Top 10 Canadian TV shows of the decade

Our critic picks the English-language shows from the past 10 years that kept him glued to the small screen

10. Clone High (2002 – 2003)
This one-season wonder was created by Bill Lawrence (Scrubs) as a Canada-U.S. co-production, but the U.S. partner dropped the show so quickly that only Canadians saw the full series. A parody of sitcoms, high school shows, and world history, it featured a premise-explaining theme song, characters based on JFK, Cleopatra and Gandhi, and a robot who talked like Mr. Belvedere. Even with an American creator, how could it not make the list?

9. Mantracker (2006 – )
Schlocky, cheesoid TV needs to be represented on a list like this. The obvious choice is the story of Terry Grant, a bad-ass horse-riding, hat-wearing, bearded cowboy who spends every episode hunting down a team of city-dwellers released into the wild. It’s basically the Most Dangerous Game on horseback, or Dog the Bounty Hunter without all the Christian moralizing. In other words, something you feel guilty for kind of enjoying.

8. Kenny vs. Spenny (2003 – )
A combination of reality competition and sitcom, this show about two mismatched buddies (a neat nut and an evil schemer, like a Canadian Odd Couple) show Kenny and Spenny doing various humiliating things every week in a desperate attempt to one-up each other. Many episodes feature the evil Kenny destroying his supposed friend through deceit, trickery and blatant cheating. When Trey Parker and Matt Stone joined the show as producers, it seemed to suggest what we already knew already: these guys are the new Cartman and Butters.

7. Life With Derek (2005 – 2009)
Canada has produced a number of “tween” comedies (Naturally Sadie, Radio Free Roscoe, The Latest Buzz) that were considerably better-acted and better-written than their counterparts on the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon. This Family Channel show, about a blended family that—unlike the Brady Bunch—can’t get along, was perhaps the best of the bunch, a throwback to real-world family problems in a TV landscape increasingly dominated by escapism. It was like Step By Step with people who aren’t disgusting.

6. The Hour (2005 – )
Though The Rick Mercer Report was the ‘00s most obvious answer to The Daily Show, George Stroumboulopoulos comes closer to matching Jon Stewart’s appeal: a comedian and “personality” performer conducting interviews with many serious, earnest people. After years of interviewers who were totally serious and earnest themselves, or talk-show hosts who only interviewed second-rank entertainers, seeing “Strombo” chat it up with James Cameron or Barbara Walters demonstrated that Canadian talk shows could successfully follow the U.S. template.

5. Corner Gas (2004 – 2009)
With the success of Brent Butt’s half-hour comedy about wacky small-town Saskatchewan residents, we saw how Canadians can step into the breach and do things the U.S. isn’t doing—in this case, rural comedy. The show also took techniques that had become common in U.S. single-camera comedy, like sudden cutaways and flashbacks, and brought them into the Canadian mainstream. It was about a place where life moves slowly, but it helped Canadian shows move a lot faster.

4. Durham County (2007 – )
A mashup of cop shows and American Beauty-type stories about the hidden evil of suburbs, this drama starred Hugh Dillon as a big-city cop who tries to start a new life in suburbia, only to discover there’s lots of murdering and depravity going on. Though the second season was not as strong as the first, it was The Movie Network‘s most interesting attempt to do a show in the style of its U.S. counterpart, HBO.

3. Trailer Park Boys (2001 – 2008)
One of the most influential and successful comedy shows of the era, this mock-documentary show about a bunch of beer-swilling lowlifes premiered in 2001, leading to a seven-season run and two films. In mining comedy from the adventures of people who are basically horrible, it preceded shows like It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, and it was doing fake documentary comedy before Arrested Development and The Office made it cool again.

2. Slings & Arrows (2003 – 2006)
A Canadian show so good that international viewers don’t know it’s Canadian. A comedy-drama about the pressures of putting on a play at an artistically-compromised, financially-strapped Shakespeare festival, the show was both an inside look at the insanity of show business and a universal story about the things that go wrong in any workplace. It helped that the great cast was full of big names like Paul Gross and co-creator Mark McKinney (Kids in the Hall) and big names to be, like Rachel McAdams. The three seasons of the show were so successful they led to the ultimate compliment any show can receive: a foreign remake, the Brazilian Som e Fúria.

1. Intelligence (2006 – 2007)
Created by Chris Haddock, the man behind Da Vinci’s Inquest (which didn’t make the list because it premiered in the ‘90s), this story of drug trafficking, moral ambiguity and politics was one of the most ambitious Canadian dramas of the decade, a successful attempt to do a serious crime drama like The Wire. It was canceled by the CBC after only two seasons, leading Haddock to speculate that “somewhere in the CBC someone is saying ‘do not promote this show.'” That’s how you know Canadian TV has made the big time at last: we have TV that’s too good for TV.