Top 10 Canadian Characters on U.S. TV Shows
Okay, first of all…
Happy Canada Day!
Yes, July 1st is Canada Day and, whether you are Canadian or not, it’s a great excuse to crack an ice-cold brew and head outside. All over Canada there will be backyard get-togethers, camping trips, and outdoor concerts and almost all of them will have a few key things in common: a red and white color theme, barbequed food, and beer.
Canadians are well known for their love of beer, hockey, and outdoor life (sometimes all at the same time). Of course, that’s a stereotype and there are always exceptions (for example, I’m not a huge hockey fan). However, I’d say I’m proud of most of the stereotypes we have generated, including the perception that we are polite, friendly, law-abiding, and tolerant.
Most Canadians watch U.S. television shows regularly, and it’s always interesting to see Canadian characters when they pop up on U.S. shows because they provide insight into how we are viewed by our neighbors to the south. For example, I’ve noticed that Canadian characters are often employed in the television industry on U.S. TV. This makes sense because many Canadians are actually lurking throughout the real U.S. TV and Film industry. Most recently, Canadian character Danny Baker showed up on 30 Rock as the newest cast member of the sitcom’s fictional TV show TGS (played by Cheyenne Jackson, 7 episodes so far). There are many real life examples of Canadian comedians on U.S. comedy shows and sitcoms, such as: John Candy, Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, Catherine O’Hara, Dan Ackroyd, Phil Hartman, Howie Mandel, Caroline Rhea, Norm Macdonald, and Tommy Chong.
Here are my top 10 favorite Canadian characters from U.S. TV. I’ve ranked them in the order of my preference, taking into account their overall popularity, their portrayal of Canadians, and the number of episode appearances.
Some guidelines: the TV show must be a U.S. production of a regular series (not a mini series, TV movie, or co-production) and the TV show must be a regular TV series (not a news show, game show, or reality show).
10. The Renault Brothers (Twin Peaks)
Jean Renault, Michael Parks; Jacque Renault, Walter Olkewicz; Bernard Renault, Clay Wilcox, 3 episodes, 1990
Jean, Jacque, and Bernard: three fictional brothers who appeared in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, one of the best shows in TV history.
Jean is the stereotypical quiet and friendly Canadian on the outside, but is actually the most dangerous of the three brothers. During the series he murders a Madam, frames an FBI agent, and is involved in a kidnapping. His younger brother Jacques Renault is a card dealer, drug runner, and bartender. Bernard, the youngest, helps his brother Jacques run drugs.
I came across one more Canadian character in Twin Peaks during my research: Preston King (Gavan O’Herlihy, 3 episodes, 1990-1991), a corrupt killer Mountie, who is an interesting subversion of the classic Mountie stereotype. The setting of the show (Twin Peaks, Washington) is right on the U.S.-Canada border. In fact, parts of the show are set in a Canadian casino and brothel, so there could be more Canadian characters that I missed.
While there may not be any real brothels just across the border from Washington in British Columbia (at least not any that I know of), the idea of the brothers running drugs across the border there is not far-fetched. In 2005, an underground tunnel was discovered along the same border – it ran between two buildings (one in the US and one in Canada, pictured above), not too far away from the spot where the Renaults worked.
Surprising, entertaining, and dark characters in true Lynch style – these three frères are in my top 10 because they run against most stereotypes of Canadians on US television.
9. Brian (The Larry Sanders Show)
Scott Thompson, 35 episodes, 1995-1998
Scott Thompson plays Brian, Hank Kingsley’s personal assistant in the hilarious and innovative Larry Sanders Show. Thompson is actually Canadian and gay so his role as the openly gay and Canadian character on the Larry Sanders Show doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch. However, in real life Thompson is apparently not as highly organized or as well-mannered as the TV character, insisting in an interview that he is not organized at all. Also, he was kicked out of York University for his ‘disruptive behavior.’
He’s making this list because he gets extra points for actually being Canadian and also because of rumors that he is the one who convinced the show to let his character be Canadian.
8. Terrence Henry Stoot and Phillip Niles Argyle (tie)
Voices of Matt Stone (Terrance) and Trey Parker (Phillip), featured in 7 episodes
According to southparkstudios.com, “Phillip is Terrance’s best friend. They live together in Canada where they eat Kraft dinner and make fart jokes.”
