Critic's Notebook: 'Letterkenny' Remains a Fast-Talking Marvel as Season 9 Hits Hulu

LetterKenny
Hulu

Hulu's Canadian comedy returns with seven episodes of relentless puns, callback jokes, brawling and verbose randiness.

Like many a new religious convert, I've been proselytizing aggressively for Letterkenny as I worked my way through eight seasons of the Canadian comedy over the past couple months.

That sounds like an impressive act of dedication except that Letterkenny is tremendously good, moves quickly and, over those eight seasons, aired only 54 episodes, a number that included regular six-episode seasons and an annual holiday episode that Hulu tacked onto the end of each. You might have a tough time catching up before the ninth season hits Hulu Dec. 26 (a day earlier on Crave in Canada), but not so tough that you shouldn't make the effort.

Among recent Canadian comic imports, Letterkenny lacks the broadly embraceable blend of inclusive heart and chuckles that made Schitt's Creek such a sensation. But its breathtaking wordplay and off-kilter Great White North specificity are far more matched to my own sensibility; if you haven't watched a second, it won't take long into the pilot for you to see if it triggers your mirth as well.

Though hardly lacking in American fans, Letterkenny is enough of a cult show that Jared Keeso and Jacob Tierney's insular world requires an introduction.

The series is set in a rural Ontario town, population 5,000. Our heroes are divided between three groups: Hicks (farmers, mostly), skids (burnouts with an appreciation for any available drug, none of which have health risks in this universe) and hockey players, though the community expands to include the residents of a nearby First Nations reserve, assorted Quebecois and even a cadre of local Mennonites.

The hicks are led by set-jawed Wayne (Keeso) and his feisty sister Katy (Michelle Mylett), enthusiastically awkward Daryl (Nathan Dales) and Squirrelly Dan (K. Trevor Wilson), with his proclivity toward making every word plural. Our featured skids are well-endowed DJ/dealer Stewart (Tyler Johnston) and his faithful acolyte Roald (Evan Stern). And on the hockey side, there's Reilly (Dylan Playfair) and Jonesy (Andrew Herr) — or possibly Jonesy (Dylan Playfair) and Reilly (Andrew Herr), since I can never keep them straight — who continue to bask in the glow of a recent on-ice championship and continue to hate leg day at the gym.

Then around the edges you have former local pastor Glen (Tierney), perpetually horny bar proprietor Gail (Lisa Codrington), tough-as-nails "native" Tanis (Kaniehtiio Horn) and, of course, the universally adored Bonnie "Bonnie McMurray" McMurray (Kamilla Kowal).

Few things give me more pleasure on TV than Hulu starting an episode with a warning about "mature content" only to be followed by a cold open involving farts or, in the case of an early season nine episode, certain aspects of female genital conditioning after giving birth to 17 children. Because while Letterkenny is definitely only for adults, "mature" isn't the first word I would ever use to describe it.

That, though, is selling Letterkenny short. The show's immaturity — and an entire episode of the ninth season is dedicated to the gang futilely lecturing local kids on the need to stop being childish — is delivered with an admirable amount of linguistic maturity. It's easiest just to salute Letterkenny for its undying love of puns, and surely no show is as dedicated to its characters simply sitting around playing games of pun-upmanship.

But there's a depth that goes well beyond puerile word substitution, though Daryl's contributions tend in that direction and usually end every exchange. The show has a love of assonance and alliteration — the alphabetic winter cold open is a pinnacle — and an uncanny awareness of speech patterns and their regional and national variations. Canadian jokes are not, in fact, monolithic and TimBits and Molsons references are mixed with far more esoteric cuts like nods to Canadian young adult literary icons Gordon Korman and Scott Young.

It all comes so fast and furious — the show's editors, specifically its dialogue editors, are its unsung heroes — that it takes many episodes to learn and internalize its unique argot, a depth of slang that sometimes makes Letterkenny as pleasantly impenetrable as something like Trainspotting.

