‘Letterkenny’ Review: Wonderfully Weird Canadian Comedy Comes to Hulu
The dialogue on Letterkenny seems impenetrable the first time you watch it, maybe even the second or third. The Canadian comedy, which Hulu recently added to its library, takes place in a small town in rural Ontario populated by “hicks, skids, hockey players and Christians,” and each group has its own colorful vernacular. The hicks – sibling farmers Wayne (creator/star Jared Keeso) and Katy (Michelle Mylett) and their friends Daryl (Nathan Dales) and Squirrely Dan (K. Trevor Wilson) – have been known to talk about “hooverin’ schneef” (snorting cocaine), and when they get impatient for someone to take action, they insist, “Pitter patter, lets get at’er.” Idiot hockey players Reilly (Dylan Playfair) and Jonesy (Andrew Herr) are forever going on about “tilly time” (fights), “pracky” (hockey practice) and “crushing sandos” (eating sandwiches). It’s a lot to absorb, especially since much of the dialogue is delivered like an Aaron Sorkin show being played at 1 1/2 speed.
But long before I figured out that Wayne’s pet insult “10-ply” refers to someone who’s soft, or could follow more than a fraction of what the hockey players or the skids (breakdancing meth-heads, led by Tyler Johnston’s melodramatic Stewart) were saying, I recognized that Letterkenny spoke in the only dialect I needed to hear: funny.
This is a strange, simple, delightful show that kept surprising me throughout the two seasons available on Hulu. (Another three have premiered in Canada.) It’s spectacularly filthy (there’s a running gag where the hicks struggle to figure out whether one or more of their neighbors could have molested an ostrich) but also capable of startling sweetness towards all of its cartoonish characters (even the unapologetically kinky Pastor Glen, played with full gusto by Jacob Tierney).
The farmers manning the produce stand are alternately presented as wisecracking badasses and oblivious fools, Wayne in particular. Squeezed into denim and flannel, his hair plastered across his forehead, his posture rigid, he’s very concerned about protecting his rep as the toughest guy in town. But he’s also less comfortable with himself than he seems, and some of the show’s most satisfying comic moments come from showing how lost Wayne can seem even in such familiar territory: At the end of a long discussion with Daryl and Dan about testicular injuries and parts of the male anatomy, Wayne quietly laments, “I said ‘Florida State Seminal Vesicles,’ and nobody laughed.” It’s a very smart and self-aware way to grant some comic vulnerability to a character who otherwise wins every fight and has most of the women on the show throwing themselves at him. (Done wrong, this is known as The Denis Leary Problem.)
Most episodes open with the tagline, “There are 5,000 people in Letterkenny. These are their problems.” This makes it sound like a very Canadian version of Law & Order, and the dry style with which Keeso and most of his co-stars deliver their lines fits with that. Yet it can slip from deadpan to surreal with hardly any effort at all, and there are times when the show almost feels like a musical – not just when the skids are popping and locking outside the convenience store, but in the way that all of Wayne’s donnybrooks are slowed down and scored to rock songs.
It’s very much a guys-being-guys show, even as it presents most of its guys as well-meaning fools at best, while Katy’s easily the wisest person around. Katy’s a well-rounded enough character, and Mylett’s performance so sharp, that it mostly forgives that she’s virtually always wearing skimpy clothing as the hockey players and Stewart lust after her (sometimes successfully). That the show’s other women are primarily defined by their own sexual thirst – bartender Gail (Lisa Codrington) speaks almost exclusively in single entendres, while Mrs. McMurray (Wynonna Earp star Melanie Scrofano) goes wild with desire whenever her husband (Dan Petronijevic) demonstrates his authority as president of the local agricultural hall – is harder to overlook, even as the actresses in question are giving it their comic all. (Codrington’s performance is so loose-limbed and energetic, it’s like Gail is trying to go about her day while experiencing perpetual spontaneous orgasms. It’s something to see.)
The series has a lot of fun showing the intersection of this sleepy, isolated town and the allegedly more sophisticated world outside it. One early episode turns into a shameless The Social Network parody where the skids help the hicks build a website called Fartbook to catalog the many sounds they make when breaking wind; another has Wayne and Katy playing Shark Tank with an inheritance, as everyone else in town tries to apply other popular reality TV formats to Letterkenny. But like a lot of modern buddy comedies (including Broad City, which, like Letterkenny, began life as a web series), the show tends to be at its best when it just sits back and lets the characters riff off each other, like the guys and Katy arguing about how porn actresses say “yes yes yes,” or Dan and Daryl trying to one-up each other about their past drug use. (Daryl: “You ever hoovered schneef off a sleeping cow’s spine?”)
I could extol the virtues of this marvelously goofy show some more, but it’s pert near tilly time, and I need some more pracky. Pitter patter, let’s get at’er. Hopefully you get what I’m trying to say by now.