a good two-parter with the season finale, "Working Man," which is a pretty terrific episode culminating in Mr. Lahey's full-on showdown with Ricky in downtown Dartmouth.

"You just opened Pandora's Shitbox, Ray!"

Season five is especially good. In contrast to the somewhat meandering season four, the "hash driveway" meta-storyline in season five is awesome. It raises the stakes, fuels dramatic/hilarious tensions between Ricky and Julian, and keeps things geographically where they should be: in the trailer park. "The Fuckin Way She Goes," "Don't Cross the Shit Line," and "Jim Lahey is a Fucking Drunk and He Always Will Be" are especially superb season five episodes. Maybe the only somewhat weak season five eppy is "The Winds of Shit."

[UPDATE 5/22/2015: I just re-watched "The Winds of Shit" and now regret naming it as a weak episode. It really isn't. It features Mr. Lahey explaining the "shit barometer" to Bubbles, one of Ricky's best negotiations with local law enforcement, and a sweet finale in which Ricky apologizes to Trinity after he is caught in a deception. These wonderful details and nuances that come to life anew with every re-watch exemplify something that is true of the series in general: it is a very confident show. I always feel like Trailer Park Boys knows where it is going, both on the micro- and macro-levels. Bravo.]

In any case, Lahey's obsession with his "shitmoths," the liquor bottles ornamenting the interior of his trailer from "Don't Cross the Shit Line" onward, is fricking priceless.

Special note on the Bladerunner reference in "Give Peace a Chance," the season five opener: Ricky and Bubbles discuss the film during their visit to Terry and Dennis's place, then outside Lahey's trailer Bubbles looks at a bee yard ornament, an homage to Olmos' origami unicorn.

Season six is also pretty good, it's the last Cory and Trevor season and it ends well.

[UPDATE 5/26/2015: Wow! Season six RULES. The season opener has Lahey fighting Trevor and Cory inside their new "Convenients Store," episode two "The Cheeseburger Picnic" is a great one, and "High Definition Piss Jugs" -- with guest star Steve Rogers and the debut of Bubbles' Kittyland Love Center -- probably belongs on the list of all-time best eppies. The Rashomon-like revelations of "Halloween 1977" tell a crucial part of Jim Lahey's back story, plus we get to see young Julian, Ricky, and Bubbles in their Chewbacca and C-3P0 costumes. And that episode's opening vignette, in which Bubbles counsels Randy about some inexplicable but ultimately "normal" sexual feelings he's having, is another favorite. Then Sam Losco violently returns for season closer "Gimme My Fucking Money or Randy's Dead!" Good times!]

Sebastian Bach is truly hilarious in Season 7 Episode 4 "Friends of the Road."

Season seven is diminished by the absence of Cory and Trevor, yet features some great Sam Losco stuff (him wooing Barb Lahey, singing at the nightclub, etc.). Also, the guest appearance of Sebastian Bach in "Friends of the Road" is an exhilarating high point of the entire series. Sebastian Bach is fuckin' funny!

Though I like the campfire scene near the end, and love that the music of Kim Mitchell saves the day, I nevertheless declare "We Can't Call People Without Wings Angels" to be the weakest of season seven and possibly the series. It's too narrative-driven and there isn't enough time alotted to spontaneous comedy gags (though Ricky slipping down the riverbank multiple times is priceless).

"Jump the Cheeseburger" is awesome though.

Season eight is worth watching, it is solid but maybe not great. Season nine, however, is really strong, maybe the best season since six or even five. The stuff with Ricky's manger and Willy the goat is really terrific, as is the storyline with J-Roc's long lost son.

To bring this back to the beginning, season one tends to get slightly weaker reviews due to its slower first couple of episodes. I love those early character-builders, however, and would place midseason episodes "Mr. Lahey's Got My Porno Tape" and "I'm Not Gay, I Love Lucy. Wait a Second, Maybe I am Gay." alongside other series-best nominees.

Ricky and this bank employee on the right have a glorious altercation midway through season one episode "I'm Not Gay, I Love Lucy. Wait a Second, Maybe I am Gay." 

To sum up, I agree with this:
"Imagine the consistently taut plotting and surprising humor of the Simpsons set in Desperate Living's landscape of trash and indignantly crass characters and you've basically got Trailer Park Boys." -- Lily Sparks
Ricky's finest hour. The choice he makes here catalyzes a remarkable climactic incident in "Kiss of Freedom," my choice for series-best episode of Trailer Park Boys.

Trailer Park Boys' Six Most Essential Episodes:

1. "Kiss of Freedom" (S03 Ep01)
2. "The Bible Pimp" (S02 Ep05) (esp. as a stand-alone)
3. "Jim Lahey is a Drunk Bastard" (S02 Ep02)
4. "The Delusions of Officer Jim Lahey" (S03 Ep07)
5. "The Green Bastard" (S04 Ep04)
6. "Conky" (S04 Ep05)

It's splitting hairs between those top three. "Jim Lahey is a Drunk Bastard," the election episode, may actually be the single best episode, or else "Kiss of Freedom," for the reasons stated earlier. "The Bible Pimp" has one of the very best opening vignettes (see list below) and probably works best as a stand-alone introduction to the series since the impact of "Drunk Bastard" and "Kiss" may depend upon knowing the back stories of Jim Lahey & Randy and Ricky & Trinity, respectively. I could also name "The Delusions of Officer Jim Lahey" as a particular standout, featuring "Deputy" Randy and Officer Lahey's attempt to clean up the streets of Sunnyvale once it is temporarily declared a town. Hell, any episode that commences with Jim Lahey declaring "I'm getting drunk today. Big time!" is obviously going to be momentous.

Bubbles vs. Tania and Hampton in the opening vignette of "The Bible Pimp," one of the most hilarious openers and all-time funniest stand-alone episodes of Trailer Park Boys.

Trailer Park Boys' Five Funniest Opening Vignettes:

1. "A Man's Gotta Eat" (S04 Ep02) has the BEST cold open of the whole series, involving Dino the satellite television guy. Listen carefully to Bubbles during this one, then, at the end, sit back and enjoy Ricky's classic van-windshield-trashing.
2. "The Bible Pimp" (S02 Ep05), a vignette in which an interesting Socratic dialogue between Bubbles and the Bible salespeople takes place.
3. "Where the Fuck is Randy's Barbecue" (S03 Ep06) has one of the best Ricky vs. Randy battles featuring an epic spatula spanking.
4. "I'm Not Gay, I Love Lucy. Wait a Second, Maybe I am Gay." (S01 Ep05), depicting the "family day" battle, in which Ricky grapples with Randy while wearing an MLK shirt.
5. "Rub N' Tizzug" (S04 Ep03): The baseball bat-wielding samsquamsh battle.

Mr. Lahey sez: "Don't cross the shit line."

Bonus Afterthought: IF you like Trailer Park Boys, then it is probably worth your time to check out Swearnet: The Movie (2014). I haven't seen any of the other TPB films, of which there are several.

UPDATE 10/17/2015: I have now seen Trailer Park Boys: The Movie (2006) and can report that it is delightful. Maybe not as consistently great as the best of the TV episodes, but surely better than the worst of them. Good solid fun. Lots of cute kittens.

UPDATE 10/19/2015: I have also just seen Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day (2009). It is even more tightly scripted and generally funnier than TPB: The Movie. Highly recommended! (It also occurs to me at this point that I should do a supplemental post listing all the TPB seasons and films in chronological order. There are a number of films and specials -- about six -- in addition to the regular seasons of the show, and each seems to fall at a different point in the show's internal timeline.

"Ispo fuck off-o!"

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