Sound your horns! Pull the emergency cord! Train 48 is dead. Last stop, everybody off. Global announced recently that it would not be renewing the series. It's about time.
I took the news with a mix of glee and disbelief. As delighted as I am that such an embarrassment has been removed from the airwaves, I'm more than a little confused about why it took so long. How on earth did this show survive?
For anyone who doesn't know, Train 48 is a sitcom following the daily commute of an eclectic group of Greater Torontonians from their city jobs to their suburban homes. It ran for a half-hour three evenings a week (though it seemed like more).
Train 48 separated itself from the herd with acting that was largely improvised and guest celebrities and political figures. Attempting to give the show a lighthearted and edgy feel, the improv actually added an uncomfortable clumsiness that further derailed the objectionable writing. The sole exception was the charming Joe Dinicol, who was probably slumming it while waiting for his call from Hollywood.
The guests included comic Rick Green, Global weatherman Anwar Knight and Sheila Copps. Did you say Sheila Copps on television? Please wait while I run to catch a glimpse of this rare opportunity. With guests like these, who needs a plot?
Not helping the situation was a film aesthetic reminiscent of videos made in your parents' basement. At any moment you expect your father to walk into the middle of a shot in his underwear demanding to know why the basement looks like the GO Train.
Train 48 is perhaps the most god-awful series ever produced - in Canada, outside Canada, anywhere. Bad television, be it home shopping, ridiculous foreign game shows or war stories with cheap re-enactments, all has some worth. The programs can be ridiculous fodder for stoners, have camp value or even at times be educational. Train 48 was none of these. It was bankrupt.
We produce some of the finest comedic talent in the industry. How is it that our standards are low enough to allow this piece of shit to stay alive for three seasons?
That Train 48 kept running made me worry about Canada and our reputation abroad. Travelling to New York, where I often work, I asked myself, "What if someone there has seen Train 48? What will they think of us? How can I explain this? We used to be funny." Train 48 was our Iraq.
It's quite possible that Train 48's entire audience was made up of people like me who were intrigued by its ability to survive. I have to admit I would sometimes let my television linger on Train 48 during an afternoon veg-out of pure morbid fascination, like seeing a stranger spank a child in public.
Recently, in Stockholm, I watched a reality series based on Survivor, where children are left on an island to compete in group activities. Instead of being voted off, kids simply get homesick and leave of their own accord - a progressive, Scandinavian touch. The show was tremendously entertaining, and it made me wonder why Canada can't crib a genre with the same success.
As a comedy, Train 48 ranks up there with Mike Bullard's reign of terror. I thought we'd learned. The unpleasantness of watching Bullard deliver one unfunny joke after the next without even the decency to make light of his successive bombs was an experience unrepeated until Train 48. The word I'm looking for is "cringe-worthy."
The success of Trailer Park Boys, which I'm loath to prop up as an example, provides a stark contrast. Its creators took distinctly Canadian themes, removed the banality and mundanity, and produced an original in a popular vein of television. And while I don't find Trailer Park Boys particularly funny or intelligent, I can understand why others do.
If you have some insight as to how Train 48 survived, please write and tell me. I'm willing to bet it has to do with our relatively small yet diverse population spread out over a vast territory. While millions of people can't be wrong, several thousand can be and often are, and, unfortunately, this is all you need in Canada for success on TV.
Train 48 is dead. May they burn the tapes and destroy the ashes. There is a special place in TV hell for it, next to Bullard and the empty chair that awaits Ben Mulroney.