Story Pile: Letterkenny

So you was watching the first seven seasons of Letterkenny the other day,

Okay, buckle up first things first, the content warnings! Letterkenny is a comedy TV sitcom set in a small rural town in western Ontario. Regardless of specific episodes, every single episode is essentially composed in in a recipe of bits that include long sequences of characters making fun of one another, in sometimes surprisingly cutting ways (though rarely to any ends but teasing). That means by volume any given episode is about 20% meanspirited jokes at another person’s expense. Also, the show regularly features drugs (off-screen; characters are not depicted partaking, but they are stated as being high or on drugs), alcohol (nearly constantly), masturbation (male and female), misgendering as an insult (‘sally’) and implying ‘softness’ as a failing. There is also extensive discussion of male sexuality, such as men contending with anal penetration or their discomfort discussing same.

If any of these things sound like you’re not here for it, best to not worry about it.

Anyway,

Letterkenny is a really funny show. If you’re not aware of it overall, it’s basically a sitcom about life in a small, rural Canadian town with a mixed population of ‘hicks, skids, hockey players and Christians.’ The narrative focuses initially on Wayne, the ‘toughest guy in Letterkenny,’ and his family-and-friends on their farm and the related orbit of weirdoes around the town. Over time, as actors settle into their roles, they start to expand and you get a story that does some really cool things with continuity, with actor allusions, with the different things that come and go in small towns and the related culture of the space, including and especially the extremely strange dialect of hockey.

There’s a real sophistication to the thoroughness, to the memory with which the work is constructed. There’s a joke that comes up in the show then the characters maintain it as a running gag and you watch it spread around the town as people get the meme and run with it. A character’s design has a detail to it that is commented on once in one episode, and always correctly expressed. The show also has a lot of surprisingly positive things about the cast and characters – there are people of colour, including the popualtion of a Native Rez nearby, and how that interacts with Letterkenny’s own populations and their needs. It seems all a show needs is Rez Politics I have to look up and I will check that show out, even if I have my reservations.

There’s also this like, gag thing the show does, known as chirping, which is short, pointed insults designed to get someone’s attention and throw them off their game, used in hockey. It’s a real craft, it’s really interesting to watch, and sometimes the jokes are so ornate it’s stunning. They’re also coming from a baseline of ‘what it’s okay to comment on’ being very different, to me.

You might be aware that what I’m doing here is what we call a compliment sandwich. I’ve got one layer of something nice and then there’ll be another layer of something nice, at the end, so you can focus on the positive things I’m saying about The Thing You Like for fear of me doing something so crass as to be unhappy with a television show.

So.

Season 7, Episode 5, W’s Talk, Baby.

Look, I don’t think this show comes at the world from the same space as me. I get that. But this episode left me with a foul taste in my mouth.

The basic plot is pretty familiar, as structures go; Tanis wants to get a hockey team back, so the Native players can have something to do to diminish their time spent on crime stuff. She then goes around to recruit a bunch of characters we know already from the ‘hockey people’ section of Letterkenny, which includes the himbo mainstays. Then, despite the team not being mixed, the coach turns to the two women players, Betty-Anne and Mary-Anne, who he wants to come along and coach.

Then the Coach brings up the fact that women are inferior to men in hockey, which annoys them.

Then the Coach trots out a bunch of statistics he has memorised, which annoys them.

Then they challenge the boys to a match, and the Coach finds it hilarious.

The rest of the episode is about the contest, which spends a lot of time focusing on showing as the boy team scores endlessly over the women’s team, until the end of the first half, when Betty-Anne and Mary-Anne drop the game, accept that hey, sometimes you just lose, and fall in line behind the coach.

Don’t worry, they don’t show up or do anything in the ensuing followup to the story; they weren’t recruited for anything. They just showed up, got defensive, picked a fight they couldn’t win, then the show gave you ten minutes of them losing and being degraded, then they lost, then they went away.

Now, you can start the argument up here about how the coach is right. Maybe he is, I don’t know, hockey’s not my sport and I don’t fucking care. I can definitely see an argument that when one form of your sport recruits people a hundred pounds heavier, the heavier players are probably going to be more dangerous. That doesn’t matter. What matters is why this was put into the story at all.

It doesn’t open up jokes. It’s not funny. Shoresy chirping at people doesn’t need a specific target, though hey, we got to hear him being transmisogynistic. It’s just this really weird, embarrassing slog of the story bringing up a situation where a bunch of women who weren’t involved in the story at all can just be losers.

And then

the thing that makes this extra uncomfortable for me, the thing that makes me wince when I think about it

is that Shoresy, the player you see doing all the impressive skating and scoring and chirping and dumping ice on people and knocking their sticks out of their hands and being right, the huge asshole, is played by Jared Keeso, the guy who makes the show. He actually played hockey at this level, and he’s apparently really good. Shoresy doesn’t think women should play hockey, and this whole episode goes out of its way to show he’s right.

It feels very much like this episode of this show is a big-budget chance for someone to drag an old argument they feel strong about, in public, and in the process, they decide to humiliate a bunch of characters in their show, and it makes a lot of the other stuff in the series look a lot less ‘oh well I guess they don’t know better’ and a lot more ‘oh, you’re probably a real shithead in person, aren’tcha.’

Anyway, Letterkenny is extremely funny, well structured, and has a lot of short exchanges that are definitely worth sharing and enjoying. It was made originally as a Youtube series and it’s really good when you see it as a sequence of 3 minute conversations. The music is great. There’s a lot to love in how well the series represents the interesting ways people fill time, or express affection, or the kind of strange, up-their-ass conversations that spiral out when you have space and time and not lots of stimulus.

I don’t think I’ll keep watching Letterkenny, after writing all that.

Thanks for being here for me working these thoughts out.

Comments are closed.