As I’ve mentioned in the past, I grew up near the Canadian border, where we had very little in the way of television channels. We didn’t have cable, so were limited to what channels we could get clearly on the television using our antenna on the roof. (Sorry if this is confusing to you young’uns. Before cable boxes, you had this tuner thingamabob that was wired to an antenna on the roof. You’d turn it to the channel you wanted to watch, and the antenna on the roof would very slowly grind toward the direction it needed to point in order for you to see that channel. It was like a large-scale version of rabbit ears.)
We were limited to a few of American stations – I think NBC, CBS and PBS – and the rest were Canadian channels. Canadian channels showed a strange mixture of programming. They’d show popular American shows (which was great, especially when they showed programs from channels we didn’t get) and then they’d show Canadian programs as well.
A few years ago, my old roommate and I were watching a Canadian show called Durham County. We were marveling over the weird plot twists and the things that just didn’t make sense in it (a child who randomly popped up wearing a creepy anime mask, a man who had visions of bludgeoning people to death in the bathroom, a teenager who wandered aimlessly at all hours under power lines for no reason), until we realized – it was a Canadian show, and from our childhood recollection, Canadian shows were weird.
Now, I am not saying all Canadian shows were weird. Canada brought me The Kids in the Hall – still, years later, one of my favorite shows of all time – and Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High, which, in my teen years, were much more compelling than Beverly Hills 90210 (I don’t know anything about the most recent iterations of Degrassi, other than I tried to watch once and the teens I remembered were all grown up and parents now and that made me feel old so I turned it off.) However, Canada also brought into my household some truly strange things.
I mentioned Mr. Dressup in an earlier post, which I consider to be the touchstone for odd Canadian programming. That show ran for twenty-nine years. Twenty-nine YEARS! That is insane! There are generations and generations of children who watched that show! Generations of children who know what a Tickle Trunk is!
Another gem was The Littlest Hobo. This show was kind of like the Canadian version of Lassie, only Lassie was a homeless dog who wandered from town to town, helping people who needed it, then moving on to help others. So kind of like Quantum Leap, too. And a little like Highway to Heaven, I guess. Only with a homeless itinerant dog. Who never looked like a real homeless dog would, by the way. He was always pretty clean and groomed. I suppose the people he helped fed him and bathed him and such, I don’t know.
I still have the theme song to this stupid show in my head, years later. I know the entire thing. I feel like it played constantly throughout my childhood on repeats – it must have, because the last episode seems to have aired in 1985 and I remember watching an episode as late at 1992. I guess it was really popular in Canada, watching this dog save the day.
It would have been fine, if the scenarios were believable that Hobo (that was his name – which is kind of politically incorrect now, right? We can’t call people hobos now, can we? That’s a shame. I like that word. It makes me think of people with bindles over their shoulders, riding the rails. It sounds nobler than “the homeless,” somehow) was saving people from. But the show ran for six years, and there are only so many versions of “dog comes to town and saves someone and leaves amidst their pleas for him to stay forever” that they can do. So they started getting a little weirder. For example, we have:
- Hobo finds an undetonated World War II bomb. (This seems…unlikely.)
- A family is trapped on a deserted island. (Then how did a DOG get there?)
- A mime and a deaf boy help Hobo prevent a robbery. (This sounds horrifying. And kind of like the setup for a dirty joke.)
- Hobo is declared a new species of dog and flees people trying to capture him. (What? A new species of dog? Like a genetically engineered dog, or…what?)
- A gambler plans to sabotage a lumberjack contest. (Yes, because that’s where the big money’s riding. Lumberjack competitions. Everyone knows that.)
- A criminal steals and tries to sell a secret laser. (For one…meeeelion….dollars! Mike Myers is Canadian. I think The Littlest Hobo people might have grounds for a lawsuit, here.)
