“There are 5000 people in Letterkenny. These are their problems.”
That matter-of-fact opening to every episode is a surprisingly good guide to what you’ll find in Letterkenny, a fictional town in rural Ontario, Canada. Not just because the residents have problems, though they most definitely do – ones they often solve with their fists. But it’s a straightforward, deadpan introduction to a town where the silly and surreal are tackled in a straightforward, deadpan way. The result? One of the funniest shows to come out of Canada – and just maybe all of North America.
Two things drive the residents of Letterkenny: talking and fighting. The talking is hilarious from the start, though the specifics of what they’re actually saying takes a little getting used to. Just about everyone in Letterkenny talks fast, and when you throw in a few varieties of Canadian accent and a whole lot of slang, you’re probably going to be laughing at the sound of it as much as what they’re saying the first time around. You can pick up pretty much all of it without too much trouble, but lines like “Pitter patter, let’s get at ‘er” (which means “hurry up”) might require a moment’s thought.
As for the fighting, two things drive that: the various frictions between the town’s various collections of goofballs, and the fact that Wayne (series creator and star Jared Keeso) is the Toughest Guy in Letterkenny. This is a title he doesn’t take lightly, and when it comes time to defend it – which happens surprisingly often – he’s ready to take a swig of beer, roll up his sleeves, take a drag on a cigarette, and hand out some (slow-motion) punishment.
Despite being a two-fisted kind of guy, Wayne is pretty much the sweetest guy in his foul-mouthed, beer-swilling, macho hometown. He’s also the chief of one of the three main groups that make up Letterkenny:
AKA the local farmers. Wayne runs the family acreage with his sister Katy (Michelle Mylett), spending much of his time manning the produce stand out the front of the farm chatting and riffing with his best friend Daryl (Nathan Dales) and buddy Squirrely Dan (K. Trevor Wilson). And these guys like to riff, whether it’s about testicular injuries, farts, or the running joke about two characters who may or may not have had sex with an ostrich (well, one of them did, but it’s which one – and how – that’s the puzzle).
Led by Stewart (Tyler Johnston) and Roald (Evan Stern) The Skids are the bad boys of Letterkenny… if you can call a gang of goth-dressing video game fans bad boys. They do cook up a lot of meth though, which may explain their fondness for breakdancing just about every chance they get.
The Hockey Players
Reilly (Dylan Playfair) and Jonesy (Andrew Herr) really like hockey. They also like Katy; when the series opens they’re both dating her. They’re both fine with that (her brother, not so much), because what’s hockey about, if not sticking by your buddies? Actually, if Letterkenny is any guide, hockey is largely about a whole lot of slang that’s very funny to hear but not all that easy to figure out.
With 5000 residents, Letterkenny doesn’t stop there. There’s the local First Nation tribe, known as The Natives and led by Tanis (Tiio Horn), who’re often feuding with The Skids over pretty much anything. There’s Pastor Glen (Jacob Tierney) who may or may not be extremely gay and who may or may not be aware of it. And there’s bartender Gail (Lisa Codrington), who is seemingly the horniest woman alive.
If all this makes it sound like Letterkenny is driven by sex and drugs and violence, then you’re 100% correct. But beneath the perverted locals, tall tales and macho posturing, this is a series that can often be surprisingly sweet and nuanced about its characters. Wayne might seem like a tough guy cliché, but there’s a kind, thoughtful heart beating somewhere under his plaid shirt.
Letterkenny is as much about thoughtfully mocking the idea of small-town masculinity as it is about celebrating it with slow-motion punch-ups scored to rock music; these guys might be quick with the one-liners but they’re pretty big fools too, and the comedy is often smartly self-deprecating – whether it’s targeting small-town values, big-city elitism or the idea of manly men in general.
And yes, sometimes that involves spending an entire episode creating a social media sensation called Fartbook.
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Seasons 1 and 2 of Letterkenny are now streaming at SBS On Demand (and episodes also screen Tuesdays 9.25pm on SBS Viceland).
Renée Zellweger joins us on this week's show, to talk about how she transformed herself into Hollywood icon Judy Garland, for the film 'Judy'. In her chat with Fiona, Zellweger discusses what she hopes the film will reveal about Garland's legacy, not least the high price she paid for becoming a Movie Star during the dawning Golden Age of Hollywood. In this episode we welcome back special guest host John Beohm (SBS Viceland channel manager) to sit in for Ben (who is away at a TV content market, finding great shows to bring to SBS in the future), and talk about the revelation that is 'Years and Years', a very relatable dystopic family drama that is coming to SBS in November.