Sunnyvale Sketches of a Little Town
The following program contains scenes of violence, coarse language and nudity intended for adult audiences. Viewer discretion is advised.
They live in Sunnyvale Trailer Park. Bubbles pays half lot fees for a storage shed. Ricky has lived for years in a battered 1975 Chrysler New Yorker with a missing door. Julian generally has his own place, though at his lowest point he squatted behind the convenience store. They are Canada's most successful unsuccessful career criminals, the center of a low-budget series that became a phenomenon at home and a cult hit abroad.
Initially, of course, barely anyone noticed.
Trailer Park Prehistory: "Cart Boy" and Trailer Park Boys
"As I sat there listening to the Cart Boy, it came to me. I was the biggest fucking asshole in the world."
--Ricky, "The Cart Boy"
Trailer Park Boys actually begins with two films, both by Mike Clattenburg. "The Cart Boy" (1995) features all three future Trailer Park leads. Mike Smith plays Darren, a character barely distinguishable from "Bubbles" (here the name given to his cat). Both characters even wear the same implausible glasses. Robb Wells plays Ricky, a foul-mouthed, frequently-inebriated shopping mall employee. John Paul Tremblay plays Ricky's supervisor, Jason.
The film appeals now mostly to fans of the show for which it is an early draft. We see much of what would make Trailer Park Boys: foul-mouth funnymen on the fringe of Maritime society, guys with few brains and a fractured morality, but a fair bit of heart.
Clattenburg, Wells and Tremblay later reunited for a seventy-minute black and white film called Trailer Park Boys (1999). Julian (Tremblay), trailer park lifer and small-time criminal, believes that he's going to die soon. He decides he wants to let people observe his final days, so he agrees to have a film crew follow him around. Much of the humour derives from the conceit that we're watching real people. The film also frequently breaks the fourth wall, as the characters interact with the camera and crew.
Although the series which follows maintains a fair bit of continuity with its unofficial pilot, changes have been made. While Julian still dominates the relationship with Ricky, he's less intelligent than he is in the show. Ricky, however, is a little smarter than his later incarnation-- although that's saying very little. He doubts that Julian is going to die, since Julian received the information from a phone psychic. Ricky says he might give the prediction credence if it came from a real psychic.
While their later incarnations indulge in marijuana, hashish, alcohol, and tobacco, the movie versions snort cocaine. They're less popular around the park than they will be in the series, and face regular abuse. Corey (Corey Bowles) and Trevor (Mike Jackson), Julian and Ricky's toadies in the series, here seem less enamored of the boys. Ricky's girlfriend, Lucy (Lucy DeCoutere), forbids Ricky from associating with Julian; she'll definitely warm to him in the series.
It's also very difficult to imagine the series versions of Julian and Ricky killing people's pets for a living.
That's correct. In the original film, Julian and Ricky have taken to gunning down unwanted pets for cash. Typically, a spouse or neighbour hires them to do the dirty work. Fortunately, Bubbles, once and future Cart Boy and diehard animal lover, is nowhere to be seen.
Producer Barrie Dunn caught the dark, low-budget comedy at the Atlantic Film Festival in 1999. He approached the creators and actors about adapting the premise for television. After Canada's Comedy Network rejected the idea, Showcase gave the quirky, obscenity-filled series a chance.1
Sam: I heard of one guy getting shot twice in one day in unrelated incidents, and he was a real dick.
Ricky: We got a comedian here, eh? (pause) You calling me a dick?
Sam: What do you think?
Ricky: (to camera) Was he calling me a dick?
The short first season initially proved a commercial failure. When one of the few original viewers organized a fan party, most of his guests were cast and crew. Showcase, in need of original programming, repeated the six episodes anyway, and it gradually found an audience.
The show developed other characters, including, of course, shed-dwelling, cat-loving oddball Bubbles (Mike Smith), angry, alcoholic trailer park supervisor Jim Lahey (John Dunsworth), his partner, cheeseburger-eating handyman Randy (Patrick Roach), Lucy's trailer-mate Sarah (Sarah Dunsworth-- John's real-life daughter), Ricky's father Ray (producer Barrie Dunn), inner-city wannabee J-Roc (Jonathan Torrens), his posse, Tyrone T. (Tyrone Parsons), Lucy and Ricky's daughter Trinity (Jeanna Harrison), big-gutted jack-of-all-trades Philadelphia Collins (Richard Collins), hirsute veterinarian Sam Losco (Sam Tarasco), bully Cyrus (Bernard Robichaud), and the anarchic Bottle Kids.
