The Showcase Television Network series, Trailer Park Boys, is a Canadian mockumentary created and directed by Mike Clattenburg. The show covers the shenanigans and crimes of the fictional Sunnyvale Trailer Park residents. Ricky, Julian, and Bubbles, the three protagonists, are constantly on the hunt for ways to make money, find liquor, and stay out of jail. All the while, their sworn enemies – the drunken trailer park supervisor Jim Lahey, and the perpetually shirtless Randy Bobandy – are coming up with schemes to catch the boys doing something illegal and send them back to the prison.
Like other mockumentary shows, such as The Office and Modern Family, a portion of the show is dedicated to confessionals between the residents and the camera crew that not-so-subtly follows them around. Unlike other mockumentary shows, Trailer Park Boys prides itself on being vulgar and obscene. Throughout the series seven year run, the word “fuck” was said 1,284 times and the word “shit” was said 967 times. Despite being very successful in Canada, Australia, Spain, and Denmark, the show has never found success in the United States where it aired on BBC America (obviously it was censored heavily).
The show’s success has led to two feature-length films that, despite positive critical reception, never reached the same success as the show from which they derived. The documentary style filmmaking that the show uses provides story telling elements that a standard television show lacks. The one-on-one interviews with the camera that take about roughly a tenth of the airtime both allow the audience to understand the character’s thoughts without confusing internal diegetic inserts and understand the context of the story without monotonous and unrealistic dialogue.
Throughout the series the film crew is frequently acknowledged as being present; this usually occurs when a character is upset with the crew for getting in the way. In the 7th season episode, “We Can’t Call People Without Wings Angels, So We Call Them Friends,” Ricky attempts to get into his car but is blocked by a crew member. In response Ricky yells “what the fuck is this shit, you guys are too close, I’m serious stay the fuck out of our way. ” The humorous run-ins with the camera crew give the audience a sense that the show is unrehearsed and unscripted.
Unlike other mockumentaries, especially Parks and Recreation, the show is filmed with a single camera and microphone, making it appear and sound more realistic. Often a character’s dialogue can barely be heard due to his or her distance away from the microphone. The cameraman also does not capture every event that occurs in its entirety and often is left chasing after the action. Scenes that are not left perfectly clear are either disregarded or later explained by a character through an interview.
The ambiguousness of events not captured on tape allows the writers and actors to be creative with their descriptions of the event. While many comedies rely on multiple cameras in order to create an omniscient audience, Trailer Park Boys takes advantage of documentary style filmmaking. The show’s comedic style is centered around each character’s unique qualities and their reactions to the situations they wind up in. Excluding minor changes, almost none of the show’s main characters achieve any personal growth throughout the series’ 56 episodes.
The character Julian, who is the leader of the protagonists, wears the same black shirt and jeans in every episode, excluding when he is in prison. He also is holding a rum and coke in a drinking glass at all times, including when he is in fistfights and shoot-outs. Likewise, the assistant trailer park supervisor, Randy, never wears a shirt and dons the same tight white pants for the entire series. The consistency of each character’s personality disallows any possibility for an emotional or lesson-filled episode.
Like the character’s who never seem to change, the storyline for each season is also never modified. Every season begins with the protagonists getting out of prison, attempting to make money illegally while avoiding prison, and then humorously going back to prison at the end of the season. Aside from the comical regularity of the characters and storyline, the funniest part of Trailer Park Boys comes from the characters overreaction or lack of reaction to the shenanigans they get themselves into. One example is Ricky and Julian’s opinions about prison.
Despite attempting to maintain their freedom, Ricky and Julian confidently admit that they don’t mind, or better yet, love being in prison. In the episode “Dear Santa Claus. Go Fuck Yourself,” Ricky tells the cameraman that “there is nothing better than being in jail at Christmas. ” Later on, however, Ricky would throw a tire iron threw his dad’s trailer because he ate the last of his pepperoni. The show’s comedic style is unique from most other comedies in that it lacks a punchline, and the humor derives from the characters themselves, instead of their current predicaments.
The trailer park in which the show takes place is a setting rarely seen in on television (excluding Cops that is). Other than Ricky, who lives in a broken down car, and Bubbles, who lives in a shed, most of the characters in Trailer Park Boys live in crummy and broken down trailers. While each character’s financial situation is unique, everyone, including the trailer park supervisor, is stealing cable from the suburban neighborhood close by. Stolen car parts, trash, and dangerous wildlife littered around the park epitomize the white-trash mise en scene creator and director Mike Clattenburg was searching for.
