This morning Russell Smith in the Globe & Mail has an interesting column about U.S. cultural quirkiness, which riffs off an article by Michael Hirschorn in this month's Atlantic. It's interesting because, of course, quirky for quirky's sake has traditionally been a Canadian film and tv development ... uh ... quirk.
I can't help wondering if the whole Quirky Art thing is a residual impression, like the raft of "alcohol-infused incest and abuse in a small dying fishing town" movies that DMc and I like to rail about. Slings and Arrows isn't quirky -- it's a straightforward comedy about quirky people, just like, say, 30 ROCK. Corner Gas, ditto. LITTLE MOSQUE, ditto. DE GRASSI: THE NEXT GENERATION is not quirky at all, is it? (I dunno, I don't watch it.) WHISTLER? Not quirky. I could go on.
And the last small dying fishing town movie I saw was the adorable LA GRANDE SEDUCTION which was about a small town trying to snooker a Big City Doctor into moving there. Nary an incest or an abuse in it. All the drunkenness was happy funny drunkenness.
In fact, since I moved to Montreal in 2000, I have not run across any serious quirkiness in either the TV or film industries. TRAILER PARK BOYS is, sure, about very quirky characters. But it is not a quirky show. It is a mock-documentary that uses classic story structure. The Boys want something. They concoct a dumb scheme to get it. Complications Ensue. TPB is, essentially, a cross between THE THREE STOOGES and I LOVE LUCY, updated via THIS IS SPINAL TAP.
There are art films, of course, but I would call Atom Egoyan cerebral, and Denys Arcand a tad bombastic. Not quirky. The Coen brothers are quirkier than Atom Egoyan, and Oliver Stone or M. Night Shyamalan can give Denys Arcand a run for his bombast any day.
Is it possible that Canadian storyteller, in fact, moved on from teh quirk years ago? And we're too Canadian to admit that we have, like the man who claimed to have been turned into a newt, "got better"?
UPDATE: Bill Cunningham comments:
If your show has quirky characters then by definition it is quirky. You can't separate character from setting and say it's not quirky
I disagree. Let me try to clarify.
30 ROCK is a sitcom. All sitcoms have quirky characters.
But they are going for the laughs. The jokes are not quirky jokes. They're mainstream jokes. Funny jokes, often, and even when they're not funny, they're meant to be funny.
Whereas what Denis is irked at, in his comments below, are quirky show: rather than going for the laughs, they are going for the chuckle. Sometimes the squirm. They'll settle for an intelligent nod. They're either afraid of going for the laugh, or they can't get a laugh, so they settle for the wince, or the bemused "wtf?" frown.
That's a quirky show.
One of my favorite quirky shows, because it only used quirk as a jumping off point, was NORTHERN EXPOSURE. The characters were indeed quirky. But the plotlines were also quirky. You weren't always sure if you were supposed to laugh or what. We saw the dramatic sides of comic characters, and vice versa. Sometimes it got philosophical. At least once it broke the fourth wall and got all meta. That's quirky.
When you don't know what the hell they're going for, but you're pretty sure the storytellers had something in mind, it's probably quirky. Does that make sense?
Alex, you can't point at all the successful examples and say, "see we've moved on."
Of course there are successful examples -- and yeah, they're post quirky for the sake of being quirky.
that doesn't change the fact that the Q word is the single most common adjective thrown around in development meetings -- especially comedy development meetings. And it's often used to hide the only sin -- that the shows aren't funny.
Talk to Rob Sheridan or someone who is taking many of those meetings. The Q is alive and well. We must, therefore, kill it.
And anyway -- Montreal is totally over the quirky, ever since Duplessis or at least that guy who actually lost a leg to the flesh eating disease.
Jesus, that's quirky.
I don't mind quirky, as long as it's simply not for quirky-sake. A lot of Canadian film and television used to do this, and it drove people away in, well, droves. I think the lack of quirkiness is a sign of an industry growing up. No longer is the industry trying to show everyone they aren't American. Now they are simply trying to tell stories. And people are finally starting to watch.
As for Atom Egoyan, I've seen just about every single movie of his, and, to me, he epitomizes what has been wrong with the industry. All his movies seem to deal with the same subject matter. They are almost all overly serious, involving bizarre sex or depraved behaviour in one way or another. We get it Atom. People are strange and depraved and have secrets. And no one wants to watch your movies. Get the connection?
You know, I went back and forth about mentioning examples of the dreaded Q because I'm trying to practice a "if you can't say anything nice" strategy about Canadian tv these days. But I'm sure your Canadian readers could more than fill in. Think about all those shows on Comedy, Showcase, CBC, CTV - even Global in the last little while that were Q in spades.
I'll start with one...
If your show has quirky characters then by definition it is quirky. You can't separate character from setting and say it's not quirky.
I think a lot of our current bad Canadian TV is the opposite of quirky - it's trying hard to emulate something conventional but ends up having watered down stories, characters, and production values. That's not quirky, unless you mean the unconventionality of making a comedy that's not at all funny, or a drama with no dramatic tension.
I don't think Jeff Ltd. was quirky, it was just bad. It felt like a more adult attempt at the humour of Two and a Half Men minus a Man and a Half.
Robson Arms is pretty quirky. The Jane Show was definitely quirky. I like(d) them. But our big successes, Corner Gas, Little Mosque, Canadian Idol, Rick Mercer, are all decidedly conventional.
And I agree with Alex - quirky characters don't make a quirky show, or most American shows would have to be called quirky too.
the point is that quirky is the last refuge of the scoundrel in Canadian arts and letters. it's either said by people who don't know what funny is, or as a weird justificaiton for something that misses the mark but is "supposed" to be funny.
Miranda July is quirky and engaging.
It's a debased word in Canadian culture. We must stamp it out and make it politically incorect.
Quriky makes the baby jesus cry.
that is all.
Oh, I get it now...
You say "quirky" when what you really mean is "bad."
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