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Hulu Hopes Jann Can Be Its Next Letterkenny

But does this Curb-like Canadian comedy have crossover appeal? Colour us skeptical.
  • Jann Arden in a promotional photo for Jann (CTV/Hulu)
    Jann Arden in a promotional photo for Jann (CTV/Hulu)

    The pandemic has created quite the market for Canadian television in the U.S., and to date most of the shows that have found their way stateside haven't required much explanation for American viewers to understand what's going on. Yes, they use the metric system on shows like Coroner, Nurses and Transplant, but otherwise they approximate the look and feel of an American procedural. Jann, on the other hand — arriving January 29 on Hulu — may require a primer.

    Let's start with the show's titular star. Jann Arden is a well-known Canadian adult contemporary singer-songwriter who broke out in 1994 with the song "Insensitive," a single from her second album.

    "Insensitive" was a #1 hit in Canada and it reached #12 in the U.S.; if you were aware of popular music in the mid-'90s and/or saw the Christian Slater movie Bed Of Roses (which featured the song in its soundtrack), you've heard it. Arden went on to release another ten studio albums, and has won every major Canadian music award there is to win. In other words, in the world of Canadian music, she's a very big deal.

    In the 2000s, Arden also started acting, making guest appearances on TV series both in Canada and the U.S. Her role on Wynonna Earp teamed her with creator Emily Andras, who's listed as a consultant on Jann... although the dark fantasy western has little in common with a heightened, Curb Your Enthusiasm-esque sitcom with a celebrity at its center.

    While Arden seems to have plenty of projects on the go in real life — she's written four books, co-hosts a podcast, and judges a Canadian music competition reality show — the Jann of Jann isn't doing nearly as well. She regularly rents out her enormous mansion outside Calgary to fancy short-term tenants. She's gigging outside a farmer's market for barely a dozen people and getting paid in wheels of cheese. When her hapless manager Todd (Jason Blicker) manages to get her booked at a cancer benefit, he takes her stage pass into the audience with him, and no one backstage knows who she is. Enter Cale (Elena Juatco), a young and particularly fearsome member of Feist's entourage, who believes Jann can return to relevance — if someone as savvy as Cale can manage her.

    The Jann of Jann is also dealing with disruptions in her family life: her sister Max (Zoie Palmer) just found out she's pregnant again — a big surprise, considering her husband Dave (Patrick Gilmore) just got a vasectomy. While Max and Dave figure out what they're going to do, Max decides that Jann and Max's aging mother (Deborah Grover) should live with Jann for a while. Other than a brief scare in which mom loses one of Max's young daughters at a recording studio, it's not clear in the four screeners provided to critics how big an issue her lapses of memory will be; given that Arden wrote a book about her real-life experiences with her own mother's Alzheimer's, it seems likely that this autobiographical element continues to unfold. (The series has already aired two seasons on CTV in Canada, with another on the way sometime later this year.)

    Basically Jann is The Comeback crossed with Better Things, but set in Canada. The show is chockablock with Canadian celebrities: in addition to the aforementioned Feist, early episodes also feature host and comedian Rick Mercer and pop star Kiesza. Never heard of them? How about Terri Clark, around whom a whole scene (including several very specific jokes about her trademark look) is built? Only dimly aware of who Diana Krall and Gordon Lightfoot are? Then those jokes aren't going to land, either. In future episodes, viewers can look forward to seeing Sarah McLachlan and k.d. lang, but American audiences may have tapped out by then because of how intensely and specifically Canadian it is. As an intense and specific Canadian myself, I can respect that, but I've been living in the U.S. for close to 14 years and a lot of Jann sailed over my head like a loon feather born aloft by a chinook. If Jann is too Canadian for me, it's almost certainly too Canadian for the average American.

    It makes sense that Hulu would be looking around for a title that could be its next Letterkenny, the long-running sitcom originally developed for the Canadian streaming service Crave that's found new life on the American streaming service. Maybe another part of the thinking was to try to attract some of the fans bereft by the end of Schitt's Creek, a production of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Jann does share attributes with both of those shows: Letterkenny has an extraordinarily strong sense of place, and expects its audience to keep up with its very Canadian dirtbag slang, while Schitt's Creek revolves around a snippy but ultimately loving family. Still, call me insensitive, but unless you're willing to Google scads of unfamiliar references, or just let them float by like so many bull trout in the Athabasca River, Jann may be a tough be a sell this side of the border.

    Seasons 1 and 2 of Jann drop on Hulu January 29nd.

    Writer, editor, and snack enthusiast Tara Ariano is the co-founder of Television Without Pity and Fametracker (RIP). She co-hosts the podcasts Extra Hot Great and Again With This (a compulsively detailed episode-by-episode breakdown of Beverly Hills, 90210), and has contributed to New York, the New York Times magazine, Vulture, Decider, Salon, and Slate, among many others. She lives in Austin.

    TOPICS: Jann, CTV, Hulu, Emily Andras, Feist