Fortunately, it's rare for any bit of Letterkenny terminology, or really any Letterkenny gag at all, to be used only once. The show's number of recurring jokes is rivaled only by classics like The Simpsons or It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and I don't think either of those shows go to their favorite wells nearly as often as Letterkenny. But I have yet to lose amusement for a snooty rendition of "To be fair!" or Roald's excited pronunciation of Stewart's name or beloved-but-discarded running jokes like whether or not The Ginger had intercourse with an ostrich. If the town of Letterkenny is a character, one could argue that "institutional memory" is as well.

Ultimately, it all holds together because of the show's general adoration for all of its characters, even the ones who start from a stereotypical place. It can take a while to warm to initially one-note figures like Gail or Reilly and Jonesy's gay gym buddies Dax (Gregory Waters) and Ron (James Daly), but I've gotten there with nearly every character.

There's a live-and-let-live libertarian streak to the show — even characters who don't get along can put animosity aside when facing common enemies, "degens" — that gives it a lot of latitude when it comes to mocking almost everything. Letterkenny is a sex-positive show that relentlessly objectifies all of its female leads while at the same time emphasizing their plucky independence and giving most of them — Bonnie McMurray still needs more personality of her own — distinctive voices. Mylett and Horn rank high among my favorite performances, but the men are just as likely to be featured in a slo-mo walk or to have their, um, attributes discussed.

You can settle in and grow to love the myriad shades of discomfort and rigidity Keeso brings to Wayne, the self-conscious lack of self-consciousness Dales brings to Daryl and how Wilson makes Squirrelly Dan far more than the sum of his verbal tics. You come to eagerly anticipate sporadic appearances by Melanie Scrofano as Mrs. McMurray, ultra-randy wife of the mumbling McMurray (Dan Petronijevic). And if you go through the full Letterkenny journey from the start, you can look forward to appearances by Jay Baruchel and Sarah Gadon, among other Canadian luminaries.

I've framed this as a Critic's Notebook and not a review of the new season because I've watched so much Letterkenny recently that it all blurs into one enjoyable rush. Distinguishing one season from another is a bit of a challenge.

While Letterkenny is very serialized in terms of joke evolution, the narrative threads come and go. We're picking up in the immediate aftermath of Katy's betrayal by uber-douche Dierks (Tyler Hynes), who was never good enough for her, a fact the show knew all-too-well. Katy bouncing back from that relationship and going "scorched earth" on the local dating scene is as close as the new season comes to an ongoing storyline.

There are gems of individual episodes like "The Sleepover," another symphony of tight editing as many of our main characters engage in interlocking slumber parties on one chilly Canadian night; and "Breastaurant," in which a new chain eatery threatens the latest incarnation of Modeans. And then there are episodes that are basically 20 minutes of characters speculating on the size of lanky auctioneer Jim's (Alex McCooeye) penis. It's that kind of show.

These new seven episodes maybe felt a hair rushed, with fewer episodes in the 25-to-28-minute range and more seeming to come in at only 20 minutes. Some ideas that ought to have been spectacular — like Reilly and Jonesy getting a lesson in Judaism from a beer league teammate — settle instead for "briefly amusing." Me, I'd have watched a full season dedicated to Reilly and Jonesy learning about mitzvahs — mitzvot, if we're being technical, plural-wise — complete with a holiday-themed episode set at a Seder. But that's just me. The new season is also way short on Tanis, though if you want more Kaniehtiio Horn, she has a very funny one-episode cameo in a different cult streaming comedy, Amazon's Wayne.

Like It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Letterkenny remains a show about characters aging while stubbornly resisting adulthood and like It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, there's resilience in its simplicity. Also like It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Letterkenny won't be for everybody.

It's profane, raunchy (all talk, mind you) and if you like TV shows that you can half-watch while doing other things, there's so much being said in any given scene that checking in and out can feel like trying to hop into a swiftly spinning revolving door. But if you like things that are smart yet stupid, distinctive yet accessible, edgy yet bathed in a communal warmth and you haven't watched Letterkenny, get on that!

Pitter patter!

The ninth season of Letterkenny premieres on Hulu on Saturday, Dec. 26.