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.