Who knew that the most mellifluous motherfuckers in the English-speaking world were hiding out in rural Ontario? Well, Canadians, of course, as well as those Yanks with the good sense to hang out with the hicks, skids, and hockey players of Letterkenny, population 5,000. The premise of the series is straightforward enough: A gaggle of small-town eccentrics deal with everyday problems. But describing what it’s like to actually watch Letterkenny is a more difficult task. That being said, in the spirit of this linguistically adventurous show, here goes:
Letterkenny is like It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia if the gang was into chorin’ instead of pourin,’ a heavily lubricated hangout show powered by Puppers brew and Gus ’N’ Bru that sends its simple farm folk down a silver-tongued slip ’n’ slide delivered in a melodious melange of upcountry accents thicker than the milkshake that brought the boys to the yard. It’s Schitt’s Creek without a paddle, a small-town sitcom that sustains its sweetness even when it spirals into surrealism—and the sex talk is spicy, so send the babies to bed when the boys are bantering. And if you don’t like it? Blame Canada.
Imagine that paragraph recited in the rapid-fire monotone in the clip above, and you’ve got the basic idea. But although stylized exercises in high-wire wordplay have become the show’s signature (sorry—once you fall into the alliterative singsong rhythm, it’s hard to get out), Letterkenny didn’t start out that way. The show grew out of an anonymous Twitter account that was so popular it became a web series, which then was picked up by Canadian streamer CraveTV before going international on Hulu. Throughout its various iterations, however, Letterkenny has remained rooted in series creator Jared Keeso’s experience growing up in Listowel, Ontario, an unincorporated dairy farming community located about 160 kilometers outside of Toronto.
The first season of Letterkenny’s TV incarnation leans more into agrarian observational humor, particularly the punch-outs Keeso says were a regular part of his life back home. As he told Vice in 2016, “you’d live in fear of some dude actually twice your size just swatting you like a fly at some school dance or outside in the parking lot… There was a lot of fighting in Listowel and it kept everybody on their toes and everybody behaving.” The brawls have gotten more infrequent as the show approaches its ninth season, but one small-town truth remains: No matter the latitude, in the country there isn’t much to do except get drunk, get laid, talk trash, and start a fight.
Those first three activities remain the cornerstone of the series, as pretty much every episode revolves around two things: Getting hammered, and filthy dialogue. It’s an approach that’s brought both the show’s deepest lows—town swinger McMurray (Dan Petronijevic) pushed it a little too far in season six—and its greatest heights. Season two is when Letterkenny really found its stride, and the season-two finale, “St. Perfect’s Day,” is its best episode, period. That particular adventure is a beer-soaked Rashomon riff, as the show’s core clique, the Hicks, fill in their friend Derry on what happened while he was blacked out at the town’s annual St. Patrick’s Day party.
In an interview with the CBC in January 2017, Keeso expressed his surprise that fans have latched on to Letterkenny’s “negative” humor—which, if it was ever true, certainly isn’t anymore. Sure, the characters all take the piss out of each other. But even when they’re fighting, there’s an affection that flows underneath every interaction, an acknowledgement that, for better or for worse, these weirdos are stuck together for life. By the time we reach the season-eight finale, the entire town is banding together to beat the shit out of a sleazebag who’s committed the ultimate Letterkenny sin: Stepping out in a small town, where “bad gas travels fast,” and the whole town knows within 15 minutes if you show up at the bar with someone besides your main squeeze.
Letterkenny is also quintessentially Canadian, with a soundtrack loaded with Canadian artists and plentiful references to Don Cherry (who Keeso played in a pair of TV biopics) and Hockey Night In Canada. Some of the show’s sharpest satire is aimed at hockey-bro culture as personified by Reilly (Dylan Playfair) and Jonesy (Andrew Herr), star players of the Letterkenny Irish hockey team who barely have two brain cells between them. Obsessed with ’ships, sandos, and “getting those Ws, boys,” Reilly and Jonesy spend most of their time on the ice or at the gym. Recently, they’ve been joined at the weight machines by Ron (James Daly) and Dax (Gregory Waters), their married gay counterparts who take the homoerotic subtext of two dudes who are together all the time (season nine reveals Reilly and Jonesy sleep in the same bed) and make it text.
The idea of a wool-brained jock saying that something is “not very PC, buddy,” as Reilly and Jonesy often do, is something you wouldn’t see in a Stateside sitcom, particularly not a foul-mouthed one like Letterkenny. There’s a relaxed attitude toward diversity in the series that’s also very Canadian (at least, that’s the image the country likes to project). Soft-spoken Hick Squirrely Dan (K. Trevor Wilson) takes women’s studies classes from the never-seen but frequently referenced “Professor Tricia,” and perpetual sidekick Roald (Evan Stern) is embraced by his fellow meth-addled Skids as an out and proud gay man. The Native kids from over on the rez are regular characters on the show, and Gail (Lisa Codrington) and her cousin Rosie (Clark Backo) bust the myth that there are no Black people in the sticks. Even Wayne (Keeso), the picture of stoic Canadian masculinity, is an animal lover who’s in touch with his softer side: Take the cult classic episode “Derry’s Super Soft Birthday,” where the boys throw a party featuring feather boas, “froo-froo girly drinks,” and a pony with a unicorn horn. The only people the residents of Letterkenny don’t like are degens from upcountry, and Yanks. Hate those Yanks.
Like any sitcom, Letterkenny has its catchphrases, although the show’s nimble wit ensures that it’s more quotable than most. You may even find yourself absorbing phrases from the show by osmosis, muttering “figure it out” at someone who just refuses to get it or proclaiming “pitter patter, let’s get at ’er!” when it’s time to quit dickering around and get some work done. I called everyone “bud” for a month or so this summer before realizing that I probably picked that up from Letterkenny binges, a sweet and salty refuge from city-people problems that’s both low-key enough to lower pandemic stress and mentally stimulating enough to serve as a distraction. Each episode clocks in under a half hour, so if you’ve never seen the show, try the season-two premiere and see if the humor is to your taste. Before you know it, you may have put down a full three-and-a-half-hour season—and maybe a beer or 12.
Letterkenny season nine premieres on CraveTV on December 25, and Hulu on December 26.