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Canadian TV You Need To Get Your Hands On

Canadian television is underrated AF. 

I mean, it’s fair to say that Canada’s television industry is thriving thanks to American streaming services, but regardless, I love seeing my country on screen. Before I get into this, let’s clarify what makes a television show certified “Canadian,” because it’s pretty weird.

According to an article on VICE, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) uses a point system to determine how “Canadian” a show is. It’s not just a certain amount of shots with Canadian actors or having a Canadian showrunner that ticks off the “Canadian” box. The article explains, “if your director and screenwriter are Canadian, they get two points each. A Canadian lead performer gets you one point, as does a Canadian director of photography or music composer. The list goes on, up to a total of 10 points. To make a Canadian show, your production has to hit six out of 10” (how many times can the word “Canadian” exist in one paragraph?). 

The television series that are listed below aren’t just shot in Canada to tell American stories; they’re made by us and for us. Here are three of my favourites:

1. The Baroness Von Sketch Show

Talk about a remarkable, feminist group of bad bi**hes. This CBC sketch comedy series created entirely by four wonderful, hard-working Canadian women is unlike any other. The show has bagged an ACTRA for Outstanding Performance-Ensemble in 2018, as well as Canadian Screen Awards for Best Performance, Sketch Comedy (Individual or Ensemble) in 2018 and Best Writing, Variety or Sketch Comedy in both 2017 and 2018. Lasting between fifteen seconds (yup, and you won’t forget a beat) and five minutes, each skit satirizes everyday modern life experiences and concerns, from the pretentiousness of using a mason jar for literally everything to sexual politics. The creators pride themselves in their ability to cross borders, changing comedy from a genre with a tendency to not be taken seriously to a powerful method for conducting difficult conversations. 

One of their most popular skits, “Unfounded”, takes on the topic of sexual abuse and uses satire to effectively point out the ridiculousness of how police practices hurt rape survivors—all in about four minutes. The show is crossing borders in another sense as well, being named “The Best Thing To Come Out Of Canada Since Ryan Gosling” by Vogue magazine. Arguably debatable, but I couldn’t agree more. The Baronesses keep things very real, as the specificity of the glorious experiences they creatively reproduce is universal to all. And if it’s something you haven’t experienced, the ladies’ strategic use of satire keeps you in the loop. The tight bonds between the creators shine through in each episode, and they nail every concept with their physical comedy and witty, jaw-dropping dialogue. Yes, women are funny. And yes, in Canada too. Mind blown. 

Where you can watch it: There are three seasons available on Netflix now, but all four seasons are available on CBC’s online streaming service, Gem

2. Schitt’s Creek

With a 90% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Schitt’s Creek is killing it. The show was also awarded Best Comedy Series at the 2019 Canadian Screen Awards. Created by Daniel Levy and his father Eugene Levy, the show tells the hilarious story of how a married couple and their adult children go bankrupt and are forced to move to their only remaining asset, the gloriously ugly small town of Schitt’s Creek. The show has reaped attention from the biggest critics, including the renowned pop-culture magazine Vanity Fair. Of course, because it’s built on the two oh-so-repellent words “comedy” and “Canadian,” Vanity Fair put off watching it for quite a while, explaining that “the Canadianness of the show off-put me somehow—though as a nearly lifelong Degrassi fan, a few ‘sore-ys’ shouldn’t have bothered me.” No they shouldn’t have. One can only ignore Catherine O’Hara’s genius comedic dramatics for so long. I also have a specific pride for once Toronto-based Daniel Levy (playing the amazingly sarcastic and pansexual David Rose), who was told that he probably didn’t have a chance in the real world by a drama teacher we shared in high school (albeit a considerable amount of years apart). 

As the show evolves over the course of four seasons, it plays with some fun 30 Rock references, but also balances on a nuanced high comedy of fun silliness and sincerity. 

Schitt’s Creek is easy to binge and has made it big—possibly from the help of Netflix and the plethora of articles urging its consumption. This is one of them. 

Where to watch it: Four seasons are available on Netflix, CBC Gem, and CW Seed. We’ll have to wait a little longer for the fifth season here in Canada, as it premieres in the U.S. on January 16th on Pop TV (no thanks for stealing it, America, but at least you know it’s worth). 

3. Kim’s Convenience

Being Canada’s first all Asian lead cast in a television series, Kim’s Convenience is another CBC comedy that’s nailed it. It has bagged several awards including a Canadian Screen Award in 2018 for Best Comedy Series. The series was originally written as a play in 2011 by Ins Choi, then adapted to television in 2016. The action revolves around a Canadian-Korean family managing a convenience store in Toronto, while dealing with customers, each other and a bustling, changing world around them. Specifically, the owner Mr. Kim is heavily focused on moving the business forward, while his daughter Janet, to his frustration, strives to make it as an artist. The show runs on three-dimensional archetypes, not stereotypes, which is integral to how the show connects with its audience and is what Choi strived for from the very beginning. Being so true to Choi’s experiences, each character is well-rounded, and the family’s interactions with each other and their community are authentic and convincing. 

Incredibly smart, witty and deep, Kim’s Convenience is worth the watch. 

Where you can watch it: Two seasons are available on Netflix, but all three seasons are available to stream on CBC Gem. Season 4 will premiere on CBC and Gem in January 2020. 

If you would really like to indulge in a full Canadian entertainment experience past the three television shows I’ve listed, then Vulture has got a whole list of 25 for you. Canada’s landscape is more than a convenient set for American pop culture, and the use of Canadian resources in their entertainment should have at least granted several “American” television series dual citizenship. This is not to say that America’s distribution of our content, like Schitt’s Creek in its later seasons, is something to take for granted. Most of Canada’s economic growth coming from the television and film industry is thanks to the demand for streaming content that create many Netflix Originals shot in Toronto or Vancouver. In Toronto alone, according to Toronto.ca, $2 billion was invested in filming on location in the city in 2018. 

Ultimately, it’s not that American television is any less entertaining, but that Canadian television is worth being looked at critically and treated just the same as American content: with respect.

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Naomi is a fourth-year student at Western University, pursuing an Honours Specialization degree in Media Information and Technoculture and a minor in Creative Writing. She is also a Senior Editor for Her Campus Western. Naomi enjoys writing short scrips, blogging about nonsense, and binge reading psycho-thrillers. Her most acknowledged skills are funding the entire dairy farm with her love of cheese and speaking Romanian at inappropriate times.
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