Series: You Can't Do That on Television
Hi, and welcome to sort of a... musty episode of You Can't Do That on Television. The show that makes modern history every week by continually appalling its viewers.
—Christine "Moose" McGlade, the show's host from 1979 to 1986
Canadian Saturday Morning Kids Show Sketch Comedy
, running from 1979 to 1990, and rerun on and later produced by Nickelodeon
. Heavily influenced by Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In
, borrowing modified and age-appropriate versions of several of Laugh-In
sketches (most obviously, the joke wall, redesigned as a set of locker doors; the habit of dumping buckets of water and green slime on cast members, and the announcer) and catch phrases.
First introduced at CJOH Ottawa (a CTV
affiliate) as a kids' variety show, the show's wild success in America
made it one of the defining shows of Nickelodeon
's history. It would run far longer on that network than it did in Canada, and the network's trademark green slime started with this show. The show's influence went beyond Nickelodeon, as homages have popped up everywhere from the sitcom NewsRadio
(in one episode, the cast was doused with buckets of green slime and water) to Family Guy
(an episode in the 2011-12 season is titled "You Can't Do That On Television, Peter", and in another episode, Peter Griffin is himself slimed for saying "I don't know").
Brought Covered in Gunge
to North America (and associated it with Nickelodeon). And Alanis Morissette
. No, really. The proof is here
. Also, the show was an early writing job for Bill Prady, who went on to create The Big Bang Theory
In 2012, Shout! Factory
released You Can't Do That on Film
, a documentary about the history of the show.
Now with its own Getting Crap Past the Radar
This series provides examples of:
- Adults Are Useless: Adults are usually portrayed as bumbling morons...at their best. The one who isn't—Ross, the stage manager—is despicable for all other sorts of reasons. This was deliberate on the part of creator Roger Price, who hated that adults in kids' shows tended to be reliable, helpful, Reasonable Authority Figures and wanted to teach kids that not all adults were like this.
- Arcade Sounds:
- Owing to the series' low budget, the machines in Blip's Video Arcade were just prop cabinets which used mechanical buzzers and bells to provide their sound effects, while the visual displays involved flashing lights behind coloured overlays.
- In a rare example of this trope being used correctly (owing to the year in which it was filmed), the 1982 episode "Addictions" features Christine playing the Atari 2600 port of Pac-Man in many of the link segments, complete with appropriate sound effects (since she really is playing the game, not just waggling the joystick to a recording).
- The Backstage Sketch: The show showed the backstage area on occasion, but the best example of this from it is the introduction/theme elaboration sketches on the blue triangle set, which more often than not would lapse into being more about the making of said sketches.
- Bad Boss: In the 1981 and 1982 seasons, Barth, proprietor of Barth's Burgery, had a not-too-bright teenage employee named Zilch (Darryl Lucas) whom he routinely belittled, insulted, and hit upside the head with a frying pan. All for minimum wage (at best).
Zilch: (entering while tying his apron) Good morning, Mr. Barth, sir!
Barth: Good morning, zit-face!
Zilch: Mr. Barth, give me one good reason why you can never say a kind word to me!
Barth: Because you are a wishy-washy, weak-kneed, acne-covered jellyfish!
Zilch: (glumly) One reason would do...
- Bankruptcy Barrel: Ross and Moose end up wearing these during 1981's "Crimes & Vandalism", when their clothes (and most of the set) have been stolen. Moose's still has water and a rubber duck in it.
- Bland-Name Product: The series featured many commercial parodies (in fact, fake commercials were a regular part of the show during the 1982 episodes, which were originally aired before Nickelodeon became advertiser-supported); the objects of the parodies were often obvious, but the names were changed just enough to make them lawyer-friendly (for example, Head and Shoulders shampoo was parodied as "Shed and Holders", which cures Alasdair's dandruff by making his hair fall out). Averted in the original, local-only 1979 season, in which commercial products and trademarked objects were referred to by their actual names on several occasions. The McDonald's characters even visited the show in one episode.
- Broken Aesop: Several examples, usually in the form of Hypocritical Humor, in keeping with the series' deliberate subversion of the usual philosophy of children's television.
- There were a couple of these in the "Addictions" episode from 1982, notably a link set skit where Lisa reprimands Christine for being "addicted" to video games, but then it turns out Lisa has her own "unhealthy" addiction - to soap operas.
- In 1983's "Medicine", Senator Prevert (Les Lye) yells at Alasdair for having been caught smoking cigarettes in school, and then proceeds to light up a cigar.
Alasdair: Wait a minute, I thought you just said smoking was bad for your health!
Sen. Prevert: No no, I said, smoking is bad for your health. I never said anything about mine.
- Butt Monkey: Zilch, Barth's (sub-)minimum wage employee in the 1981 and 1982 seasons, was constantly on the receiving end of slapstick abuse and degradation at Barth's hands, always Played for Laughs.