The Trailer Park Boys uses the film's conceit that we're watching reality tv. The first season also steals the film's twist of having the documentary footage of the show used as evidence against the participants in court. In later seasons, this does not come up. Indeed, some plots have the Boys trying to steal footage taken by security cameras-- even though the documentary crew has captured the same events. The show also has the camera running under comically improbable circumstances. We're often reminded of the film crew's presence. One first-season episode includes the accidental shooting of the boom-mic operator.
In that same episode, Lucy has Ricky babysit Trinity, while Julian leaves him with his grandmother's dog. Trinity finds Ricky's gun and accidentally shoots her father in the butt. While they're dealing with that disaster, the dog eats Ricky's hash brownies, which have fallen on the floor. A local vet will treat both Ricky and the dog-- but the price he demands makes things worse. Little Trinity also gets drunk. We're a long way from I Love Lucy.
The early seasons play creatively while establishing the show's characters and conventions. Generally, Julian and Ricky develop some illegal scheme to make money. Julian runs the scheme, a rum and coke in his hands at all times. Ricky swears and spouts malapropisms. Bubbles assists or gives advice-- he even quotes Plato2-- while Corey and Trevor act as prison cover. Supervisor Lahey and assistant Randy attempt to thwart the plan, which in the end fails as much because of the perpetrators' basic ineptitude. The first season ends, as so many others will, with Julian and Ricky's return to jail.
Bubbles becomes entangled with their plots, but only once will he be incarcerated. The often insightful child-man devotes most of his time to his cats. He supports himself by retrieving shopping carts (many of which he stole in the first place) and returning them to the local supermarket-- just as Darren does in "The Cart Boy."
The second season introduces Lahey's family. We meet his ex-wife Barbara (Shelley Thompson), who inherited the park3 Future star Ellen Page appears as Jim and Barbara's daughter, Treena. She brings a natural style and charm to her part and plays a key role at the season's conclusion, The actress, however, was destined for bigger things. She disappears without explanation for the remainder of the series.
Many strong episodes appear in later seasons, but some viewers will find the show's premise wearing. Later installments alternate between formulaic repetition and far-fetched variation.
Seasons 3 and 4
"Fuck off, Randy!"
The third season features noteworthy changes and character development, as Ricky and Julian actually profit from some of their criminal activities. Character's relationships and loyalties shift. Lahey grows increasingly disturbed. We see a real sense of movement in the show-- though later episodes will restore status quo. Some developments demonstrate that the show still wanted to take chances. Other changes suggest that the writers were uncertain of how to keep the series fresh.
Just as Happy Days's third season pushed Fonzie into the limelight, so the fourth season at Sunnyvale gives the popular character Bubbles more emphasis. He wrestles in costume as the Green Bastard, and reveals a second personality that manifests itself through his childhood ventriloquist dummy, Conky. These developments are not without their humorous side, but too much Bubbles-- like too much Fonzie-- ruins the character's mystique.
Of course, a popular Canadian show always draws in Canadian cameos. The first celebrity guests appear in these seasons, including Rita MacNeil, and Rush's Alex Lifeson. The interaction between the famous and the foul has a certain appeal, and TPB at least tries to use the special appearances in show-appropriate ways. Rita MacNeil and her entourage are forced to pick dope at gunpoint; Ricky kidnaps Lifeson.
As the fourth season ends, Ricky and Julian hope to harvest their vast, hidden crop, while Lahey loses his marbles.
"Dear Santa Claus Go F*ck Yourself"
"I'm sorry we're not there with you. It was the hardest thing I've ever done when me and your dad had to pack up and leave you. But some very dangerous men were coming after your daddy for his gambling, fighting, and shooting his mouth off drunk down at the legion."
--Bubbles' letter from his parents.
It seems inevitable that with success the Boys would have a Christmas Special, and it stands as one of the TPB high marks. It takes place in 1997, and establishes how many aspects of the show came to be. Of course, it also violates continuity-- why was Sunnyvale being filmed four years before the series started? Nevertheless, it stands as a memorable, child-unfriendly holiday treat.
