Television Up North

By Isaac H.

A number of people often express frustration that “there is nothing good on anymore.” Scripted, live-action American television has seen something of a decline. Replaced by reality shows, game shows and animated sitcoms. Not  to say there is anything inherently wrong with any of those genres. The lack of live action scripted content has led entire generations of Generation X’ers, Xennials, Millennials and Generation Z’ers to “cord cut” and get rid of cable outright. But ye need not abandon all hope, our neighbors up north have been churning out quality scripted content for decades.

Canada has no shortage of quality television available to American viewers. Some of it you might find familiar. Some of it you may not be aware that it originated in Canada. Some may be set domestically but is filmed entirely and obviously in Canada.

Murdoch Mysteries, or The Artful Detective, or Les enquêtes de Murdoch

The title of this series differs depending where you first saw it.  You might know the show as ‘The Artful Detective,’ as ‘Les enquêtes de Murdoch,’ or it’s most common name, ‘Murdoch Mysteries’. The show is about an early 20th century inventor and detective who, while solving mysteries, often invents analog versions of modern technological staples using the materials of his time. While mostly an easy going mystery drama, the show has occasionally delved into science fiction and even grazed the steampunk genre from time to time. To add a bit more interest, the show has a crossover/spinoff taking place in modern times on the island of Newfoundland, Canada.


The most meme-able show I’ve seen in a very long time. Letterkenny is my favorite ongoing comedy series. Fair warning: This show would have the strongest of MA ratings if it were rated. The show is essentially a banter and wordplay heavy comedy about the different residents of a rural farming town in Ontario. The locals spend most of their time waxing philosophical with a beer and a smoke. That is, when they aren’t trading insults, telling tall tales, spreading gossip or outright brawling. Letterkenny aired its first 6 seasons only in Canada on the Crave TV streaming service before being picked up by Hulu/NBC Universal for its 7th season.

Second City Television

Originally I wanted to cover another Canadian sketch comedy legend, The Kids in the Hall, along with this show. While I spent hours laughing watching that show and the insanely hilarious movie that followed it, I realized that show probably wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for the success of sketch pioneers on SCTV. Also two sketch shows might be one too many. Sorry headcrushers, looks like this one got away!

The Toronto based sketch comedy show was often seen as the Canadian Saturday Night live, though it would join that show as a late night sketch comedy on NBC after it’s first season. Originating as a Toronto live comedy troupe, the show introduced a number of comedy icons whose names are still revered today. If you’ve never heard of or haven’t watched the show, you might find some of the comedy a bit dated.

Bonus Round: The city that stars in every other movie but never plays itself

I once heard a saying on a Youtube tourism channel that went something like (paraphrasing) “The city of Vancouver, British Columbia is the city that stars in every other movie but never plays itself.”  For a bonus round, here are a few examples that famously stick out in my head.


As with Letterkenny, Psych is one of those shows I can’t go long without recommending. I’m a huge Psych fan. It’s hard not to be. The characters are likeable dorks from working class backgrounds who constantly demonstrate their knowledge of all things nerdy. Psych is a typical murder mystery-of-the-week infused with a good dose of comedy and callbacks, never getting too dark or too serious.  While the show is ostensibly set in Santa Barbara, California, viewers familiar with that region of the country will find that the overcast, evergreen covered mountains and blackberry entwined backdrops of the show look a lot more like the shores of the Canadian west coast than Southern California.

The Magicians

The Magicians is another one of those shows that I like to recommend to as many people as possible. Based on the book trilogy by Lev Grossman, The Magicians television series began as a sort of brooding fantasy horror for young adults. While the initial premise was extremely enjoyable, after garnering a hardcore fan following the show matured into a camp-filled dramedy with occasional gore. Think Pretty Little Liars meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Ash vs. the Evil Dead. “But what in the Degrassi High Jimmy Drake does this have to do with Canada?” you say? The fictional setting, the magical Brakebills University, is supposedly located in upstate New York. Viewing the show, you’ll notice that school grounds and the magical land of Fillory are visibly filmed around greater Vancouver.

Stargate SG1

Stargate SG1 was a wildly popular television series based on the 1994 movie by Roland Emmerich. The show was something of a soft reboot/continuation of the movie, featuring a new cast playing most of the same characters. It would last for 10 seasons on 3 networks, 2 made for television movies and 3 completed spinoff series. While the show, and it’s spin offs would feature settings on multiple planets, nearly all of them would have the same aesthetic: Misty forests, tall evergreens and distant mountains with intermittent blue waterways. Sound familiar?

Are there any Canadian television shows (or shows obviously filmed in Canada) that I missed that you enjoy? Check out the list below and leave a message below!

Television Up North


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2 responses to “Television Up North”

  1. Teresa says:

    What about Corner Gas? It’s pretty darn funny…

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