(Zilch has been forced to dress as a clown to compete with McDoomland's and Burger Queen) Barth:
Hey, Zilch, c'mon! (honks a bicycle horn)
You're supposed to be a clown! Make us laugh! Zilch: (folds arms and scowls defiantly)
If I'm going to be a clown, I want more money! (Barth and the customers laugh uproariously)
- The Cameo:
- The 1989 episode "First Times" and the 1990 episode "Privileges" both featured cameo appearances by 1981-84 cast member Kevin Kubusheskie (by then an associate producer for the series) and 1984-87 cast member Adam Reid (by then a writer for the series); in both episodes, they played upperclassmen being hazed by the regular cast members in opposite sketches set in the school corridor.
- The 1989 episode "Age", hosted by a returning Vanessa Lindores, features cameo appearances by four of the other more high profile cast members from 1979-87. Doug Ptolemy has a single line ("Hey Van, did you say my name?" after Vanessa comments that old YCDTOTV episodes with Doug will give her nightmares), while Christine McGlade, Kevin Kubusheskie, and Alasdair Gillis make silent appearances in a post-credits classroom sketch (in which Mr. Schidtler growls, "Class dismissed - years ago!").note
- Canada, Eh?: The show is a Canadian production. Other Canadianisms that found their way into the show: going "to university" instead of "to college",note and saying "grade ten" instead of "tenth grade." Although the writers did their best to internationalize the show's content (very likely at Nickelodeon's insistence, since Nick and CJOH were production partners beginning with the 1982 season) by making references to American things such as the Fourth of July, it was little things like those in the script that (even without seeing the words "Ottawa, Canada" in the closing credits) made the show's country of origin obvious.
- More obvious in Season One and in Whatever Turns You On (which were never intended to be seen outside of Canada), with a number of jokes about one guy (Marc Baillon) being French, leading to the line "You don't speak Frog, eh?" ("Frog" is an offensive term for a French person [as in "from France" French], but can also be applied to someone from a French-speaking country — in this case, Quebec.)
- In another scene, one girl (Cyndi) talked about her first crush being "a frog." Thinking Cyndi was using the offensive slang term, Christine scolded her. It turned out Cyndi was talking about an ACTUAL frog, which she then had to dissect for school, but didn't feel bad about it because she said, "Frogs aren't human." Upon hearing this, Marc came up and announced (referring to the Quebecois separatist movement), "Any more of that, and we WILL separate!"
- Along the same lines, the "internationalization" of the show's content after 1982 could be considered an example (though perhaps not an extreme one) of Canada Does Not Exist, and the local 1979 and 1981 episodes as well as Whatever Turns You On could be considered an aversion of that trope - they were unapologetically Canadian, since the show's original raison d'etre was to improve the quality of CANADIAN kids' entertainment programming.
- Catch Phrase: Some of the more repeated ones:
- Dungeon prisoners under the impression they are about to be freed always cheer, "Fresh air, blue skies, Barfy Burgers, girls!"
- Barth's sketches often include a character quipping, "What do you think's in the burgers?" To which Barth invariably replies, "Duh... I heard that!"
- During arguments between two members of the Prevert family, a third family member often chimes in with, "She's got a point." To which the one without the point replies, "Don't encourage her."
- Mr. Schidtler reacts to smart-mouthed or dim-witted students by moaning, "Where do they find them, and why do they keep sending them to me?"
- When one of the performers outwits another (usually, but not always, a kid outwitting an adult), he or she tells the camera, "Sometimes it's so easy, I'm ashamed of myself."
- The execution scenes nearly always feature the following exchange between firing squad leader El Capitano and the intended victim:
El Capitano: Ready!... Aim!...
Kid: Wait a minute, stop the execution!
El Capitano: What is it this time!?
(and, if the kid succeeds in tricking El Capitano into letting him/her go)
El Capitano: That is one sneaky kid...
- Dungeon prisoners often tell dungeonkeeper Nasti, "But you can't do this, this is torture!" To which Nasti replies, "I know!"
- Ross, when conning the kids out of yet more money, has a favourite price of "Ten bucks. Each."
- Ross brings many episodes to an end by shouting, "Roll the closing credits!"
- The kids, upon realising that a given situation is too good to be true, will groan, "That means... this is Just The Introduction To The Opposites!"
- Christmas Episode:
- The 1984 episode "Christmas" has Christmas-themed sketches, a running gag on the link set in which Alasdair is trying to get a kiss out of Christine, Lisa, and/or Vanessa by standing under the mistletoe,note and a Christmas gift to Lisa's little brother: no locker jokes!
- Whatever Turns You On also did a Christmas episode five years earlier, which involved the kids trying to sneak into the network Christmas party, which they have been forbidden to attend because of the serving of alcohol. They end up singing Christmas carols on the link set and getting pied one by one by Les Lye's character Mr. Dime (dressed as Santa), as revenge for their giving him a pie in the face as a gift earlier in the show.
- Couch Gag: Each episode is bookended by couch gags.
- Before the opening, a graphic announces that a regularly-scheduled show parody will not be seen tonight and will be replaced by an episode of You Can't Do That On Television. The parodies being pre-empted always pertain in some way to the episode's main topic (e.g., Mr. Rogers: Neighborhood Pusher for "Drugs", George Bush Shoots the Wrong Quail for "Mistakes", The Huxtables Put Their Kids Up For Adoption for "Adoption", etc). In some instances, the show pre-empts itself.
