The Kids in the Hall: Complete Season 1 1989-1990

Even though the Comedy Network is now airing reruns of The Kids in the Hall ten times a week, it's great to have access to the full first season in order to review how one of TV's finest shows originally got off the ground. In their first season, the Kids seem to have been caught a little off guard by their own success — after slogging away for a few years as a live sketch comedy troupe based at the Rivoli in Toronto, they were faced with the prospect of generating a 20-episode TV season as fast as they could get it on tape. This challenge brought a tremendous energy to the first season, but didn't leave the Kids much time to move beyond the type of sketch material they had been performing on stage. In later seasons, the Kids would push the artistic envelope much further in both their writing and their filmmaking, but they would often fail to recapture the energy of these early episodes. As a result, this first season doesn't quite pack the visionary punch of the show's later years but it does manage to steer clear of the idea recycling and sloppy editing that became increasingly prevalent as the show progressed. The writing in these early sketches is particularly strong, likely because most of the sketches had been honed and polished on stage through the late '80s, and it's impressive how well they hold up 15 years later. The bonus features that come with this release are reasonably good, but could have been much better. They include about half of the hour-long pilot episode they did for HBO in 1988 (why not the whole thing?), a "Best of Season One" compilation that overlooks almost all of the year's best sketches (who picked this mess?) and two audio commentaries of the Kids discussing the pilot and the compilation, which are occasionally quite funny but mostly ramshackle and incoherent (if this was worth doing, wasn't it worth doing well?). More interesting is the half-hour of amateur audience video taken from some very funny late-'80s live performances at the Rivoli and the 45 minutes of new interviews recounting the troupe's early history, but even these welcome bonuses make you wish that they were fuller and better presented. Let's hope that they put a little more care into repackaging Season Two. (Broadway/A&E/SMA)