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The Kids In The Hall

The 80's and 90's nostalgia wave has struck again. This time, it has resurrected the Canadian cult sketch comedy The Kids In The Hall. I love The Kids In The Hall, but if you had asked me if the comedy of the group of 60-year-olds would hold up after 30 years, I would have said that I would be skeptical. At least, that would have been before I saw one of their live acts when they performed in Vegas. To my surprise, it held up! So I was uncharacteristically optimistic about this particular nostalgia reboot.

The group has, after all, continued to perform together all this time. All five members have returned for the Amazon Prime reboot, which is technically being considered the sixth season of the show, which is still being produced by Lorne Michaels, in cooperation with Broadway Video, as if it had never stopped production at all.

The Kids In The Hall - resurrection © Amazon
TV and movie studios are still digging up old nostalgia properties from the 80's and 90's.

But the truth is that it had stopped production. For almost 30 years. The kids aren't "kids" anymore. They're all around 60 years old. The humor has shifted to being more about growing old, the changes in culture and technology, and plenty of self-deprecation. The opening skit is a prolonged joke that, after selling a video cassette of Brain Candy (the Kids In The Hall movie from 1996) at a yard sale for a single looney, the movie had finally broken even, thus greenlighting Amazon to literally dig the show up from its grave. This imagery of the backhoe digging up the grave of a dead show from the early 90's is just so perfectly on point and sets the tone for much of the rest of the season. Other sketches from the first season include Cathy and Kathie sending the last ever fax, old businessmen adjusting to having Zoom meetings, and a sad apartment dweller fixating on how things just aren't what they used to be.

The Kids In The Hall - how do we men make money off of gender parity? © Amazon
Don Roritor plainly asks
"How do we men make money off of [gender parity]?"

A lot of comedians have been walking on ice for the past few years whenever they joke about race, gender, #MeToo, cancel culture, and so forth. The Kids take on these subjects as well, but manage to do so in their trademark absurdism that somehow manages to make it feel less mean-spirited, less out-of-touch, and less like they are trying to deflect from their own personal guilt. They are sensitive to the issues, but still able to poke fun at them without punching down at any individual or marginalized group. For example, there's a bit about an office worker being fired for "cultural appropriation". And in yet another perfectly on-point bit, Mark McKinney's corporate executive Don Roritor point blank asks a panel of women how white men like him can profit from gender parity, to which the women reply matter-of-factly "you can't. That's the point."

The individual episodes are all kind of hit-or-miss with the individual sketches, as was always common with this show. The absurdism either lands, or it doesn't. But when it does, it lands so smoothly and perfectly that it more than makes up for the misses around it. I think the second episode was the peak of this reboot for me, as it's "drop average" sketch had me almost crying from laughter. This episode also features the Queen of England cutting the ribbon on a monument to Canada's last gloryhole, an adaptation of the "Imaginary girlfriend" sketch from their live show, and ends with a bit about masturbating during Zoom meetings.

The Kids In The Hall - gloryhole © Amazon
The Queen of England commemorates the last gloryhole.

This second episode has the most hits, but each of the other first five episodes also has at least one good sketch. In some cases, it's a recurring bit that is split up throughout the episode, which helps to lift up the episode as a whole. Other standout sketches from other episodes include a pair of serial-murdering cats, Superdrunk (another bit adapted from their live performances), a dead-inside DJ spinning the same record repeatedly after an apocalypse, and a strip club that fetishizes stereotypes of men in their old age.

The last three episodes, however, really started to lose steam for me. A reprisal of The Eradicator from the original show is perhaps the closest thing to a highlight there. But even that bit's commentary on changes in casual competitive culture mostly fell flat for me. That being said, I still couldn't stop watching. Even when the skits were falling flat, they were still just so absolutely wacky that it's hard to look away from the train wreck.

In general, the season kind of lacks the same energy and pacing as the original show and the live performances. I don't know if this is owing to the more advanced age of the performers, or the writing, cinematography, or what, but everything is just a bit ... slow. Again, all the absurdism is still there, but even the good bits lack some of the punch that the classic sketches have. Even the two live acts that are adapted for the TV show just weren't as good as the live versions that I saw on stage a few years ago. The "Imaginary Girlfriend" bit is pretty much the same lines and jokes verbatim, but with a much more mellow and perhaps melancholy tone. Though to be fair to the kids, perhaps the energy of the live performance was owing more to the energy of the live audience than to the actual performers or performances, and the camera work and music of the TV version creates a very deliberate change in mood compared to the live show.

The Kids In The Hall - Imaginary girlfriend
© Amazon
The Kids In The Hall - Superdrunk
© Amazon
Some of my favorite sketches from the live act are adapted for TV, but aren't quite as good.

The Superdrunk sketch is the same basic concept as the version I saw live, but is completely rewritten. Part of it relies on guest appearance by Mark's classic head-crusher character as a villain, which works on its own, but distracts from the core concept of the Superdrunk joke. In fact, I seem to remember the live performance giving Superdrunk a catchphrase of "Hey, what are you looking at?!", which is just completely absent from this adaptation. I kind of hope that if this reboot gets a second season, that the Kids will re-visit this particular joke and perhaps do it better justice.

My favorite Kid In The Hall has always been Dave Foley (I'm pretty sure he's everyone's favorite), but I have to give some love to Mark McKinney in this reboot. Mark just absolutely hits it out of the park. Yes, he does get a revival of his classic Head-Crusher (as part of the aforementioned "Superdrunk" sketch), but his other characters and performances are also almost all fantastic. From Don Roritor, to the Professor, to the "things aren't what they used to be" patrolman, to one sketch in which he actually plays off of himself as 2 different characters. Even in bad sketches, like the 3-part Taddli Guy PSA sketches, Mark is great.

The Kids In The Hall - Don Roritor
© Amazon
The Kids In The Hall - patrolman
© Amazon
Mark McKinney is probably the stand-out performer in this season.

Honestly, Amazon simply calling this reboot "season 6" of The Kids In The Hall is apt. It feels perfectly in-line with where the show left off decades ago, but with a greater focus on self-referential and self-deprecating humor. Well, maybe not entirely. Being on a paid streaming service instead of network television, this reboot is a bit more vulgar and obscene than the original show. I'm no prude, so it didn't bother me. But it did surprise me when, in the first sketch after the opening credits of the first episode, 2 of the kids go with full-frontal nudity. If you've ever wanted to know what Dave Foley or Kevin McDonald's penis looks like, well now you know. In addition to the blatant nudity and more direct references to sex, Amazon also lets them get away with more explicit violence, blood, and gore.

That being said, I feel like if the Kids could have gotten away with this stuff back in 1990, they would have done it then to. Amazon's revival of The Kids In The Hall is just as silly, just as absurd, and just as hit-or-miss as any of the five seasons of the original run of the show. It's just too bad that it's only 8 episodes, because I would love to see more. I don't know if it would hold up for a full 26-episode schedule like the original run, but If the show gets greenlit for a 2nd (er, 7th?) season, I hope Amazon gives us a more full lineup of maybe 12 or so episodes. And I do fully expect that there will be a second season. The Kids still got it!

The Kids In The Hall - you asked for it © Amazon
Paul Bellini warns us: we asked for it.

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