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Hit out of the park

STAYING IN

Born and booming in Canada, 'Trailer Park Boys' is about to cross the border courtesy of BBC America.

February 26, 2004|Charlie Amter | Special to The Times

Janice GAFFNEY, like many of her fellow expat Canadians, has been spreading the gospel of "Trailer Park Boys."

Practically anyone who walks into her San Francisco apartment gets the pitch -- "Have you seen this?" -- as she waves a video. Now, with a DVD copy of the TV series freshly arrived from Amazon.ca (the Canadian version of the online retailer) she's taken to entertaining small groups, plying them with beer while they watch.

"I turn on anyone and everyone I can to the 'Trailer Park Boys,' " says the music manager.

They're now all hopelessly hooked on Canada's hot mockumentary TV series about two ex-cons in Halifax and their life among the mobile-home set.

"Trailer Park Boys," a staple of Canada's Showcase cable network, has been forbidden fruit in the U.S. No American network has aired it, and even though some 50,000 DVDs have been sold, they're technically not available in the United States. That's about to change. April 15, BBC America, which scored a cult hit with "The Office," will pick up "Trailer Park Boys." And sometime after that, the DVDs will be on sale here.

About to start its fourth season, "TPB" follows the recalcitrance of Julian (John Paul Tremblay) and Ricky (Robb Wells), two ex-cons who have come home to roost at the Sunnyvale Trailer Park in Nova Scotia.

"It's a show about love," creator-writer-director Mike Clattenburg says, laughing. "When you strip away all the guns, dope, drinking and driving, car crashes, and swearing, all that's left is love."

Clattenburg is only half joking. Make no mistake; the series is viciously funny. But the show also has curiously sweet characters: Julian, the lovable chain-smoking loser who is king of the park; Ricky, the beefcake mastermind of dope-selling operations that invariably fail; and Bubbles, the hanger-on with impossibly thick glasses who was partially raised by cats. According to Clattenburg, the point isn't to mock people who live in trailer parks; "It's about the people playing the cards they're dealt."

Like "The Office," there's no laugh track. "We put our characters in absurd situations but we don't necessarily go for the jokes with the 1-2-3 punch line," Clattenburg says. "We try to play situations for cumulative absurdity."

Situations don't come much more outlandish than on "TPB." In one episode, Ricky loses his only shirt while boosting electricity to power up a fledgling pot farm.

Shot entirely on digital video, "TPB" is part of a growing trend of smart, realistic-looking mockumentaries. "People see that home video style documentary look," says Clattenburg, "and it's so low-fi that people just assume it's real.... It's a disadvantage that we've turned into advantage." The whole fourth season -- some six or seven episodes -- will be produced for $1.3 million ($1.8 million Canadian), less than Ray Romano makes for one episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond."

Such mockumentaries are a delicate dance for actors and writers, says Lauren Corrao, senior vice president of original programming at Comedy Central. "You have to be incredibly talented to pull this stuff off." But she sees these loosely scripted, low-budget shows, which also includes Comedy Central's own "Reno 911," as the future in original comedy programming. "I see these shows as a trend mostly because of the proliferation of reality television and actors out there still desiring to work."

"Trailer Park Boys" earned a reputation for rough dialogue over the first three seasons. One episode clocked 91 uses of a word the FCC definitely disapproves of. Clattenburg says BBC America will bleep the foul language for prime time, but may offer an "uncut" version for late-night. "Swearing, you know, is in the vernacular of the world I've grown up in," Clattenburg says. "I'm used to it and its use to the level of absurdity; I find it kind of funny."

The improvisational stars of "Trailer Park Boys" have been a huge part of show's success -- even though most of the actors are relative unknowns, even in Canada. "In Halifax, there's not exactly a large acting pool," Clattenburg deadpans. "There are certainly many experienced actors here, but [most of the cast] are people who just impressed me with their interesting personalities."

Perhaps the breakout star, Mike Smith, who plays Bubbles, was a last-minute addition. Smith, who was in a local band, did the sound for the short film on which "TPB" is based. "I first saw Mike's character at his house. He put on these hilariously thick glasses and started to make this sweet voice, so I said 'Jeez do you want to be on television?' "

It's exactly this kind of freedom that has served Clattenburg well, and made "Trailer Park Boys" an unqualified hit in Canada. Soon, Clattenburg and his crew may have to face similar success in the United States. "I was pretty surprised when we were getting recognized everywhere in L.A.," he says. "We even got recognized by Kings fans!" As a Canadian, once you are recognized at a hockey game, you know your days of anonymity are over.

*

`Trailer Park Boys'

On DVD: "Trailer Park Boys: The Complete First and Second Seasons (Collector's Edition)" (Alliance, $52.85 U.S.) available via Amazon.ca or Showcase.ca. Will be available in the U.S. later this year.

On TV: Thursdays, 9 p.m. on BBC America, starting April 15.

Online: www.showcase.ca/trailerparkboys contains complete episode guide, plus quizzes and downloads.

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