Synopsis: Tony-winner Don McKellar (The Drowsy Chaperone) created this quirky comedy that explores society’s addiction to television. McKellar stars as Curtis, who ingests dangerous levels of cathode rays, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend Hope (Molly Parker, Deadwood) and other inhabitants of his downtown home.
eyelights: Don McKellar. Molly Parker. Callum Keith Rennie. its quirky humour. its pop culture awareness. its oddball plot elements. its cameos.
eyesores: its low budget quality.
“I’m trying to watch my show!”
I became a fan of Don McKellar with ‘Twitch City’. Though I’d seen him in ‘Exotica‘ and ‘When Night is Falling‘, two of my all-time favourite films, he never registered as anything but an awkward performer of eccentrics.
(I had yet to see ‘Last Night‘ and ‘The Red Violin’, masterpieces which he wrote – and, in ‘Last Night’s case, also directed. I still haven’t seen the award-winning ‘Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould’, which he co-wrote.)
‘Twitch City’, however, gave me a first look at what he was truly capable of.
The Bruce MacDonald TV series, which was originally broadcast in 1998, was written by McKellar and features the actor in the lead as Curtis, a shut-in TV junkie coping with his roommate Nathan and his girlfriend, Hope.
Or… um… is that the other way around?
You see, Curtis is a little bit special. He’s not just a shut-in. He’s not just a TV addict. He’s lazy. He’s insensitive. He’s self-centered. He’s selfish. He’s an opportunist. He keeps quiet (aside for the TV), but he’s no great roomie.
This irritates Nathan, who’s a bit uptight about just about everything. He can’t stand Curtis’ inability to function like a normal human being, to hold his own around the apartment. Why can’t he just follow the job wheel?
Of course, it doesn’t help that Hope takes Curtis’ side much of the time, and tries to mollify Nathan on top of that. Nathan feels isolated. And to think that he was inviting her to move in with them; it’ll make things worse.
Oh, it will.
This low-budget Canadian production is mostly set in the apartment. With the exception of Nathan or Hope’s few visits to the corner store, we’re usually following Curtis. And, let’s face it: Curtis really isn’t going anywhere.
The mini-series revolves around Curtis’ attempts to make easy money by renting out Nathan’s room while he’s away – leaving Hope and himself to deal with a vast array of oddball roommates and unusual circumstances.
Each episode is named after the daily topic of The Rex Reilly Show, a talkshow that Curtis watches obsessively. This show-within-a-show plays concurrently with our story, spoofing that era’s trashy daytime tabloid shows.
1. I Slept With My Mother: In which we’re abruptly introduced to Curtis, as he’s eating Frooty O’s, shouting at Nathan to answer the door – even though he’s in the bathtub. Curtis only gets off the couch to go pound on the bathroom door; he won’t answer the front door. After he goes down to let Hope in, Nathan gets into an argument with Curtis over the cat food and is forced to go get it himself. Upset, and grumpy, he gets into an altercation with a belligerent homeless man on his way to and from the corner store – and accidentally kills him. The moment Curtis hears the news, Nathan’s room is up for rent.
McKellar is so perfectly smug, dismissive and selfish as Curtis, that he’s jaw-dropping; you hate the guy, yet can’t help but laugh at how unreasonable he is. Every twist and reveal is equally absurd: the job wheel, Nathan’s fate, …etc. And then there’s The Rex Reilly Show (starring Bruce McCulloch as Reilly) and its insane guests. Wow! What a way to introduce us to the series! Just nuts. 8.5
2. My Pet, My Hero: While Hope is nervous about Nathan’s situation, Curtis is channel surfing. Of course he is. He hasn’t gotten any takers for Nathan’s room, but a couple of mysterious Asian eventually agree to plunk down 650$/month – to store boxes and boxes of pineapple/almond cookies. When Hope finds out what Curtis has been up to, she gets upset… and curious about the cookies. But first, he has to relocate her to the closet – which he rents her as a room.
This one features hilariously weird dialogues, especially while Curtis is sitting outside Hope’s room, talking at her while she’s setting up. They’re such ridiculous anecdotes; the guy is socially autistic. And the whole cookie subplot is pretty funny, from the pair getting buzzed out on them to the Asian men’s dealings. I’ve never seen an episode like this one before or since. 8.25
3. I Look Like Joyce DeWitt: After the Asians vacate the room, Curtis rents it to Dizelle, a creepy girl obsessed with the history of cats; she distrust them, considers them evil. She also buys TV dinners and only eats the meat. Hope is terrified of her and freaks out, unsure why Curtis rented it to her. Then Lucky, Nathan’s cat goes missing. And Dizelle disppears. Could she have killed Lucky? Is that why there a rotting stench coming from the strange case in her room?