You Can't Do That On Television cannot be shown at this time, because... we couldn't do it. In its place, we present a programme about television. ("Television", 1982)
The regular broadcast of You Can't Do That On Television will not be seen at this time, in order that the sponsors may bring you a new, improved, extra-strength, whiter than white, and extra clean programme! ("Media", 1983)
You Can't Do That On Television will not be seen today, in order that we may get your priorities straight. Now turn off that television and go and do something constructive! ("Priorities", 1983)
- At the end of the closing credits, the announcer (played by Les Lye) declares, "You Can't Do That On Television has been a (insert theme-relevant gag) Production". The camera then cuts to him as he makes a final gag about the show (which in itself could be an Homage to Gary Owens in Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In).
- Covered in Gunge: Green slime, usually, though water was also common, as were cream pies. Covering the kids (and sometimes the adults) in gunge was one of the series' most familiar comedy devices.
- Credits Gag:
- The 1979 and 1981 series featured side comments in the credits, such as "Isn't this interesting?" and "This is like watching paint dry", and credited executive producer Bryn Matthews as "Executive Producer and Dragon Slayer" or similar titles.
- A number of episodes from the middle of the run featured the credit "Wardrobe courtesy Christine McGlade - Christine McGlade takes no responsibility for any clothes in which she appears".
- In the "Rip-offs" episode from 1982, Ross tries to run the closing credits immediately after Christine's introduction in a nod to the tendency of manufacturers to advertise a new, improved product that actually contains less content.note
- In "Priorities" from 1983, Ross runs the closing credits in the middle of the programme in an attempt to leave early for a baseball game.note
- Cue Card: Several episodes feature link set segments in which we see Ross holding up cue cards containing Christine's lines (for example, in "Nutrition" from 1981, she refuses to read the card as written as she knows it will result on her getting milk dumped on her). In some cases, Christine is also shown holding cue cards containing Ross' lines, especially during scenes in which they are arguing about overreliance on cue cards.
- Curse Cut Short: A common method of Getting Crap (And Other Words Like It) Past the Radar.
- From Episode 7 from the 1979 series:
Sen. Prevert: Uh, yeah?
Bradfield: What's the definition of... "ignorance and apathy"?
Sen. Prevert: "Ignorance and apathy"? I don't know, and I don't give a sh- (catches himself) care.
- From "Safety First" (1981):
Angie: Hi, I'm Angie the Talking Doll!
Kevin Schenk: Angie, what can be done about juvenile crime? (pulls Angie's string)
Angie: Invent an electric armchair, and burn the little-
(cut to next scene)
- From "Divorce" (1984):
Marjorie: (opens her locker) Hey, Alasdair?
Alasdair: (opens his locker) Yeah, Marjorie?
Marjorie: Do you ever worry about your parents getting a divorce?
Alasdair: Nah, not really.
Marjorie: Why not?
Alasdair: 'Cause I don't think they ever got married.
Marjorie: You mean that you're a-
(Lisa, Christine, and Justin open their lockers)
Alasdair, Christine, Justin, Lisa: Don't say it!
- Deadpan Snarker: Moose, particularly during her link segments. Her favourite target for snarkery was, of course, the show itself.
Christine: (on the 1983 "Medicine" episode) Hi, and welcome to another painful episode of You Can't Do That On Television, the show that has nothing to fear from infection, 'cause it couldn't get any sicker than it already is.
- Drives Like Crazy: Bus driver Snake Eyes (Les Lye). The school bus sketches nearly always ended with Snake Eyes seconds from crashing the bus into something or driving over a cliff.
- Finish Dialogue in Unison:
- In the lead-in to the Opposite sketches, the characters gradually join in for a unison recital of "This is just the introduction to the Opposites."
- The Barth's sketches often end with a unison chorus from the customers of "What (or who) do you think's in the burgers?" (To which Barth invariably replied, "Dahhh... I heard that!")
- Food Fight: A food fight breaks out in a Barth's sketch in "War" (1984), when Christine, Vanessa, Alasdair, and Adam Kalbfleisch determine that Barth would be willing to go to war for a situation he can no longer stomach... and since they can't stomach his food, they go to war over it.
- Fun with Acronyms: In the 1984 episode "War", Alasdair founds a peace movement called "War's Insane, Make Peace", or WIMP for short. Despite Adam Kalbfleisch's reservations about the name and Ross' constant mockery, Alasdair leads his followers to a peace rally, where the other peace groups beat them up for having such a silly acronym.
- Fun with Subtitles: The 1989 episode "First Times" features a link delivered in Japanese by Chris Bickford with English subtitles. When he reverts to English to protest to Ross, the subtitles remain.
Chris: Ross, this is stupid! (subtitle: Brilliant idea Ross.) (Chris notices the subtitle) Wait... I didn't say that! Ross!
Ross: The subtitle is right! You are wrong.
