TV: Letterkenny (Seasons 1-8)

Have I completely caught up on the Canadian comedy series Letterkenny? Can confirm. Do I feel like it has made me a better person? Hard no. And yet I love it: uniquely stylized, strangely addictive, it’s a guilty pleasure that’s lodged itself into a peculiar niche of my pop culture appetite.

Letterkenny takes place in a fictional small town in Ontario, revolving around the lives of its many quirky citizens, separated into a handful of cliques. Our primary viewpoint characters are the Hicks: tough guy Wayne (series creator Jared Keeso), his oversexed sister Katie (Michelle Mylett), and his two best buddies Daryl (Nathan Dales) and Squirrely Dan (K. Trevor Wilson). The Hicks spend most of their time choring on the farm or shooting the shit at the produce stand, usually while talking personal philosophy and getting plastered. Their lives are occasionally complicated by “the Skids,” a posse of drug-addled misanthropes who spend their days holed up in a basement with their ringleader Stuart (Tyler Johnston), or spastically dancing outside the discount store. Finally, there are the hockey players, represented by dim-witted dudebros Reilly (Dylan Playfair) and Jonesy (Andrew Herr), who chase pucks by day and women by night. Occasional conflicts flare up between these groups (and others), and every now and then someone will have a shift in their relationships or personal circumstances, but Letterkenny is primarily a slice-of-life comedy about an extremely peculiar, insular place that speaks its own language.

It took me several episodes to fall in with Letterkenny’s rhythms. With its reliance on repetitive catchphrases and sketch-based scene structure, it looked at first like it might be kind of a one-trick pony, an out-of-control SNL skit—amusing, appealingly weird, but quick to play itself out. Still, Keeso’s master-class in stone-faced deadpan as Wayne and the cheery, mutated hockey lingo of Reilly and Jonesy sustained my interest long enough to develop a theory about why the show ultimately works: Letterkenny is a show about codes. Specifically, codes of conduct, codes of behavior, and coded language.

Some of the codes reinforced on the show aren’t exactly healthy, mind you. The show is rife with male-gazey sexism, toxic masculinity, juvenile scatology, gay panic humor, and cavalier substance abuse, among other things. In its better moments, Letterkenny approaches its politically incorrect ingredients with a sly, sideways eye, cagily critiquing the mindsets being depicted. As the characters go on diatribes or proscriptive rants about human behavior, one can laugh at the whip-fast banter of their preposterous arguments as they pick holes in each other’s idiosyncratic judgmental streaks. At other times, the lines blur; you’re invited to laugh with them, and satire lurches into celebration of the town’s bottomless appetite for sex, booze, and violence.

Still, even at its most crass, there’s something innocent about Letterkenny, which is mostly just silly, clever fun with a delightfully played-up Canadian flavor. From time to time, its sex-crazed banter and bare-knuckle brawling morph into surprisingly touching moments of community. “When a friend asks for help, you help ’em,” Wayne says frequently, often even when people he stridently dislikes ask him for things. Every now and then, the factions find common ground, bickering and disagreeing right up until the point that they all drink, dance, and fight together. There’s also the show’s sheer love of language: its rhythms and quirks, the inherent humor and weirdness of how it sounds. The show positively teems with wordplay: puns, poems, alliteration, shotgun repetitions, neologisms, building an impressive language of bizarre, encoded slang. Honestly, in its inventive use of language to build culture and inform character, it may even rival Deadwood. And of course, the greatest pleasure of Letterkenny is that it even exists: its vision is just so weird and specific, and the comedic effect is utterly unique. The show has certainly lifted my spirits quite a bit in an extremely trying year, and that’s saying something.

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