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D.K. Latta

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TV Drinking Game: Filmed in Canada, But Set in America

Posted: 02/14/2013 5:51 pm

Canadian TV is enjoying a kind of Golden Age with various series boasting respectable ratings and even landing slots on American networks.

Yup, Canadian shows abound...or do they?

Y'see, a recurring gripe of mine is how many Canadian movies and TV shows slavishly pretend they aren't Canadian -- such as by disguising Toronto as New York or as a generic "Anytown, North America." How much such national anonymity corrodes everything from cultural identity to tourism dollars is, itself, debated. But part of the trick is getting people in the biz to even fess up to the fact that's what they're doing. So how to best test this idea...and have fun at the same time?

Let's make a drinking game out of Canadian references!

A drinking game is where you pick recurring themes or lines in a movie or TV series and take a swig every time it occurs.

But first, to provide a control group, make a drinking game out of any time an American TV series makes an American reference.

We'd have to settle on what we mean by a cultural reference. Perhaps the best way would be to pretend you assume a Canadian show is set in America...and therefore a Canadian reference is anything that reminds you it's set in Canada. And for our control group, watch an American series, pretending you think it's set in Canada, and take a drink every time there's something that reveals it's America: any time someone refers to a District Attorney, or pronounces lieutenant "lootenant," any time an American flag is in a shot or they use the imperial system.

Now play the game with Canadian series.

Where you get into a grey area is that some Canadian programs deliberately avoid any blatant tells...but a character will refer to a street in, say, Toronto. Except if you didn't know Toronto neighbourhoods already, that reference wouldn't reveal anything. Many viewers would still assume it's set in an unnamed U.S. city.

So let's have a bottle of water on hand, and a bottle of the good stuff. No Canadian reference -- no drink, period. A vague Canadian reference that could easily be missed but you picked up on -- take a drink of water just to stay hydrated. Save the whiskey for an unmistakable Canadianism: somebody says "zed," or refers to a "loonie," or a Crown Attorney, or the metric system. Or has a Québécois accent.

Take two drinks any time a reference is made to a Canadian person or historical event! ("Man -- I've got a hangover that would've floored Sir John A Macdonald!")

I think you'd be surprised at just how sober you'd end up -- not to mention dehydrated.

Republic of Doyle is so steeped in a Newfoundland ambience you could probably set up an IV drip of booze while you're watching it. Arctic Air? Bomb Girls? Yeah, you could get a bit tipsy.

But most other series?

In one episode of the new sitcom, Seed, the characters drop an astonishing number of references to Princeton, New Jersey -- astonishing given none of the characters are supposed to have been there! In another episode, French is defined as a "foreign" language -- so either Seed isn't set in Canada...or the filmmakers are racists. Canadian allusions so far in Seed? None.

In two episodes of the new crime-drama, Motive, the only Canadianism was a glimpse of an ID card where, if you freeze framed, you could barely see "Vancouver" listed. Yet they did an entire episode referring to a "Prosecutor" from the "Prosecutor's Office" as opposed to what he would be called if the series was truly set in Canada -- a Crown Attorney. (I'm also pretty sure they completely misrepresented the relationship between police and Crown Attorneys...modelling it, instead, after the American model).

Man -- I'm parched already.

Where this becomes telling is if you play the same game with American series (or British, or what have you). Odds are you'll be pretty pickled before the final credits. In a recent episode of the sitcom, The Mindy Project, they referenced both the Empire State Building and Homeland Security even before the opening title. Bottoms up!

Another trick Canadian filmmakers use is the "tit for tat" equation. Balancing a Canadian reference with an American one to obscure the actual setting -- or to promulgate the impression Canada is simply a state within the U.S.A., like Maine. One character is visiting from Winnipeg... while another character is awaiting a phone call from Chicago. So for the more hardy of you, we'll up the stakes in our game. Every time there's a Canadian reference, you take a swig of whiskey. Every time there's a negating American reference, you take a swig of a milk & lemonade cocktail (or other noxious beverage) -- which will probably cause you to throw up your whiskey, thus maintaining sobriety.

So in Primeval: The New World, every time they mention Canada -- whiskey. Every time they pronounce lieutenant as "lootenant" -- milk & lemonade.

You'll become acutely (and nauseously!) aware of just how hard many Canadian shows work to obscure their Canadianness.

Some Canadian filmmakers will own up to this -- even brag about it! But it's the other guys who are more curious: the ones who bat their eyes, look all innocent, and say: "Who me?" The ones who will insist the lack of "Canadianisms" was not deliberate. They are, of course, lying through their pearly whites. It is deliberate. To use my Seed example, would school curriculums even designate something a "foreign" language class -- or would it be called a "second" language class? (Or just a "language" class?) The makers of Seed chose the term "foreign" for a purpose.

That's why the drinking game is a good way of dragging this policy out of the shadows and into the light. Particularly if you contrast the American references in American series with the Canadian references in Canadian series. If it's just the natural way stories play out, you shouldn't get anymore drunk watching an American series for American references than you do watching a Canadian one for Canadian references.

As it is, you can watch an awful lot of hours of supposedly Canadian TV...and never have an excuse to even look at your bottle.

 
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