Chris: But Ross!... (subtitle: I don't know!) (Chris gets slimed) Th... that's not fair! I didn't even say 'I don't know!' (Chris gets slimed again)
Ross: But it did on the subtitles. (chuckles)
- Genre Savvy: By the 1982 series, the cast were smart enough to know what would happen if they said "I don't know" or "water" and would try to find ways to sidestep having to use those phrases. They would still slip up at least once an episode, though, and their attempts to dodge slime and water with alternate phrases were not always successful (see The Scottish Trope for several examples).
- Greasy Spoon: Barth's Burgery, decorated in an unappetizing shade of green and serving nothing that wouldn't make patrons sick.
- Hoist by His Own Petard:
- Many characters were slimed or soaked when they tried to trick other characters into saying "I don't know" or "Water" and ended up saying the magic words themselves first. For example, "Jealousy" from 1984 features this exchange:
Marjorie: Hey Christine, aren't you a little jealous of your parents because they can drink liquor and you can't?
Marjorie: Oh, come on now. You're drinking milk, and they're having scotch and... and...
Christine: ... soda?
Marjorie: No, you idiot, you were supposed to say "water"! (gets drenched)
Christine: Sorry Marjorie, my parents don't drink!
- In the 1985 "Revenge" episode, Alasdair decides to get revenge on Moose and Lisa for assaulting him with various food items during the introduction by having the girls read phrases aloud from a box of "Instant Revenge," which contain the trigger words for the slime and water. Alasdair's attempt to get Christine slimed fails when Christine catches on and says "I have no idea" instead of "I don't know," and Alasdair ends up saying the magic words and getting slimed instead. According to writers for the show, this sketch was originally to have ended with Alasdair's trick working and Christine getting slimed, but Christine used her veto power over slimings that season to get the sketch rewritten.
- In the 1984 "Technology" episode, the "interactive gizmo" that claims to allow viewers to vote on how a sketch proceeds by pressing a green or red square on the television screen is used for two "tests" that both fall under this.
- Luke McKeehan, facing execution by El Capitano's firing squad, persuades a sceptical El Capitano to let the viewers decide if he should be shot. The "results" are 9999 votes for, 2002 votes against, and the sketch closes with Luke trying to argue for a computer error as El Capitano shouts, "Ready!... Aim!..."
- In the very next sketch, Vanessa is chained up in Nasti's dungeon, and he is planning to drop green slime on her. Vanessa tries to get out of a sliming by asking Nasti to let the viewers decide; however, he makes a point of presenting sliming as great fun to influence the vote, and the "results" are 9999 votes for, 35 votes against. A resigned Vanessa triggers the slime by answering "I don't know" to Nasti's question, "What is green slime made of?"
- Played with in the 1987 "Books and Reading" episode. Stephanie Chow asks Matthew Godfrey about mirages in the desert in an attempt to get him to say "Water", but he doesn't cave. Then Matthew says "Water" and gets drenched anyway while explaining Stephanie's trick to Adam Reid afterward.
- Hypocritical Humor: As with many children's comedies, much humour was derived from the characters denouncing the very things they were doing. For example, in the "Addictions" episode from 1982, Christine scoffs that, unlike adults, kids are not prone to addictive behaviour... all while she is unable to tear herself away from Pac-Man, Kevin Kubusheskie is buried in an issue of Motor Trend, Martin Kerr is obsessing over a Rubik's Cube, and Lisa is immersed in a pulp romance novel.
- I Ate WHAT?:
- I Can't Believe It's Not Heroin: Invoked with cream pies in the episode "Drugs", the pies have this effect specifically because they're stand-ins for heavy drugs.
- Incredibly Conspicuous Drag: Les Lye on a number of occasions, including the Unfairy Godmother in 1982's "Not-So-Fair Show," Barth's mother in "Relatives" (1985), and another fairy godmother (Pinocchio's) in "Fairy Tales, Myths and Legends" (1986). Averted/played with in the 1979 season with the character of Frederick, the flamboyant gay-stereotype wardrobe master.
- Ironic Echo:
- From 1981's "Crimes & Vandalism":
Hey! (thwacks his cane against his desk to silence his rowdy class)
Vandals broke into the school office last night and stole all this year's examination papers. I'm afraid, kids, you're not going to be able to write this year's examinations. (the kids begin cheering) Kevin Schenk: (sarcastically)
Too bad, sir. What a pity, sir. I'm heartbroken, sir, I really am. Mr. Schidtler: (holding a sheaf of paper)
So instead, you are going to write next year's examination... now. Kevin Schenk: Next year's exam!?
We'll all fail! Mr. Schidtler: (smirks)
Mmm. Too bad. What a pity. I'm heartbroken. I really am.
- The 1985 "Revenge" episode featured Alasdair Gillis making everyones' lives miserable as the "Masked Revenger." After Mr. Schidtler apprehends the Masked Revenger for stealing the class's milk-fund money (ostensibly so he could buy a pair of pants and wouldn't be teased for wearing tights anymore), he echoes the Revenger's catchphrase, "My work here is done," as he hauls the Revenger off to the principal's office while the rest of the class applauds.
