It’s been fifteen years since sketch comedy program ‘The Kids in the Hall’ went off the air, fourteen years since the troupe’s only theatrical feature (‘Brain Candy’), and a good eight years since their last reunion tour. Since that time, the members have diversified to a variety of solo projects. (Dave Foley, in particular, has been all over the place on TV.) And yet, here we are in 2010, and the Kids are back with a brand new series on IFC. Even more bizarre, the show – called ‘Death Comes to Town’ – is a serial murder mystery. Yes, really! And it happens to be kind of awesome.
Make no mistake, ‘Death Comes to Town’ is a comedy. All of the original Kids have returned: Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Scott Thompson, Mark McKinney, and Dave Foley. They each play multiple characters, and they all still enjoy wearing dresses. But this isn’t sketch comedy. It’s a series with an actual plot. A very silly plot, but a plot all the same.
In the nowheresville small town of Shuckton, inexplicably beloved Mayor Bowman (McCulloch) has made a pitch to host the 2028 Olympics. Shuckton may not have any sporting facilities, per se, but it has a lot of empty land to build some on, would some wealthy developers just spend the money. The entire town waits with baited breath for the response letter from the International Olympics Committee. Naturally, it’s a rejection. Shuckton will just have to continue to rely on its rat-fur industry to keep afloat during the recession.
The series premiered last Friday with two episodes: ‘Death Checks In’ and ‘Who Mailed the Mayor?’ In the pilot, Death indeed rides into town… on a bus. McKinney plays the Grim Reaper like a paunchy Beetlejuice wannabe in a leather thong. He scoots around town on a badass bonecycle that’s basically one of those dorky motorized bicycles decorated in a Halloween skeleton theme. He spends his days in a motel, waiting around for someone to die. He’s especially eager to see the morbidly obese shut-in named Ricky (McCulloch again) go. Sadly, the clueless Ricky just refuses to keel over. Death bemoans the lousy route he’s been assigned while reading reports of other reapers claiming the souls of politicians and celebrities.
Finally, his day is brightened up by one juicy assignment. Someone has murdered Mayor Bowman! The town is in a panic. Who would do such a thing? Could it be Bowman’s bitter alcoholic wife (Foley)? His mentally-challenged son Rampop? Perhaps someone else held a grudge? Perhaps a lot of people held grudges against the Mayor? In the second episode, we learn that the killer shoved the Mayor’s entire head into the mailbox in his front yard. This speaks of unresolved anger issues.
The series is populated by countless goofy characters. A lot of them feel familiar from roles in the Kids’ sketch comedy, but they’re still plenty funny. The first two episodes are chock full of great background gags. My favorites include the office windowfront of the town abortionist, which advertises free kittens with every abortion, and the running jokes about the town’s seedier characters stealing manhole covers for no apparent reason and huffing Purell germ gel. When Death claims a soul, it pours out of the body as a powder that he snorts like cocaine.
The pilot episode really fires on all cylinders. The jokes come fast and furious. The second episode isn’t quite on the same level, but there’s still a lot of fun stuff going on. I’m definitely on board to see how well the Kids can keep this up.