The Kids, now around 60 years old, are still obsessed with absurdity and the inevitability of endings. Vox Media, LLC Terms and Privacy Notice
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Sign up to get New York’s week in reviews. Who is that joke for? Kathryn VanArendonk is a critic who writes about TV and comedy. She gets mad when people say TV is a 10 hour movie. On the one end, there’s bizarre Shakespearean gore; on the other, a new sketch starring Foley as a radio DJ in a post-apocalyptic underground bunker, still doing stupid drive-time DJ voice, perpetually cuing up the one record he still has. Maybe it’s about our misapprehensions about geniuses of the Western canon, and maybe it’s about nothing except the image of Shakespeare, reanimated as only a head and partial torso. Instead, the combination of a fervent wish and a flash of lighting transforms a Shakepeare bust into a living Shakespeare, which quickly becomes a shocking, supremely stupid joke about the anatomy of a sculptural bust. Related
The Kids in the Hall Are Back, and One Must Die
Tags: Beloved characters have to come back. Someone’s head needs to be crushed. There are a lot of Kevin McDonald sketches in the world.” I will not spoil where this sketch goes, but it is the best-case scenario for laughing at your own longevity. The Kids have not lost their taste for bleakness, nor has the passage of time blunted their instinct for poking at masculinity and figures of power. The Kids are back. As the man in the towel would say, hell has frozen over. (Melanie’s creepy-cheerful “Brand New Key,” which you will now have stuck in your head forever, I’m sorry.) “This is your friendly neighborhood DJ, Mike “Motormouth” Mulcahy!” Foley intones, his voice that perfect DJ blend of warm and empty. The idea of a revived Kids in the Hall series, like so many other revivals of the past decade, comes packaged with intense trepidation. A Mark McKinney secretary character returns, now scandalized by Zoom misconduct. But the successes far outweigh the missteps, and it’s hard to come away feeling anything other than grateful. The documentary is thorough and full of good context for KITH’s subversive influence, but it’s tough to walk onto a stage after a hard act to follow, and it’s even more tough when that hard act is your past self. But in every instance, the new series finds ways to develop on that past rather than simply lean on it. If anything, they’re even sillier and darker than before. Is it possible to look back in celebration, without undercutting the past or, worse, being smugly self-congratulatory? In one, a pinnacle of trivial gross-out weirdness, McKinney plays a strange Shakespeare-obsessed man, an asocial guy who seems primed to be the butt of a joke about fandom, or not fitting in, or intense hobbies. It’s wonderful to have so many things to dread, and to instead be greeted with strange, goofy, self-referential, yet self-deprecating sketches. Scott Thompson’s groundbreaking gay character Buddy Cole is back, now strolling around and remembering all the gay bars that have been replaced by banks and condos, before eventually attending a ceremony to commemorate the last glory hole. Then, as the record kicks in again, his face falls into a blank, shellshocked terror, and the camera rests on his chilling, thousand-yard stare. Escher-esque sketch premise in episode three, with Foley playing a collector who’s arrived at a store, trying to get a good price for a VHS of a classic Kids in the Hall sketch (it’s McDonald playing a guy in a gorilla sketch). It’s a sour note of sanctimony and legacy-building, one that feels like the exact opposite of that daffy, fun Kevin McDonald sketch. Death, Kids member Dave Foley says, is “inherently funny, because it negates everything else. “Unfortunately it’s not too popular anymore. In the best moment of self-referentiality, Foley and Kevin McDonald start into an M.C. The revival knows that there are expectations that need to be met. Photo: Amazon Studios
What is funnier, ultimately, than the slow march of time toward inevitable death? The Kids in the Hall, the wildly influential Canadian sketch-comedy group that began in the ’80s, have known this from the start. The new KITH series has not become precious about the group’s collective death drive, but neither are they now so cynical or fatalistic that they can no longer giggle. Amazon Prime Video does not set this one up for success, either: The revival series is accompanied by a hagiographic two-part documentary on the group (The Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks), which is the source of that Foley quote about the hilarity of death. Let’s also be honest: Who can truly feel confident that their male comedic heroes of the past are not at any moment about to reveal themselves to be anti-cancel-culture prophets, railing against political correctness and censorship? “Oh yeah, this sketch,” the McDonald store-clerk character says. There are ornamental callbacks everywhere. Even better, more subtle and proudly weird, is a sketch in episode four called “The Patrol,” in which McKinney (who gives several stand-out performances in the revival) plays a median American white guy who just can’t stop noticing that small things just aren’t how they used to be. What if that nervy, surreal absurdism is blunted by nostalgic fondness? Death is the one thing that should remind you that absolutely everything else about life is absurd.” But comedy based in a deep sense of semi-nihilistic absurdism takes on a different quality when the Kids are no longer kids. Email
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Terms of Service apply. One of the most obvious of these is a sketch in episode five, in which McKinney plays a power-mad villain insistent on gatekeeping people’s ability to make doo-doo jokes, but there’s also a crack at the Kids having sold their souls to put this series on Amazon. But the new sketches manage to surprise amid the wash of familiar allusions. The most egregious is a running bit through each episode that features a celebrity cameo pretending to be an oddball KITH fan, a joke notably at odds with the sensibility of the rest of the series. Even that wildly bizarre Shakespeare sketch feels like a beginning that never found an end. After the treacherously high expectations of reviving a beloved comedy series plus a swooning documentary, the cumulative experience of the new Kids in the Hall feels nearly miraculous. Not every sketch is a home run. Either version is glorious. What is it about? There are some worst cases of self-referentiality, too. If there is nostalgia here, there is also a fascination with mocking that same impulse.