- Is This Thing Still On?: After the end credits, the announcer would always make some sarcastic remark about the show, oblivious to the blinking red "On Air" light behind him until an off-screen crew member silently pointed out that they were still live, at which point he would turn to the camera with a deer-in-headlights look.
- Jackass Genie: "My work here is done." The writers loved malevolent or incompetent genies as comedy devices, and at least three fall squarely into the Jackass Genie category of deliberate wish-mangling:
- "The Not-So-Fair Show" (1982) features Les Lye as the cigar-smoking, deep-voiced "Unfairy Godmother".
Christine: I said I wish I was thinner.
Unfairy Godmother: Thinner! And so - you - shall - be! (transforms Christine into a can of paint thinner) Ha ha! The Unfairy Godmother strikes again!
- "TV Commercials" (1986) has Doug Ptolemy as the "Jiffy Genie".
Mrs. Prevert: Oh Jiffy Genie, can you get rid of all this oven grease?
Jiffy Genie: In a flash, ma'am. (waves his arms, and Mrs. Prevert's entire oven disappears. Mrs. Prevert wails and begins to sob loudly)
Announcer: Yes, with Jiffy Genie, you'll never have oven grease again.
Jiffy Genie: (to camera) You'll never have an oven, period. (Mrs. Prevert begins wringing the Jiffy Genie's neck)
- In "Fitness" (1989), Ted Wilson as the "Fitness Genie" ("Fitness Genie is the name, helping fatsos is my aim!") grants Rekha's wish to lose more weight by making her fatter (giving her more weight to lose), then makes her "lighter" by first making her glow like a lightbulb and then making her float away.
- Jerkass: Moose. The director even more so.
- Just The Introduction To The Opposites: The Trope Namer. Every episode features a short series of sketches, collectively known as "The Opposites", in which roles are reversed, the adults encourage bad behaviour and discourage good behaviour (over the kids' protests), and the kids greet punishments with enthusiasm and rewards with disgust.
- Lame Pun Reaction: Part of the series' self-deprecating humour; for every bad pun used in the jokes (and there are many), there is a cast member groaning at it.
Lisa: (talking to a sleeping bag)
Look, look, there are a lot of worse things you could be than a sleeping bag! I mean, you could be a pillow, or even a pincushion! Alasdair: (entering the bedroom)
Uh, Lisa, what are you doing? Lisa:
Well... trying to cheer up the sleeping bag. Alasdair:
Why would you want to cheer up a sleeping bag? Lisa:
Well, 'cause my dad says it's a down
sleeping bag. Alasdair:
sleeping bag, Lisa!? You need help. (starts to make a hasty exit)
A lot of help! (cut to Christine on the link set) Christine: (disgusted)
"Down". Boy, is that ever bad! You know, whoever writes this stuff really needs a holiday.
- Less Embarrassing Term: This exchange between Elizabeth Richardson and Kevin Kubusheskie from "Cosmetics" (1982):
Elizabeth: (sniffs Kevin) Gee, that's nice perfume you're wearing!
Kevin: Boys don't wear perfume!
Elizabeth: (sniffs again) Then what makes you smell so nice?
Kevin: Oh, that's my new aftershave.
Elizabeth: You mean, you shave?
Kevin: Well, no, not exactly...
Elizabeth: Like I said: that's nice perfume you're wearing.
- Lethal Chef:
- Let's See You Do Better: In a meta example, Adam Reid was invited to audition for the series after writing in to criticise the acting by the child performers. He was immediately cast as a regular performer, and went on to write for the series in its final two seasons.
- Literal Genie: As mentioned in Jackass Genie, the writers loved malicious or inept genies as comedy devices. At least two fell into the Literal Genie flavour of accidental wish-bungling:
- "ESP, Magic, and Astrology" (1984) features Les Lye as the "Genie of the Electric Lamp", who grants Christine's wish never to do housework again by making her entire house disappear, then grants Kyle and Korbett's wish to be on the winning team by giving them the uniforms of their opponents.
- "Revenge" (1985) stars Alasdair Gillis as the "Masked Revenger", a genie-like "superhero" who grants wishes for revenge.
Masked Revenger: (enters accompanied by heroic theme music) I am the Masked Revenger. Against whom do you seek revenge?
Marjorie: My mother. She promised to make me fried chicken tonight, and she lied.
Masked Revenger: Say no more, little one. (transforms Marjorie into a bucket of fried chicken) My work here is done. (flies off as the bucket of fried chicken clucks angrily)
- Loads and Loads of Roles:
- Les Lye played all the adult male characters (stage manager Ross Ewich, slobbish Senator and father Lance Prevert, Lethal Chef Barth, greedy arcade owner Blip, Sadist Teacher Mr. Schidtler, etc.), sporting enough distinct looks that this fact wasn't immediately obvious (though Lance Pervert and Barth do sound alike).
- From 1982 onwards, the adult female roles (Valerie Prevert [wife of Lance Prevert], the English-accented librarian, the doctor's assistant, etc.) were all played by Abby Hagyard.
