The Unicorn Scale: Letterkenny

By Liam Lambert

September 26, 2022

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Photo credit: Image/WildBrain Distribution

How do you feel about your hometown? I bet if you come from a big city like New York or Chicago or Toronto, somewhere that has a bit of mythology behind it, it’s vastly different than how those of us who come from small towns feel.

So, when one stumbles upon a series set in a town that is not specifically the one they grew up in, but is close enough to be an almost eerie simulacrum? Imagine our surprise when it turns out to be not only hilarious, trafficking in both base physical comedy and verbally dexterous, intricately worded jokes, but also the most inclusive, incisive and open-minded thing to come from Canadian television since the glory days of SCTV. 

Welcome to Letterkenny, let’s explore their problems. Keep in mind there are SPOILERS ahead and to check out our rating system in the original article if you are unfamiliar with the Unicorn Scale.

Letterkenny is the brainchild of actor/writer Jared Kesso, and his writing partner, Jacob Tierney. It deals with the foibles of smalltown Northwestern Ontario town Letterkenny’s various residents. They can be split into three essential groups, the Hicks, exemplified by Kesso’s Wayne, his buddies Derry (Nathan Dales) and Squirrelly Dan (Trevor K. Wilson), and his bi sister Katy (Robyn Michelle Mylett).

Katy, at the start of the series, is dating two Hockey Players, Jonesy (Andrew Herr) and Reilly (Dylan Playfair), idiot jocks, who over the course of the series, become deeper, and more interesting. The same is true of the Skids, drug-addled EDM freaks like Stuart (Tyler Johnston) and Roald (Evan Stern), and lady drug dealer Gae (Sarah Gadon). The town is filled out with fascinating smalltown figures like Glen, the potentially gay, definitely queer preacher played by Tierney, Gail (Lisa Codrington), the hypersexual bartender, the swinging couple the McMurrays, and their sister Bonnie (Kamilla Kowal), who is an object of the entire town’s sexual interest, boys and girls.

Image/WildBrain Distribution

What I Liked:

The principal thing about this series is, despite how easy it would be to turn these characters into easily mocked caricatures, these are genuine characters, with arcs and feelings, who grow and change, and endear themselves to the viewer in various ways. And the subversion of stereotype and expectation is truly a beautiful thing to behold. Take for example Dan. Dan is a big, bearded yeti of a man in red flannel and big boots, who unnecessarily pluralizes serverals of his wordses, but he’s also a dedicated feminist, taking Women’s Studies classes from the rarely seen but deeply wise Professor Tricia (Nazneen Contractor), who teaches him about the struggles for equalities that women have faced for generations, as well as being remarkably sexually adventurous for someone written off as a hick. 

Or Jonesy and Reilly, who start the series as the sex toys of Katy, empty heads who talk about “praccie”(hockey practice) and “takedowns”(having sex with various and sundry hockey-obsessed girls), but develop friendships with two gay gays at the gym after they hit on them, showing an unusual amount of sensitivity and care for people who are just as interested in takedowns from the other side of the sexual spectrum that they are.

Amongst the skids, you’ve got bi Stuart, and his gay best friend Roald. Neither of these things are necessarily important to the characters, but they’re just treated as one more beat in the characters' lives. Far more important is the drug-taking, get-rich-quick schemes, and semi-legal at best behavior which actually causes them to become concerned for one another, far more than whoever they’re interested in sexually.

Whereas in a “mainstream” series, far more would have been made of who these guys are interested in sleeping with, why, and how. Here it’s just a part of who they are that everyone takes in stride and accepts without much brouhaha. I mean, McMurray isn’t impressed, because he’s not one of them. They’re good guys, they can have a beer, but that’s it, cause he’s not one of them. But it’s a huge step forward to simply mock this sort of attitude (very prevalent in a town like this), rather than making it a plot point, or agreeing or disagreeing with either side of it. Everybody’s equally ridiculous, regardless of who they wanna get with. As it should be.

Image/WildBrain Distribution

What I Didn't Like:

Honestly, some of the material is a little too specific to the area where it comes from, so I feel like I’m missing jokes. And the seasons are short. I wish there was something I could complain about more substantially, but there really isn’t.

Here’s the full disclosure part of this review. I grew up in Southwestern Ontario, about two hours away from where this show is set. I know these people, I lived with them, they were my friends, my parents’ friends, and the show nails the sort of small-town attitudes that exemplified life in the border port city I grew up in. I literally went to high school with one of the assistant directors and writers of the show, which might account for how resonant I find so many elements of the storytelling and character beats.

Image/WildBrain Distribution

From Glen the preacher’s hilariously unrequited crush on Wayne, to Katy (and everybody else) stopping whatever they’re doing to dreamily murmur “Bonnie McMurray” every time the character comes on screen, usually to hit on Wayne, who remains completely oblivious, and impervious to her charms, the series strives for realistic, honest and even-handed treatment of all of its characters, regardless of their sexual preference or social standing. This is its strength, and just one reason why it should stand as an enduring classic of Canadian social comedy, provided it gets the audience it deserves.

The Rating:

Between its spot-on portrayals of relationship foibles, realistic-yet-hilarious small town caricatures, and general acceptance of the basic fact that everybody's got something about them to make them weird, regardless of who they sleep with, or why, this show is among the best both at representation and overall quality comedy since Schitt's Creek. Yeah, I said it. Four unicorns.

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