Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Les Bougons vs. The Trailer Park Boys

I just got a great comment to my last post from a french-canadian woman who considers herself Canadian. I strongly recommend that you check out what she said. There's a lot there, but one of her comments summarized nicely a problem I've been thinking about:

"It is amazing to me that so far noone at our much beloved CBC has managed to amalgamate in a program the two cultures for the two audiences to be shown simultaniously, something that I have been dreaming of for the past 30 years."

Late night on CBC they show some of the better television shows from Quebec like Fortier (a police investigation show led by a strong woman. I saw one episode and it was pretty good) and le Grand Ourse (a supernatural novela). They are subtitled (well) but probably don't get a lot of viewers as they start at eleven. I'm sure the CBC shows all the internationally sucessful french movies like the Barbarian Invasions.

In Quebec, we get all the english channels and the french commercial networks (TVA and TQS) show dubbed versions of many popular american shows (I'm told the dubbed Simpsons is actually quite hilarious because the dubbing is done in Quebec and they speak like real french-canadians). Most of the dubbed shows and all the dubbed movies are done in France by the same people, which everyone in Quebec knows quite well.

The two hot shows in French and English Canada right now are remarkably similar in theme. Les Bougons is a half-hour sitcom about a lower-class family in Montreal who are masters at scamming the system. The patriarch, played by Remy Girard (the star of the Barbarian Invasions, among many other things), is a domineering boor who loves to harangue the system while he mercilessly steals from it. The rest of the family are more than willing allies, each with his or her own techniques and scams to contribute to the family's well-being. They blackmail local politicians with their stripper daughter, adopt a chinese boy (who turns out to be a girl) to help with shoplifting and computer crimes, collect multiple social assistance checks, etc. They are portrayed sympathetically and the show ends up being more critical of the system around them. Characterizations are rich and the show ultimately celebrates the community and culture of the lower classes.

Trailer Park Boys takes place in a less urban setting and the protagonists are three young men constantly trying to strike it rich with crazy schemes that usually involve growing or stealing pot. It's less subtle than Les Bougons and perhaps aimed at a younger demographic. Most shows involve a shootout, drunken fights and some kind of physical slapstick. Again, though, the theme is about poor people taking advantage of a system in the only way that the system allows them. Furthermore, most episodes end with the notion that the trailer park is a big family, dysfunctional but loving. As in Les Bougons, you sympathize with the cheating criminals.

I believe that the theme of the lower-class underdog resonates across Canada. We love to portray ourselves as underdogs next to the big, rich US of A. The social welfare system is a much larger part of our economy. Authority may be corrupt, blind and stupid but it's not deadly. Our authority figures are petty corporals like drunken trailer park supervisors or obstinate clerks behind the desk at the DMV, not black-booted cops smashing someone's head in with a billy club.

So it surprises me that nobody I know in Montreal, french or english for that matter, watches the Trailer Park Boys. I can understand that few outside of Quebec watch Les Bougons simply because it's in french. The CBC bought the rights to it, but said they are going to refilm it with english actors. That seems ridiculously stupid to me. Basically, you're going to have the Trailer Park Boys in the city. Why don't they just subtitle it? The show already got a write-up in the New York Times. Part of the depth of the show is language they use. I can only understand it partially at times, it's so rich in 'sties and chalices, but it would give anglos such a rich insight into life here.

I think regionalism is a strong factor for the divided audiences for the two shows. Despite the similarity in themes, the city of Montreal is an important aspect of Les Bougons. But I've never been to the Maritimes and the Trailer Park Boys could practically be a small town in B.C.

So the question remains. What Canadian movie or television show would cross this cultural divide? I'll think about this because I don't have any clear ideas right now, other than that both sides should both be regularily watching Les Bougons the Trailer Park Boys. In case I didn't make it clear, both are well-written and hilarious, better than anything else on TV today.

7 comments:

Lantzvillager said...

There is probably a deep history of french canadian programming that has come out of Quebec over the years. All I can say is that I can't remember a single show that they ever dubbed or reshot in english for the anglos. I'm assuming that for the most part it is the same way anglo to quebecois.

There are, I think, only a few truly classic Canadian shows (other than our rich history of comedies) that stand the test of time. Like British television (accents aside), you could take someone and plop them down in front of a Canadian tv show and it be immediately apparent where the show was produced. We must have a filter or something.

