ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JAN. 23, 2003
By Steve Newton
In Trailer Park Boys—Showcase TV’s low-budget mockumentary series about dope-smoking, foul-mouthed lowlifes inhabiting a rundown (is there any other kind?) trailer park—it’s the little things that make you laugh. Like Julian’s (John Paul Tremblay’s) ever-present glass of rum ’n’ Coke. Whether he’s hanging around the trailer thinking of illegal ways to retire early with his “Freedom 35” plan or firing his pistol during a harebrained heist, he never lets go of his drink. And never spills a drop. As for his slow-witted partner in crime (and buddy in jail) Ricky (Robb Wells), there are chuckles to be had just watching him cadge cigarettes from the park’s lesser hooligans (“Smokes now, hurry up”) or twitch when he gets teased for resembling a pompadoured hypnotist (“Hey Reveen!”).
And then there’s the lovable Bubbles (Mike Smith), whose super-thick eyeglasses alone nearly steal the show. They may be a cheap gag—Smith’s ex-girlfriend picked up the specs at a flea market down in Texas—but there’s something inherently funny about heavily magnified peepers, especially on an already goofy-looking guy. Even if they do make the actor suffer for his art.
“Oh yeah, they’re nasty,” claims Smith, on the line from Halifax, where the show is filmed. “Nineteen-point-seventy-five is the power of ’em. You get like plus-one and plus-two at the drugstore, and they’re pretty strong. So I got worried about it and went to an ophthalmologist this year, and he said that there’s no way I could physically alter my vision. He said all that’ll happen is I’ll get headaches. So that was good news.”
A native of Thorburn, Nova Scotia, Smith first met Wells and Tremblay in 2000 while mixing sound on director Mike Clattenburg’s Trailer Park Boys feature, before it was picked up by Showcase and turned into a half-hour television series. One day on the set Smith was joking around in the Bubbles persona, and Clattenburg decided to write the googly-eyed wonder into the series. “I was in a band called Sandbox for about 10 years,” notes Smith, “and I had four or five characters I used to do on the tour bus, just goofin’ around, and I think that’s probably where Bubbles started.”
While most of the seedy individuals portrayed in Trailer Park Boys are quite obnoxious, Bubbles stands out as someone the audience can sympathize with. He’s not out to hurt anybody; he just wants to smoke a little reef, share some of Julian’s rum ’n’ Coke, and pet his beloved kitties. He might rip off and sell the odd shopping cart to make ends meet, but other than that he’s a real sweet guy. So how much of Bubbles’s personality is akin to that of his creator?
“I’d say there’s quite a bit, to be totally honest,” offers the 30-year-old Smith with a laugh. “But according to the show’s back story, Bubbles was abandoned by his parents when he was five and just sort of grew up by himself, living in sheds and stuff. So he’s one of these guys that maybe doesn’t have a lot of social skills. But he definitely knows right from wrong, and he’s a pretty loyal friend. He’s actually a pretty smart guy. He’s not mentally challenged like most people think.”
Showcase is currently broadcasting Trailer Park Boys reruns on Sundays at 9 p.m., and all new episodes—the third season—will begin airing on April 20. One of the upcoming shows stars Canadian rock-guitar legend Alex Lifeson of Rush in a story in which Bubbles wins a contest and becomes Lifeson’s guitar tech. While shooting a segment of that episode last October, Smith actually got on-stage with Rush during a concert at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. Local TPB fans should note that he—along with Tremblay and Wells—will also be taking the stage at the Our Lady Peace concert on Saturday (January 25) at GM Place. He’s hoping OLP will let him perform a country song he wrote as Bubbles called “Kitties Are So Nice”.
“We’ll be doing some sort of a thing that probably starts backstage,” he says. “We’ll be on a camera that’ll be transmitting to a screen, and then we’ll eventually end up on-stage for some reason. We’re still workin’ out the details of exactly how we’re gonna play it, ’cause there’s a lot of things to work out—like, I can’t see, for one thing. So moving around is always a problem, especially if there’s stairs, or high stages that I could walk off the end of. You really can’t see anything. It’s basically like bein’ blind.”
My review of Trailer Park Boys: The Movie (2006)
My review of Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day (2009)
My review of Trailer Park Boys: Don’t Legalize It (2014)