Sometimes it’s nice to know someone’s rooting for you. For 15 years (1991-2006), Red Green’s self-deprecating humor created a silly, inclusive, familiar world within the confines of Possum Lodge in Possum Lake, Ontario (not too far away from Port Asbestos). As Green often reminds us, “We’re all in this together.”
As a female, city-dwelling, US citizen, I probably seem a less-than-likely member of this show’s demographic. Possum Lodge is a man’s world, and handyman Red Green, a character created by Steve Smith, lives in a small community on a Canadian lake. The long-married Green often grouses about or seems bewildered by wife Bernice, but he nevertheless makes sure he heads home after every lodge meeting. Most episodes end with the start of the lodge meeting and the oft-repeated pledge: “I’m a man. But I can change. If I must. I guess.”
What’s the appeal of a show that, even humorously, sounds more than a bit sexist? The broad comedy overlays a basic warmth and sense of family, whether between Red and Bernice, Red and nephew Harold, Red and the lodge members, or Steve Smith and his faithful audience. The Red Green Show may be an acquired taste, but it provides a hefty serving of comfort food. It’s also a show that plays better than it reads in episode summaries or reviews because of that warmth and affection. Red Green (and Smith) knows that the audience knows that there’s a grain of truth but also a lot of affection in the jokes.
Broadcast on many Canadian stations before a long run on CBC, The Red Green Show frequently found a home on PBS south of the border. Its homespun appeal won fans for its caricatured characters, such as Ranger Gord (Peter Kelaghan), a forest ranger living probably a little too long alone in a fire tower, and Harold, Red’s nephew, youthful awkwardness personified by adult Patrick McKenna. Harold dresses as his favorite uncle’s lookalike in a plaid shirt that compliments a pair of suspenders, one side red, the other green.
Possum Lodge’s many patrons include Rick Green (as Bill Smith), Bob Bainborough (as Dalton Humphrey), and Wayne Robson (as Mike Hamar). With Robson’s death in April 2011, this latest collection of Red Green episodes becomes a bit bittersweet; despite his many other credits, Robson was best known for his role as Mike Hamar.
Typical episodes involve a running gag of the week, such as Red trying to figure out what to buy his wife for their anniversary or Harold planning to attend a comic book convention in a superhero costume. The plots are easily summarized in one-line episode descriptions, such as “Red builds an outdoor escalator.” Other skits may involve a bizarre version of the old TV game show, Password; a video extolling some type of do-it-yourself project; or self-help segments showing viewers how to repair pretty much anything by using copious amounts of duct tape. One episode is built around the crisis resulting from the local hardware store running out of duct tape. The Red Green Show packs a lot of variety within a single episode and should make viewers chuckle out loud at least once per half hour.
The spirit of the show lives on in the DVD sets, sold-out comedy tours in Canada and the US, and a Red Green web site.
The latest box set presents episodes from 2000-2002, a huge nine-disc, 1,260-minute set that should keep any fan happy for literally hours on end. This collection builds on previous sets released in chronological order of broadcast: Red Green Show: The Infantile Years (1991-1993), The Toddlin’ Years (1994-1996), and The Delinquent Years (1997-1999). The episodes stand alone without frills, and there are a lot of them per season, disc, and set.
The DVD extras in the current collection include a very brief behind-the-scenes commentary from series creator Steve Smith, who explains the double meaning of the “Midlife Crisis” title. Popular actor Patrick McKenna (Harold), busy working in Canada and the US in dramatic roles, was unavailable for the tenth season of Red Green. According to Smith, the other actors stepped up their game, resulting in a winning, if Harold-less season. When McKenna returned the following season, the elevated quality of the comedy and characterizations led to some of the best episodes ever—the series’ “midlife crisis” had been averted.
Unfortunately, the majority of the aptly named “extra junk” lacks Smith’s on-camera commentary. Instead, the character biographies and series’ notes are text-based screens. The content is interesting and particularly helpful for new viewers, but the format is markedly low tech.
Grab a bowl of popcorn, a stack of Red Green DVDs, and the remote for a lazy weekend at the Lodge. Just remember to keep your stick on the ice. (If you have to ask, you really need to see this DVD set a few more times.)