It’s true, as a Canadian I admit to eating a lot of Kraft dinner in my time… As for the fart jokes, I think it is perhaps telling that the original use of the phrase “pull my finger” is in a short story by Canadian author Mordecai Richler.
The children of South Park love to watch Philip and Terrence in their Canadian TV show. Terence is from Toronto and Phillip is from Montreal. Including Philip, there are six characters and four spots on this list taken up by French Canadians, which is home to only 23.9% of the population of Canada.
Are there real-life examples of Terence and Philip in Canada? If anything, I think they seem more like Beavis and Butthead than any Canadian comedy shows, cartoon or not, that I can think of. There is a strain of Canadian humor that is very slapstick and silly (Hilarious House of Frightenstein, The Red Green Show) but they don’t actually fart on each other’s heads as far as I remember.
Terence: “Phillip, I’m convinced something very, very not good is happening to Canada.”
Phillip: “Yes, I agree whole-fartedly.”
7. Guy Edouard Raymond “Eddie” LeBec (Cheers)
Jay Thompson, 9 episodes, 1987-1989
Eddie LeBec, whose name sounds suspiciously like Rene Levesque when it is pronounced correctly, appeared on one of the most popular shows in TV history, Cheers.
Eddie Lebec married Carla (Rhea Perlman) after he got her pregnant. He started off on the show as a hockey player for the Boston Bruins and then performed in an ice show similar to the Ice Capades until he was killed in a Zamboni accident.
Eddie is on this list because he is a hockey player and you can’t get much more Canadian than that. French Canadian hockey players have been competing for the Stanley Cup since 1901. To this day, around half of all hockey players in the NHL were born in Canada.
6. Seth Bullock (Deadwood)
Timothy Olyphant, 36 episodes, 2004-2006
You can still visit the city of Deadwood in South Dakota. Today, it’s a national historic landmark, tourist attraction, and gambler’s paradise with 80 gaming halls. Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok are buried there and Deadwood, with it’s stories of gold mines, gun fights, outlaws, and sheriffs, represents an important, and iconic, part of American history and culture.
Teddy Roosevelt referred to Deadwood’s sheriff Seth Bullock as a “true westerner, the finest type of frontiersman,” so perhaps it’s surprising that the sheriff he is referring to was a Canadian? Seth Bullock, portrayed on the HBO series Deadwood is loosely based on a real Canadian of the same name who was born in Ontario in the mid-1800’s.
When people all over the world think of cowboys, westerns, and the frontier they probably think of the United States of America. However, Seth Bullock is evidence that this history is also shared with Canada, and it’s nice to see a Canadian character featured in a TV western series. This earns the character Seth Bullock a spot on this list.
5. Holling Vincoeur and Shelly Marie Tambo (Northern Exposure)
John Cullum and Cynthia Geary, 110 episodes, 1990-1995
Northern Exposure takes place in Cicely, a small town in Alaska. Holling (played by John Cullum), a French Canadian immigrant, runs the town’s pub “The Brick.” Shelly, his girlfriend (and later wife) works there as a waitress. She is a former beauty queen (“Miss NorthWest Passage”) from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. At the beginning of their relationship Shelly is eighteen years old and Holling is sixty-two. The relationship could easily seem creepy but it is not. The complexity of their relationship and the history between them make the characters believable (and likeable, they are one of my favorite TV couples ever).
Actor John Cullum describes their relationship eloquently during an interview:
“Holling, a former professional hunter of ruthless, uncompromising killer instincts and nerves of steel, is totally at the mercy of a young girl one third his age and will do anything to please her out of pure love. Shelly, an innocent, uneducated, and seemingly empty headed high school beauty queen, is naturally intelligent and clear thinking and instinctively understands the most complicated social problems even though she is convinced she does not.” The interviewer is a fan who is conducting a research project about Northern Exposure for her doctoral thesis, fans of the show should check out the website cicelyonline.com for the full interview.