- For 1979's Whatever Turns You On, CTV provided CJOH with a bigger budget, and so they were able to hire Ruth Buzzi to play the adult female roles. Previously on YCDTOTV, adult female roles had been played by one of the older girls in the cast; in the 1981 season, all adult female roles were played by Christine.
- Mirror-Cracking Ugly: Les Lye's Senator Prevert and Barth characters.
- Motor Mouth: Lisa Ruddy could and would talk anyone's ears off at a mile a minute, to the point that Dungeonkeeper Nasti used her as a torture device at least once, while Christine took advantage of the "gizmo" in "Technology" from 1984 to hold a poll on whether or not the audience wanted her to be forever silenced (the "Yes" votes won by a landslide).
- No Fourth Wall: The show knows it's a show and the characters constantly interact with the "director". An episode about divorce had the show being interrupted because the producer and his wife split up and was collecting the half she got in the settlement.
- The Not So Harmless Punishment:
- One link in "Discipline" had Adam and Vanessa being 'grounded' and having their shoes taken away. Adam points out that having his shoes taken away won't stop him leaving the house. Ross then says that Adam has misunderstood. Now that they have taken off their rubber-soled shoes, they are 'grounded' and Ross tells them to grab a hold of a live electric wire.
- In the 1989 "Mistakes" episode, Ross is made to "punish" Chris, Nick and Ted by giving them each a pie. The boys are excited at first, thinking they'll get to eat them, but of course, Ross thinks the producer meant he was to hit each of the boys with a pie, so that's what he does. The producer then informs Ross he actually DID intend for the boys to eat them... because the pies were poisoned. The boys are shown gagging and retching from the poisoned pies as the scene ends.
- One Steve Limit: Inevitably for such a long-running series with such a high cast turnover rate, there were many performers with the same first name, and in some cases their tenures on the programme overlapped. Just to name two examples:
- The 1979 episodes featured Kevin Schenk and Kevin Somers, and in their last series in 1981 they were joined by Kevin Kubusheskie (though no episodes featured all three together), while Kevin Kubusheskie had several cameos in episodes featuring 1989-90 cast member (and writer) Kevin Ward.
- The 1985 and 1986 series featured appearances by Adam Kalbfleisch and Adam Reid (though never in the same episode).
- Overly Long Gag: In "Ripoffs" from 1982, a classroom sketch features Alasdair unwrapping a chocolate bar. There are so many layers of wrapping that we cut away to other sketches three times (including, in the original broadcast, the "Let's talk to some kids" interview sequence) before finally reaching the payoff, in which Alasdair finally gets to the disappointingly small chocolate and notes that companies advertising "more (product)" almost invariably deliver less.
- Parody Commercial: The 1982 series featured parody commercials before cutting to actual commercials.note Just to name a few:
- "Ripoffs" had an ad for the "Wimpex Watch", in which Alasdair's watch is still ticking even after he is beaten up by Brodie and Kevin Kubusheskie.
- "Sports" featured a spoof ad for "Hockey Pro Toothpaste", a toothpaste intended to give the user the "missing tooth" look of professional hockey players.
- "Heroes" promoted "Hero Cereal", the cereal that goes "Slam! Bam! Crunch! Whack!" when Doug pours milk on it (the "Whack!" coming from Mr. Prevert smacking him upside the head for eating such a noisy breakfast).
- "The Not-So-Fair Show" had Doug modelling the "Lotachi Lugman", a personal stereo with full-size speakers for headphones.
- Parody Names: In parallel with Bland-Name Product, other television programmes were sometimes referenced in the series using parody names. Curiously, the 1982 "Addictions" episode featured a parody name and an actual reference to the same series; in a dining room sketch, Luke McKeehan finds a plush Smurf doll in a cereal box and declares, "There's a free Slurp in the Cannon Crunch cereal!", but in the post-credits stinger, Christine talks about a video game cartridge that allows viewers to "shoot down all those stupid little Smurfs".
- Pie in the Face: Not as ubiquitous as the green slime, but it popped up on a number of occasions. Often they used it if slime and water were used in the same scene but they still needed something else. One episode (1981's "Drugs") was even built around the gag, equating the stupidity of hitting yourself with a pie to the stupidity of harming yourself by taking drugs.
- Punny Name:
- Reunion Show: The second SlimeCon cast reunion in 2004 included the special episode "Project 131", featuring the now grown Brodie Osome, Vanessa Lindores, and Marjorie Silcoff re-visiting the old YCDTOTV studio following Ross' retirement to film one final episode. The classic sets were recreated with green screen technology, a final sliming and drenching were delivered (to Brodie and Marjorie, respectively), and the final scene featured brief appearances by Alasdair Gillis and Justin Cammy. Les Lye's grandson, Josh Dunn, appeared as the announcer.note
- Rouge Angles of Satin: In the classroom sketches, almost every word that appears on Mr. Schidtler's blackboard is misspelled. Although most of the misspellings are not actual words (for example, "basex" for "basics"), occasionally they fall under this trope. For example, in "The Not-So-Fair Show" (1982), Mr. Schidtler quotes Act I, Scene 1 of Macbeth with "Fare is fowl, fowl is fare" instead of "Fair is foul, foul is fair".
