'The Kids in the Hall' Continues to Push Boundaries with Uncompromising New Season

Starring Scott Thompson, Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney
'The Kids in the Hall' Continues to Push Boundaries with Uncompromising New Season
Photo: Jackie Brown
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For as much as they're beloved, the Kids in the Hall have no truck for the sentimental. And so, their sketch series revival mostly finds them dispensing with nostalgia in favour of getting down to the business of engaging in their rare, idiosyncratically edgy form of hyper-absurdism. And business is not only good, it's very, very funny.

To begin, the Kids do acknowledge their history with a nod to fans who were around when they left their first, influential network sketch series behind and tried, on their own terms, to go Hollywood. Scott Thompson, who is wonderful throughout the series, mostly in low-key supporting roles, plays an otherworldly character selling wares at a rummage sale, including a VHS copy of the KITH cult classic/box office bomb Brain Candy.

With some assistance from the great, ever-towelled Bellini, a transaction leads the video tape to have magical enough properties to bring the Kids back from the dead and, with clever attention to detail, in the exact clothes they were wearing when the soil topped them some 30 years ago.

It was a painful breakup back then, with Brain Candy finding a fractured troupe limping into one last infamous, ego-bruising, critically disparaged project (except by the late, heroic Gene Siskel who seemed to get it, despite the late Roger Ebert's apoplectic protestations) together before taking an extended hiatus. Of course, Thompson, Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch and Mark McKinney are masters at finding inspiring comedy rooted in dysfunction and trauma, and even dwelling in its awkwardness.

As such, and with typical self-effacement, instead of brushing aside their most mainstream failure, the KITH make a point of owning it, having Brain Candy villains Don Roritor and his loyal assistant Marv recur throughout this new season, as meta figureheads who, along with Amazon, have some nefarious domain over the KITH. With McKinney conjuring his Lorne Michaels impression for Don and Foley still playing Marv like a loyal Waylon Smithers, it's a funny bit of continuity for a show with otherwise disconnected, remotely recorded sketches.

Though Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet are back, briefly shown in performance in the "Having an Average Weekend" title sequence with the late Dallas Good, and interstitially providing their first new music since original bassist Reid Diamond passed away, the anarchic, live-before-a-studio-audience Kids from the original series are gone. Instead, and likely pandemic protocol-related, every sketch is filmed on a set or on location, which only slightly tempers each of the members' penchant for playing things bigger for a crowd.

This format ensures that the KITH must not rest on their laurels. Notably and wisely, the KITH never did bits about contemporary celebrities or political figures, so there are no stale impressions to dust off. They did, however, create a stable of characters, some playing on archetypes of domestic discord or office outcasts that fans came to love.

Tellingly, the forward-thinking troupe employ such "greatest hits" sparingly; sure, it's fun to see Buddy Cole, the Headcrusher, the Eradicator, Cathy and Kathie, Francesca Fiore and Bruno Puntz Jones, Fran and Gordon, Gavin, and hapless A.T. & Love office drone Danny Husk placed in modern times (man, this Buddy Cole bit is incredible, and finds Thompson not only playing Buddy, but also and perversely, the Queen), but it's even more rewarding to see the Kids' active, fertile minds, creating new folks and scenarios.

It seems impossible that, in their 60s, the KITH might be even wilder and more uncompromising than their younger selves, but the tone is set early when McDonald and Foley engage in a cops 'n' robbers bit (with McCulloch and McKinney reprising a version of their old police partners). They not only get completely naked, but also revel in it, jumping up and down and doing slow turns, like we've involuntarily summoned them for a urological exam.

McDonald is so memorable in so many character studies like his "hot hot" guy (also nude, and featuring Eddie Izzard) and his equally demented "standing there" fellow. He and Foley have fun as 911 operators who cannot decipher what a child is calling them about. Generally regarded as the funniest Kid by his partners, McDonald brings simmering mania to the fore, even without an audience to play to.

In an episode centrepiece, Foley plays a radio DJ who still maintains his fake cheer, repeatedly and only playing Melanie's "Brand New Key," even though he's clearly broadcasting post-apocalypse and might be the last person alive. It's an incredibly dark idea and showcases Foley's remarkable range and theatrical charisma. (It's also almost exactly the same premise as the epic Shellac song "The End of Radio," but this may be a coincidence.)

Foley is also great in a duo sketch with McKinney, who plays a Shakespeare fanatic who magically makes his head and torso bust of the Bard come to life. Foley plays the bust and good lord, this goes from a silly to incredible premise in wonderfully-paced time.

McCulloch, who tends to pride himself on being the diligent, organized writer in the troupe, is also a gifted and multifaceted performer, and we're lucky that the guy behind some of KITH's most enduring musical numbers brings us the antic "I'm Not Crazy, I Just Lost My Glasses," which is elaborate and fun (there's a bit of Gord Downie swagger in McCulloch here actually, which may be an overt nod to his late hero and friend).

On the whole, the Kids in the Hall remain a self-sufficient crew of absolute comedy geniuses, but they do let some others into their orbit here, with mixed results. Community-oriented and loyal, the Kids feature a number of comedic peers and aspirants in scenes (including Jay Baruchel, Seán Cullen, Aurora Browne, Hannan Younis, Daniel Woodrow, Jennifer Goodhue, Chris Locke, Catherine Reitman, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Vance Banzo, Brandon Ash Mohammed, and more).

The recurring and brief "Friends of Kids in the Hall" clips featuring notable comedy celebrities (many from their old production papa Lorne Michaels's personal stash of employees and friends) pretending to be unknown fans are the closest we get to filler here, and feels the most like an unnecessary validation for an undeniably giant force in comedy.

Watching the Kids in the Hall in 2022, we see strength and confidence but also, and palpably, a joy-infused relaxation and acceptance of who they are. Over the years, the members have acknowledged some measure of regret about some fights they started, decisions they made, or else publicly licked wounds from what they retrospectively view as collective self-sabotage. 

Now, they've clearly invested great time and thoughtfulness into this series and should be immensely proud of it — but it also feels like, having seemingly been given free reign, they care more about pleasing themselves than others, which instinctually means they've trusted each other and created yet another stellar season of their show, further cementing their legacy as one of the most pleasing, uncompromising and significant comedy forces of all time. Gene Siskel, again, would approve. (Amazon Prime)