Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Corner Gas

Thank you, writer's strike. The resulting dearth of original TV programs without suck has freed up some time for me. (I don't mean time during the actual broadcasts. Before and during the strike, my KnoppMyth installation, combined with the Schedules Direct service I've already complimented, has been recording on my behalf.)

I've spent part of that liberated time...watching TV, naturally. The "Superstation" WGN channel has been airing episodes of Corner Gas cable-style: filling up schedule gaps with whatever is available, no matter how old it is. Unlike much of the filler, Corner Gas is actually new to me, and it's well worth catching each (self-contained) episode.

Corner Gas is a Canadian show through and through, set in Saskatchewan. The references to Canadian culture, as well as the (unexaggerated, no "eh") accent, aren't serious obstacles. Its tone and characters are well-described by a one-liner seen around on the Web: "Seinfeld rocketed back 40 years and put in Mayberry". Mayberry is the fictional small town in The Andy Griffith Show.
  • Seinfeld's plot lines centering around the minutiae of everyday life earned it the description of "a show about nothing" (a description also applied to the show by itself, through the self-reference of the sitcom "Jerry") . Nevertheless, Seinfeld's setting was New York and it included a wide range of notable guest characters to produce drama and conflict. Corner Gas' setting is a tiny rural town, primarily a gas station and a diner, and the guest characters in any given episode (like, say, the real Prime Minister) are for gags, not advancing the plot. If Seinfeld is a show about nothing, then Corner Gas is a show about less than nothing. Then again, like any sitcoms, the situations mined for comedy can be outlandish, i.e., not really "nothing".
  • Corner Gas' humor is similar to Seinfeld's, too. In some ways, it's more "Seinfeldian" than Seinfeld was! Seinfeld used slapstick, outrageousness, and crudeness fairly often. Corner Gas doesn't. Seinfeld had sarcastic dialog about any insubstantial topic. So does Corner Gas. The jokes come at the characters' expense. A lot of the time, the maligned character is completely unaware of the joke.
  • Seinfeld and The Andy Griffith Show were alike in not being easily categorized as "home" or "workplace" comedies: only some of the exceedingly quirky characters were family or coworkers. Corner Gas is the same way. Its offbeat characters also are the primary basis of its humor, although in my opinion these characters typically are relatively more plausible than either the neurotic/despicable examples on Seinfeld or the stupid/naive examples on The Andy Griffith Show. Of course, sitcoms are under comparison here, so in these shows realism is one of the first qualities sacrificed for the sake of funny.
  • One technique which makes Corner Gas more distinctive is its quick and abrupt cuts between reality and, well, unreality. The unreal scenes might be a vivid character daydream, a past event just referenced in dialog, or a bizarre gag otherwise cued by dialog. The one that comes to mind is when a character mumbles that a clown who caused pain would be "Painy the Clown", and then the show immediately switches to showing a scene, no more than four lines long, of "Painy" scolded by a customer then responding by attacking the customer. This approach has led to comparisons between Corner Gas and Scrubs or Family Guy. However, Corner Gas relies on it far less.
If it isn't obvious, I'm deeply enjoying Corner Gas! The show may not be flashy or exciting enough for some viewers, but compared to others in its class it's above-average at all times and periodically it's creatively magnificent without being overbearing. It's written intelligently, yet it isn't pretentious. Given that TV Guide once named Seinfeld the greatest TV show, and Corner Gas has been called the Canadian Seinfeld, it has a good chance of finding new fans for a very long time.

2 comments:

  1. Anonymous6:50 AM

    Painy who or what is Painy?

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  2. "Painy the Clown" is a clown who causes pain. He's completely fictional, and in just that one scene. And the scene comes about just because someone mentions that a pain-causing clown would be called "Painy".

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