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Arts in Review

Reviving a Canadian classic

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Sometimes, nostalgia can skew our perception. Films that were tense to us as children can look cheesy as adults, once-beloved characters may turn out to be irritating, and the most hilarious of jokes may fall flat on our aged sense of humour. The thing is, you don’t know until you return to that which you’re nostalgic for — revisiting a childhood favourite can knock a shining beacon down from its pedestal in our memory.

When I heard that Corner Gas was getting an animated reboot this summer, I had a profoundly mixed reaction. I’d been a big fan of the show during its original run, but feared the new episodes, and the new format, wouldn’t live up to my memories.

For those who might’ve missed it back in 2004, Corner Gas was a massive hit: a Canadian sitcom that really felt Canadian but also managed to hook an international audience with endearing characters and clever writing. The show painted a relatable and charming picture of a small town in Saskatchewan as a simple, laid-back community where nobody had anything better to do than stand around and quip at each other. While the show did start to reflect its popularity as seasons went on (mainly through a wide range of cameos, including two then-sitting prime ministers during its run), it wrapped up after six seasons in 2009, when show creator and star Brent Butt made the choice to end the show while they were “on top of [their] game,” despite being offered more seasons by CTV.

In 2014, the team reunited for a movie which failed to capture any of the magic of the original show, and that was the point I began to wonder if the original show wouldn’t be funny anymore either — had it just been a product of its time? Had it just been my age when I first saw it? So I watched the first few episodes of Corner Gas Animated wanting to like it, but fearing I wouldn’t.

Spoiler: I didn’t.

Corner Gas Animated retains all of the original elements you’d expect from the live-action show (save for the replacement of actress Janet Wright, due to her unfortunate passing in 2016), but it feels like a bizzaro version of the show that existed in my memory. The references are playing catch-up to what they missed while off the air, with the first two episodes featuring plotlines built around Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, but somehow the charm is gone. The characters’ sarcasm feels a bit more biting, the jokes aren’t given space to breathe in scenes that feel like they switch every 30 seconds, and the animation… well, let’s talk about the animation.

The stated reason for switching to animation was logistics, as it allowed cast members based in Toronto to work with those based in Vancouver, without requiring travel. I’m sure cost was a factor, too. But the show doesn’t seem to have figured out how to take advantage of the animation yet. The only difference in terms of actual content is that the show can more easily do visual cutaway gags, which were a staple of the live-action version, but here, it cuts to more absurd things. Namely, Brent’s vivid imagination as he ponders the town in a Mad Max-like dystopia, or who would win in a fight between Bigfoot and a unicorn. But these gags aren’t funny, and don’t fit with the visual and comedic tone and pacing of the rest of the show. (It’s jarring to see blood spewing from Bigfoot’s wounds in an episode of Corner Gas.) Just because they can execute more ambitious visuals doesn’t mean they add anything to the show.

But I didn’t realize the biggest issue with the animation until I rewatched an episode of the original show. I wanted to do my due-diligence and see if the fact that I didn’t laugh once during my time with Corner Gas Animated had more to do with my changing sense of humour than with the show’s quality.

Spoiler: it didn’t.

I had more fun watching half a random episode of the classic show than two full episodes of the new one, and it immediately showed me what was different: yes, the pace was faster and the tone was a little off, but more than that, the animation killed the ability of the actors to emote. The animators didn’t translate the expressions of the characters effectively, and seeing the real humans, especially Fred Ewanuick’s Hank and Eric Peterson’s Oscar, showing so much more comedic prowess through their movements and subtle physical comedy made it clear: animation just isn’t the format for Corner Gas. The slow, dry sarcasm of the show doesn’t translate. The episodes cut faster between scenes, but the 20 minutes drag out as they try desperately to pack in as many jokes as they can, all of which fall flat.

Maybe in a second season they’ll have learned how to better work with the medium, but until then, you’re better off revisiting the original and seeing that it actually was funny, with or without nostalgia.

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