Now they’ve returned with THE KIDS IN THE HALL: DEATH COMES TO TOWN an 8-episode comedy series featuring the Kids playing all the townspeople—men and women! When Death gets off the Greyhound bus in small town Shuckton, Ontario, everyone in town is implicated after one of its most distinguished citizens is found murdered. As a suspect is arrested and the trial plays out, the entire town is affected and its dark secrets are unraveled and exposed.
DEATH COMES TO TOWN features all 5 original Kids: Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson in their distinctively quirky, gender-bending roles and an all new boundary-pushing narrative!
eyelights: The Kids In The Hall. its central conceit. its characters. its silly, zany and inappropriate humour.
eyesores: its length. some of its subplots. its payoff.
“Honk if you killed the Mayor”
The Kids In The Hall hit the scene at a key moment in my life. A depressed 16-year-old misfit, I discovered their brand of humour at a time when I craved the unconventional. I hadn’t yet picked up on Monty Python, so TKITH showed me some of my first surrealist humour.
It was weird.
It made me laugh.
I didn’t always understand what they were doing, but the offbeat skits spoke to me. It’s at that point in my life that I also discovered ‘Twin Peaks’ and ‘The Addams Family‘. I enjoyed these oddball fantasies partly because it showed me another side of reality.
I felt a kinship with these weirdos. I even felt comparatively normal.
I wasn’t a regular viewer of the show (teenagers can be inconsistent), but The Kids were always on my radar – whether together or in their solo endeavours. I went to see their 1996 motion picture ‘Brain Candy‘ at the cinema, for example, and thought it was brilliant.
(Admittedly, I was one of the few.)
Sadly, creative differences on their movie created a rift between them. For many years, its five members worked on their own individual projects in various media. They did a reunion tour in 2000 but they wouldn’t be seen together on the screen until many years later.
In 2010, they returned to television with an eight-part mini-series called ‘Death Comes to Town’. Unlike their classic television programme, which was a sketch comedy show with a few recurring characters, this was a wacky murder mystery featuring a continuous plot.
Each of the 22-minute episodes starred The Kids In The Hall in multiple guises, taking on all of the main characters. Though some of them would be reminiscent of fan favourites (and The Chicken Lady made a quick appearance!), the characters were created for this series.
The plot is simple: Death goes to Shuckton to collect souls. In the process he influences the murder of the small town’s Mayor, which leads to a running investigation and a false accusation. As the town comes to grip with the tragedy, Death continues to collect.
But he’s obsessed with one person: Ricky, a morbidly overweight, chairbound, former hockey star.
And, try as Death might, Ricky just won’t die.
Why is Death so intent on killing Ricky? And who is his vessel, the person on a murderous rampage?
Tune in and find out!
The mini-series starts on a very strong note, setting up its characters and setting: we’re seeing a small town of twenty-six thousand struggling to be relevant (ex: they’ve applied to host the 2028 Olympic Summer Games!) when Death comes to Shuckton – by inter-city bus.
(It looks like even the Grim Reaper is on a budget these days!)
The Mayor is a local celebrity, drawing attention and applause everywhere he goes. Naturally, he abuses his power but everyone is so enamoured with him that he gets away with it all. Needless to say, everyone is distraught when he’s found stuffed headfirst in his mailbox.
The first episode is wacky and delightfully inappropriate (ex: Death snorts souls like lines of cocaine). It’s not nearly as far-out as The Kid In The Hall had been on their show, but it’s akin to ‘Brain Candy’, with dumb and offbeat characters doing dumb and offbeat things.
Unfortunately, the mini-series becomes more conventional after its initial salvo. It’s far more consumed with following a mass of one-note characters and moving the limited plot along than to amuse and/or shock its audience. It’s entertaining, but it doesn’t have bite.
There are exceptions of course, such as Dusty doing an autopsy in front of a group of visiting grade schoolers, or Shuckton’s cemetery and petting zoo. And there are fun bits like Brenda’s musical number (abridged though it may be) and the big city lawyer’s schtick.
But one gets the impression that the same story could have been told in less time, with fewer distractions: there are way too many characters and not all of them deliver the goods; they’re frequently good for one or two laughs, but The Kids milk them over and over again.
Their performances are excellent, however. Say what you will about the limited value of the characters, but The Kids certainly haven’t lost their ability to incarnate and draw the most out of their vessels. Having multiple personages to play was a good use of their skills.
Ultimately, though, what makes this show stand out from your average comedy programme is that The Kids In The Hall decided to use it as a soapbox to tackle some of the more controversial aspects of death, such as abortion, euthanasia, necrophilia and the death penalty.
By dialing up the situations to the point of utter absurdity (ex: the tools that Dr. Porterhouse uses to assess pregnancy and to perform an abortion are outrageous, and the many ways that Sam Murray’s cat is kept alive are beyond the pale) they make us laugh and reflect.
Unfortunately, they don’t always hit their targets here, as they had with ‘Brain Candy’s own social commentary. For instance, the necrophilia portion is droll at times, but it doesn’t lead to anything of substance; it exists solely for shock value. What was the point?
Well, maybe there wasn’t one…
By the end, the gags were a bit spare and not much mileage was gotten out of them; it was as though the show was running out of steam. It also left me with a few unresolved questions, such as: Why could Death influence the demise of some characters, but not Ricky’s?
Despite benefiting from great core ideas and characters, ‘Death Comes to Town’ is spread a bit thin over its extended runtime; it probably could have been tightened considerably, and driven to a more zippy pace at a total of four episodes and approximately 90 minutes.
Still, it was fun to see The Kids In The Hall again, after having been away for so long. These days, they still reunite from time to time to go on tour, but there isn’t any word of a TV show or movie being in the works. I truly hope that they do come around to it again someday.
Our screens feel pretty empty without The Kids In The Hall.
Nota bene: Canadians and fans of Canadiana will surely be amused by the soundtrack, which is filled with old school ’80s classics by the likes of Lee Aaron and Honeymoon Suite, artists that were once top of the charts – and perhaps still play in small towns. Nostalgia rules!
Dates of viewings: November 27-30, 2017