Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/10/2018 (838 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
On a recent episode of AMC’s Better Call Saul — the prequel to the hit series Breaking Bad — Nacho (Michael Mando) opens a safe containing everything he needs to skip town: cash and fake IDs. Fake Manitoba IDs.
Naturally, as is Winnipeg tradition when something like this happens, the Internet was abuzz about this fun, blink-and-you-miss-it Easter egg. The prop itself, by the way, is pretty well done. Wolever Avenue is an actual street in Winnipeg. The Spirited Energy font looks right, though it may not be period accurate. Sure, the bison is on the wrong side and looks more like a bull, but who cares, Manitoba was on Better Call Saul!
But Better Call Saul is just the latest in a (surprisingly) long line of TV shows who have shouted-out our town. Mad About You did it. Cheers did it. News Radio did it. The Simpsons did it, giving us such oft-quoted gems as "That’s it, back to Winnipeg!" and "We were born here, what’s your excuse?"
Finding examples isn’t hard — there are dozens. Teasing out why Winnipeg is mentioned with such frequency, however, is a bit more complicated.
A few theories have been floated out in the past. In 2008, the writers of The Office told reporters they picked Winnipeg for a business trip episode because it struck the right balance between "exotic and obscure," a line that was later riffed on by 2016 Vogue.com profile of our city. So, perhaps Winnipeg can take its place alongside Timbuktu and Kalamazoo: places with funny- and far away-sounding names.
Or, maybe clues can be found in comedy writing rooms. Back before he was the Manitoba Liberal leader and MLA for St. Boniface, Dougald Lamont put together a pair of clip compilation videos, Does Winnipeg Really Exist? and OK, Maybe Winnipeg Exists, as part of an Economic Development Winnipeg promotional campaign. His theory was that the Winnipeg references might be a tip of the hat to Canadian comedians Ken Finkleman and David Steinberg, who hail from our Prairie city.
"These are two people who ultimately became very important in comedy," Lamont told the Free Press in 2011, "so there’s a personal connection in some of those references. It’s important because they are actually part of Winnipeg’s comedy legacy."
Lamont’s theory is supported by Al Jean, executive producer of The Simpsons, who told the Free Press in 2005 that his show’s Winnipeg references are a tribute to Finkleman, who gave Jean his first Hollywood writing gig, on 1982’s Airplane II. There you go.
There’s something strangely affirming about simply being acknowledged, which is why people cheer for the name of their own city at concerts, or feel a surge of pride when they recognize a landmark in a film that was shot here. For self-deprecating flatlanders with supposed inferiority complexes, we secretly love Winnipeg.
To stir up civic pride, here are 10 more recent ’Peg mentions. From NBC to Netflix, Winnipeg gets around.
The Mindy Project (S3, Ep.14)
In this Season 3 finale, Dr. Peter Prentice (Adam Pally) decides to go after the love of his life Lauren (Tracey Wigfield), who is about to board a plane to Texas. In order to have his rom-com moment however, he has to buy a $1,000 ticket to Winnipeg to get past security.
The Office (S5, Ep. 7)
This episode, colloquially known as "The Winnipeg Episode," got a lot of press coverage at the time of its 2008 airing. Dunder-Mifflin sends Michael Scott (Steve Carell), along with Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) and Oscar Martinez (Oscar Nunez) on a business trip to, you guessed it, Winnipeg. The show didn’t film on location, but Destination Winnipeg dispatched props such as Fort Garry beer and Old Dutch potato chips out to Los Angeles.
30 Rock (S1, Ep. 10 and S5, Ep. 14)
There are least two Winnipeg mentions on 30 Rock. In Season 1, Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) explains General Electrics corporate structure thus: "GE owns KitchenAll of Colorado which in turn owns JMI of Stanford, which is a majority share holder of pokerfastlane.com which recently acquired the Sheinhardt Wig Company, which owns NBC outright. NBC owns Winnipeg Iron Works, which owns the Ahp Chanagi Party Meats Corporation of Pyongyang, North Korea, and they will make the meat machine." Later, in Season 5, a pregnant Avery (Elizabeth Banks) is interrogated about what she’s packing in her "fake stomach" during a trip to Canada. "You smuggling unpasteurized cheese? Prescription drugs? Maple syrup from the Sacred Tree of Souls in Winnipeg?"
That ‘70s Show (S3, Ep. 23)
The gang decides to take a road trip to Canada for beer, and Winnipeg is featured on a highway sign visible from the border, although it’s spelled incorrectly: "Winnepeg." (Another ‘Peg peg: North End-born game-show legend Monty Hall makes a guest appearance a couple of episodes later.)
The Sopranos (S4, Ep. 2 and S6, Ep. 10)
Meadow Soprano (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) tries to sell her parents, Tony (James Gandolfini) and Carmela (Edie Falco), on taking a year off college to work on a friend’s movie: "It’s not a student film — it’s a feature on DVcam! Alvar hangs out with Dogma; he got an honourable mention at the Winnipeg Film Festival last year for his short." Later, in a Season 6 episode, Bobby Baccalieri’s (Steven R. Schirripa) target is a drummer from Montreal who is planning on moving to Winnipeg.
Master of None (S1, Ep. 5)
Denise (Lena Waithe) is visiting Dev (Aziz Ansari) on set, and asks an actor (H. Jon Benjamin) if he’s ever cheated on his wife while shooting a film. "Well there was this one time, all right? It was this camera operator in Winnipeg."
Law & Order SVU (S13, Ep. 23 and S16, Ep. 3)
Winnipeg has popped up on Special Victims Unit at least twice. In Season 13, the unit investigates the murder and sexual assault of a 16-year-old runaway from Winnipeg. In Season 16, detectives Nick Amaro (Danny Pino) and Amanda Rollins (Kelli Giddish) go to Winnipeg as part of an investigation into a movie producer accused of abusing and filming underage girls, tipped off by a DVD labelled "Winnipeg Nights."
Gone Girl (2014)
Stop typing, I know Gone Girl isn’t a TV show. But this one is weird and worth mentioning. In the movie adaptation of the Gillian Flynn thriller, someone thinks they recognize Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), who must remain incognito, and Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris) in a casino bar. Desi shuts him down. "No, we’re from Winnipeg, excuse us."
Fargo (S2, Ep. 2)
In the second season of the anthology spinoff, we meet the Gerhardts, a prominent North Dakota crime family. Floyd Gerhardt (Jean Smart) has taken over the family business after her husband has suffered a stroke. Her grandson is reading her well-wishes. "Jeremy Kleiner from Winnipeg writes, ‘Feel better boss man.’ That’s nice." Later, when the men in the family arguing over whether a boss should be "a girl," her son Bear argues, "Mom’s the ones with ties to Winnipeg. History with Carter B and the Selkirk crew." (Carter B and the Selkirk Crew would be a good band name, by the way.)
The Good Place (S2, Ep. 1)
Glenn (Josh Siegal) tries to bond with the glamorous Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil) because they are both wearing cargo pants. "I bet we have a lot in common! I was a garbage man in Winnipeg, how about you?"
— with files from Brad Oswald
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.