Maybe you can go home again
But usually you really shouldn't
Death Comes to Town is a sad class reunion for The Kids in the Hall
Time was, in the late 1980s and early 1990s — and for the first time since the heyday of SCTV back in the late 1970s — one of the few "must-see" programs on television was a Canadian show.
Working in the scripted but anarchic tradition of SCTV and Monty Python's Flying Circus before that, the Kids were hip, daring, sometimes shocking and almost always very, very funny.
The program went off the air in 1994, to be followed up by an amusing but not fully successful feature film in 1996, Brain Candy. After that I, at least, thought we had almost certainly seen the last of the Kids as a group.
But old hits have a way of returning in the 21st century, like tired movie franchises or decrepit rock bands determined to take advantage of today's ticket prices.
Occasionally a reunion is magic, but more often it is at best vaguelly embarrassing or, worse, proof that Time is a harsh mistress indeed and that only old fools dare attempt to recapture the glory days of their youth.
Which brings me to this Tuesday night on CBC television. The Kids are back, this time with an eight-part mini-series, Death Comes to Town.
Now, I'm a romantic and an optimist, and I do love those rare times when old masters beat the odds. And the individual Kids have talent enough that I approached their return with, well, a pretty good feeling about it. After all, eight half-hour episodes are enough for a troup to test their limits but short enough to impose some discipline — or so I thought.
Sadly, it was not to be, at least if the first episode is anything to go by.
Set in the fictional Ontario town of Shuckton, the program opens out with some quietly amusing moments. Mark McKinney's Death, wearing not much more than a leather codpiece and leather vest arrives on a vintage-looking Greyhound and then tours the town on a motorized banaseat bicycle; the character is both grotesque and ludicrous, not side-splitting stuff, but promising enough. So to with Bruce McCulloch's entrance as the very sleazy (and yet strangely popular) Mayor Larry Bowman. Possibly my only actual laugh came as the Mayor walks through a local eatery, taking food from adoring patrons, pocketing tips and finally necking with a young woman as her husband looks on proudly, later exclaiming, "The mayor kissed my wife! The mayor kissed my wife!"
Meanwhile, we meet the local abortionist and two very dumb cops (regulars from the old skitcom days) before Death orders pizzas and ... and there's really no point in going on with a synopsis. Stuff happens. Sight gags and wordplay, nonsensical confrontations and desperately surreal set-pieces, almost all of which fail to arouse much in the way of a smile, let alone laughter.
Death Comes to Town seems to suffer from a fundamental confusion the Kids were unable to resolve; namely, was this mini-series to be a plot-driven comedy or a skitcom sewed together with some sort of linear narrative? One or the either might have worked, but this unwholesome hybrid simply lies there, .
I will probably watch the second installment, hoping against hope that things will improve, but my remaining optimism is a feable remnant of what I had going in on Tuesday night. I fear it's time for the Kids in the Hall to grow up or go back to school. And I will also praise any and every power that is that SCTV managed to avoid it's own reunion show.