50 Favorite TV Shows: #1 Kids in the Hall
Originally Aired on: HBO
And here it is, my favorite TV series and I can’t help but feel like this is an anti-climax. Much like when I picked John McLaughlin as number one on my 100 Favorite Guitarists list, I feel like this choice is very personal and makes less sense within the larger context of my list and tastes. As I’ve been doing this list, the closer I’ve come to getting to this point the more desire I’ve had to re-watch the series I’m talking about. This has hit a fever pitch since I got into the Top Ten, as I just so desperately want to relive these series even though I’ve watched all of them numerous times. Kids in the Hall might be the only exception to this overall rule, as its construction as a sketch comedy show makes it easy to digest in small bits, allowing me to scour YouTube for my favorite clips or at least relevant ones. And to this show’s credit, they’re just timeless masterpieces of bizarre comedy. This is why Saturday Night Live will always be an inferior show in my opinion, because it depends too much on the cultural locus of the moment it’s made in, while things like Mr. Show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Kids in the Hall make their comedy so that it doesn’t matter when you see it, it will just always be the same point of reference. And of course, Kids in the Hall is uproariously funny. I can think of probably close to three dozen sketches that I can recall well enough from memory to discuss within the parameters of my argument, but I’ll stick to two: Into the Doors and The Beard. Into the Doors is essentially the breakdown of every musical conversation you will ever have with someone who is into a band you’re not. A man (played by Kevin McDonald) arrives at a record shop only to be informed that both the records he wants suck by the cool clerk, prompting him to inquire after the Doors. Little does he know that the clerk sees in the Doors in an otherworldly light, both triumphing their virtues and bewailing their lost status, adding layers upon layers to the ritual of listening to the Doors. This is something I’m a little prone to myself, compartmentalizing the way I digest music and then doling it out in selected ways to those who ask me about it, but this is just this idea amped up to a radical degree. It’s not a matter of liking a particular song, but not liking that song anymore because you’ve heard everything else they’ve done. It’s not just picking the right album, but picking the “departure point” and then going out and living the wild lifestyle of the Doors. What the Kids in the Hall imagine is a scenario that could really happen with any band if you were willing to believe their discography is transcendent, believe that there’s something bigger and more ridiculous looming behind the music that only “true fans” understand. It’s a cultural moment for sure, but not one that needs any more than the basic understanding of how people get in regards to the material they cherish and how that spirit is both extremely interesting and decidedly divergent from the standards of normal. The Beard is another odd tale, using the idea of a man growing a beard on vacation and being unable to part with it when he returns to work. Rather than be about the awkward social conventions of beard ownership within the workplace, it reimagines the idea of a horror story, the beard slowly consuming the man’s sanity until it drives him to his death. The thematic idea of is extremely solid, as it gives the idea of the Beard as an act of freedom the man does not wish to release when he returns to work and how it physically hurts him to be reminded that he’s returned to the office. Of course, you can completely ignore this idea when you watch the sketch because it’s built upon the bombast of giving something as normal as a beard a larger life consuming significance. I’m attached to my own beard, but I’m not really willing to kick out a wife over it. The Kids in the Hall find a way to make comedy that is both very broad and very specialist at the same time, playing out ideas that crop up in the mundanity of life and then allowing them to sort of branch out and develop into stranger lingerings that stay with you. Any Kids in the Hall sketch, bar maybe one or two, is the same then as it is now, not archaic or old fashioned, but simply the execution of thematic ideas that stem from the living experience.
And to this end, the Kids just have a broad range of comedy they employ. I keep harping on the idea that I like comedy that sucks you into its system of logic, but with the Kids in the Hall, a single episode can have any broad number of comedy styles play out. The two previous sketches I mentioned could easily each be classified in their own way, with Into the Doors coming off as observational humor and the Beard being a broad parody of horror conventions. But the jokes range even further than that. Buddy Cole was never my favorite part of the show, but his sketches has such a distinct flavor to them, playing up Scott Thompson’s dry wit to make amusing monologues and stories about the gay lifestyle. They’re generally composed simply as a way to give a broad sense of the way Thompson delivers them, making his own sly revelry in his ideas more flamboyant and boisterous than their delivery initially betrays. Other sketches find their métier among numerous fields of parody, ones as diverse as the physical comedy of Mr. Heavy Feet, the Francesca Fiore and Bruno Puntz Jones European film conventions, to the twisted world view of Mr. Tyzik and his head crushing and the rather straight delivery of jokes found in Anal Probing Aliens. Because of the diverse styles and subject matters they employ, the show is well rooted with rather memorable recurring characters, allowing them to build upon the different subject matters and genres with the same set of characteristics to highlight the clashes in style and play up the humor. Danny Husk (Scott Thompson) is perhaps the most recurring of all the characters, as he plays the straight man to so many sketches. In most he’s used to play the role of sycophant to his bosses and colleagues who’s odd behavior don’t match his own, such as when his Boss’ mouth begins to leak brown fluid. But in others his role is dramatically shifted, including one where a newspaper informs him he’s been kidnapped, forcing him to pay his own ransom. This results in an odd detective story/physical comedy situation where Danny’s straight man nature is used to play up the oddity of the situation as he desperately scours the city for the necessary money to pay the kidnappers. The sketch works because it so thoroughly pulls Danny and everyone around him into the bizarre situation, including his wife leaving him because she can’t wait for him and his boss turning tricks to help pay for the ransom. Rather than see him simply be the target of the insane antics as we normally see him, he becomes their arbiter, executing the actions that propound the situation without ever realizing why what he’s doing is so ridiculous. And even the show’s construction takes this further, as it’s mix of live and pre-filmed sketches give the show a lively mix of how sketches feel, making certain ones more diverse in execution because they could use locations, while others are more dialogue driven affairs to match the live audience’s reaction. Frankly, it’s just everything you can imagine thrown together and then pulled out because all the actors are skilled and charismatic, allowing an idea no matter how weird to flourish and make perfect sense by sketch’s end.
And with that this list draws to a close. It’s difficult to say in light of a lot of the powerful emotions I’ve had towards a number of things on this list why Kids in the Hall is my favorite TV show, but it just has been and still is. It’s a show that I can laugh at and reference no matter how many times I’ve seen it and I always find something new to enjoy in it. I first saw it in the early 90s on Comedy Central and it’s stuck with me ever since, this odd corner of the world where people no longer follow the rules of man but instead embrace the inherent weirdness of the human condition.
Key Episode: As with any sketch comedy show, it’s just going to come down to just your favorite sketches and I already talked about a few of mine, so let me just list a few more great ones. “Girl Drink Drunk,” “Inexperienced Cannibal,” “Fur Trappers,” “Thanks Hitler,” “Communism,” “Citizen Kane,” “The King of Empty Promises,” “Eradicator,” and pretty much any 30 Helens Agree.
Favorite Character: Well my favorite recurring characters are Rod Torfulson’s Armada featuring Herman Menderchuk, a no talent band more concerned with the trappings of being a band and making it than actually being good. These sketches are always a little odd to watch because I’ve been in this scene before and know this feeling, where you just think you’re so good but you obviously aren’t. I think the best part is just how put upon Kevin McDonald’s character is during these sketches, as he seems to be the only member with any talent but has no name and isn’t part of the band name, resulting in Rod and Herman abusing him to the point where he agrees to pay them a salary to keep them in a band. These sketches really play upon the natural skill of the actors, with Bruce McCulloch’s natural forceful jerkiness and Mark McKinney’s sychophantic abilities really playing against the sadsack gentleness that Kevin has. That this gets a wonderful payoff in the series finale makes it all the better.