‘Letterkenny’ Review: Hulu’s Small Town Canadian Import Wanders Afield

In its ninth season, time stands still in "Letterkenny."

Thanks to ongoing issues, plenty of people found themselves staying put over the holidays in lieu of traveling back to their hometowns. For me, that meant not battling it out at LAX to grab two flights to get me halfway through the country, only to have to rent a car and drive the last two-and-a-half hours to my hometown (pop. 2,000). Even without global health concerns, I might not have made it back to my family anyway, thanks to a late-breaking Christmas blizzard that left the area a morass of ice and snow that my skin, thinned by years of California life, never could have withstood.

And yet, thanks to the release of Season 9 of Hulu’s “Letterkenny,” I’m suffering from far less homesickness than one would expect under the circumstances.

For the uninitiated, the sitcom began its life as a YouTube series titled “Letterkenny Problems” before getting optioned into a TV show that premiered on Crave — a Canadian OTT streaming service — in 2016. But it wasn’t until the show’s arrival on Hulu in 2018 that “Letterkenny” arrived on America’s radar, yet another comedy series goofing on life in small town Canada. See also: “Schitt’s Creek.”

But “Letterkenny” is a far cry from “Schitt’s Creek.” The humor is coarser, the atmosphere more rural, and the stereotypes more severe, but each element is executed to great effect, resulting in a whole that manages to be subversive, surprising, and stupidly hilarious. The show’s acumen at exposing the inner workings of a very small town comes directly from creator and star Jared Keeso who based the show’s fictional location on his own hometown of roughly 7,000 people.

This is all well and good and, if it sounds intriguing, all nine seasons of the show are available to stream on Hulu. But that said, don’t start with Season 9. After all, what do fans want from a show once it has reached its ninth season? Certainly something different than an audience coming to the show for the first time, but is it enough to provide superfans with more of what they know and love, or do we expect long-running shows to still push themselves no matter how long they run?

LetterKenny -- “NDN NRG” - Episode 907 -- Tanis starts her own energy drink. Gail (Lisa Codrington), Rosie (Clark Backo), Katy (Michelle Mylett), shown. (Photo By Amanda Matlovich)
Clark Backo and Michelle Mylett, “Letterkenny”

Season 9 of “Letterkenny” opts for the former with mixed results. Never has the show’s YouTube roots been more apparent than in the latest season, which feels much more like a series of largely unrelated vignettes than a cohesive collection of episodes. All of the elements of what make the show great are there: the hicks (farmers), the skids (goth druggies), the hockey players (self-explanatory), the Natives (members of a local First Nation tribe). The witty, if occasionally convoluted, wordplay remains, as does the equal-opportunity exploitation/exploration/appreciation of hot people, as well as the show’s unflinching sex-positive, female-empowered, LGBTQ+ friendly atmosphere. There’s so much to love about the show, even at its weakest, but boy, it sure is better when it’s, well, better.

The season begins by wrapping up the events of the Season 8 finale, in which Letterkenny citizens rallied in support of Katy (Michelle Mylett) after finding out her boyfriend was stepping out on her and, led by brother Wayne (Keeso) engage in an epic slow-motion fight for her honor. They prevail, Katy announces her plans to go scorched earth and fuck the pain away, and the entirety of that plot largely disappears after a few episodes.

This is the ultimate failing of the season as a whole, as there’s a pervading sense throughout that there’s no real interest in furthering any story and that there’s much more interest in spooling out playful conversations between likable characters in scenes that regularly last 90 seconds too long. The lack of plot progression was so disorienting that it made me wonder if maybe I was misremembering the series and this had been the extent of story development in previous seasons. But in the Season 9 finale, “Letterkenny” drops a bunch of intriguing narrative choices simultaneously, which wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, except most of the storylines are picking up from plots last discussed several seasons ago.

LetterKenny -- “NDN NRG” - Episode 907 -- Tanis starts her own energy drink. Wayne (Jared Kesso), shown. (Photo By Amanda Matlovich)
Jared Keeso, “Letterkenny”

Again, the meandering pacing might just roll off the back of loyal fans, but a level of concern remains. Because while “Letterkenny” just concluded its ninth season, those seasons are short. The show is only 61 episodes in. That’s fewer than five seasons if the show took the shape of a typical American cable comedy with 13 episode seasons. Things definitely move slower in the country, but maybe story shouldn’t be one of those things.

For all of the perceived flaws of Season 9, “Letterkenny” still captures something rarely seen on TV, American or otherwise. It’s an accurate depiction of rural life, for better or worse. The loyalties and the gossip, the private dramas and the public blow-ups, the painstaking recreation of a way of life that is foreign to so many people, but familiar to so many of the rest of us. Letterkenny, the town, is both worse and better than your hometown. The cliques are more severe and there appears to be a lot more physical violence, but if characters seem close-minded about how a person cares for their truck, they are far more liberal and open-minded about social issues than my small town ever was. I’d wager if small towns were more like Letterkenny, more people would want to live in them, not less.

There is a moment in the season’s fifth episode, “Sleepover,” that is just a series of shots from the snowy streets of a small town in the middle of the night. Houses are closed tight, light glows from their frosted windows, each home filled with people hunkering down against the cold and the dark, each sitting as a sentry, waiting out the night. It was like home.

No matter how slow or meandering “Letterkenny” might get, there will always be something worth going back for, even if it’s just the familiar patter of people you used to know, talking about the same things they’ve always talked about, passing the time in the pleasure of each other’s company. The series will forever be a small town that I never want to escape.

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