- Sadist Teacher: The teacher in the classroom sketches, Mr. A. Schidtler, looked like Adolf Hitler and had a personality to match. Although he often bewailed the constant parade of dim-witted and/or smart-mouthed students in his classroom, he also delighted in making their lives miserable with huge volumes of homework and other forms of torment.
Mr. Schidtler: Now, class, as we are going on a field trip, I think it is most important that we know the basics of nature. Can anyone tell me, what are the four natural elements of the universe? (Lisa raises her hand) Yes, Lisa.
Mr. Schidtler: Right! That's one. Umm... Kevin!
Kevin Kubusheskie: (lifting his head off his desk) Uh... air!
Mr. Schidtler: Yeah, that's right, that's two... Christine?
Christine: (lifting her head off her desk) Uh... fire!
Mr. Schidtler: That's right! And now... Vanessa. Can you tell me what the fourth element is?
Vanessa: Yeah. But I'm not going to.
Mr. Schidtler: Well, Vanessa... either you tell me what the fourth element is, or you tell me you don't know.
Vanessa: Well, either way I get something dumped on me. (gives in) Okay, water. (water falls on her)
Mr. Schidtler: (grinning) Ohh, it's moments like these that make teaching worthwhile!
- Schmuck Bait/The Scottish Trope: The characters were soaked with water when they said "water" (or, during the early seasons, "wet") or slime when they said "I don't know". As the series' most familiar comic device, this was played with several times:
- In the 1982 episode "Fads & Fashions", Christine, having subscribed to a fashion trend of wearing scuba gear, tried unsuccessfully to trigger a water drop by saying "water". Apparently, it only falls if the kids aren't expecting it.
- In an opposite sketch in the 1982 episode "Heroes", saying "I know" triggered the slime... to the amazement of several kids who said "I don't know" and avoided the slime. Another episode reversed this, where a character during the opposited muttered "I don't know", said to stop the slime because of the opposites meant that he does know, only to be told that the opposites are over.
- "The Not-So-Fair Show" from 1982 had Christine get water dumped on her for saying "Eau de cologne". An amused Alasdair explained that "'eau' is the French word for 'water'"... and got drenched himself.
- Also from "The Not-So-Fair Show", the Unfairy Godmother slimed all of the kids except Christine for saying "We know".
- In the 1983 episode "Future World", Christine tried to avoid a sliming by saying, "Insufficient data." Following the sliming, Lisa said that the slime dispenser was now computer-controlled.
- In the 1984 episode "Hobbies", Christine said "Oh no you don't!" when Lisa tried to trick her into saying "water", only to get soaked. Lisa explained that the water dumper was French, and "'eau' is the French word for 'water'"... and promptly got soaked herself.
- The 1984 episode "Weather and Seasons" featured a heat wave where Christine and Lisa tried to invoke the water drop, only to learn that all the water had evaporated.
- In 1985's "Revenge", Lisa was caught off guard when saying "water" did not trigger a drenching. Thinking the word no longer worked, she tried "H2O", "Wasser", and "Agua"... which finally brought down a bucket of water. Alasdair noted that she had not met Julio, the new stagehand.
- The 1986 episode "Enemies and Paranoia" referred to a Soviet version of the show where one gets covered in red slime whenever one said "free".
- Self-Deprecation: Many of the jokes were about how awful/boring the show was.
- Shot at Dawn: A regular sketch involved one of the kids about to be shot by a firing squad, led by El Capitano. The sketches generally ended one of three ways: either the kid would trick El Capitano into freeing him/her (leading him to mutter, "That is one sneaky kid!"), or the kid would trick El Capitano into being shot by his own men (usually by standing in front of the post and saying "fire" in an unrelated context), or the kid would fail to trick El Capitano and would be left wincing as he shouted "Ready!... Aim!..." before a cut to the next sketch.
- Shout-Out: Several to Monty Python's Flying Circus.
- To begin with, the opening titles are reminiscent of Terry Gilliam's animations.
- In the Whatever Turns You On episode "Educational Programming", Ross is asked why programming that is both educational and Canadian cannot include such topics as lumberjacks. Ross mentions that he used to be a lumberjack, and sings "And I'm OK..."
- The same episode features a reluctant Kevin Somers as the Don't Bee, whose entrances are always accompanied by the battle cry, "Nobody expects the Don't Bee!"
- The 1981 episode "Safety First" features a cinema sketch in which an elderly patron (Christine McGlade in heavy makeup) brings her pet python to a travel film about South America. The python's name? Monty.
- Several early episodes featured characters getting 16-ton weights dropped on them.
- The 1985 episode "Identity Crisis" includes a camp sketch in which Justin Cammy is looking glumly at a poster of Norway and tells a puzzled Alasdair that he is "pining for the fjords".
- Running the end credits in the middle of the "Priorities" episode may be considered a nod to Monty Python, who ran the closing credits after the first sketch in one episode (and right after the opening titles in another).
