The Kids in the Hall "Death Comes to Town" - 16th September 2010

When I first heard about this 8 part mini series I was excited but also I was cautious. I have been a fan of comedy far too long to know that when once incredibly funny and innovative groups of comedians get back together after a while, to do something else on film, the results can often be, despite the best will in the world, cringingly shoddy, ill conceived and embarrassing. I'm talking to you Monty Python!
While it can be difficult for fans to accept that there will be no more of something they loved, like Firefly or Evil Dead for example, sometimes, what we learn is it's better to have the memory of something than to have that memory soiled messily by an over aroused skunk of a bad idea or over-the-hill performers.
If I was completely ruthless and harsh I could probably get enough examples together and point to enough of those problems in Death Comes to Town that I could write a fairly scathing but ultimately inaccurate review.
I could also say that having recently, on and off, been watching the old KITH sketch show on DVD box sets, feeling nostalgic and having a genuine love of their work and performing, that Death Comes to Town was great, made me laugh, had a good plot, funny characters and had enough of the old spark and charm that I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The truth, as always I suspect, is somewhere firmly in between these two mindsets.
To put this all into perspective, I first came across Kids in the Hall, along with a couple of my good friends, who I grew up with, probably back in 1993 or 94 when best-of compilation shows of their sketches would air on Channel 4 in Britain around 2am often with no real schedule, rhyme or reason. We would often have to record these onto video and watch them at a later date and, although, I was possibly too young and not Canadian enough to get all of it completely, it was indelibly printed on my brain, along with listening to other Canadian export The Tragically Hip driving round in my friends small beat up old car, as representing a fantastic part of my life growing up.
Probably a while after Brain Candy came out, the same friends, found an ex-rental VHS version of the film tucked away somewhere and it quickly became the thing I often watched when I would stay at their house. I know The Kids went through a rough time filming it and it was badly received when it came out but I think it's just perfectly fantastic and I rate it highly amongst my favourite comedy movies of all time. It's endlessly quotable, the performances and production value is high and it makes lots of good points about the nature of big business, celebrity and pharmaceutical manufacturers power that was way ahead of the curve.
When I first read about Death Comes to Town, as I said, I had mixed feelings but they definitely turned to excitement when I heard it was finally to be screened in the US on IFC over the summer. Good or bad I wanted to see it all, then buy the DVD and watch it all over again, despite the quality. Such was my fandom of The Kids.

Now, you'd think but maybe I am naive, that if you were a smaller cable channel that had spent money on this mini series from another country, you would screen the hell out of it and repeat it all the time. Other channels do exactly that with shows that are home grown so it didn't seem like a far fetched hope. Well, they didn't, they screened the 8, about 20 minute episodes over the course of 4 weeks, 2 episodes back to back every Friday night with no repeats during the week. Well the night they were set to debut the first two, I had a birthday party to go to and so that completely destroyed my chances of watching them every week. Then they announced that all 8 episodes would be screened back to back last Sunday. Right, I thought, that's my day, I'll turn the phone off, lock the doors, in-bed myself onto the couch like a flabby whelk, surround myself with junk food and marvel in the beauty of The Kids new show. Well fate, the bitter sweet hell bitch that she is, had other plans and I woke up that morning to find out my cable box had broken. So when I should've been having the most fantastically slobby weekend since Michelangelo finished the Sistine Chapel, told the Pope to bugger off, bought himself a bucket of chicken wings and settled in to watch his favourite soap, I was actually deep in the intestines of the borough of Queens replacing said cable box in a shopping mall filled with the sort of cross-eyed, hunched backed flabbys you normally read about in the Weekly World News from the safety of your own toilet.
So when a friend of mine announced on Farcebook that he had DVR'd it, I pounced on the opportunity and so, after a long and frustrating saga trying to watch the damn thing, I finally got to sit down and take in all 8 episodes, back to back, without adverts, in their silly splendour as, I like to think, they were intended.

