Thirty Helens agree…there are four very unattractive women in the photo above.
The Kids In the Hall is one of the funnier sketch comedy series to ever make it past a single season, and the fact that it’s a Canadian export makes that all the more impressive. (Yes yes, SCTV was Canadian too and my father recalls it making him chortle on more than one occasion.) The HBO series ran for five seasons from 1989 to 1993 and was powered by the comedic talents of five young men. There’s the wide-eyed, gap-toothed straight man Dave Foley, the small, manic, energy-filled Bruce McCulloch, the curly-haired, high-pitched Kevin McDonald, the multi-faceted Mark McKinney, and the dramatically outrageous Scott Thompson. Five funny guys, five funny seasons. All collected in one box set along with highly entertaining extras and the IFC miniseries Death Comes To Town.
The Kids filmed in front of a live studio audience, but unlike most other sketch comedy shows roughly half of their bits were done off stage. This included some on-location exteriors as well as short films that pre-date the popular digital shorts from Saturday Night Live. A catchy and instantly recognizable guitar riff by Shadowy Men On a Shadowy Planet introduced each episode after a brief opening gag (including my favorite, Asleep On the Job) before settling into twenty-plus minutes of odd, edgy, and occasionally risky comedy.
You never quite knew what to expect from sketch to sketch aside from the periodic recurring characters. They never did parodies, something that helps their material from ever feeling dated (well okay, The Answering Machine sketch is a bit less timely), and if a female character was speaking you could be damn sure she had a penis. They moved from a surreal bit about French Canadian trappers hunting businessmen in modern day Toronto for their expensive suits, to a commentary on gay rights, to a bit featuring a dog’s belch as the punchline, to an absolutely brilliant short film about the life and times of an early twentieth century escape artist who was stuck in a straitjacket for the last four decades of his life.
I differ from many fans in that I find the recurring characters to often be the least entertaining. Some of them like Police Department, Gavin, the Sizzler Sisters, Simon & Hecubus, and the Nobody Likes Us Guys can still make me laugh, but characters like Cabbage Head, the Head Crusher, and Buddy Cole often drag an otherwise zippy episode down to a halt. Instead it’s the stand-alone sketches that work best and remain funny years later including bits like Trapper, The Eradicator, The Daves I Know, Citizen Kane, The Pen, and many others. The sketch comedy format itself is hit or miss and this show is no different, but whereas you can go a whole episode of the hour-long SNL without laughing aloud it’d be a challenge to do the same thing in any twenty-five minute stretch here.
The five have kept busy in the years since their show ended including their under-appreciated feature film Brain Candy, but they’ve met with varied degrees of success. Foley has been the most ubiquitous with a successful five-season run on NBC’s News Radio as well as multiple appearances on TV and in film. He also somehow survived what should have been career suicide when he showed his flapping tallywhacker in Uwe Boll’s Postal. McCulloch doesn’t act nearly as much as he should, but he has directed a few middling comedies including Stealing Harvard and Dog Park. McDonald keeps busy on TV including steady work in animated series like Invader ZIM and Lilo & Stitch. McKinney returned to SNL briefly and stays busy in various shows and films, but his best work can be seen in the excellent three-season Canadian import Slings & Arrows. Thompson had a 35-episode stint on The Larry Sanders Show immediately following the show’s finale and has stayed busy ever since on TV and film.
Not every skit works throughout the five seasons of The Kids In the Hall, but the same can be said for every other sketch comedy show in existence as it’s the nature of the format. But the fact that this show managed to stay funny with the same five performers and only a handful of additional writers speaks to their talents. Most sketch shows feature an ever-changing cast and a cadre of writers, but the Kids were the core here from beginning to end. I enjoyed the show when it originally aired on HBO, but I hadn’t seen it since. Watching it again now reminds me why I tuned in every week… simply put, I love to laugh, and these Canadian bastards are funny.
“You look like something that should have been raped and tossed away in The Name Of the Rose.”
The DVD box set comes courtesy of A&E and includes six DVD snap-cases, one for each season and one for last year’s IFC mini-series Death Comes To Town. Each case has an insert listing all of the sketches from that season. The supplements are below, but the highlight is easily the commentaries spread across the Favorites. The Kids are informative, honest, and often hysterically funny.
- Season One – All twenty episodes including fantastic bits like Dr. Seuss Bible and The Eradicator plus a bonus DVD featuring An Oral History (38:00, an entertaining and informative look back at the group’s early days, their arrival on HBO, and some of the most memorable characters as remembered by the five guys and producer Lorne Michaels), Pilot Episode Favorites (25:00, the very funny original HBO pilot episode from 1988), Season 1 Favorites (24:00), Performances From the Rivoli Theater (28:00), Audio Commentaries on Pilot and Season 1 favorites, and the Rolling Stone Article that helped get them noticed.
- Season Two – All twenty episodes including hilarious bits like Trapper and Sizzler & Sizzler plus a bonus DVD featuring An Oral History Season 2 (15:00, the group discusses learning how to work on TV, playing women, and the development of recurring characters), Season 2 Favorites (57:00), Performances From the Rivoli Theater (24:00), Audio Commentary on the favorites, and Kids In the Hall Performance Posters
- Season Three – All twenty episodes including great bits like Raise and The Pen plus a bonus DVD featuring Season 3 Favorites (47:00), Performances From the Rivoli (29:00), Audio Commentary on the favorites, and a slide show.
- Season Four – All twenty episodes including brilliant bits like The Escape Artist and Answering Machine plus a bonus DVD featuring Season 4 Favorites (46:00), Archival Footage (38:00), Audio Commentary on the favorites, and a slide show.
- Season Five – All twenty episodes plus a bonus DVD featuring the Series Finale (23:00), Season 5 Favorites (23:00), and Audio Commentaries on the Finale and the favorites.
- Death Comes To Town – The Kids In the Hall reunited for this IFC mini-series about a small town that experiences a high profile murder just as Death rides into town. The Kids play most of the roles across all eight episodes and create a fun mystery along the way. The second disc also includes deleted scenes (29:00) and bloopers (4:00).
A&E’s box set of the complete Kids In the Hall is as comprehensive as you could hope. (It’s really only missing their feature film Brain Candy.) Fans of the show will find much to love here along with plenty of surprises in the form of additional content, sketches they’ve forgotten, and maybe even a few they’ve never seen.
Buy The Kids In the Hall: The Complete Series from Amazon