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Opinion

Many folks hereabouts regard the Wolseley neighbourhood as kind of a different place to live.

But when the Toronto-based producers of the new Citytv sketch-comedy show Sunnyside moved in for a few weeks last year, Winnipeg's earthy granola-belt enclave was transformed into something downright weird.

From left, Alice Moran, Kevin Vidal, Kathleen Phillips, Rob Norman, Pat Thornton and Patrice Goodman.

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From left, Alice Moran, Kevin Vidal, Kathleen Phillips, Rob Norman, Pat Thornton and Patrice Goodman.

And that, as it turns out, is a very good thing, because Sunnyside, which premières Thursday, Jan. 8, at 7 p.m. on Citytv, is the most brilliantly inspired and inventive sort of strange.

The six-episode series, created by Dan Redican (the Frantics) and Gary Pearson (Corner Gas, This Hour Has 22 Minutes), features a stellar six-member cast (Kathleen Phillips, Pat Thornton, Alice Moran, Kevin Vidal, Rob Norman and Patrice Goodman) playing a variety of eccentric, misguided and/or bizarre characters living and working in the titular fictional community.

Each episode consists of a rapid-fire collection of sketches and sight gags, with many of the characters emerging as recurring oddballs. In addition, each instalment has a uniquely goofy overriding theme that weaves its way through the sketches -- in the première, it's a stray top hat that blows through Sunnyside and changes the lives of those who encounter it; in Episode 2, it's an unexplained invasion of feral ponies into the community.

Some of the sketches flirt with current pop-culture issues -- in the opener, two Sunnyside cops (Moran and Goodman) are pinned down in a pitched gun battle because one of them opted to text for backup rather than calling in the S.O.S. "Backup" was auto-corrected to "bacon," and the text was misdirected, with the result being the arrival of the officer's mother with a plate of fried pork.

Also drawn from the current zeitgeist are a segment that pokes fun at the hot-yoga craze and another that explores the dangers of un-following a crazy Twitter enthusiast.

Among the more random sketches are a darkly funny look at a couple (Phillips, Norman) whose intimacy problems might be linked to the presence of a large bleeding wound in the bedroom wall, and a particularly inspired bit involving a mild-mannered dad (Norman) who says he's taking his tiny daughter out for a stroll in the fresh air but really intends to enter her in combat at the local Baby Fight Club.

Subject matter ranges from the mundane to the macabre and from the workaday ordinary to the way-out wacko, but the unifying quality of the sketches is that they're all really, genuinely funny.

The cast -- and there are no weak links here -- fully commits to every scene and character, and the producers' attention to detail and production values give Sunnyside a great look and a completely immersive atmosphere. Wolseley does its bit, too, offering the series a locale with a distinct identity and seemingly limitless sketch-setting possibilities.

There's a whole lot to love about Sunnyside, and really nothing of note to dislike. It can't claim to be a "Winnipeg" show, since its shooting location and the presence of Buffalo Gal Pictures as a partner in the production credits are really the only elements of local pedigree, but it's probably still OK to feel good about the fact something this weird and wonderful was created, in large part, in the streets and structures of Winnipeg's most eclectic urban environs.

It isn't stretching the point to say that Sunnyside is probably Canada's best sketch-comedy TV effort since Codco and The Kids in the Hall arrived in rapid succession in the late '80s. And when it comes to Canuck funny biz, that's about as high as praise gets.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Brad Oswald

Brad Oswald
Perspectives Editor

After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.

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