This one’s funny, but a bit dark, thanks to Tracy Wright’s turn as Dizelle. Brrr. It’s also hilarious to find out just how reclusive Curtis is: he tosses the garbage to the curb from the window; he won’t even go out for that! A highlight of the episode is Joyce Dewitt’s cameo on The Rex Riley Show with a woman who looks like her. Nice. 8.25
4. People Who Fight Too Much: Nathan has been released on bail and is back at the apartment – in Hope’s closet… erm… room. She’s worried he’ll lose it on Curtis, but his problems are too big for that; he won’t be distracted. That is, until Curtis rents the room to a Punjabi University student and double books it (while the former’s in class) to a couple of metalheads – as practice space. Suddenly, Nathan’s ears prick up…
It’s hilarious to watch Curtis and Nathan in action again, with Curtis shouting “Clumpy milk!!!” over and over again, obviously expecting someone else to go to the store for him. It’s also amusing to see how much work Curtis puts into coordinating Fred’s schedule for him and motivating him to go to his classes – so that he can make more cash on the metalheads. Watch for a cameo by Rachael Crawford as an expert on The Rex Reilly Show. It’s terrific: she even gets a few punches in. 8.25
5. I’m Fat and I’m Proud: Now that Nathan’s back in jail, Hope is frustrated that she’s doing everything; Curtis does nothing but rent the room. He’s so oblivious, it’s beyond words: he hasn’t even figured out that she’s inexplicably gotten attached to him; he’s completely in his own world. This time, Hope finds a new roomie: Craig (a.k.a. Newbie), the cornerstore clerk. Craig loves Curtis’ way of life too much, fits in too easily, even has his own tape collection; Curtis feels threatened by him.
This episode is the most enjoyable of the lot because the cast is clearly having a good time. Rennie is super endearing as Curtis’ biggest fan, geeking out with him. But, when Craig becomes Curtis’ rival, we’re treated to a competition over the remote control: Curtis does remote control Tai Chi and they go through various challenges: long-distance channel-changing, TV Guide schedule challenge, …etc. Ahem… guess who wins? (But I dare you to guess why…) Watch for a cameo by Hugh Dillon as a customer at the cornerstore. Awesome. 8.5
6. Killed by Cat Food: Hope is trying to get Curtis to go out. Obviously, he’s not keen on the idea – so he creates a diversion by asking her to move into his room with him. Then she gets a call: Nathan is going to be a guest on The Rex Reilly Show. Even though he’s a HUGE fan, Curtis won’t leave the house to attend the taping. Hope gets upset with him and walks out. In the meantime, they have two new roomates: goofy jocks. Yikes.
This one’s fun because a large chunk of the episode is on The Rex Reilly Show, as Curtis watches from the comfort of their couch. You just can’t get too much of McCulloch’s Reilly; he’s such a good send-up of those talkshow hosts. The two roomies are a bit annoying, and it takes away from the episode, but it all pays off with a surprising and touching finale. Awww. 8.0
The whole series is satirical of a certain kind of subculture, reveling in absurdist humour to highlight the state of Generation X – mired in pop culture, with no future in sight. In some ways, it pokes fun at its own audience.
When I first saw the show, I fell in love with it; I gobbled up every episode. I could relate to both Curtis and Nathan, and I could also see the humour in their behaviour. Plus which I really fell hard for Molly Parker, as Hope.
Molly Parker, was sweet and pretty. She felt like the girl next door. Her Hope offered empathy to a character that would otherwise be irredeemable. It was confounding at times, but she connected in ways other wouldn’t.
I ended up watching any movie that Parker was in – especially after I discovered some memorable ones (ex: ‘Kissed‘, ‘Waking the Dead‘), as well as a few minor classics (ex: ‘The Center of the World‘, ‘The Five Senses‘).
She has good taste.
Daniel MacIvor is also excellent as Nathan, but Nathan is so bloody grating that it’s hard to like him. And I think this was the first time I saw the brilliant Callum Keith Rennie, playing a side character named Newbie.
After discovering the show, I was really eager to get it on home video. It was eventually released on DVD – along with its second season (which was broadcast in 2000, and that I’d only heard rumours about). I wanted it.
I not only wanted to have the show within reach, I wanted to spread the love around; I wanted to introduce it to all my friends. But, above all else, I wanted to see this second season. Oh my, did I ever want to see it…
It wasn’t long ’til I did.
Dates of viewings: September 11-13, 2017