With very few exceptions, I’m not much of a “new TV show” guy anymore. It’s too rare to find anything that lives up to the smallest expectations; far easier to return to the ultra-familiar worlds of Seinfeld and The Sopranos. But over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, when I’ve craved easy watching — comfort food viewing, you could say — I head north of the border with Trailer Park Boys, a long-running Canadian mockumentary series. It always makes me smile.
Focused on the greasy, often criminal exploits of residents living in the fictional Sunnyvale Trailer Park of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Trailer Park Boys is, from the outset, an exercise in gonzo characterization, with everyone’s quirks and weaknesses (addiction topping the list) turned up to 11. The ramshackle setting is populated with petty thieves, drunks, gun nuts, drug dealers, scam artists, pimps and raging psychotics. It’s a pleasure to delve into the chaos of Sunnyvale, where unsuspecting individuals are ever at risk of a random attack from the “bottle kids,” named for their tactic of pelting targets with a shattering barrage of beer and liquor bottles.
Likewise, the illegal, harebrained schemes of the main trio — goateed, brawny, rum-sipping Julian, a skilled manipulator; Ricky, the foul-mouthed and inarticulate savant of cannabis cultivation; and Bubbles, their bespectacled, shed-dwelling, cat-loving voice of reason — provides just the right blend of anarchy and plot, events hurtling toward some delicious disaster.
During this latest rewatch, amid a global pandemic, my esteem for the show’s worldbuilding has only expanded. It’s my girlfriend Maddie’s first time through, and she remarked at how nice it is to see a sitcom that’s unapologetically about poor people, and lives with their poverty. Think of how often we’re supposed to latch onto narratives that exist within rarefied, even absurd wealth. The capitalist wrangling of Succession and Billions. The royal intrigue on Game of Thrones, The Great and The Crown. A show like Killing Eve is brought to life with sumptuous, luxuriant scenery and spaces, while Schitt’s Creek is about a family that still acts rich despite losing their fortune.
Trailer Park Boys is virtually alone in addressing questions like: “What happens if no one picks you up from jail?” and “How long could you feasibly live in a car?” and “Is there a way to steal the coins from parking meters?” In this reality, everyone and everything is routinely described as “fucked.” That guy’s fucked. This is fucked. We’re all fucked. It is the expression of a people clawing their way out of a hole to find more obstacles all around them.
Because of this oppression, dreams are adjusted. Sure, there are moments when the boys realize a great victory, taking ownership of the trailer park or “retiring” with a few grand from a major score; typically, however, they accept that they’ll be back behind bars in due course, and so, their true ambition is to enjoy the simple things — friends, family, intoxicants and junk food. And when they have nothing, they still have each other.
What drives the episodes is just how hard they have to work — and the number of laws they have to break — to scrape together that minimal comfort and stability. There’s probably no comedy or drama so honest in its portrayal of recidivism or useless cops. At a time when societal norms are in flux, and we’re thinking of how to radically alter the systems that trap the lower classes in cycles of despair, there is something boundlessly optimistic in seeing Ricky, Julian and Bubbles start over again and again. Any given season ends with them in orange jumpsuits, though cheerfully discussing plans for the future.
Their struggle — Sisyphean, except they don’t know it — can be an inspiration to anyone who has given up on the world changing for the better. Maybe it won’t, but these guys keep trying, because they have no other option, and sometimes, against all odds, they win. They also form a community that is profoundly wholesome despite the boozing, swearing and shootouts: Every sexuality, style and conception of self is accepted as normal in Sunnyvale, and every single body is beautiful to someone.
Randy, the endlessly sweaty assistant park supervisor, refuses to wear a shirt over his gigantic, hairy gut, yet he’s frequently an object of desire. J-Roc is a white rapper who earnestly believes he’s Black, and his buddies just roll with it. There is nothing one needs to do to “fit in” with this bunch, since they already exist on the periphery of a culture that devalues them as trailer trash. And so, they are free to seek their own forms of happiness.
The universe of Trailer Park Boys is nothing like a utopia; it is a vortex of self-destruction that can spill into actual violence. The resilience and camaraderie that come out of this dismal circumstance are what make it heartwarming and almost realistic. How much nicer it is to see these humble characters share a bong in their unpolished surroundings than a cast of beautiful millionaires bitching over business deals in their penthouses. They are more ingenious, more likable and more empathetic than anyone on HBO.
If you find yourself running low on hope, invite them onto your TV, and your mood cannot help but improve. They know the lowest of lows — and how to get back up.