Type keyword(s) to search

Quick Hits

Revisiting the Lo-Fi Canadian Soap That Launched Ryan Reynolds' Acting Career

Whether you knew it as Hillside or Fifteen, it was the teen soap that served as the humble beginning for one of our biggest box-office stars.
  • Ryan Reynolds was just fourteen when he booked his first acting role. (Screenshot: Amazon Freevee)
    Ryan Reynolds was just fourteen when he booked his first acting role. (Screenshot: Amazon Freevee)

    Ryan Reynolds has one of the strongest brands in Hollywood today. Beginning with National Lampoon's Van Wilder back in 2002 and on through his performances in Deadpool and Free Guy and Red Notice, Reynolds has perfected a snarky, disaffected, deeply (even self-consciously) "cool" persona. He's got the physique of an action star combined with enough quips to make sure you know that he doesn't take all this action-movie stuff too seriously.

    Which is may be why it's so fascinating that not only did Reynolds get his start in the acting business on a deeply earnest and low-fi Canadian teen soap called Hillside, but also that it's available to stream in its entirety today.

    Back in the early 1990s, the American kids-programming cable channel Nickelodeon didn't have much in the way of programming for teens. The original programming ranged from pre-schooler-focused shows like Pinwheel up through grade-schooler shows like Mr. Wizard's World, a lot of syndicated animation like Count Duckula and The World of David the Gnome, and of course the squishy, slimy competition series Double Dare. For middle schoolers, Nickelodeon imported theCanadian sketch series You Can't Do That on Television, which introduced audiences to Alanis Morissette and gave Nick its signature green slime.

    But the teen-focused Nick programming that would begin to emerge in the mid-to-late '90s and would eventually evolve into Teen Nick and eventually kick-start the careers of Amanda Bynes, Kenan Thompson, Emma Roberts, and Ariana Grande (among others) hadn't yet happened. So in 1990-91, the channel began dipping its toes into teen programming with a handful of shows like Welcome Freshman, Salute Your Shorts, and Clarissa Explains It All.

    The channel also imported the Canadian teen soap Hillside, rebranding it Fifteen. Whereas the other teen-focused shows were overtly comedic, Fifteen was decidedly and very earnestly dramatic. This was a proper teen soap where concerns like boyfriend trouble, menacing popular girls, and getting your band to play at the school assembly where treated with the kind of importance that unfaithful husbands, terminal illnesses, and hostile takeovers received on adult soaps.

    One look at the show's opening credits says all that needs to be said about the vibe of the show, from the theme music tootling out of the Casio handheld of whomever composed it to the camera lingering just a a moment too long on the actors in each shot, to the point where it feels like they're about to look offscreen to see if the director is going to call "cut" or not.

    Almost nobody from the Fifteen cast is recognizable today. Laura Harris, who played whisper-quiet ingenue Ashley, went on to appear on a season of 24 and had a rather pivotal role in the teen horror film The Faculty. But it's Ryan Reynolds as kid-brother, drummer, skateboarder, and — for a regrettable interlude — high-school bully Billy who stands out for the sheer incongruity of his current level of fame and the meagerness of the show he debuted in.

    Billy's character type is "kid brother." He's younger brother to Courtney (Sarah Douglas), and in the show's first episode, it's revealed that their parents are going through a divorce. It's a credit to the series that this most teenage of crises is given the dire weight that it would have for kids that age. It really sends the both of them into a tailspin.

    Billy didn't get to be a part of Fifteen's juicier storylines. While popular-girl menace Brooke (Robyn Ross) set out to destroy Ashley, who was dating her ex-boyfriend and star jock Matt (Todd Talbot, who went on to host Love It or List It: Vancouver), Billy was complaining about his newly-single dad not knowing how to pack a lunch. While leather-jacket-wearing bad boy Dylan (Chris William Martin) was busy brooding and breaking hearts, Billy was befriending Finnish exchange student Olaf (Aubrey Nealon) before coming to the unsettling realization that everybody else thought Olaf was uncool.

    It should be noted that Reynolds is on the record as having "hated" working as a child actor and says he quit acting entirely until his Fifteen co-star Chris Martin (no, not that one) convinced him to move to Hollywood with him the mid-'90s, a fateful decision indeed.

    All four seasons of Fifteen/Hillside are available to stream (for free!) on Amazon's ad-supported streaming service Freevee, although fair warning: unless you remember watching the show as a teen and have a nostalgic pull to its earnest, deeply Canadian charms, there's frankly not an awful lot to love about it. Still, the curiosity of catching baby Ryan Reynolds banging away on his little drum kit and idolizing the cool older teen in his band and struggling with his parents' divorce makes it worth checking out at least once.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Ryan Reynolds, Nickelodeon, Fifteen (Hillside)