I am so tired of compromising when it comes to Canadian TV comedy. I don’t want to apologize on a show’s behalf anymore, for its pandering to a Hockey-watching audience or its slipping into old stock comedy cliches, coming back around yet again to the old, “It’s good for a Canadian show.” Maple syrup isn’t funny, dad. No mom, I will not giggle at the double entendre when someone mentions our national animal. Comedy doesn’t have to be cheap and broad, comedy can move you to inspiration. I will not participate in your four camera, laugh track drone-comedies that bully outsiders and confirm what you want so desperately to hear: that you’re normal. No way mom and dad, I’m watching Young Drunk Punk and I don’t care what you think.
The new show from Kid in the Hall Bruce McCulloch, Young Drunk Punk (which aired earlier this year on City TV and re-premieres on CBC October 6) is the kind of art that can fill you with compassion, hope, and self-righteousness of an outsider youth while delivering more genuine laughs than Canadian sitcoms are normally capable of. Part of McCulloch’s interdisciplinary trilogy of soul searching memoir-comedy (a one man show of the same name and his book Let’s Start a Riot) Young Drunk Punk is the great Canadian comedy I have been wanting my whole life.
Set in 1980s Alberta, Young Drunk Punk follows the misadventures of Ian McKay (Tim Carlson) and his best friend Shinky (Atticus Mitchell): two recent high school grads with no ambition beyond blowing open conservative social paradigms with the liberal application of punk music. Ian lives in the Brae Vista townhouse complex with his parents Lloyd and Helen (Bruce McCulloch and his real life wife Tracy Ryan, respectively), as well as his older sister Belinda (Allie MacDonald) who moves back home in the pilot.
Ian’s weekly struggles with family, conformity and expectation are presented with a great deal of honesty. McCulloch’s clear choice to put character ahead of jokes per minute gives the laughs a great deal more substance than the average sitcom. Even the more cartoonish characters on the show, like Shinky and Lloyd, have their moments of vulnerability, making you want to see them succeed in spite of their human shortcomings.
Talking about character building and vulnerability in a sitcom does sound like an apology, so let’s be clear: Young Drunk Punk is not just one of the best comedies in Canada, it is one of the best comedies on TV. Strong family relationships allow for the elasticity a successful TV comedy demands, while Ian’s punk rock idealism bringing a faux life-or-death stakes to each story. The setting – a gated community in Canada’s prairies managed and protected by Lloyd himself – provides a high concept platform for unique situation after unique situation. Every week the show can reset its pieces and launch into a story as simple as the boys trying to score tickets to see The Clash, as pop-culturally exciting as Belinda getting addicted to Space Invaders, or as high concept as filming a horror movie on the Brae Vista CCTV security system.
The hopeful, earnest heart of Young Drunk Punk is what sets it apart from most other comedies. It’s always genuine and never sarcastic. Just like Ian and Shinky, the show is unsatisfied with the status quo and leads its own tiny revolution by example. This is a show about outsiders, stuck in the place where ambition goes to retire, trying to break free and inevitably failing with each other. It doesn’t tell you where to laugh because if you need to be told what’s funny then you don’t deserve to. The point isn’t to have a direction, to laugh along with the recorded cackles of studio conformity. The point is to never compromise, and with Young Drunk Punk you don’t have to.