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A&E Home Video presents
The Kids in the Hall: Complete Season One (1989-1990)

"I'm sorry I caused all that cancer. I didn't realize it was such a hideous disease."
- Bruce McCulloch, the cause of cancer

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: April 25, 2004

Stars: Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, Scott Thompson
Director: Various

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mature humor, sexual content)
Run Time: Approx. 500 min.
Release Date: April 27, 2004
UPC: 733961712032
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B+B-B- B

DVD Review

Kids in the Hall is yet another indication that there are few art forms more subjective than comedy. The sketch comedy series, featuring five men who often dress as women and fancy an odd blend of surreal humor, parody, and satire, is much loved by many, but weird enough to alienate everyone else. Born out of sketches performed by a Canadian improv comedy troupe, the show ran for five seasons on HBO and CBS, and hasn't been off the air since, thanks to omnipresent reruns on Comedy Central.

The Kids are unlikely, offbeat talents for network television, and it's hard to believe the same Lorne Michaels that has overseen the last decade's worth of middling Saturday Night Live stars recognized the group could find an audience outside of the tiny clubs they were playing in Canada. Baby-faced Dave Foley, who found mainstream success with a role on NewsRadio is the most recognizable of the cast, and also (is his own words) the prettiest girl (with no women in the troupe, all five members frequently fill in). The openly gay Scott Thompson tackles his sexuality head-on with characters like Buddy Cole, the "effeminate butch" who offers up monologues on the absurdities of his life as a minority that would be funnier if they weren't so raw. Kevin McDonald is the flat-out funniest performer and physical comedian. Mark McKinney tends to blend in to the background somewhat, but had a hand in one of the series' most popular sketches, the guy who crushes heads thanks to the magic of forced perspective (to try it, just choose a target standing a good distance away, hold your thumb and forefinger up to your eye, and commence crushing). Bruce McCulloch, my favorite of the bunch, seems generally quiet and good-natured (he plays moms a lot) until he totally loses himself in characters like Cabbage Head, who treats women like total crap and expects to get away with it because he has a cabbage for a head.

The thing about Kids in the Hall is, it's funny to the five performers who make up the troupe. It doesn't matter if it's funny to you, or me, or anyone else. Particularly during the first season, which was made up largely of sketches taken directly from the stage, the show was full of a particular brand of humor that might be funny only to one person in the world—the one who wrote it. Thus we get recurring bits like "Thirty Helens Agree," which features thirty women named Helen, standing in a field, agreeing about something. In the extras, Bruce McCulloch explains that he thinks the sketch is funny because he wondered what would happen if thirty Helens agreed. So there. Other bits are more accessible, usually because they expose some universal truth about human nature. My favorite is the sketch where one man can't remember the name of a movie he saw, and drives his friend mad when he won't admit it's Citizen Kane (cue violent stabbing). Other ideas are neither too obscure nor accessible, they're just funny or not funny, depending on the person. I, for one, laughed quite a bit at the apathetic burglar robbing the apathetic homeowner, but could do without the one about the pear dream, which... yeah, you'd have to see it.

There is a reason the show has attracted a cult following, though, and I think it's because the skits can be appreciated even when they don't work because they're unpredictable and utterly original. As sure as you can count on a SNL bit to include a Viagra joke, you can be sure you won't know where The Kids in the Hall is going. Take the popular bit "Can I Keep Him?" in which a little boy, played by Bruce McCulloch, brings home a stray businessman (Kevin McDonald) he found wandering around. The majority of the sketch is pretty funny, as it likens the ritualized business world to the animal world, but who would expect it to end with Bruce overjoyed about yet another new pet—his very own handful of cooked oatmeal ("Look mom, he likes me!").

No other sketch comedy series before or since has been so successful with such frequently inaccessible material, and I think it boils down to the fact that people like to feel like they've discovered something, and that they like something not everyone else will understand. Critics called it refreshing, disarming, dysfunctional, and bizarre, and fans kept watching because, for once, it wasn't just hyperbole.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: As long as you keep in mind the fact that The Kids in the Hall is a 15-year-old low-budget series shot on video, you shouldn't be too disappointed with the image quality on these discs. The picture looks a little washed out, and colors tend to be a bit dull, but images are generally fairly crisp, as least on an average-sized display. Darker scenes to lack definition and tend to look a bit muddy, but in general, the episodes are free of digital anomalies like artifacting and edge enhancement.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English Stereono


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is included in a basic stereo mix that varies a bit in terms of quality. Some early episodes sound pretty rough, with quite a lot of audible background hiss and generally weak fidelity, but by the third or fourth show, those problems cleared up. For the most part, the show sounds fine—there aren't any stereo effects or anything, but dialogue is clear and comprehensible. This is about the best you could get from the source material, I'd wager.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 162 cues and remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Mr. Bean: The Whole Bean
1 Documentaries
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by The Kids in the Hall on Pilot Episode Favorites and Season 1 Favorites
Packaging: Nexpak
Picture Disc
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Pilot Episode Favorites and Season 1 Favorites compilation episodes
  2. Performances from the Rivoli Theater
  3. Rolling Stone article "Is America ready for The Kids in the Hall?"
Extras Review: Creating extras for a cult show like The Kids in the Hall must be tough. You've got to have something interesting for the hard-core fans, but not alienate newcomers with too much "inside" material. This set gets it about right, with a nice mix of interviews and unseen footage that should please everyone.

An Oral History is a 38-minute summation of the early history of The Kids in the Hall, including new interviews with all five cast members and series' producer Lorne Michaels. The Kids discuss how they met as struggling comedians on the Canadian improv circuit, how they performed to nearly-empty rooms for years, and how the got caught up in the whirlwind of television once Michaels came calling. They give their opinions on one another, discuss their most famous characters, and highlight their favorite sketches. Overall, it's a funny, revealing piece, and it provides a lot of interesting historical information.

Two compilation episodes, one with "favorite" (whose?) sketches from Season One, the other with a smattering of the best sketches from the show's original, two-hour HBO special/pilot episode. Both include commentary from all of the Kids (though Scott Thompson shows up a little late), who poke fun at themselves, reminisce, and generally have a good time reliving their early days.

Nearly half an hour of onstage sketches from the troupe's days at the Rivoli Theater in Canada offer a glimpse of the chemistry that one day led to a successful television show. The bits are hit-or-miss, as always, but they work out quite well "live" and have a lot of unpolished energy. Video quality is pretty shabby here, but it's nice to see this stuff at all.

The Rolling Stone article credited with launching the Kids' career, titled "Is America Ready for The Kids in the Hall?" is included as a DVD-ROM file on Disc 4 (and, thankfully, it works on both Mac and PC).

There are no subtitles, but the set does include a whopping 162 chapter stops, one for each and every sketch. The names of the sketches are also listed on the back of each DVD case, making it easy to find your favorites.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

The groundbreaking comedy series comes to DVD in a fan-friendly set from A&E and Broadway Video. The Kids in the Hall won't appeal to everyone (in fact, I question whether some sketches, particularly in the first season, appeal to anyone), but on the whole, it's a great showcase for the skewed sensibilities of five rather bizarre comic minds.

 


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