Trailer Park Boys has been a cult hit since it first hit Canadian airwaves in April of 2001. A continuation of director/creator Mike Clattenburg’s 1999 mockumentary film, it actually debuted before The Office (July 2001), which would later prove to be a more influential, though far inferior, series. However, due to the massive amount of swearing and drug use, the series was never broadcast in any wide capacity in the US, so anyone who was interested in it had to make a blind jump into buying the DVDs released here, and this is not a show that’s particularly welcoming when you start watching it.
Now, after an announcement that new seasons will be produced exclusively for Netflix, their streaming service has the entire series, two movies, and a couple of specials available for all good ol’ red-blooded Americans who want to watch a sitcom where people are regularly shot.
The series focuses on the three titular characters. Julian (John-Paul Tremblay) is ostensibly the leader of the group, often devising their schemes, and is never seen without a rum and coke in his hand. Ricky (Rob Wells) is the pompadoured idiot who only knows how to grow dope, smoke dope, and swear. He does a lot of those three things. Bubbles (Mike Smith) was originally a side character, but in a Kramer-esque fashion, became the breakout star. He lives in a shed with his kitties and puts their welfare above all else. He’s most likely the smartest of the bunch, and definitely has the strongest moral compass, but it doesn’t prevent him from engaging with their armed robberies or drug smuggling operations.
On the opposite side is Jim Lahey (John Dunsworth), the often-drunk ex-cop Trailer Park Supervisor. Dunsworth, without a doubt, puts in the best performance in the series, but this is to be expected considering he’s the most (or only, really) experienced actor in the cast. Lahey is aided by his lover/Assistant Supervisor, Randy, an obese, cheeseburger-addicted, former male prostitute.
The characters play off of each other in predictable ways, but there is a certain amount of chemistry between the cast members. While Ricky will undoubtedly tell Lahey to fuck off, the conversations (probably due to the loosely-scripted nature of the show’s production) feel organic. What isn’t predictable is the show itself, or rather, its ambitions. While formulaic (almost every season ends with at least one of the gang in jail due to that season’s big scheme, and the next season begins with them getting out), the show goes through several bizarre mood changes over the course of the series.
Season 1 is surprisingly dark. There is almost no overt comedy to speak of, and it often includes long shots of Julian staring contemplatively into the distance as he drinks and listens to answering machine messages. While Ricky is a loudmouth, he isn’t particularly cartoonish yet, and Bubbles is rarely seen.
Seasons 2 and 3 gradually become more comedic as they progress, as season 3 includes episodes where Ricky defends himself in court by smoking and swearing, or kidnaps Alex Lifeson from Rush to get Bubbles concert tickets. This sitcom-y groundswell reaches its climax with Season 4, specifically the episode featuring Bubbles’ ventriloquist puppet Conky.
This episode is also notable for departing from the documentary format in a couple of shots, which is extremely noticeable since the show usually makes a habit of sticking to it. While it wouldn’t make sense for a camera crew to always be ahead of the gang so they can film the cars pulling up, it didn’t have action shots of tranquilizer darts flying into people, either. The question also comes to mind about the film crew’s involvement in the Boys’ activities, or how they’re always filming Lahey and Randy’s plans, yet not informing the people who they would ostensibly want to keep out of jail. Smartly, this does come into play at the end of the series’ run.
After the crescendo of dumbassery that was Season 4, and make no mistake, it is really funny, Season 5 turns things back down into a Season 1 level of nihilism. In an early episode, Ray, Ricky’s father, is addicted to gambling, loses all his money, then his trailer burns down. That’s it, that’s the end of the episode. Ray never gets his trailer back, either.
Season 6 brings the series back into comedy, thankfully, making the best of Ray’s situation — he gets a pretty good running gag, and is freed from certain limitations that he had up to this point, becoming a free-wheeling man of the road. Season 6 also has the best ending, which honestly should have been the end of the series. Everything comes full circle in a way that’s extremely satisfying, and changes up the status quo for Season 7 considerably.
Unfortunately, while Season 7 is still hilarious (and the only one filmed in HD), that new status quo gradually slips back into the old, and although the end of this season (the last before the current Netflix revival) does wrap things up for the Boys, it seems a little too contrived. A little over a year later, a TV special, Say Goodnight to the Bad Guys, aired as yet another ending for the series. It ends up playing out like a season premiere with no subsequent episodes, and turns out to be fairly unfulfilling.
As one of Canada’s strangest homegrown cult hits, Trailer Park Boys translates well to US sensibilities. It turns out that rednecks are rednecks, even if they do say aboot and sorey. The series also succeeds in its aspirations, whatever those may be at any of its junctures. As a drama, it’s oddly compelling, and as a comedy, once you get used to its specific brand of humor, it can be a riot. The near-schizophrenic tone is also probably much more palatable when re-watching, as you know what to expect, but even on first viewing, it was fascinating seeing how things twisted and turned from what seemed to be a dry satire on the Canadian justice system and recidivism into a sitcom about keeping a mountain lion as a pet.