BY: Frazier Moore
NEW YORK – The last time The Kids in the Hall performed for the cameras was their 1996 feature, ‘Brain Candy.’
Before that, this supremely funny Canadian-born quintet starred in their sketch-comedy series on HBO and CBS.
Though the members have dispersed to pursue individual projects, they returned for more Kid stuff in the form of live comedy tours, most recently in 2008.
Now they’re back on TV screens in ‘The Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town,’ a four-hour miniseries on IFC. The first pair of half-hour episodes airs Friday (10 p.m. EDT).
All five “Kids” — Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson — star in this twisted murder mystery, tackling all the major roles (male and, in masterful drag, female, too). The tale, set in bucolic but bizarre Shuckton, Ontario, begins with the arrival of the Grim Reaper on a Greyhound bus, followed by a murder that leaves nearly everyone in the community a possible suspect.
‘Death Comes to Town’ stays true to the troupe’s skill at capturing the weirdness in human behavior and social habits, while wasting little time on pop-culture spoofery. But unlike their sketch-comedy series, this is a handsomely cinematic enterprise, with a robust serialized narrative and a big whodunit finish that befits Agatha Christie.
Each troupe member plays multiple, fully realized characters.
For instance, Dave (perhaps the best-known of the gang from his NBC comedy ‘NewsRadio‘) plays the mayor’s alcoholic wife, a harried TV news producer and the kindly town abortionist, among other townspeople.
Kevin’s characters include the addled spinster who gets lost on her pizza deliveries and a dimwitted lawyer who dotes on his 32-year-old cat.
Bruce plays the sleazy mayor and Ricky, a 600-pound former high-school hockey star who’s afraid to leave his house.
Bruce also spearheaded the project.
“It just required someone to say, ‘I have an idea, I’ll executive-produce it and I’ll be the last man standing,’” he explained. “So I did, and here we are.”
“It was a very smart and very un-Kids-in-the-Hall-ish thing for us to do, to delegate a chunk of creative authority to one member,” said Mark, whose roles include the bike-riding, bumbling Death and Corrinda Gablechuck, a local TV news reporter. “That had never, ever happened before.”
“The bravest thing we’d ever done,” insisted Scott, who plays the kinky town coroner and TV meteorologist Heather Weather.
But why this particular story?
“When we were all young,” Scott confided, “we accidentally killed someone. Then we made a pact that we would never reveal it. Now, we’re sort of confessing through our art.”
Gathered for a group interview last week, the troupe-mates used a reporter’s questions as grist for their freewheeling banter, volleying repartee among themselves like a Hacky Sack (or maybe two at the same time).
A joint consideration of their comic influences (SCTV, Buster Keaton, Monty Python, Mad magazine) led Mark to volunteer that he had once come face-to-face with another of their comedy heroes — Bugs Bunny.
“I met him once,” Mark announced. “He came backstage at ‘Saturday Night Live‘ when Bruce and I were writing for it.”
Age had taken its toll on Bugs, Mark said.
“There was a problem with the back pain,” Dave remembered. “He took a lot of pills.”
“But he still had it,” Mark riffed on. “I spilled his drink, and he took a fan and a bunch of carrots and fired ‘em at me machine-gun-like.”
“Same old Bugs!” Kevin chuckled.
“A great improviser, a great prop comic,” Mark said.
“And he sure liked drag!” Scott pointed out with glee.
While the creative ferment of the Kids during their 20s was accompanied by lots by infighting, peace is more likely to reign among them now.
“Being older,” said Bruce (who, like the others, has reached the half-century range), “we value the troupe in a different, sweeter sense.”
Meanwhile, reuniting for their 2008 tour convinced them they could still write solid new material, not just trade on fans’ nostalgia for the classic routines.
“It was important for us not to be the Beach Boys,” Bruce said.
Last summer, they filmed ‘Death Comes to Town,’ 20 years after their series premiered.
So the Kids are all right, having lived on as “a place you go because it’s a comfortable place to be,” Dave explained.
“I think another thing that saved us was that none of us really went on to huge stardom,” Scott proposed.
“Yes,” Dave snorted. “I’m glad we made THAT choice.”
“And it was JUST a choice — for all of us!” Scott added, deadpan.
“Whatever else we do,” said Dave, “each of us is always gonna be a Kid in the Hall.”
“Fine with me!” Scott declared.
“In our obituaries,” said Kevin, unwittingly invoking the death theme of their new show, “our names will be quickly followed by ‘Kid in the Hall.’”
“But first it’ll say we died,” Bruce reminded him. “So people won’t think it’s a review.”
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