We learn more about Bubbles' lonely past, Ricky and Lucy's relationship, and Julian's criminal history. Ricky, in the process, learns the truth (well, someone's truth) about Santa Claus, God, and Christmas. The true meaning of the season? According to Ricky, it's getting drunk and stoned with people you love.
Trailer Park Boys: The Movie aka The Big Dirty
"Boys, do you think there's something fucking wrong with ten thousand people seeing us doing this and taking pictures, maybe?"
--Bubbles, after several people witness them breaking the law.
In 2006, the now-successful show tried to steal a piece of the big time with a raucous mainstream comedy, produced by Ivan Reitman. The expatriate auteur and the Sunnyvale regulars disagreed on certain aspects of the film. Trailer Park Boys' particular style of classless dickery differs significantly from Reitman's. His Animal Housesque gratuitous nudity and frat boy raunch seem forced in Sunnyvale. The resulting compromise has its moments, but it would be difficult to miss the tension between the conflicting lowbrow visions.
The film takes place in an alternate universe Sunnyvale. Ricky seems slightly smarter, or, perhaps, Julian's I.Q. has dropped a few points. Lucy now works as a stripper at the club where a good deal of the film's action takes place. She's bisexual, of course, and Sarah, a lesbian in the film, is her lover. In fact, movie-Ricky says that he met Lucy because they were "banging some of the same chicks." He's none too pleased about Sarah's return to her life. As in the series, however, he tolerates much because he has a genuine desire to do well by his daughter (here played by a different actress).
The "Big Dirty" itself-- the Boys' latest attempt to ill-get enough money to retire-- works well. They genuinely believe that their silly, amateur heist amounts to a criminal master-plot. The cinematography and music suggest we're watching the latest remake of Ocean's Eleven. The discrepancy between this treatment and the perpetrators' incompetence generates quite a few laughs.
Other elements remain basically unchanged. Indeed, The film repeats tropes and even specific plot developments from the series. What works in a half-hour show does not always translate to the big screen. Nevertheless, Trailer Park Boys: The Movie established a box office record for an English-language Canadian film on opening weekend, and it features a kickass soundtrack of Canuck rock.
"If Trinity was drinking and driving, that would be a big deal, but she wasn't. She had my open liquor in the car, going to the store to get her dad a bag of chips, which... What the fuck is the big problem with that?"
By the fifth season, the show had found a large and dedicated audience. Whereas the previous seasons had been filmed on location in various Nova Scotia trailer parks, the production could now afford an actual set.
Viewers can still count on the Boys for aggressively inappropriate but hilarious antics. In season five, Ricky lets his elementary-school-age daughter drive the car, which contains open liquor, and she gets arrested. The car gets impounded with twelve pounds of hash and a considerable amount of cash in the trunk. Still, he figures, he's "a good dad." Trinity's arrest, he figures, will teach her some things. "Worked for me," he concludes. "I turned out great."
The show also continues to make effective use of its faux reality show format. "Halloween 1977" involves old footage taken in the park in '77. "We Can't Call People Without Wings Angels So We Call Them Friends" has several characters lost in the New Brunswick woods and filming themselves with a camcorder. While each episode offers plausible explanations for the existence of the recordings, both are mocking the show's convention of an ever-present crew, and in doing so reflecting on the media and its presence in our lives. Let's face it; we're being recorded more often than we care to think.
In addition to the belated Blair Witch parody4, a lifestyle-altering fire, and a new child for Lucy, these seasons feature an ambitious plan to smuggle drugs across the Canadian-U.S. border on a model train. Their partner in crime? Real life Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach.
For many fans, however, no guest star could compensate for the loss, after the sixth season, of Corey and Trevor. Supposedly, they finally broke down and landed in a mental institution, after years of mistreatment from Ricky and Julian.
The actors have offered their own explanation. According to Jackson's blog, producers ran the show as cheaply as it appears and, while they built a fascinating low-rent aesthetic, corners were cut at actors' expense. The pair of them felt particularly shortchanged. Fictional abuse they could tolerate. Real-life incidents of disrespect and mistreatment by the show's creators, Jackson alleges, finally drove the two of them from the project. Both actors also found the film experience frustrating. Reportedly, they have refused to watch the final product.
I feel that, over the course of the final seasons, the overall quality of the show does diminish, though the acting improves. The series comes to an ironic yet happy conclusion, longtime enemies finally harmonious.
For a short while.