- Hobo is sought in a fraternity scavenger hunt. (Also known as “the year the fraternity was kicked out of the college for lameness”)
- Hobo meets a “very special friend” who believes he can understand what animals are thinking. The pair matches wits with a warehouse full of gold thieves. (Yeah. I…don’t know what to say about this. It sounds like it was full of hijiinks, though. Also, why is the “friend” so “special?” Were there “bad touches?”)
- Hobo befriends a lonely clown. (WHY WOULD ANYONE DO THIS)
- A farmer and his mail-order bride seem incompatible. (Um…well, yeah, I can see how that could happen. Because you ordered her? Through the mail?)
- A rival tries to have a harmonica player fired. (Ah, yes. The cut-throat world of harmonica playing. This probably was a two-part special, followed the seamy underbelly of lumberjack competitions.)
- A young mute girl and her father are being blackmailed into conducting fake seances. Hobo is able to break the blackmailers’ hold by cleverly investigating and manipulating the mechanics of the ruse. (He is a dog. How was he able to manipulate anything? He doesn’t have opposable thumbs. Also, seances! Scary!)
- Hobo turns health inspector when botulism is discovered at a campground. (Because in Canada, affirmative action means the best “creature” for the job? I don’t know.)
- Hobo stalks an ominous carnival patron. (You know who you should stalk, Hobo? That SAD CLOWN FROM EARLIER.)
- Hobo mans a disco control panel and helps the victim of an underworld frame-up. (“A disco control panel?” Like, Hobo was a DJ? Awesome.)
- Hobo encourages a paraplegic boy to enter a Frisbee-throwing contest. (Um. Yeah. This just…seems mean?)
Other interesting things to note are that there are multiple episodes where Hobo is mistaken for a wolf (apparently this was a success, ratings-wise, or they were running out of ideas. Also, Hobo doesn’t look a lot like a wolf. See below), multiple episodes where Hobo plays matchmaker (because THAT’S not at all disturbing, a dog playing matchmaker), and multiple episodes where he hangs out with other indigent people (who are listed as “bums” or “runaways” or “hitchhikers” but never “hobos” because we already HAVE a hobo and two would be way too confusing.)
Now, I know, you are curious! This can’t be as bad as I’m saying, you’re thinking! Well, I didn’t think so, either, so I went to YouTube. And you’re right. It’s actually worse.
Here is a commercial for the program. In this, please note the production values, which I think you could mimic by filming this in your backyard with the camera in your phone, hiring your least-attractive friends, and using free Internet graphics.
And one more – in this clip, Hobo helps the stupidest people alive escape from a car. (I know. You wanted to see Hobo be a DJ. SO DID I. YouTube does not seem to have that available to me. I’m so sorry for getting your hopes up.) I’m inclined to say he should have let them die there, because natural selection was taking them out for a reason. “It – it’s a DOG! It’s STANDING! On the CAR!” Wow, Mistress of Observation! (Also, I’m confused about what happens right after the men run out of the house to save the women in the car. What’s going on behind that curtain? A ghost? The cameraman forgot to follow them? This is perplexing.) Oh, and apparently, one of the girls is Megan Follows from Anne of Green Gables? That makes me sad. I’m going to pretend to un-know that.
Now, before I get hate mail from people who loooooved this show growing up – so did I. I mean, I watched it, anyway. Mainly because I didn’t have much of a choice. But seriously, please think about this. A strange dog shows up and starts tugging you around or picking crap up in its mouth or solving “mysteries” or whatever, and this is just normal? Even in the late 70’s, early 80’s, I think this would be a red flag, and animal control would have been called. I worked for the Humane Society for two years and I never met a stray dog who was this intelligent. I mean, yes, I guess some were crafty and got out of holes in fences or something, but I don’t see a single episode where “Hobo escapes from the shelter” is listed as the show description. I guess he’s just too crafty to even get picked up by an Animal Control Officer? I mean, he was a DJ and a health inspector, so I suppose he can evade an Animal Control Officer easily enough.
If anyone ever wonders why exactly I am as weird as I am, you can add “grew up on a steady diet of Canadian programming” to the list of possible causes, seriously. Tickle Trunks and dog DJ’s. And Gavin.