Ryan Gosling Is The Fall Guy, Yet He Is Also Sean Hanlon Of Breaker High: A Retrospective

Ryan Gosling Is The Fall Guy, Yet He Is Also Sean Hanlon Of Breaker High: A Retrospective

By Anne T. Donahue

This weekend marks the release of The Fall Guy, and through it we will all be charmed by the comedic timing of Ryan Gosling – a cultural hero, the former Young Hercules, and a man brimming with Kenergy.

Yet as is tradition upon any new Gosling event, I must honour my duty to remind you of where it really all began. Not in The Mickey Mouse Club (some of our families couldn’t afford the Disney Channel). Not in The Notebook (I hate that movie). And certainly not in any film in which his performance garnered an Oscar nomination.

Friends, the time has come to talk about Breaker High.

In September of 1997, a series premiered that shook the world of Canadian teen TV programming: set on a cruise ship, Breaker High followed the lives of eight high school seniors who navigated the nuance of being teens and students while navigating the actual world. Each character embodied a trait: Denise was smart, Amber was southern, Alex liked sports, Cassidy was blonde, Tamara was awkward and all of us, Max was brooding, and Jimmy wore bucket hats. Sean, played by Ryan Gosling, was funny and weird. He fancied himself a definitive ladies’ man (he was not), he wore bright colours in shiny fabrics (same), and he carried a Dictaphone because he liked to leave himself notes. Obviously, I was hopelessly in love with and believed in my soul that I would marry Sean because Max looked 28 and Alex looked too much like someone in my class I didn’t particularly care for. (And again, Jimmy wore bucket hats.) Evidently, I did not. But his legacy clearly lives on.

For the record, Breaker High wasn’t a particularly good show because it wasn’t supposed to be. Created under the same umbrella as Student Bodies, it was a vessel through which Canadian pre-teens of the nineties could imagine themselves anywhere but where they actually lived and could pretend that upon reaching high school, they would be independent and not at all awkward. None of us believed that we’d actually ever go to school on a boat, but that wasn’t the point: Breaker High wasn’t rooted in reality, nor did it purport to suggest attending high school on a boat was even a good idea. (Lest we forget that Titanic came out two glorious months later.) But it was silly and fantastical and featured a theme song you could easily sing. And Ryan Gosling said, “Call me!” at least twice an episode.

Ryan Gosling Is The Fall Guy, Yet He Is Also Sean Hanlon Of Breaker High- A Retrospective - 2
ABOVE (l-r): Ryan Gosling as Colt Seavers in 2024’s The Fall Guy, which hits theatres on May 3, 2024 / Ryan Gosling as Sean Hanlon in Breaker High (1997–98)

I would never try to argue that tween/teen TV shows of yore were just as good as what they watch today because I’m a 38-year-old woman and I have forgotten what it means to be young. But I do remember the feeling of watching eight 20-something TV stars play high school seniors, and attempting to shape my personality and aesthetic around the coolest ones. And I also remember aging out of series like Breaker High and being embarrassed I ever bought into the premise and characters. “He used to be on Breaker High!” was hardly high praise as I lay claim to Ryan Gosling circa 2004, as if I had singlehandedly discovered him. But I was wrong. Breaker High ruled, and regardless of how strange it was to set a high school series at sea, I will literally go down with the ship (hey-oh!) with my belief that we were all better for setting sail on the . . . I don’t remember the boat’s name, but it doesn’t really matter. The series was cute, funny, inherently odd, and sustained the delusion that being a full-grown teenager wasn’t horrifying or awful – at least long enough for us to get to high school and discover how badly we’d been lied to. I appreciated the obviously Canadian aesthetic (you know the one) and the fact that most episodes never ventured into the international settings they were supposed to be set in. Breaker High was popcorn for dinner; nothing substantial, but I don’t regret consuming it and I would obviously do it again.

After 44 episodes, the series ended in 1998, and we all moved on with our lives. (Well, most of us did. As you can see, I’m still writing about it in the year of our lord, 2024). But with every Gosling-centric event, I pay homage to the TV show that dared ask the question, “What if instead of addressing real-world issues plaguing teenagers today, we just put them all on a boat?” After all, Ryan is Sean and Sean is Ryan, and Ryan has finally begun re-flexing his comedic wings. And while I’m sure he’ll never look me in the eye and motion “Call me!”, we can all rest our heads knowing that we were right: Sean was a babe, and Breaker High wasn’t a YTV-centric fever dream.

Need a little more Anne? Read more from Anne T. Donahue right here!

Tags: Anne T. Donahue, ryan gosling, top story, topstory

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  1. Avatar
    • Jo F
    • May 5, 2024

    Let’s also not forget that they gave Sean a real arc; he went from self-appointed ladies man to heart on his sleeve paramour vying for Tamara’s affection (though I don’t recall it ended well..)

    Great article, Anne!

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