Initially, on first viewing, as I watched it, I laughed a lot. They did a great job of setting the whole thing up and while this is a totally new venture for The Kids, as it's not a sketch show and it's not a movie, not only does it essentially blend those two mediums by having one continuous story line over the course of 8 loose episodes of television but it also lets you know that you're on familiar turf with their usual brand of bizarrely observed archetypes. Obviously, watching them one after the other, it was difficult to still be chuckling on episode 8 after 2+ hours of lunacy (I was still grinning though) but unlike anything else the Kids have ever done it is the plot that keeps you watching, that and the characters.
Firstly, the plot. Yes it essentially boils down to a slightly contrived and very loose whodunnit in a town full of characters who are all revealed, over the course of the running time, to be engaged in some sort of over the top soap opera but it is written well and each character, far more this time than before, is fleshed out through exposition and amusing flash backs.
The show has obviously been compared to both Twin Peaks and The League of Gentlemen, the latter being a little closer on the mark and I don't think The Kids themselves would deny this legacy but they do make the 'murder in a small strange town' show their very own. The only negative to having obviously concentrated on the plot for each of their grotesque creations slightly more than usual, is that, in the end it is somewhat of a let down that due to the disarray of the slightly weak finale there aren't really consequences to any of it and that counter acts the nice build up a bit.
Secondly, the characters. While each of The Kids gets their chance to shine with a variety of mad, sick or stupid townsfolk, not all the characters hit the mark particularly well. Bruce McCulloch and Scott Thompson come off the best in terms of playing varied, interesting, genuinely well crafted and funny characters and Mark McKinney probably spends the most time on screen as he plays seemingly more main tier characters than the others in the shape of Death, The Judge, one half of The Cops and the News Anchor, this does mean, therefore, that my two favourite Kids and founding members, Kevin McDonald and David Foley seemed somewhat sidelined. Kevin McDonald has a lot of great jokes in the show through a surprisingly small selection of parts and he can still deliver an underwhelming line in such a way that makes it an absolute killer joke but he's been given only one real character that's worth anything, that he can really sink his teeth into, and that's the part of the Defense attorney who is putting all his money into increasingly ridiculous medical devices and means to keep his extremely aged and ill cat alive. I am not sure Dave Foley, on the other hand, elicited one laugh from me the entire time, which sadly must make him The Kids' Eric Idle. He had only one main character and that was of the mayor's drunken wife and she was possibly the least funny character on the whole show.

What has happened, you see, is that when I watched it the first time, all the way through, I enjoyed it, I laughed, it was fun seeing The Kids again do their stuff and I would still recommend it to anyone who is a fan of their comedy but after just a day of having it (and this review) rattling around in my head, it's errors, like a sweet full of chemicals and saccharine, have started to leave a bad taste in my mouth. As I write this and try and organise it in my brain, trying to keep the positive at the forefront, the negative slowly creeps in.
For example, despite filming at a good looking, real location there seems to have been very little attempt made to make the wigs, costumes or make up look good or real. One of the many things that's fantastic about Brain Candy is that it doesn't look like the same guys just threw on silly wigs, dresses, comical bow ties or some glasses and just wandered on to set, they all actually look like people, like proper characters and The Kids play them as such. Here they all look like they literally just ran into the make up trailer, stuck a moustache on and some joke-shop teeth then ran right back out again and played the scene. Also when you think back to Brain Candy some of them played up to 9 parts whereas here we don't seem to get the same diversity with twice the running time.
Then there's the character of Death. They name the show after him, McKinney plays him perfectly well and there is a neat little character arc by the end but with actually very little death in the plot line we are just left watching the character of Death wonder about and take up time.
I would also say that fat jokes and hand job jokes, while maybe a little funny and in one case highly disturbing, seem a little beneath the Kids and the fat suit character especially seems a little old and tired now.
These are all things, though, that niggle me as a fan who had high hopes but also they didn't ruin it totally either. It didn't have quite the inspired weirdness of their previous productions, although the little boy character of Rampop who sees adult humans as brightly coloured, badly rendered butterflies is pretty funny and strange but, on the plus side, it did take the time to actually delve into proper story lines for the characters this time and they did all agree that this time, making it, they all had fun.
A special mention must go out to Scott Thompson who filmed the thing while he was still having chemo for cancer, you'd never know and he is superb in it.
Overall then my summary would have to be that, if you can look past the tv production values and the fact that they probably should've just made it a tight 2 hour TV movie, when it hits, it is as sublimely funny, weird and wonderful as the kids have ever been and when it misses it luckily never gets embarrassing and you know there'll always be something hysterical round the corner, so in that way it is probably more akin with the original sketch show than the somewhat more original Brain Candy.

As a fan - 7.5 out of 10 for old times sake and old crumb cake
As a critic - 6 out of 10 chips, pickles and a valiant effort.

Maniac Cop - 18th September 2010

Old School - 13th September 2010