Retro Kick: Growing Up with Canadian TV

Wheels and Joey Jeramiah on Degrassi Junior High

We Canadians often take for granted or mock Canadian TV programming.  Our television tastes have broadened so much in the last decade or so, that we often see our own television industry as producing shows that are too hokey, too corny and even too Canadian for our sophisticated TV palettes.  This is not to say that Canada does not produce quality television, but for every Slings & Arrows or Da Vinci’s Inquest there are ten Train 48 or The Guard style shows.  Token Canadian content shows, made in the cookie cutter mold of American TV that the major broadcasters fool themselves into thinking will appeal to Canadian viewers.  This is the state of television geared toward adults in Canada, a hopeless TV crapshoot that once every few years or so delivers a gem.

To be fair, what our country lacks in quality entertainment for the 18-35’s, it more than makes up for with its amazing track record in producing some of the best children’s and young adult television in the history of TV.  Many of my favourite shows as a kid were produced in Canada by Canadians, and we syndicated all over the world.  We made quality shows that entertained an entire generation of kids around the world.  I didn’t realize this until I had a conversation about childhood TV habits with an American, and Australian and a Briton while traveling in Europe.  They had all watched the likes of Degrassi, ReBoot and Fraggle Rock in their younger years.  They were even aware of shows that I thought were so distinctly Canadian, that only we Canucks would have seen them.

The Littlest Hobo

A prime example is The Littlest Hobo; that oh-so-Canadian show about a stray German Shepherd that travels from town to town solving mysteries and helping people. Aw… he’s a crime solving dog. The dog in question was actually played by two dogs in the course of the show, coincidentally both named London. If you were a Canadian actor in the 1980’s, chances are you appeared on The Littlest Hobo at some point.  In many ways the show was painfully Canadian; low production values, cheesy acting and obvious Canuck accents, but it was endearing and made The Littlest Hobo a true gem of Canadian TV. The show was also broadcast in the United States and United Kingdom. I wonder if they could tell it was Canadian?

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The Edison Twins

Essentially, MacGuyver for children.  The Edison Twins followed a pair of science loving fraternal twins and their zany younger brother who was always getting into trouble.  If this show taught me anything, it’s that any problem can be solved by scientific methods.  In fact, at the end of each episode the twins would explain in depth the science they used to foil the criminals or save their insufferable little brother. I really hated that little bastard. The Edison Twins was yet another Canadian classic that was syndicated around the world.

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Degrassi

The school adventures of Joey Jeremiah, Snake, Wheels, Caitlin, Spike and all the rest were followed by kids and teens around the world.  Every iteration of the original Degrassi pulled no punches and dealt with real life issues that kids dealt with: sex, abuse, teen pregnancy, suicide, relationships.  In the 80’s and 90’s a show like Degrassi could only have been produced in Canada.  I remember seeing the real Degrassi Street in Toronto for the first time and remember being amazed how normal it looked, I guess that was the point after all.

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You Can’t Do That On Television

This strange sketch comedy show aimed at teens and young adults was a mainstay of my childhood viewing.  I mostly remember people getting slimed or having water poured over their heads after they said a certain phrase, but You Can’t Do That On Television also has the distinction of being responsible for Alanis Morrissette’s career, thanks a lot assholes!

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Danger Bay

This action packed series set in Vancouver focused on the adventures of a Doc Roberts, a marine veterinarian and his family.  The show dealt with conservation and environmental issues which made it ahead of its time in many ways.  Having lived in Vancouver as a kid, seeing familiar locales used for the show was a thrill.  Doc Roberts was played by the great Donnelly Rhodes, who went on to star in Da Vinci’s Inquest and as Doc Cottle on Battlestar Galactica. Side note: Doc Roberts daughter played by Ocean Hellman was one of my first TV crushes.

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The Little Vampire

The Little Vampire was a Canadian-German co-production of a German fantasy series of the same name.  Danger Bay wasn’t the only show I watched as a kid to feature future Battlestar Galactica cast members.  The Little Vampire featured Michael Hogan; familiar to many as Colonel Tigh, and his real life wife Susan Hogan as the parents of Anton, a young boy who befriends two child vampires.  The show struck me as a little odd as a kid and looking back at clips on YouTube only confirms my suspicion that The Little Vampire some seriously weird shit.

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My Secret Identity

What was Jerry O’Connell doing after Stand By Me but before Sliders?  The answer is My Secret Identity.  While snooping around the laboratory of his next door neighbour; a mad scientist with the hots for his Mom, Andrew (O’Connell) gains superpowers through an experiment gone awry.  That’s right, Vern: the fat kid from Stand By Me with superpowers.  My Secret Identity was a surprisingly entertaining show, if you can ignore Dr. Jeffcoat penchant for hanging around under-aged super powered boys.  Scientific reasons?  That’s what they all say Dr. Jeffcoat!

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Reboot

This show started just when I was getting big into computers and PC gaming.  It was sort of like TRON, but for kids.  ReBoot has the distinction of being the first full length computer generated television show in history.  The show follows the adventures of the nano-denizens of Mainframe; a city inside a computer, as they dealt with conveniently anthropomorphized viruses and malware.  Worst of all were the user’s games, which the main characters Bob, Dot and Enzo frequently played the role of non-player characters and baddies in when the user decided to play.  The show was smart and funny, plus there were so many in jokes for a budding computer nerd like myself.  Reboot was syndicated all over the world, and can still be seen to this day.  Mainframe Entertainment, the Vancouver based studio behind the show went on to produce the Transformers spin-off Beast Wars.

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That covers some of the best in Canadian TV for kids and teens, stay tuned for part two and three of this Retro Kick.  I’ll be looking at those Canadian shows we watched as wee tykes, the Fraggle Rock’s, the Mr. Dressup’s and Friendly Giants of our youth.  Part three will discuss Canadian Heritage Moments, Hinterland Who’s Who and Messages from Concerned Parents and Advertisers.

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