Trailer Park Boys

by Terry Sawyer

22 November 2004


Bug Lights

So they have trailer parks in Halifax, Nova Scotia. That’s the primary lesson I learned from Trailer Park Boys, a faux documentary in the Christopher Guest vein that follows the antics of the residents of Sunnyvale Trailer Park. The U.S. has no monopoly on poor white people prone to violence and alcoholism.

Trailer Park Boys centers on two small time criminals, Ricky (Robb Wells) and Julian (John Paul Tremblay). They’ve just been released from jail for, as near as I can tell, shooting at someone in order to take his dog. A faux-documentary crew follows their return to their old lives, in a particularly drama-laden trailer village. Much of the tension revolves around the pair’s love-hate dynamic. Muscle-bound Julian, the trailer park don who wears form-fitting shirts and walks around with a whiskey on the rocks, is smarter, frequently bailing Ricky out of scrapes and working toward a better life even though he’s besieged by neighbors who seek his counsel and favors. Ricky is just a classic fuck-up, stoned and drunk, trying to get back with the mother of his child, and drawing trouble like a bug light of bad fortune.

cover art

Trailer Park Boys

Cast: Lucy DeCoutere, John Paul Tremblay, Mike Smith, Rob Wells
Regular airtime: Thursdays, 9pm ET

(BBC America)

A clever dig at the unreality of reality shows, Trailer Park Boys makes the point that the camera alters the world it’s observing. Except for the impenetrably dim Ricky, those observed appear to be well aware of their own images, giving up any pretense to doing what they would normally. Just so, teenaged slackers Trevor (Michael Jackson) and Cory (Cory Bowles) complain that Julian won’t sell them weed anymore because of the camera crew. And Ricky grouses that Julian’s uppity talk of community college is a show for the filmmakers. This all sounds funnier than it is. The first episode drags like a stoner picking out provisions in the snack aisle. The plot is pure jalopy stall, relying on visits from quirky neighbors and oddball situations more than any narrative movement.

For comic relief, you probably couldn’t do much better than Ricky who, for frosting’s sake, wears lamb chops and an Elvis pompadour. He’s a hooligan who sees nothing wrong with threatening a pimply convenient store cashier into giving him ciggies and stale flowers. At one point, he’s basically squatted in Julian’s broken-down car in the front yard, stealing a cat to guard the pot plants in the back seat from nibbling squirrels. He drinks vodka and uses an extension cord to bring Julian’s toaster oven out of the trailer to cook chicken fingers on the roof of his makeshift home. At night, he fires his gun into the darkness, hoping to hit one of the neighbors’ barking dogs.

Despite this seeming hilarity, Trailer Park Boys left me feeling like I was watching the world’s worst episode of Sanford & Son, badly dubbed with the accents from Fargo (it’s produced in Canada, where it airs on Showcase). Its rhythms are slower than most U.S. comedies, where guffaw lines seem written in neon, even when they’re not accompanied by the passive aggression of a laugh track.

On top of that, I suffer a slight moral pang when I recognize that such typically patronizing use of stereotypes only reinforces viewers’ sense of superiority. Though the characters are occasionally “endearing,” this is a device that usually evokes injured kittens. Even if the scripts improve on this rocky start, it’s difficult for me to believe that this sort of derisive comedy isn’t already played out in the U.S. Shows starring poor, white, developmentally arrested idiots (Beavis & Butthead) who sometimes exude earthy provincial wisdom (The Simple Life have reached their saturation point and nadir (Blue Collar TV). There are far too many shows that have strip mined these tropes into utter comic desolation. Trailer Park Boys only internationalizes the easily targeted hapless bumpkin.

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//Mixed media