Toque-wearing brothers Bob and Doug McKenzie return to TV as animated hosers

TORONTO - It's been nearly 30 years since dim-witted hosers Bob and Doug McKenzie debuted on Canadian TV with their unique take on the Great White North.

The beer-swilling, toque-wearing, back bacon-loving pair personified every Canuck stereotype, and even creator Dave Thomas says he's amazed the comic characters are still beloved today.

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The McKenzie brothers return to TV on Sunday in the animated Global series Bob & Doug, finally getting a full half-hour of airtime after debuting as time-killer between SCTV skits on CBC-TV in 1980.

Thomas says neither he nor co-creator Rick Moranis thought much of the characters when they first created them.

It was just filler, we didn't think it was important, Thomas says from his home in Malibu, Calif.

They only existed because the CBC requested distinctly Canadian material for the third season of SCTV, he recalls.

I was the head writer at that time and was like: 'Screw you, what do you want?' says Thomas.

I hate that nationalism stuff that they try to ram into comedy and entertainment, you know. Like, if you guys want to do documentaries on the loon and stuff like that on your network, go ahead but don't shove it down our throat. So we, as a mean-spirited joke to them, just put up a map of Canada and Rick and I got in front of it in toques and parkas and fried up back bacon and drank beer and just improvised.

It was just, alright, here you go, is this Canadian enough for you? And then it caught on and it was a big surprise.

Back then, there wasn't much to Bob and Doug. They loved beer, they loved back bacon and they loved telling people to, Take off, eh. And that was enough.

In their new animated incarnation, Bob and Doug are much more, says Thomas, noting that he and his team of writers had to create an entire world of friends, family and neighbourhood for the Canuck stereotypes.

In the fictional community of Maple Lake, Bob and Doug work as garbage collectors and pal around with a varied bunch that includes their cousin Rupert, who's a cop; Peggy, who owns the Skate 'N Bowl where they hang out; and their sleazy friend Dennis, who's always drumming up a scam.

The characters of Bob and Doug had be overhauled as well, says Thomas, since the original characters were little more than improv bits thrown out by him and Moranis.

So we kind of made Bob the moral centre of the show because it seemed like a logical way to go, says Thomas, originally from St. Catharines, Ont.

Bob knows when something's wrong and knows when we shouldn't do it or that he and Doug shouldn't do it. He tries to advise Doug not to do it and Doug is the kind of guy who will jam a parking meter rather than pay a dime to park.

The changes don't stop there. This time around, Bob is portrayed by Full House comic Dave Coulier, since Moranis simply wasn't interested in resuming the part, says Thomas, who provides the voice of Doug. Moranis still has a hand as executive producer.

Still, Coulier - who grew up in Detroit - says he understands that longtime fans might be skeptical of his take on the role of Bob, but says he couldn't help jumping at the chance to portray one of his favourite comic characters.

It's huge shoes to fill, stepping into Rick Moranis' shoes, Coulier says from his home in Los Angeles.

It's such an established, great character and I guess the only thing I have going for me is that it kind of sounds alike and that half of my family is from Canada, noting his mother's family is from Bathurst, N.B.

Meanwhile, the storylines stray into surprisingly dark territory. Episodes tackle hot-button issues including religion, suicide, unionism and race. There was a conscious effort to add subversive elements to the show, says Thomas, noting that Bob and Doug join a Sunday night lineup on Global that already includes the edgy animated series, The Simpsons and Family Guy.

Dark has always been really attractive to me, dark comedy, right from the very beginning of my career, you know, Thomas says.

I wrote a piece for SCTV and they wouldn't let us put it on and it was called the Pocket Pal. It was about a little device that you could carry with you on an airplane that could predict mid-air collisions, sometimes as much as 15 seconds in advance of impact. That was hilarious to me - that someone would know they were going to die and all they would be able to do is tell other people or scream.

The great thing about animation is that it allows you to do dark stuff in a way that you can't in live action because it's too threatening.

Bob and Doug debuts Sunday on Global.

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