Five Great Canadian TV Shows

By Seth Abramovitch

Jul 01, 2011

On this day in 1867, three of England's North American colonies fused into a proud, new nation–one predicated on the people’s fundamental right to unlimited hockey, Tim Hortons donuts, and universal healthcare for all. That’s right: It’s Canada Day! And in honor of it, we thought we’d highlight some of the greatest contributions made by Canada to the annals of TV. Since every other series is shot in Canada these days, our criteria were more exacting: For a show to be considered, it had to be a Canadian production, and not just a studio taking advantage of Vancouver's tax breaks. That really narrows things down, but we managed to come up with five classics.

Degrassi Junior High (1987-1989)

The Canadian teen soap that begat countless spinoffs (one of which launched 90210 star Shenae Grimes' career), this game-changer of a series from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was eons ahead of its time. It followed the complicated high school lives of a group of some very unknown young actors, many of whom had never performed before, and tackled taboo subjects like teen pregnancy, homosexuality and racism head-on.

SCTV (1976-1981)

This sketch comedy series revolved around the premise that you were watching an independent TV station, and starred a cast of up-and-coming actors from Toronto’s Second City comedy troupe. But boy oh boy, would they be globally known soon enough: John Candy, Eugene Levy, Rick Moranis, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Joe Flaherty and Dave Thomas would all go on to bigger successes when Hollywood came calling.

Road to Avonlea (1990 to 1996)

A spinoff of the CBC’s excellent miniseries adaptation of L.M. Montgomery’s classic novel Anne of Green Gables, it starred Sarah Polley as an 11-year-old heiress sent to live with her two old maid aunts in Prince Edward Island. The show aired on the Disney Channel in the U.S., and won four Emmy Awards, including acting nods for Christopher Lloyd and Dianne Wiest.

Due South (1994-1999)

The only Canadian cop dramedy to have the honor of airing simultaneously on American network TV, this series about a Mountie solving crimes on the mean streets of Chicago was created by Paul Haggis, who’d go on to become an Oscar-winning screenwriter and director for movies like Crash and Million-Dollar Baby. The show starred Paul Gross, and had fun playing with stereotypes of Canadian politeness–even though the recent hockey riots in Vancouver have shown us how that’s not always the case.

The Kids in the Hall (1988-1994)

There’s something about Canadians and sketch comedy–they just do it better than the rest of us. This quintet of absurdly gifted comedians came to TV with the help of SNL creator Lorne Michaels; he saw them perform as a troupe and immediately built a show around their dark brand of comedy, much of it aimed at mocking the banalities of white, middle-class society. They regularly played women, but drag was never the joke itself–rather it gave them an opportunity to broaden their palettes. Flaming monologist Buddy Cole, the Chicken Lady, Cabbage Head, the Sizzler Sisters–the list of classic characters goes on and on. They’ve not been equalled since.

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  • ted2332 Jun 15, 2012

    Slings And Arrows is an excellent show.

  • OGRastamon Aug 29, 2011

    2005 "Charlie Jade". Very short-lived so you may think it doesn't qualify as 'great' but consider at 20 episodes it beats both "Firefly" and "Freaks and Geeks".

  • JeffCusack Jul 08, 2011

    Also Beast Wars! (Inspired by Matthew Dinnin's Reboot post)

  • JeffCusack Jul 08, 2011

    Murdock Mysteries!

    @NotAmerican Degrassi TNG is shot in Toronto, has Canadian actors, and is produced by a Canadian production company. It may currently be a miserable soap opera, but it's a miserable Canadiann soap opera.

  • MatthewDinnin Jul 07, 2011


  • MatthewDinnin Jul 06, 2011

    Dead Like Me, Are You Afraid of the Dark, Breaker High (Ryan Gosling?) and Ready or Not.

  • NotAmerican Jul 05, 2011

    Degrassi:TNG is not a Canadian show; hell, I don't even know if it's SHOT in Canada. And the reason there's been no shows listed after 1999 is because there's been no good Canadian shows this century. Okay, maybe Flashpoint... Durham County if you're going by non-U.S. standards (i.e. - is allowed to have between 6 and 26 shows per season; the "seasons" can be ill-defined [i.e. - you can have 9 episodes, take an 18 month break, and then show 22 more episodes... or whatever), but yeah, other than that we've got sh!te copies of already sh!te U.S. reality programs (SYTYCD Canada, that game show with Howie Mandel... sorry, I tend to avoid TV like the plague, esp. reality/game shows, TRIPLE esp. Can. reality/game shows). We had some pay-cable channels that used to be good, but, like every other non-HBO-type-network out there, they have become sh!te as well. And hell to the yes for "You Can't Do That On Television". When the YTV network (think of a channel for tweens) first started, that was LITERALLY all that they showed. No, really, I counted. 5 times a day. Yes they had about 16,000 episodes in the vault (plus it was still in production for awhile when YTV first aired), but that's because there was little difference between the episodes.
    And I wouldn't watch Corner Gas if I was put in one of those "Clockwork Orange" viewing devices. I would will my eyes to pop out of my head. And that goes TRIPLE for its spinoff, "[Some Goof] For Mayor".

  • Vidsignup Jul 05, 2011

    Not only is Corner Gas the best Canadian show, it was also the most successful both domestically and internationally. By far. Not sure how such a specific list could miss that. It's like making a list of Mathew Perry's best work and skipping Friends.

  • buckeyenut68 Jul 05, 2011

    the best show ever from Canada is Corner Gas. it is the funniest show ever. it is like Seinfeld but without all the innuendos.

  • Ryski9 Jul 05, 2011

    Not only was Intelligence my favorite show from Canada, but it was one of my favorite shows of all time from anywhere

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