REVIEW: ‘The Kids in the Hall’ Revival is Best When It’s Not Being Funny

Prime Video’s The Kids in the Hall is not a perfect season of comedy, however, it is more or less what fans will expect.

“Well, I got a brand new pair of roller skates, you got a brand new key. I think that we should get together and try them out, to see…

The lyrics to Melanie‘s upbeat 1971 classic, “Brand New Key,” echo hauntingly through the lifeless corners of an underground bunker. A neon sign flashes “On Air,” and water drips from the pipes above. Dave Foley, wearing a long-haired wig and eyeliner, sits by himself at a table covered in radio broadcast equipment. He casts an empty stare into nothing, his expression somehow both devoid of feeling and on the verge of tears.

“I’ve been looking around a while, you’ve got something for me. Oh, I got a brand new pair of roller skates, you got a brand new key…”

The record playing in front of Foley skips, breaking him from his trance and transforming him into a “Motor Mouth” DJ named Mike, putting on a performance for an unseen audience. A few cheesy quips reveal that a nuclear holocaust has destroyed the surface of the Earth, and Mike is seemingly speaking to nobody, simply passing the time alone. As soon as his act is finished, he returns to playing “Brand New Key,” his only record, and resumes looking into the void. Maybe, someday, somebody will hear his broadcast, but that day is not this one. Cut to opening credits.

That is how The Kids in the Hall choose to open an installment of their latest episodic reunion. The Canadian troupe that blew the doors off sketch comedy in the early 1990s with their farcical satire and deadpan absurdity are back with a revival on Prime Video, but things are a little different this time. Now, they’re old, and they have a new perspective on life. Much of the humor in the latest season comes from a place of reflection, analyzing the ups and downs of later adulthood and the world as it has come to be. It’s the kind of topical turn many comedians have made as they’ve aged past the point of youthful rebellion. No longer able to stick it to the man, generally speaking, they begin sticking it to those who do.

Luckily, the Kids in the Hall avoid falling into the regular “old man trap” of cantankerously complaining about the way times have changed. Instead, they often make themselves the butt of the joke, using their own humility to get the point across. Their sketches are just as much about how well they have, and haven’t, adapted to the changing landscape of culture as they are about their thoughts on those changes at large. What exactly those thoughts are appear to be somewhat subjective, but the unanimous decision made by all five members seems to be that, at the very least, their sense of humor refuses to change. These are the same Kids in the Hall you remember from thirty years ago, even if what they’re talking about is not at all the same. For all intents and purposes, the group are Dave Foley sitting in a bunker as civilization crumbles around them. Still wearing the clothes and makeup they did in 1989.

Though interestingly enough, many of the season’s highlights happen in ways one wouldn’t quite expect. Like the strange, off-putting bit outlined above, most of the Kid’s best new moments come in the form of weirdly serious, left-field sketches that aren’t exactly outwardly funny. Maybe it’s the modern influence of successful alternative comedy shows like Tim Robinson‘s I Think You Should Leave or Nathan Fielder‘s Nathan For You, but it’s likely the sketches played for confusion or stupidity that will end up appealing most to the younger audiences of today. Of course, it could be argued that the Kids in the Hall pioneered that exact form of hilarity, and credit is due where it’s due. When the Kids commit to the cringe bit, it’s all sorts of wonderful. There are skits with bouncing male genitalia, waiters who can’t comprehend the mind of a tasteless dinner guest, and a neighborhood watch who can’t quite put their finger on what’s actually wrong with their environment. Each of these succeeds because none of their characters show any sign of realizing their actions are increasingly ridiculous. They aren’t trying to be funny, which in turn is hilarious.

Unfortunately, the Kids’ latest batch of episodes can’t stick to this format for its entirety. It feels like every time an episode hits its stride, it comes crashing down at the behest of a sketch that insists on laughing at itself. A drunk father manages to become a hero in Toronto, a workplace Zoom meeting is interrupted by natural desires, and a man loses his job for culturally appropriating a clown co-worker. These all fail, at least in my own eyes, because they acknowledge that what’s happening could be construed as funny. The Kids and their cohorts play the characters in these sketches as knowing caricatures surrounded by other knowing caricatures. Everyone is in on the joke, which causes the joke as a whole to flounder. Nobody likes to be told when something is funny, they just want to laugh.

Thankfully, the majority of The Kids in the Hall‘s five screener episodes manage to lean toward the former vibe of unconscious absurdism. It’s not a perfect season of comedy, but it is exactly what fans of the crew might be expecting from their favorite funny Canadians. Even viewers with little-to-no prior knowledge of the group will probably find themselves amused by a lot of what they have to offer. There have been much worse attempts at a comeback made by comedians circling retirement age. Here’s hoping the last couple of episodes, still yet to be seen by critics, live up to the whispered promise that the Kids still have what it takes to shock and delight.

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