The first five seasons of the show were all filmed in different trailer parks around Nova Scotia. The changes in film locations, however, are unnoticeable as the grass is always brown and most of the household items found inside the trailers are always held together with duct tape. The specific locations of each trailer is important for the context of the show. Excluding a few episodes, Julian always lives in the trailer across from Lucy, who is the mother of Ricky’s child, and Ricky always lives on Julian’s driveway.
The street that separates the two sides of the trailer park, which can be seen in the opening credits, is used for most of the action in the show. The off-screen sounds also contribute to the setting. Instead of filling the air with white noise like most television shows, Trailer Park Boys uses domestic disputes, screaming cats, and glass breaking as external diegetic sound. A commonly heard voice throughout the series comes from the never-seen but always-yelling man who lives in an undisclosed trailer. The unseen man is actually voiced by Mike Smith, who plays the role of Bubbles.
With the selection of background noise the show uses, one could deduce that the setting is a trailer park without ever physically seeing any of the show. Even the dialogue itself suggests the white trash nature of the setting. The characters either speak in slurs because they are drunk, or in high pitches because they are fighting. About eighty percent of the dialogue throughout the series is from characters that are either intoxicated or upset. Between the mise en scene and the vulgar sound selection, the setting of the show is clear and apparent.
Trailer Park Boys is best described as a satire of white-trash Canada. Stereotypically, each character’s demise is either being uneducated or addicted to a substance – in Bubble’s case, it is an obsession with cats. Even Ricky himself admits that he is “not the smartest thing in the world. ” Throughout its seven season run, fans of the series have dubbed many of Ricky’s greatest malapropisms “Rickyisms. ” For example, rather than saying the traditional phrase “catch – 22,” Ricky refers to a conflicting problem as a “catch – 23. Ricky’s daughter, Trinity, who begins the series as a nine-year-old, has been arrested multiple times for stealing and selling barbecues. In regards to this, Ricky claims that he is proud of her for trying to make a little extra money. But Ricky is not the only uneducated character in the show. In fact, he is the most educated, being the only trailer park resident to not leave school before graduating the ninth grade. Julian, who is ironically titled the smartest resident, is in a never mentioned battle with alcoholism.
In the episode “Halloween 1977,” footage of a ten-year-old Julian drinking his usual rum and coke is displayed. As previously mentioned, Julian is seldom seen without a constantly iced mixed drink, despite frequently running and committing crimes. Between Ricky’s stupidity and Julian’s drinking problem, a good portion of the show’s comedy comes from poking fun at the stereotypes of lower class Canadians. Each episode of Trailer Park Boys runs for roughly twenty-two minutes. So in order to save time, most shots are edited together using quick cuts.
By using this technique, the show’s editors allow the greatest possible amount of footage to be aired while minimizing transition time. When symbolizing time passing or a change in location, the same four establishing shots of the trailer park, the prison, the liquor store, and Julian’s trailer, are repeatedly shown throughout the series. Also often seen are jump-cuts which in part give the show a greater sense of realism. In the 4th season episode “Propane, Propane” the cameraman is caught running after Julian fleeing a crime scene.
A couple seconds into the chase it is presumed that he has run into a trash can ending the shot and immediately cutting to a new shot at a slightly different angle. The improvised filming and editing style provides the sense that the scene was unprepared. The show’s editing maximizes the length of the story while still providing the viewer with sense of context and realism. Throughout its seven year run, Trailer Park Boys became the highest-rated Canadian series on the cable network Showcase. The shows great success in Canada led to it being aired in many European countries as well as Australia – usually on the native Comedy Central.
As the series gained more popularity, JP Tremblay, Rob Wells, and Mike Smith who play Julian, Ricky, and Bubbles on the show, toured with the rock bands “Our Lady Peace” and “Guns N’ Roses” – staying in character throughout. The actors have also made guest appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live, again while staying in character. The show was picked up in the United States by DirecTV after it was dropped by BBC America, playing on The 101 Network which had also picked up Friday Night Lights after it failed to get good ratings on NBC.
The show’s critical reception in Canada contrasts that in the United States. While Rob Salem of the Toronto Star called the show “faithful and funny,” Jack Matthews of the New York Daily News boldly stated that “Canada may have a better health care system than the United States, but the popularity of the TV show proves that when it comes to low-brow entertainment, they can go lower than Jerry Springer. ” Perhaps Canadians have a different sense of humor than Americans. If that is the case, this viewer belongs in the great white north.