A&E // 1989 // 2701 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // May 18th, 2011
The complete compendium of The Kids in the Hall comedy on twenty-two DVDs.
I've always thought that good sketch comedy was like good jazz. Both succeed because of a devotion to the medium, a large imagination, and the willingness to go in odd directions, and both are not ruined by the occasional flat moments. "Wrong" notes in jazz and sketches that don't hit the mark both serve as welcome respite from the better moments and create satisfying contrast. The only problem with both jazz and sketch comedy is that they're notoriously difficult to judge. Outside of a few acknowledged masters (Miles Davis and John Coltrane come to mind), there's little popular consensus about players. Similarly, aside from a few greats (Monty Python or early SNL), there are few popular sketch comedy troupes that have gained popular approval. One of those groups, however, would certainly be The Kids in the Hall, and the Complete Series gives fans all five seasons of their original show, along with their twenty-first century miniseries Death Comes to Town.
The Kids in the Hall was created by a group of Canadian comics (Dave Foley, Bruce McCullogh, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson) who pitched their idea to Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels. This got them a deal with the Canadian Broadcasting company, and after the first season aired the show was picked up by HBO for American broadcast. All five seasons of this critically acclaimed run are included here on twenty discs.
After the show ran its course, the troupe produced a film (The Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy), went on hiatus, came back from several successful live tours, and decided in 2008 to do another television series. The Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town combines the troupe's sketch skills with an ongoing murder mystery in a small Canadian town. The eight episodes of this miniseries are spread across two discs in this set.
All five seasons and the miniseries are housed in single-width DVD cases housed in a sturdy cardboard sleeve.
The Kids in the Hall follow other sketch comedy greats in being irreverent, silly, and satirical. They skewer everyone from movie stars to the man on the street with a welcome combination of material that shot on location and in the studio. Since the troupe is all-male, they're not afraid to get their cross-dress on, and some of their funniest moments involve the guys decked out in some ridiculous outfit for a sketch.
No one will deny that the first five seasons were game-changing comedy for a lot of people. Those late-night airings on HBO inspired numerous comic talents and proved that sketch comedy as a form was still relevant. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if other great sketch acts (like The State and Mr. Show) weren't given their green light because of The Kids in the Hall. However, Death Comes to Town will likely be a lot more polarizing. I wasn't kidding when I said earlier that sketch comedy can be hard to judge, and when a sketch troupe departs from typical sketches to tackle a murder mystery narrative, the results are even harder to measure. While many of the jokes succeeds, the format isn't ideal. Sure there's a lot for old-school fans to enjoy, but this is more of a soft coda to their legacy rather than a triumphant return. It's also probably not the place that those new to Kids in the Hall should start.
Luckily, viewers won't have to start with Death Comes to Town thanks to this set. It appears to be the same "Complete Series" set that was released in 2006, which was itself only a compendium of the previously available single-season releases. Except, of course, that this time we get Death Comes to Town. As such, these releases look just like their previous counterparts: decent, but unspectacular 1.33:1 transfers of a show that's fast approaching twenty years off the air. The quality gets a little better as the show goes on; Season Five has a bit more sharpness and slightly more vibrant colors than the earlier seasons. Death Comes to Town, filmed more recently, is anamorphically enhanced, and looks like a more modern production. It's not a visual treat, but black levels and fine detail are strong and consistent, with surprisingly vibrant colors. All five seasons of the original show and Death Comes to Town get Dolby stereo tracks (though the boxes indicate 5.1) that do a fine job keeping the dialogue audible and balanced with the laugh track.
Extras are, quite frankly, ridiculous. All five seasons and the miniseries include some kind of commentary from some or all of the Kids. All five seasons also feature "Best-Of" episodes that take the best single skits from each season and mash them together (often with a commentary from the guys). All these seasons also have slide shows and cast biographies. We also get a few "previously unseen" moments from live performances by the troupe, and the first two seasons include "An Oral History," which is a short featurette that includes the Kids (and others) talking about the series. Death Comes to Town also gets deleted scenes and a blooper reel in addition to the commentaries.
Here's the rub with The Kids in the Hall: The Complete Series: we've seen it all before. The original series was available in single-season releases and as a collection, while Death Comes to Town can be purchased separately as well. There are no new bonuses to tempt fans. So, this is a release for someone who enjoys The Kids in the Hall but doesn't yet own any of the DVD releases -- or maybe for someone who bought a single season on DVD but wants to upgrade to the whole she-bang. Otherwise, there's no reason for anyone with the previous DVDs (either as separate seasons or the previous "complete" collection) to buy this set.
It's a little strange to be able to get all these seasons of Kids in the Hall at a single go, but still have to buy Brain Candy separately.
As for the show itself, the comedy here is sure to be polarizing. I've rarely met a tepid Kids fan. Viewers are either into the antics or not. All it usually takes is a single episode to determine where you stand.
The Kids in the Hall stands tall as one of the few sketch comedy shows that stayed consistent -- and consistently funny -- throughout its run. Though Death Comes to Town doesn't add much to that reputation, it doesn't take anything away. Fans who've held off buying any of the previous DVDs might want to sink the cash for this reasonably priced (less than $20 a season) set. Those with a taste for off-kilter humor who haven't yet seen any of the Kids' work should get this set as soon as possible.
Despite a bit of redundancy, this set is not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2011 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 2701 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Episodes
* Bonus Footage
* Poster Gallery
* IMDb: Kids in the Hall
* IMDb: Death Comes to Town