Happy Canada Day! To celebrate our national holiday, four of our contributors list their favourite oeuvres made in Canada. Let’s hope you find these gems before Prime Minister Harper bans their distribution in an effort to, uh, “balance the budget”.
The Mad (2007)
Ever since David Cronenberg’s Shivers repulsed audiences from the four corners of the world in 1975, Canada has been known for producing weird horror flicks. Its reputation for offbeat scares remains to this day, not least in Las Vegas, where Céline Dion performs every night at Caesar’s Palace. Over in the obscure DVD bins, you may find such low-budget gems as The Gate (1987), Cube (1997), and my recommendation: The Mad, about unregulated organic meat products causing a zombie outbreak in the countryside.
As its title indicates, the horror comedy plays off the BSE (otherwise known as “mad cow disease”) scare of 2003, critiquing not just the ethics and practices of the stock breeders on whom we depend for sustenance but also our hypocrisy regarding organic farmers, whom we allow to bypass standard health controls because of a vaguely healthy-sounding label. However, what makes John Kalangis’ The Mad a must-see are Billy Zane and Maggie Castle’s performances as Dr Jason Hunt and his daughter Amy, who keep underreacting to the mayhem surrounding them. I love their purely Canadian cynicism toward political correctness: “It’s retarded […] I’m sorry. That’s mentally challenged.”
Being Erica (2009-2011)
Spanning four seasons between 2009 and 2011, Being Erica has surprised me episode after episode, proving that good Canadian television doesn’t stop at the original Degrassi High. When her life hits rock bottom, Erica Strange (Erin Karpluk) undergoes time-travel therapy, reliving her greatest regrets armed with hindsight, wisdom, and the guidance of Doctor Tom (Michael Riley), who, for some reason, gives me the creeps. Something about him reminds me of this guy I knew who always smelt like roast chicken (not in a good way). Maybe it’s his hair, which has got the slightest hint of a mullet.
Anyway, the series feels decidedly Canadian, what with its slow pacing, ambiguously happy endings, and continued resistance to gimmicky plotting. Though Erica’s sessions into the past sometimes change history (the second time she loses her virginity doesn’t end up on tape, for example), none of her issues get resolved à la Marty McFly. Like the aforementioned Degrassi High, Being Erica shows the messy side of morality tales, where problems don’t neatly disappear just because you’ve learnt your lesson.
Neverwinter Nights (2002)
Based in Edmonton, Alberta, Bioware is one of my favorite game developers. In fact, the company has yet to release a game I didn’t enjoy. I’ve already recommended a few of its releases such as Baldur’s Gate and Star Wars: The Old Republic. Here, I’d like to showcase another classic: Neverwinter Nights, which tells of a mysterious plague killing the citizens of Neverwinter, a city set in the Forgotten Realms from the Dungeons and Dragons universe. As you begin your search for a cure, you soon realise that the plague is just the tip of the iceberg and that a more sinister plot is afoot.
On the surface, Neverwinter Nights may seem like any other RPG with such familiar concepts as character classes, abilities, alignment, and experience, but the game engine allows you to create your own campaign and share it online so you can play with friends. A simple Google search will allow you to find and download a number of great player-made expansions, giving you more bang for your buck. It’s unfortunate that Neverwinter Nights II by Obsidian Entertainment in Irvine, California, doesn’t match its predecessor’s quality, but that’s what happens when you take a Canadian product and outsource it to an underdeveloped country like the United States.
You Can’t Do That on Television (1979-1990)
My go-to piece of Canadiana is The Littlest Hobo, but does such burnished television perfection need my sales pitch? Down the road it will go, picking up fans along the way… No, seriously, for this piece, I want to recommend something that struck, something that drilled into my young brain and taught me to see the world in a different light: no Leonard Cohen, Alice Munro, or Margaret Atwood. Rather, I’m referring to Ottawa’s You Can’t Do That on Television, which kicked off in 1979 and aired every Saturday morning until 1990.
The offbeat sketch comedy aired around noon in my household and, with its broad humour and pre-teen cast, served as a welcome epilogue to the morning’s cartoon binge, easing me back to live action and then, as I clicked off the TV during the credit roll, actual people. Believe it or not, this is the show that developed my taste for Monty Python. We can also thank You Can’t Do That on Television for introducing green slime to Nickelodeon. Has the world been the same since? I don’t know.