Look at The Littlest Hobo, DeGrassi, Beachcombers, King of Kensington or Da Vinci's Inquest. All great shows for what they were and all very very canadian. Still, they were all based in either Toronto or Vancouver.

So to answer your question on whether there is a show that would cross the cultural divide I'd have to give 2:
DeGrassi spoke to the adolescent experience and did it well.

Da Vinci is a tautly written police drama that uses its surroundings (Vancouver's Downtown Eastside) but doesn't rely on them as a hook.

Ellie said...

Hope my username will be familiar to you. :)

Just to show you the difference even here in Quebec between french and english cultures, a couple of years back there was on Radio-Canada the most popular T.V. program of all time here, called 'La Petite Vie' (which, yes, is about lower class people, although they were not on social wellfare). At its peek, it reached something like 4 million viewers, which is almost 60% of the entire population, and 66-70% of all the francophones. Well, if you talked to englophones in Montreal, a lot of them never even heard of it.

And just FYI, programs like Littlest Hobo, DeGrassi and Da Vinci all got translated and shown here... but they were translated in France. As for the Simpsons, it's been translated both here and in France. And yes, the traduction here is practically as good as the Flintstones' was.

mare said...

The reason the dubbing is done in France is that the French government requires that all dubbing for programs (and movies) that are shown in France should be done in France. And why would Quebec television (with it's smaller audience) do the dubbing again, when it has already been done? Dubbing is very expensive. So the Quebeckers have to look at Canadian content spoken by continental French speaking actors.

I, for one, hate dubbing and prefer subtitles. I literally learned English through subtitles, since 80% of my country's television is in English and it's all subtitled.

kowy said...

There was a show that was quasi-popular here last year. I can't remember the name, but it was set in Montreal and was all about an Italian family in Little Italy.

The version of the show that I watched was in English, but they also did the entire show with the same actors, the same stories and the same EVERYTHING in French. They'd just shoot each scene once in English and once in French.

Ah...only in Quebec.

John said...

Kowy: It was "Ciao Bella," and it was pretty good. Other projects, like "The Last Chapter," about biker wars in Ontario and Québec were filmed in English and French simutaneously with minimal dubbing.

The CBC has brought a number of RadCan's biggest TV, to varying degrees of success. "Lance et Compte" was a minor hit in English Canada, probably because it had both hockey AND prime-time nudity.

They also did it with the monster hit series "Les Filles de Caleb" and I don't think it went all that well.

But I do think they should make more of an effort to import more Québec TV just because a lot of it is really quite good. I'd just prefer that they do it with subtitles rather than dubbing. Or like the other projects, use bilingual actors and film both scenes at the same time.

As for TPB vs. Les Bougons, there are a number of differences between the two. I think they just have a different angle on the same subject. For one thing, I'm pretty sure the budget for one episode of Les Bougons exceeds that of an entire season of TPB. ;)

But the overall theme of TPB is this idea that if they can score "one last drug deal," they'll be out of the criminal life. Sort of like people addicted to lotto tickets: "All I need is to hit it once, and I'll never have to work again!" Neither of them ever learn their lesson.

Les Bougons is a sharper satire, taking on the nanny state as a whole. When the show first aired, there were outcries that it insulted welfare recipients but if you actually watch the show, everyone is to blame and Les Bougons are just taking advantage of a corrupt system that we ourselves built. But, as the show portrays, the corruption is everywhere from the triplexes of East Montreal all the way to the McMansions of Laval-sur-Le-Lac.

Anonymous said...

Hey... I didn't know you watched it.

You do know my father is playing the Uncle... Mononc Fred.

Mekhare

Ced said...

Hey there, I know I'm a little late on this one, but I just found this blog while searching for informations about The Trailer Park Boys movie.
I just wanted to tell the world how I like this movie in french. The reason is simple: Quebec dubbing.

I listen to movies in french or in english and, most of the time, the original in english is better. The only exceptions are these rare movies dubbed in quebecois!!!
Here in Quebec, we use words like "shit" or "fuck" in our language (in addition to the "calisse", "sti", etc) , but french from France don't. Movies like Superbad or Trailer Park Boys are seriously better in french (in my opinion) just because of the dubbing in Quebec.