In 10 Words or Less
A disappointing last gasp from the Kids
Loves: The Kids in the Hall, sketch comedy
Likes: Brain Candy
Dislikes: Most films from sketch troupes
Hates: Being disappointed by my heroes
I've loved The Kids in the Hall for a long time, ever since I, as a young teen, caught an episode late one night on HBO, and have enjoyed their work right through their film Brain Candy and their comedy tours and documentaries. In your reviewers' eyes, their show stands among the top five great sketch series (along with Monty Python, The State, Mr. Show, and In Living Color) and they set a standard for alt-comedy greatness. So when I heard they were making a new series, Death Comes to Town, I was obviously excited. I didn't watch it, because I don't live in Canada, nor do I get IFC, but I was definitely intrigued and figured, one day, I'd see it on DVD. That day has arrived. Unfortunately.
Now, it's not awful. It's not a stain on the legacy of the Kids, or an embarrassment. It's just, quite easily, the least funny overall project released by the troupe (which is like saying it's the least beautiful Playboy Playmate. It's still quite good. It's just not what you'd show your friends.) Part of the problem is the format, as the group attempts to attach its sense of humor, which works best in the small bites afforded by sketch comedy, to an eight-episode, story-driven miniseries. Death (Mark McKinney) rolls into small-time Shuckton, Ontario, in his speedo, in order to collect some souls, including those of the obnoxious mayor (Bruce McCulloch) and the local weather girl (Scott Thompson.) Their deaths kick off a murder mystery though, with an investigation headed up by obese, housebound former hockey star Ricky (McCullouch) and dizzy pizza delivery woman Marnie (Kevin McDonald) and centered around the new mayor, the widowed wife of the late mayor, Marilyn (Dave Foley.)
While Brain Candy (also directed by Kelly Makin) was not a sketch movie, it had a lot of the energy and character structure of the original series, and as such still felt like a Kids in the Hall project (perhaps due to the use of set pieces to introduce and advance the characters.) Death Comes to Town, on the other hand, is a traditional TV series, focused on the story of the town of Shuckton, even if almost all the major characters are once again played by the Kids. The characters simply lack the elements that marked the great roles from the series (a fact made obvious when old characters or even just characters similar to old characters make appearances.) Thinking back, only one character really stands out as memorably enjoyable (other than the mayor's bizarre son RAMPOP), and that's Crim (Thompson), the slightly Native local criminal who finds himself the target of the police investigation. And somehow, there's not even a single appearance by the Queen.
Though I've focused on the negative, there are some good things happening in spots (jury selection is hilarious) and the performances by the troupe (in a variety of roles, both male and female) are reliably solid. The best part is the way the series ends, as the final episode is quite different from the rest of the series, raising the absurdity of the concept to new heights, while crafting an over-the-top satire of the ways society looks for scapegoats and distractions when they can't solve a real problem. It doesn't really make up for the previous seven episodes, but the finale is an excellent wrap-up. It seems rare that you find a series that builds to its finale instead of hitting its peak too early. Unfortunately, for the Kids, this series does not represent their peak, and it might be the end of the road.
The eight episodes are split between two DVDs, which are packed in a standard-width keepcase, with a tray for the second disc. The discs feature static, anamorphic widescreen menus that offer the choice to watch all the episodes, select shows, adjust the set-up and check out extras (on the second disc.) Audio options include descriptive audio, though there are no subtitles. Closed captioning is also included.
The anamorphic widescreen transfers on this series are quite nice, offering up appropriate color and solid black levels, but though there's decent fine detail, there's quite a bit of softness in some scenes (normally on interior sets.)
The audio is presented with Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks, which are simple, center-balanced mixes. There's nothing too impressive about the presentation, but there's nothing wrong with it either. It's basic TV audio. The mix of the soundtrack, dialogue and effects is well-done.
Audio commentaries with Foley and McCulloch are available on episodes one, five and eight, and they are quite engaging, as the long-time friends are very comfortable with each other, and maintain a very fun, self-effacing tone throughout. But considering what happened with Foley on Brain Candy (he quit the group over creative differences), one wonders how much of his comments are joking, and how much is him being serious about the production.
There are 18 deleted and extended scenes included, which can be viewed individually or as a group, running nearly 30 minutes long. To be completely honest, I think I laughed more during these clips than during the series itself. especially during the many takes of McDonald and McKinney performing an intimate scene. There are more easy laughs in the five-minute blooper reel, made up of 20 clips you can also watch separately.
The Bottom Line
I had high hopes for a return by The Kids in the Hall, and perhaps those hopes were too high, especially when they came back in an entirely different form. If this was just Death Comes to Town and not The Kids in the Hall, would we look at it the same way? Perhaps. As it is though, it's just a decent series with a few good laughs, and the DVDs are solid, with a few extras worth checking out.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.