O Canada, reigning king of sketch comedy! While Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels must get tired of hearing each season that SNL is on a seemingly never-ending downward slide, those in the know will always cut the native Canadian some slack. That's because SNL was hardly his only contribution to television comedy. He also introduced us ungrateful Yanks to The Kids in the Hall, a wonderfully irreverent Canadian export that aired from 1989 to 1994 on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and in the U.S. on HBO (and eventually Comedy Central).
KITH brought together five gifted young performers: Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson. They made for a potent combination: Foley as the baby-faced Everyman; McCulloch the intense, brow-furrowed geek; McDonald the perpetually frazzled one; the flat-out freakish McKinney; and the acerbic -- and openly flaming -- Thompson. The ensemble spun pure comic gold, and their go-for-broke credo was a big reason for the show's success.
As The Best of the Kids in the Hall, Vol. 2 illustrates, in many respects, the program holds up better than Michaels' better-known Saturday Night Live. The Kids avoided political and pop cultural references. More akin to Monty Python's Flying Circus than SNL, the Kids' brand of comedy grazed the edges of absurdity. And the troupe did a much better job at keeping recurring characters from turning into wheezy, catchphrase-laden shticks.
The Kids in the Hall was staunchly edgy - and not just because the guys insisted on playing all the skits' primary characters, regardless of gender. Foley, McCulluch, McDonald, McKinney and Thompson were willing to tap the darker recesses of comedy. No sketch idea is too weird or seemingly taboo for the troupe to explore. And unlike their SNL counterparts, the Kids typically (but not always) knew when to end a sketch.
There are wonderful bits here. "The Pen" is classic McCulloch, in which he plays an office drone who goes ballistic when a customer wanders off with his favorite pen. "My pen! My pen! My pen!" still reverberates through my head. McDonald shines in "The King," where his unflappable character, Dean, proves to be the king of empty promises.
It gets weirder. The Chicken Lady, McKinney' twisted ode to the 1932 cult flick Freaks, takes center stage in two hilarious vignettes, especially one in which she and the Bearded Lady (McDonald) check out a Chippendales-styled strip club. Needless to say, a male dancer with the stage name "Rooster Boy" gets feathers flying. "Career Crisis" is an equally memorable bit; it features Foley as a disgruntled space alien who questions why he is tasked with conducting anal probes on hundreds of abducted earthlings "and all we've learned is that one out of 10 don't seem to mind."
Like most KITH episodes, however, this best-of collection is of uneven quality. For every inspired bit, there are some clunkers. Oddly, some of the recurring sketches included here -- the hookers, the lazy cops and the gay friends hanging out on "Steps" -- are, well, kinda lame. No matter. There is more than enough to satisfy even the most discriminating head-crusher (and for still more Kids, check out DVD Talk's Paul Mavis' review for
The Best of the Kids in the Hall, Vol. 1.
The rundown of sketches in this four-part collection:
Chicken Lady Show
Things to Do
The Night I Connected with My Dog
The Escape Artist
Try It Now!
Lost and Found
Chicken Lady Homecoming
The picture (in 1.33:1 aspect ratio) is fairly typical of Nineties-era programs shot on video: flat and occasionally soft, but otherwise more than serviceable.
Dolby Digital 2.0 is nothing fancy, but it gets the job done.
KITH fans will enjoy the full-length commentary with all five Kids. The guys often talk over each other, but there is a palpable camaraderie that gives one the impression that you're the proverbial fly on the wall.
Rounding out the supplemental materials are cast biographies, trailers and DVD credits.
The Best of the Kids in the Hall, Vol. 2 is intermittently great fun, but the collection is too hit-or-miss to be the most accessible for the uninitiated. KITH fans, however, will love revisiting the Chicken Lady, Dean and the anal-probing aliens.