When it comes to choosing new TV series(-es) to watch, I am two things: 1. picky; 2. lazy. In simplified pop culture algebra, (picky * lazy)/16 waking hours per day = I don’t watch that many new shows. Here are the shows I watch religiously, and would trample a small child to get to my TV to watch every week: “Lost,” “30 Rock,” “The Venture Brothers,” “The Office” (on notice – has been offering up somewhat diminishing returns of late). Here are the shows I watch in reruns, on DVD, or as they appear on my DVR: “Seinfeld,” “South Park,” “Scrubs” (seasons 1-5 only), “The Simpsons” (seasons 1-9 only), “Mythbusters.” That’s basically it for me. I don’t have time or energy or a sufficiently open mind to watch anything else. Every once in a while someone will recommend a new show to me that ends up being good, and usually it’s already been cancelled; this is how I caught up with “Veronica Mars” and “Firefly.” But for the most part my slate is as full as it’s going to get. I taped the pilot for the intriguing-looking “Breaking Bad” with the excellent Bryan Cranston, and never even watched the thing.
See? Lazy. Picky.
But somehow my girlfriend has got me watching this goofy, gentle Canadian comedy called “Corner Gas.” It runs on WGN America (I think) every night (I think) and we have the DVR scooping it up for regular viewing (pretty sure about that part). If you’ve never seen it – and if you’re American, odds are good that you haven’t – “Corner Gas” is basically this: ((“Wings” + funny jokes – horrible overacting) * (“Scrubs” stylistic twitches)) – ribaldry + Canadians. It reminds me of some of the shows my corny but endearing friend Andy used to watch in college – “The Red Green Show” and “Are You Being Served?” “Red Green” is another Canadian program, confirming my suspicion that there’s some weird humor gene running through all the citizens of Canadia-land. “Are You Being Served?” is a silly British show, but there’s some common sensibility at work – except “Are You Being Served?” has approximately 50,000 more sex jokes per half hour than “Corner Gas.”
Having now watched 20 or 30 episodes of this show, I really have no sense of its quality. The acting is amateurish but in a casual, sort of charming way, rather than the strident badness of “Suddenly Susan” or “Two and a Half Men” or “Just Shoot Me.” The jokes often provoke genial chuckles rather than outright guffaws, which is how I imagine life in Canada generally goes. They probably sit around watching hockey and drinking soft drinks with no ice in them and chuckling genially over pleasant puns and mild juxtapositional comedy. There’s very little innuendo and no bleeped-out or thinly-disguised profanity in “Corner Gas,” either. And pop culture references tend to be limited to rare two-second cameos by hockey players and Canadian political figures (except in one truly head-scratching moment where Kiefer Sutherland popped in – anybody want to do my job for me and find out if he’s Canadian?). Most of the humor comes from four sources: 1. Hank and Davis are stupid. 2. Oscar’s a grouch (really). 3. Brent makes a not-particularly-mean-spirited wisecrack. 4. Some small thing escalates into a good-natured battle between some of the characters (e.g. Davis copies Karen’s food orders at restaurants, so she starts copying what he says and does; Lacey has a box she refuses to open, so Karen and Brent spend most of the episode trying to make her open it; etc.). There’s absurdity (but not much) and quick cuts to other events both real and imagined (a la “Scrubs”). And that’s “Corner Gas” in a nutshell.
I imagine I’ll keep on watching this show for a while. It’s filling a rare niche in my entertainment schedule, which is “stuff to waste time on and provide a pleasant end to my day just before I fall asleep.” If new episodes were airing in prime time on NBC I don’t know if I’d be trampling anybody (small child or otherwise) to see them, but hey, not every show can be “Lost.” …Speaking of which, I hear that next week on “Corner Gas,” Brent’s going to throw the switch that teleports the gas station through space and time, and Oscar may get killed in a vicious showdown with Davis and Karen. Oh man, I can’t wait.