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: The series was much closer to the cynical end, particularly in its portrayal of adults as bumbling idiots, scheming con artists, or cackling sadists. As mentioned in Adults Are Useless, series co-creator Roger Price took this angle deliberately as a rebuttal to the more idealised portrayal of adults in most children's series as helpful, morally upstanding, Reasonable Authority Figures.
- Soap Punishment: Happened several times. One sketch had a kid get his mouth washed out with French soap for swearing in French. Another had a kid get his mouth washed out by his smoking parents for saying "Quit."
- Spiritual Successor: All That, or for Canadian viewers, YTV's mid-1990s sketch/variety series It's Alive!
- The show itself is a complicated case of one. To those who grew up watching the show on Nickelodeon or YTV, the 1979 season is almost entirely unrecognizable as You Can't, lacking most of its defining characteristics as well as its layout. Whatever Turns You On, which aired for one season between 1979 and 1981, gave You Can't most of its cast, layout and running gags as well as its style of humor. But it technically came second. Make of that what you will.
- Then there was Don't Look Now!, a clone of the 1979 local-only premiere season of You Can't that Roger Price and Geoffrey Darby made for PBS in 1983, produced at WGBH-TV in Boston. Possibly the show was made at a time when Price and Darby were uncertain whether YCDTOTV would be renewed. And perhaps if PBS had not cancelled Don't Look Now! after its initial five-episode trial run (despite very high ratings), that might indeed have spelled the end of YCDTOTV.
- The Stinger: In every episode, there was at least one scene after the credits which sometimes tied up a recurring plot for the episode. Just to give a few examples:
- "Christmas" from 1984 wraps up the plot of Alasdair trying to get a kiss out of the girls in the cast with mistletoe by having Lisa, Vanessa, and Christine kiss him in turn and say, "Merry Christmas." However, Vanessa warns him, "Christmas only comes once a year, and tomorrow is another day!"
- The 1984 episode "Science" ends with a stinger in which Ross reveals that Alasdair's recital of the recipe for green slime, which he has spent the entire episode researching, has been obscured by the credits music. He proceeds to confiscate and eat the paper on which Alasdair has written the recipe.
- "Enemies and Paranoia" from 1986 ties up the "B-plot" of Adam Reid's wrestling bout with the Masked Destroyer by having Adam unmask the Destroyer to reveal... Mrs. Prevert, who drags him home by his ear. As she forces him to sit down to a huge plate of Brussels sprouts and recites further punishments, Adam groans, "With a mom like this, who needs enemies?"
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: The entire cast over time, and especially when they replaced everyone for the 1989 and 1990 seasons.
- Take That: The series took plenty of potshots at other television series, particularly children's series which fell closer to idealism on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, but its favourite target was... itself.
Christine: (holding up an Atari 2600 cartridge)
is the ultimate video cartridge. It lets you play with your favourite TV programme and do what you've always wanted to do. Like, you could shoot down all those stupid little Smurfs
, or you could make the Dukes of Hazzard
get into a twenty-car collision, or... you could sink the Love Boat
... think of it! You could commit arson- (a yellow "THE END" screen appears accompanied by the final chord from The Beatles' "A Day in the Life")
... okay, which one of you guys out there has one of these cartridges?
- Torture Technician: The monocle-and-eyepatch-wearing,note giggling German dungeonkeeper Nasti had a wide array of torture methods for the kids in his dungeon, ranging from racks and thumbscrews to having Lisa Ruddy talk their ears off.
- Trans Atlantic Equivalent: The 1979 incarnation of the series was itself the Trans-Atlantic Equivalent of the Thames Television children's series You Must Be Joking! (1975-76) and You Can't Be Serious! (1978), which also featured casts of (mostly untrained) child actors with special celebrity guests and musical guests, used Covered in Gunge as a comedy device, and were created by YCDTOTV co-creator Roger Price. The cast of You Must Be Joking! included lifelong friends and acting partners Pauline Quirke and Linda Robson (then in their teens), most well-known as the co-stars of the sitcom Birds of a Feather.
- Video Arcade: In a nod to the popularity of arcades in the 1980s, one of the regular settings for sketches was "Blip's Arkaid". Blip (Les Lye), the owner, was a money-hungry price-gouger who deliberately sabotaged the machines if the kids were on the verge of winning free games.
- Vomit Discretion Shot: Whoever figures out what (or who) is in the burger in Barth's diner always chucks. Sometimes into buckets typically provided by said Barth. How else do you think he gets his "Special Sauce"?
- Voodoo Doll: In the "Jealousy" episode from 1984, Christine gets a raise while the other cast members do not. Lisa joins Christine for the introduction and claims not to be jealous, only to dig out a voodoo doll and stab its head with pins until Christine is forced to leave the stage with a headache.
- Who Even Needs a Brain?: A sketch had a mother getting far too enthusiastic about cleaning out her child's ears, and cleaning out everything between them as well. It had no noticeable effect on the child.
- Who Writes This Crap?!: The kids often complained about the bad writing on the series (the locker jokes were a particularly common target for their vitriol). See Lame Pun Reaction for an example.