"Say Goodnight to the Bad-Guys"
"Sometimes life is greasy, Bubbles."
Several months after the series concluded, Showcase ran "Say Goodnight to the Bad-Guys," which reunited the cast, save for Corey and Trevor. This special provides a good many laughs. It also provides a link to the second theatrical movie, which exists in continuity with the series. However, it undercuts the original series finale, and emphasizes the repetitive nature of the show. Every time characters develop, the creators push the reset button, and relationships return to status quo-- as they do at the end of "Bad-Guys."
Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day
"It's not the best way to be covert, to be honest, to have a fucking camera crew following you around. Think we would have figured that out by now."
A new Trailer Park Boys film with this title came out in the fall of 2009, made on the creator's own terms. Unlike The Big Dirty, it follows the original series and strikes something like its tone. For those people who may have only watched the Reitman film, it could also be seen as a loose sequel to that as well. Episodic yet with an overall story arc, it resembles more than anything a new, very short season. Clattenburg and company continue to reuse the same basic tropes and elements that had already worn thin, though they bring some interesting lighting and higher-budget moments to the mix. They also begin to include the camera crew, in ways that the show hadn't since its earlier seasons. In addition to the ever-present filmmakers, various security cameras capture a good deal of the action. We're remined that, in real life, we really aren't far from being part of a twenty-four-hour recorded experience.
The regular get out of jail. Bubbles, first to be released, discovers an abandoned, overgrown Sunnyvale, and learns from the Collinses-- the last occupants to move-- that Lahey has opened a more upscale park nearby. Bubbles cannot find his precious kitties, and this sets him on his own forlorn quest, which will interweave with the main plot and eventually bring him a kind of redemption-- and a love interest.
Julian and Ricky commit their first major crime seconds after leaving prison, but both have bigger plans. Julian wants to open up a body shop on his old lot, while Ricky plans to finish the requirements for his high school diploma. They appear to have forgiven Lahey, who at this point has gone two years without drinking and has settled back into his relationship with Randy.
Corey and Trevor remain MIA. J-Roc and Tyrone have a major subplot, and Ricky's father receives a brief, hilarious cameo involving jumper cables. The movie seriously shortchanges the female cast, however. Barb Lahey appears only as a reference. Lucy, Sarah, and Trin, poorly rewritten for The Big Dirty, get to play their proper characters here-- in a couple of very short scenes.
The film has some amusing moments. It should entertain fans while remaining more-or-less accesible to new viewers. It's the kind of film they should have made the first time, but it's not the Boys' finest moment. Sunnyvale has passed its prime, though it seems its residents will be a part of Canada's pop culture for some years to come.
Trailer Park Mania
"The government put up those things [VLTs] to take people's money. They want to get welfare cheques back, and it's working."
Members of the cast have made successful tours, in character. Supposedly, the shows are community service, part of their sentences. Mike Smith also has performed with a handful of Canadian bands.
The actors have exploited their fame in other ways. Mike Smith owns a restaurant and bar in Halifax called "Bubbles' Mansion."
The Boys have entered written literature. Spider Robinson's novel Variable Star includes characters named Richie and Jules who resemble Ricky and Julian. They use the pseudonyms "Corey Trevor" and "Jay Rock," and encounter a man named "Lahey."
Oddest of all is the appearance of Wells and Tremblay in the family film Virginia's Run as townsfolk, family-friendly variations of their rude Trailer Park characters.
1. In Canada, the show ran uncensored in its regular, late-night slot. It was censored in the United States and when played earlier in the evening in Canada. Whereas censored versions of, say, The Sopranos do not work, the bleeped-out Trailer Park Boys episodes have a comedic charm of their own.
2."Plato's the smartest man that ever lived. He said it was okay to lie if it truly benefits the cause of the people. Cocksucker called it 'the noble lie.'"
3. The actress also plays a minister in a first season episode.
4. Territory the show had already covered in the second season's "The Bare Pimp Project."
Michael Jackson. "The Truth About TPB." Michael Jackson's Myspace Blog. http://blogs.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=8220747&blogID=254565943&MyToken=bdd19af0-48f6-4053-8bbe-b4a8d859d4a5
Brian D. Johnson. "Sexing Up Trailer Park Boys. Maclean's, October 6, 2006.
Trailer Park Boys: Official Site. http://www.trailerparkboys.com/
"Trailer Park Boys." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trailer_Park_Boys