Screen: Sony

Dave Nelson: Poor, Misguided Canadian Bastard

Patriot Week takes a quick break for Canada Day to praise the NewsRadio News Director, who is definitely not a spy.

In retrospect, we probably should have known. Dave Nelson (Dave Foley) is one of only two employees of New York's news radio station WNYX, who isn't either incredibly weird, irredeemably crazy, breathtakingly mean, or all of the above, and there had to have been a reason why. In the case of Lisa (Maura Tierney), the other basically normal WNYX staffer, we can probably guess as to how, exactly, she learned the rules of socially acceptable comportment: by reading a bunch of instruction books, synthesizing their contents, and refining the results through trial and error -- you know, like how she taught herself to bake one night. Dave's not that driven, or that complex. He's just Canadian.

As the protagonist of NewsRadio, Dave had the initially thankless job of serving as straight man for all the other characters' insanity, but as with all good sitcoms that start that way, producers found ways to layer in craziness for Dave as well. (Remember how normal Monica was when Friends started? Her OCD tendencies didn't take too long to evince themselves.) Over the years, we learned the details of Dave's weird past -- the a cappella singing group, his having biffed his SATs due to a "Stargate Defender" marathon the night before, his intention in college to become a professional tap dancer; we also saw him abandon his normal equanimity for pyschotic rage, generally as a result of actions taken by Bill (Phil Hartman) or Matthew (Andy Dick). So the reveal that Dave was Canadian, midway through Season 3, fit in with what we already knew about him: he seems like your everyday, average Midwesterner, but his studied politeness masks deep-down darkness. (I mean, remember the girlfriend from Wisconsin that he "technically" hadn't broken up with? Hurting someone because you're too polite to confront her is classic Canadian.)

"The Trainer," in which this fact comes to light, is great all around; in addition to the plotline surrounding Dave's true heritage (or should I say Heritage Minute! Up high, my Canadians!), the other storylines revolve around Bill joining a gym and getting swindled by the manager, Vic (Ben Stiller), and Jimmy (Stephen Root) making Dave give him lessons in table manners in advance of a Clinton fundraiser. But as a Canadian, I will always treasure Dave's Canadian outing the most. After Matthew and Beth (Vicki Lewis) notice something unexpected on Dave's birth certificate, the plot progresses so perfectly: Matthew tries to lay a trap by asking Dave the ingredients of Eggs Benedict ("Canadian bacon. Interesting"). Then the rest of the staffers take Lisa aside to break the news to her gently; with them, she acts like she knew all along, but then yells at Dave, in front of Jimmy, for keeping this huge secret from her. Dave tries to slough it off -- they left Canada when he was five, so his only memory is of "a clean, state-run daycare" -- but when Lisa leaves, he admits to Jimmy that he's always been sensitive about his parentage because, when he moved to the U.S., he was afraid if anyone knew his secret, they would think he and his family were spies. Jimmy: "You poor, misguided Canadian bastard."

After Dave's paranoia leads him to an explosive declaration of his innocence, everyone takes a moment to deal with their confusion, and apologizes to Dave and assures him that it's okay to be Canadian -- "hundreds of people" are, as Beth notes -- and even Lisa gets over it. And, on the whole, Dave continues to be a fine example of American manhood: a former Boy Scout, a coffee addict (no Red Rose for him!), and a huge fan of TV. And probably not a spy.

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