A fictional TV couple, Holling and Shelly find each other in a small town far away from the Canadian towns where they were raised. Is there anything stereotypically Canadian about them? Holling is a former hunter and he likes to wear plaid mac jackets, but these are characteristics of US inhabitants of Washington State and Alaska just as much as Canada. As a fan of the show, I was pleasantly surprised to discover they are both Canadian, so they get fifth place on my list.
4. Dudley Do-Right (The Bullwinkle Show)
Voice of Bill Scott, 39 episodes, 1969
Bill Scott, Dudley Do-Right’s voice, was also co-creator of The Dudley Do-Right Show (1969). Do-Right started off as a character in a cartoon variety show in 1948. He is most famous for his appearances on the Bullwinkle Show (1961). He was so popular that he got his very own show a few years later. Most recently, Brendan Fraser played him in the feature film Dudley Do-Right in 1999.
Dudley Do-Right’s blonde wavy hair, cleft chin, and high moral standards should have made him the perfect role model and heart throb. Instead, Nell Fenwick was in love with his horse… maybe Dudley’s high-pitched voice and melodramatic gestures were a turn off…
One might argue that Sgt Preston of the Yukon (Richard Simmons , 78 episodes, 1955-1958) really deserves a spot on this list since he precedes (and greatly influenced) the creation of Dudley Do Right. However, the show isn’t as well known and he’s not one of my favorites, so Dudley is getting the spot instead.
3. Dave Nelson (News Radio)
Dave Foley, 97 episodes, 1995-1999
NewsRadio’s news director and comedic straight man, played by actual Canadian Dave Foley and costarring with another Canadian, Phil Hartman. Dave Foley is another alumnus from one of Canada’s best comedy shows, Kids in the Hall (#6 Scott Thompson is also from the same show). For the first few seasons everyone thinks Dave is from the Midwest. Then, in the third season, the rest of the staff at the radio station are shocked when they discover he is actually Canadian (“Trainer,” episode 39).
Joe Garelli: I can’t believe Dave’s Canadian. All those times we talked about hockey and he pretended not to know anything about it.
Newsradio is one of the most well-written shows ever, in my opinion. Apparently the Dave Nelson character was written specifically for Dave Foley. Believable, because he is perfect for the role and the role is the perfect showcase of his effortless-looking and hilarious talent.
2. Robin Scherbatsky (How I Met Your Mother)
Cobie Smulders, 112 episodes, 2005-2010
Robin moves to New York City to pursue a career in media, not much of a stretch considering how many TV news reporters, journalists, correspondents, and news anchors working in the US are actually Canadian (Peter Jennings, Kevin Newman, Morley Safer, John Roberts…).
Robin’s Canadian roots are a big part of her character: she loves hockey, beer, and she even takes Barney to a Tim Horton’s coffee shop when they visit Canada. In one episode her friends learn that she was once a Canadian pop star very similar to Alanis Morrissette’s early days as the teen singer ‘Alanis.’ I’m giving Robin second place on this list because I think she portrays the most realistic Canadian on T.V. today. Cobie Smulders was born in Vancouver, British Columbia so that probably helps, too.
(For a detailed article about Robin Scherbatsky and Canadians on U.S. TV shows please visit culturallearnings.com.)
1. Wolverine (X-Men)
Various Actors (see below), 163 episodes, 1989 -2010
Wolverine and the X-Men: Steve Blum, 26 episodes, 2008-2009
The Super Hero Squad Show: Steve Blum, 26 episodes, 2009-2010
Black Panther: Kevin Michael Richardson, 1 episode, 2010
X-Men Evolution: Scott McNeil, 41 episodes, 2000-2003
X-Men: Cathal J. Dodd, 66 episodes, 1992-1997
Spiderman: Cathal J. Dodd, 2 episodes, 1995
Pryde of the X-Men: Patrick Pinney (except that he has an Australian accent!?), 1 episode, 1989
Wolverine (aka Logan) was born as James Howlett in the Canadian province Alberta and also spent some time in British Columbia. He can be ferocious but he is also good-hearted and says some very funny one-liners. Wolverine gets the number one spot because he is not only one of my favorite Canadian characters, but also one of my favorite characters of all time. He has also made more TV appearances than any of the other characters on this list, so he earns first place.
By Tanya Bennett
Visit her blog ishouldbenapping.com for her complete list of Canadian Characters on American Television.