Brent Butt on recreating the Corner Gas chemistry with animated reboot - InfoNews

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Brent Butt on recreating the Corner Gas chemistry with animated reboot

"Corner Gas Animated" premieres Monday on The Comedy Network. Revivals are taking over television schedules, a trend sure to continue with the smash hit start of "Roseanne." But can one of Canada's most popular sitcoms find success revived as an animated series? THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-CTV *MANDATORY CREDIT*
March 29, 2018 - 9:33 AM

Revivals are taking over television schedules, a trend sure to continue with the smash hit start of "Roseanne." But can one of Canada's most popular sitcoms find success revived as an animated series?

Viewers can judge for themselves when "Corner Gas Animated" premieres Monday on The Comedy Network.

At first, not even writer/producer/star Brent Butt was sure his comedy, which ran on CTV from 2004 to 2009, could make the 'toon transition. The series is, after all, about small-town locals who hang out at a prairie gas station diner. There's "not a lot goin' on," as the theme song implies. Could anything be less animated?

Then again, the Tisdale, Sask., native never dreamed the live-action version of his show would captivate Canadians for six seasons.

Encouraged by high ratings from the 2014 spinoff movie, CTV gave Butt and his producing partners a green light to test his 'toon thesis. Meetings were held with studios in Vancouver and Toronto, with design and animation split between Prairie Pantoons, Moving Mountoons, and Smiley Guy Studios.

Butt had dabbled in art and animation as a lad, including a very brief stint in art school at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont. He ran his animated sitcom idea past a friend who knows both comedy and cartoons, Norm Hiscock. The Montreal native worked with Butt on "Corner Gas" between writing and producing stints on "Saturday Night Live," "Parks & Recreation" and "Brooklyn Nine-Nine."

Hiscock also wrote several episodes of Mike Judge's long-running animated comedy "King of the Hill." He gave Butt four words of advice: "Don't change a thing."

One transitional advantage both men saw was that, as Butt says, "the comedy is dialogue driven. It's still interesting characters saying funny things."

Also helping was the fact that the original, live-action series had, as Butt describes them, plenty of "fantasy pop outs." These were often told in rapid-fire flashbacks. Emma would tell Oscar to be careful with some knives; cut to an ambulance.

In the animated series, the fantasies are ramped up. In one episode, says Butt, viewers will see "a sasquatch and a unicorn fight."

The new series will certainly sound like the old one. Besides Butt (as gas station owner Brent) and his real-life wife Nancy Robertson (quirky cashier Wanda), the returning stars lending voice are Gabrielle Miller (as coffee shop owner Lacey), Fred Ewanuick (Brent's buddy Hank), Eric Peterson (grouchy dad Oscar), Lorne Cardinal (Sergeant Davis) and Tara Spencer-Nairn (police partner Karen).

New cast member Corrine Koslo fills in for the late Janet Wright as the voice of Oscar's wife Emma. Koslo was a friend and stage colleague of Wright's. She and Peterson fell right into their respective characters says Butt.

Once scripts were written, recording sessions were set up in both Toronto and Vancouver. Butt felt it essential to record each episode "radio show style" with multiple actors in the same room.

"Chemistry is a huge part of what made this show work," he says. "When you put a show together, you cross your fingers. You either capture lightning in a bottle or you don't, and we found it with this group of people."

While all the voice actors were shown drawings before the recordings and had approval on their likenesses, their first glimpse of their animated selves did not happen until late last year at a special advance screening of "Corner Gas Animated" in Toronto.

"It was the damnedest thing to watch," said Peterson. "I immediately felt like a person not connecting with it in any way. I think I could probably take some acting tips from the animated me."

Robertson had one criticism of her animated rendering: "They made me look too young!" she said after the screening.

"She's a brutally honest person," said Butt, who had no problem looking younger. "I'll have Season 1 hairline for the rest of my life!"

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Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2018
The Canadian Press

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