A&E // 2010 // 180 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // May 18th, 2011
"Mayor Bowman is, at this moment, dead."
In 2008, while undertaking their first major tour in six years, members of the beloved Canadian comedy troupe discussed a return to television. Rather than a return to the sketch based format of The Kids in the Hall TV show, the group conceived an eight part miniseries, following a more linear format. The resulting series, Death Comes to Town, sees the Kids incorporate a murder mystery and a touch of horror into their comedy.
The Mayor of the small town of Shuckton, Ontario is murdered, following his failed bid to secure the 2028 Olympic Games for his town. Police suspicions fall almost instantly on Crim, a local crook apprehended covered in blood. This leads to a bizarre series of events, which see the Mayor's body stolen by an infatuated coroner; ex-hockey player (and current local fat man) Ricky, attempting to uncover the truth behind the murder from the comfort of his couch; and Death himself arriving in town to claim some souls.
Spread out over two discs, Death Comes to Town features all eight episodes of the mini-series.
* "Death Checks In"
* "Who Mailed Our Mayor?"
* "The Stages of Grief"
* "Big City Smack Down"
* "The Butterfly is to Blame"
* "Cause of Death"
* "Serious Shockey News"
* "Dead Man Walking"
Let's get the obvious out of the way: Death Comes to Town is massively influenced by the BBC series, The League of Gentlemen; an openly acknowledged fact the Kids don't even attempt to disguise. This influence extends from the show's structure to its cast of oddball characters. While Death Comes to Town may not reach the level of genius of its predecessor, it sure as hell is great entertainment. More importantly, it never falls into the trap of cribbing, acting almost as a companion piece to the UK series.
Though the cast of eccentric characters puts the show on a good footing, what ensures the series' success is the Kids themselves. Yes, the characters are well written, but without their delivery, all that would be for naught. Each of the Kids takes on multiple roles. From "Doc" Porterhouse (the town's good-natured abortionist) to Ricky Jarvis (the morbidly obese target Death's taunts), Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, and Mark McKinney bring their A game to the show. Most amusing of all is town mortician Dusty Diamond, played by Scott Thompson. Diamond harbors homosexual feelings towards the deceased Mayor, feelings he finds himself able to act upon when left alone with the corpse. The highlight of this "romance" is an odd fishing trip shared between the two. Like The League of Gentlemen, Death Comes to Town is a plot-based series, but still finds time to include extended sketches like this; they may add little to the story, but allow the Kids to have fun with their new creations.
There's a wickedly dark sense of humor at play here. Along with the questionable liaisons between the Mayor's corpse and the town coroner, we get to see Death mercilessly taunt the town residents, only stopping to claim their souls by sniffing them like cocaine. Even the cheaper gags, such as Death's Speedo attire, hit the mark. This all works so well due to the episode's tight scripts, which see the Kids masterfully distribute the jokes so each maintains the same high quality. Having come from a sketch-based background, the Kids show a good understanding of what it is that makes a situation based comedy work. Death Comes to Town's pacing is solid, with only the occasional drop in momentum. Of course some episodes stand out more than others; Episode 4, "Big City Smack Down," which sees the fast-talking lawyer Big City arriving in town being one such highlight. Famed for his use of showmanship rather than actual facts to sway both judge and jury, Big City may be a relatively small role, but the Kids have ensured he is granted as much attention as any of the leads.
If there is a downside to Death Comes to Town it's the murder mystery. This aspect plays second fiddle to the comedy, and the series suffers whenever it's brought to the fore. Thankfully the writing ensures this is rarely problematic, as the jokes cover such cracks.
The DVD comes with a decent, if unspectacular full frame, standard definition transfer. The image is generally sharp, retaining a good level of detail, but tends to go soft at times. The Dolby 5.1 audio, clear with no real problems to report, doesn't attempt to do anything fancy. Three of the episodes come with an optional commentary track, courtesy of Dave Foley and Bruce McCulloch. The two share a good rapport, and provide an entertaining set of tracks. Other bonus features include a selection of deleted/extended scenes, and a blooper reel.
Perhaps having only a limited exposure to the previous works of The Kids in the Hall influenced my judgment, but I thoroughly enjoyed Death Comes to Town. It helped fill the gap felt since the end of The League of Gentlemen, and presents a brave and ultimately successful change of direction for these seasoned performers.
Review content copyright © 2011 Paul Pritchard; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 180 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Commentaries
* Deleted/Extended Scenes
* Facebook: Kids in the Hall