DOCTOR: Oh, it's all right. I'm quite accustomed to slower life.
EMMA: It gets slower than this?
It isn't sexy, violent, or even (particularly) filled with attractive people. It dodges most current issues and eschews "very special" episodes. Mayberry, by comparison, constitutes a hive of activity. The crew even film as far as possible from the centres of the Canadian film and television industry, in a Regina studio and on location in tiny Rouleau, Saskatchewan. Yet for six seasons, (2004-2009) millions have tuned into CTV's Corner Gas to laugh at the banal idiocies of Dog River, an imaginary small town on the Canadian prairies:
HANK: I know what will scare off Kolchak. We'll pretend there's a lottery and the loser gets stoned to death.
WANDA: I can't believe you read that story.
HANK: What story?
Series creator Brent Butt plays Brent Leroy, a second-generation station owner and gas jockey. Butt's real-life wife, Nancy Robertson, plays Wanda Dollard, who runs the cash and convenience store. Lacey Burrows (Gabrielle Miller), an attractive woman from Toronto, owns the Ruby, the diner next door. Hank Yarbo (Fred Ewanuik), Brent's oldest friend, functions as the village idiot. Other regulars include Brent's curmudgeonly parents, Emma and Oscar—- the latter frequently begins conversations with, "Hey, jackass!"-—and the local cops, Davis Quinton and Karen Pelly.1 The officers frequently bicker, but in a less boisterous manner than the Leroys. In one episode, for example, Davis loses his Grey Cup tickets:
DAVIS: Well, I'll have to go to a scalper.
KAREN: Isn't it weird for you to go to a scalper?
DAVIS: Why? Because I'm a Cree man? I resent that.
KAREN: Because you're a police officer and scalping tickets is illegal.
DAVIS: Oh yeah.
That's about as topical as Corner Gas
Seinfeld tried to be a show about nothing; Corner Gas generally achieves this lofty goal. Week after week, episode after episode, the citizens of Dog River engage in pointless banter, aspire to trivial goals, and battle over mundane McGuffins. Each episode typically has three plot threads, none of which ever amount to much. Brent and Hank rediscover their childhood treehouse, which has been taken over by intimidating little kids. Lacey tries to teach free Pilates, but finds that the residents (a) worry it has some connection with "the guy who sentenced Jesus to death", (b) think there's some kind of trick, and (c) already attend "mat class." Wanda tries to write her name in fresh sidewalk cement; Oscar attempts to prevent her. Townspeople discuss building the World's Biggest Something to attract tourists. Hank tries to prove that a visiting American knows nothing about Canada (Hank fails). Karen and Davis crack down on jaywalkers in order to pay for the town's new traffic light. Lacey tries to track the source of counterfeit bonus coupons. Emma and Oscar get a new thermostat and argue over the ideal temperature. The plots don't matter so much as their execution. The deadpan delivery by this cast turns seemingly mediocre lines into hilarious witticisms:
BRENT: The point is, Lacey never needs to know about this.
WANDA: I don't want her to know about this. It's way more fun watching you flail around like a moron trying to fool her.
BRENT: I knew you'd have my back.
Occasionally, the dialogue strikes a little closer to bone
DAVIS: Do you think my new cell phone is small?
KAREN: I don't know.
DAVIS: Brent's got a smaller one. I mean I wasn't looking at it on purpose; he had it out and I just glanced at it.
DAVIS: But mine is small right? I mean how small would you say is normal? You get an inaccurate idea because you see smaller ones in movies and magazines and stuff. But for a normal person's cell phone mine is small, smaller than average.
KAREN: I don't think anyone really cares as long as it works.
, fantasy sequences, and imagined reconstructions have become series high points. The flashbacks, of course, often recall moments that, in real life, would be utterly forgettable-- single, mundane lines and brief sight gags
--, but the show plays them with brilliant comic timing. The character's fantasy lives often prove as mediocre as their real lives-- hilariously so. The characters also offer improbable, convention-warping commentary on the imagined sequences. In one early episode, rookie
Karen closes a local cold case
—-the painting of "Grad '68" on the town grain elevator
, years after 1968
. As she recounts the crime, the show fades to her imagined reconstruction, with Butt and Ewanuik playing their characters as teenager
KAREN: So you passed the spray can to your accomplice—-Hank!
HANK: I never had a mullet!
KAREN: I don't know what you looked like in 1986. I'm just imagining you with a mullet.
HANK: Well if you want to imagine what I looked like back in high school, take a look at my picture in my yearbook.
The reenactment continues, but Hank now has a Photo Not Available
tag in place of his head. He recalls that he slept in on picture day that year.
Over the course of its run, the show welcomed a host of guest stars, including two standing prime ministers (Paul Martin and Stephen Harper), one former governor-general (Adrienne Clarkson) the Tragically Hip, all judges from Canadian Idol, Dog the Bounty Hunter, hockey great Darryl Sittler, CTV news anchor Lloyd Robertson, world champion curlers Randy Ferbey and Dave Nedohin, Olympian Cindy Klassen, and actor Kiefer Sutherland. Perhaps the strangest almost-a-guest appearance involves the arrival in town of a stray German shepherd who helps several people in need. Hank becomes convinced the dog is, in fact, The Littlest Hobo, star of an old Canadian children’s show.2
In addition to its six seasons (none longer than nineteen episodes), there is also a special, Beyond Corner Gas: Tales from Dog River (2004). The cast has reenacted episodes for live audiences in order to raise money for Regina's Globe Theatre. The show has been nominated for numerous awards (including an International Emmy) and won six Gemini Awards, nine Canadian Comedy Awards, and one Screenwriting Award.
The 2008-2009 season was its last. Ratings remained high, but the show's creators and cast, wisely, chose to quit while they were still successful. And Corner Gas has succeeded as few imagined, becoming Canada's leading water cooler show and one of the country's most successful entertainment exports in the early twenty-first century.
Brent Butt as Brent Leroy
Gabrielle Miller as Lacey Burrows
Fred Ewanuik as Hank Yarbo
Nancy Robertson as Wanda Dollard
Eric Peterson as Oscar Leroy
Janet Wright as Emma Leroy
Lorne Cardinal as Davis Quinton
Tara Spencer-Nairn as Karen Pelly
1. The characters' last names are small towns in Saskatchewan.
2. Canada's answer to Lassie, The Littlest Hobo involved a genius of a stray who wandered from town to town helping people out. It ran from 1963 to 1965 and again from 1979 to 1985.