10 Classic TV Shows That Could Only Have Been Made in Canada
These beloved programs were must-see TV back in the day, but would leave contemporary audiences scratching their heads.
Canadian TV Shows That’ll Take You Back
What old Canadian TV shows may have lacked in terms of budgets and star power, they more than made up for in creativity. Imagine the pitches these showrunners must have made to Canadian networks: “Can I interest you in a talking pineapple who lives in a dump and teaches French? How about a crime-fighting German shepherd?” What’s even stranger is that those wacky pitches were ultimately successful, and the shows they spawned became part of our cultural fabric, defining the childhood of generations of Canadian kids.
If anyone ever tries to tell you that Canadian culture is derivative, show them this list of classic programs that couldn’t have been made anywhere else.
The Littlest Hobo
A stray dog whose purpose in life is to help people in need seems like a tame enough premise. But the German shepherd known as Hobo wasn’t simply finding lost Frisbees; in the show’s first season, he exonerated a man wrongly accused of murder, rescued a kidnapped kid, and, perhaps most heroically, helped a boy show his mother that he could be brave even if he didn’t play hockey. And then there were five more seasons. The show also featured a revolving door of Canadian talent as guest stars, including a young Mike Myers, a full decade before he headlined the cast of SNL.
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This Canadian kids’ show about after-hours antics in a department store was inspired by the iconic—and now shuttered—Simpsons in downtown Toronto. We can only presume, however, that the real Simpsons wasn’t populated by puppets. In Today’s Special, you’ve got a regular cast consisting of a mouse puppet (who could only speak in rhyming verse), a human puppet, a human playing a mannequin, and one (actual) human—stock person Jodie. It’s amazing Jodie kept her job for seven seasons, what with all the singing and dancing she did on the company’s dime. It was definitely… Special.
Yvon of the Yukon
You have to wonder if they came up with the title of this show before they actually had a premise. The name is certainly catchy, but the concept is ridiculous: Yvon is a 17th century French explorer who sails across the ocean and is frozen in a block of ice for 300 years. Defrosted in modern-day Yukon when a dog, erm… Relieves himself on said block of ice, Yvon must unlearn his old-world ways to fit in with contemporary Canadian society. Mostly, this sets up a lot of very goofy jokes about his bad hygiene and charming storylines such as the one where Yvon has a life-threatening growth on his behind—which presumably could have been avoided if he’d ever put on a pair of pants.
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Set on a GO Train endlessly travelling between Toronto and Burlington, this Global TV original followed the trials and tribulations of commuter life in the early 2000s. If the idea of setting a TV show entirely in a claustrophobic train car isn’t weird enough, consider the fact that every episode was shot the same day it aired, and much of it was improvised. The combination of this on-the-fly style and the show’s unlikely plot lines (think shootings, deaths, and snakes on the train) made Train 48 a wild ride.
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A TV show about a puppet named Mona hanging out in her grandma’s backyard could have been forgettable. Instead, creators Jamie Shannon and Jason Hopley let their freak flags fly, making Nanalan’ a national gem. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what made this show so absorbing. Was it Mona’s half-English, half-gibberish ramblings, or the fact that her face looked kind of like a Pillsbury Halloween cookie? Bless our public broadcaster for funding this perfect nonsense.
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This extremely ’80s mystery series followed journalist-slash-clairvoyant Louis Ciccone (Louis Del Grande), who solved (and then reported on) murders with the very convenient help of his psychic visions. It sounds tacky, but Del Grande expertly played into the levity—Louis wasn’t a gritty crime reporter but a wise-cracking nerd who needed his ex-wife to drive him around town. Notable plots included Louis’ visions of a 3,000-year-old murder at the Ontario Museum of Archaeology and the suspicious death of a hockey player. The show also served as fascinating time capsule of 1980s Toronto—those retro TTC streetcars are sure to take you back.
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This highly entertaining (and mildly horrifying) Canadian kids’ show makes a lot more sense when you find out it began as a sketch that parodied other game shows on YTV’s It’s Alive!. Somehow the parody morphed into reality, and Uh Oh! went on to slime contestants for six seasons. Host Wink Yahoo (yes, that really was his name) would ask contestants trivia questions, and when they answered incorrectly, an assistant called The Punisher would dump torrents of slime on their teammates. Children of the late ’90s are still having nightmares.
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The Red Green Show
Part sitcom, part sketch, and 100% Canadian, The Red Green Show deserves a spot in the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame for just how many “man of the woods” tropes it managed to pack into every half hour. That said, most Canadians know a Red Green type: a guy whose wardrobe is limited to plaid shirts, uses duct tape to fix everything, and dispenses pearls of wisdom with abandon. Who can forget Green’s catchphrase—which closed every episode—“Keep your stick on the ice”?
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No list of iconic Canadian TV shows would be complete without some classic French-language content. Often shown in elementary school classrooms to help teach French, Téléfrançais certainly left its mark on a generation—mostly thanks to the terrifying Ananas, a pineapple who lived in a dump and hung out with children Jacques and Sophie. (Side note: another Canadian kid’s show, Yakkity Yak, also featured a talking pineapple as a main character. Are pineapples particularly educational fruits? Do both of these pineapples belong to a shared cinematic pineapple universe?)
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A cop, a Mountie, and a wolf walk into a crime scene. It sounds like the set-up to a joke, but it was a premise that kept Due South on television for four seasons in the early ’90s. The show played on classic Canadian and American tropes by pairing a tough-as-nails Chicago detective with a prim and proper Mountie and his wolf, Diefenbaker (yes, like the Prime Minister), to solve crimes. The show made Paul Gross a household name and produced what is perhaps the most stereotypically Canadian TV moment of all time: in the series finale, Gross’ RCMP officer gets stuck in an ice crevasse—and is rescued after someone overhears him singing Stan Rogers’ famous folk ballad, “Northwest Passage.”
Next, take a nostalgic look back at 10 times Degrassi High was the best thing on television.