Sometimes artists are so great in their respective niches that it truly hurts to watch them branch out into areas where they’re far from experts. Think Michael Jordan playing baseball or Madonna trying to act or nearly any actor you can name’s blues rock band. It’s tough for an audience to admit that the entertainers they love are only good at one specific thing, but I imagine it’s even harder for the entertainer. Being labeled as a one-trick pony and getting begged to repeat the same act over & over again has got to wear on you after a few years and I’m sure after a decade or two it’s absolutely maddening. Still, that doesn’t mean that anyone should have to suffer through Shanghai Surprise just because they like jamming out to “Material Girl”. It’s a lose/lose situation.
That’s exactly what makes me feel so bad for the Canadian writer-comedians behind the cult television series Trailer Park Boys. First of all, I love them dearly. After nine seasons of television, four feature length films, and two extended specials I am still hungry for more content from Sunnyvale Trailer Park. I’ve really got these guys’ bellies. The cycle of the show works the same way in every iteration; “the boys” get released from jail at the beginning of a season/movie, they commit various harebrained, criminal schemes to get rich quick, and then they inevitably go back to jail. This pattern repeats itself continuously, which is a brilliant reflection of the cycles of depression, poverty, and alcoholism that the show finds dark, cartoonish humor in despite the severity of those themes. As an audience, it’s comforting to know that “the boys” are always up to fucking up, never leaving the vice grip Sunnyvale has on their souls. As performers, I’m sure it’s got to be exhausting to have done this same schtick for more than a decade now, no exit strategy working out, trapped within their own creation just as much as “the boys” they portray are trapped within the prison system. No matter how much fun they have making the show it’s still got to be a little bit of a chore at this point.
That premise is essentially what Swearnet: The Movie is about. Playing exaggerated versions of themselves, the three main actors from Trailer Park Boys (John Paul Tremblay, Robb Wells, and Mike Smith) branch out from their Sunnyvale past and create their own entertainment network called Swearnet (which is a real thing). As fictionalized in the film, Swearnet is an entire media conglomerate dedicated to the idea that excessive swearing is always funny. It’s not. In fact, as Ben Kingsley proved in Jonathan Glazer’s excellent heist film Sexy Beast, excessive swearing can actually be kind of pathetic. Now, the three comedians at the helm of this film are very funny people and they do pull some great material out of the limited premise, like the odd phrase “Cancer can go fuck itself” and the concept of “swearaoke” (which of course is when you drunkenly substitute words in karaoke songs with references to “cocks” & such). I also really enjoyed the concept for the self-explanatory Swearnet show Acid Cannibals and the idea that Tremblay keeps his deceased father’s ashes in a doll shaped like his dad, (which he of course refers to as “Dad”), but these are a few isolated ideas in a film that doesn’t give itself much to stand on. It’s a thin concept that feels progressively thinner as the run time drags on (with an extended drag race climax, no less).
Written & filmed sometime around 2012 (just following the also-disappointing The Drunk and On Drugs Happy Fun Time Hour), Swearnet: The Movie is a document of a time when “the boys” didn’t know what to do with themselves. Just a year later they would thankfully acquire the rights for the then-temporarily defunct Trailer Park Boys for their real-life Swearnet network (along with a killer deal with Netflix), but in the meantime they were lost. They wanted to move on to other projects, but it was a hard sell for anyone who was just hungry for more antics from Julian, Ricky, and Bubbles. The movie is very self-aware in that way and they do their best to distance themselves from their Sunnyvale past here, with Mike Smith’s cruel bully version of himself getting the most distance from his kitten-loving sweetheart Bubbles. The self-awareness extends itself even to the cameo casting, featuring fellow left-by-the-wayside niche comedians Tom Green & Carrot Top.
The sheer hubris “the boys” display in Swearnet: The Movie is impressive. In the film, they’re bigger than their Sunnyvale past, they “get the girls”, and they launch a new project that’s bigger & better than anything they’ve done before. Unfortunately, the film itself doesn’t live up to its own mythology and simply reinforces the idea that they are much more entertaining as Trailer Park Boys. I’m so happy that they were able to acquire their own show from their old network and the two seasons of television they’ve produced since their break and the birth of Swearnet have been as funny as anything they’ve ever done before. I just hope that the feeling is mutual, that these talented people are happy with what they’re doing and it’s not as if Tom Hanks had to return to crossdressing sitcoms to pay his bills or as if Mark Wahlberg was driven back to rapping in his underwear. I hope they’re still having fun making Trailer Park Boys, because I’m still having fun watching. Hell, I hope they had fun making Swearnet: The Movie, but that’s another story.