The Kids In The Hall Review: The Canadian Quintet Returns Mostly To Comic Form

"Aren't you a little old to be playing a kid?" This question is spoken by a young woman to Bruce McCulloch, reprising one of his many recurring characters from "The Kids in the Hall," named Gavin. When the show premiered in the late 1980s, and served as a Canadian sibling of sorts to the sketch work of "Saturday Night Live," McCulloch was one of five fresh-faced comic performers with darkly funny sensibilities hidden just beneath the surface. But it's been over thirty years since the show first premiered, and more than 25 years since its last episode. Revived now thanks to Amazon Prime, "The Kids in the Hall" are now really only kids in spirit, but they lean into that awareness in the sharp and funny return.

Within the first few minutes of the first episode (there will be eight in total, and I've seen the first five), the five stars get as dark as possible in acknowledging the reality of the situation. The setup of the first sketch is that their cult-favorite film "The Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy" has finally made a profit thanks to a garage-sale purchase, meaning that it's time for them to return to the small screen. And so, their shirtless and oft-silent cohort/co-writer Bellini digs them up from a joint grave where they're buried. But even so, they've aged so much. Aside from McCulloch, there's still Dave Foley, Scott Thompson, Mark McKinney, and Kevin McDonald, with the now-white-haired Foley asking, "Am I still the cute one?" to a chorus of hems and haws.

Though there are fourth-wall-breaking references throughout the five episodes — including a particularly funny sketch that turns into one performer making the other wax rhapsodic about the first one's comic abilities — "The Kids in the Hall" works because it remains as cheerfully black-hearted when it counts. Diehard fans will likely be pleased to know that Gavin is but one of many returning characters. One episode's framing device features Francesca Fiore and Bruno Puntz Jones (Thompson and Foley), South American film stars, and many episodes return to the world of AT & Love for a new set of satiric comments on modern work culture.

Walking a fine line between humor and awkwardness

If there is any point during which "The Kids in the Hall" tiptoes perhaps a little too close to feeling like a complaint about the current state of humor, the type of grouchy early-Boomer grousing about what is or isn't allowable to be funny anymore, it comes during these various sketches. In one, the big boss (Foley) informs recurring character Danny Husk (Thompson) that he's fired for sporting loud, squeaky clown shoes because it's considered offensive cultural appropriation by an actual circus clown. In another, a Zoom meeting quickly devolves because the various attendees are called out for inappropriately touching themselves (and then it devolves even further). The sketches never jump fully into arguing that people are too touchy and need to relax, but the frequency of these jokes (and their hit-or-miss qualities, at best) makes you wonder.

Where "The Kids in the Hall" continues to show strength is in broader absurdity, as in one sketch where a little boy's attempt to get his grandfather medical help goes awry because the grandfather is unable to appropriately say the word "ambulance." And the bleakness of some of the sketches feels uniquely fresh even though it fits in well with their earlier work, as in one episode's recurring sketches with a morning-zoo-style DJ (Foley) in an apocalyptic version of Earth where he lives in an underground bunker and plays the same song ("Brand New Key") over and over and over and over again to an audience of likely zero.

Though all five of the Kids have gone on to varying levels of success in the last thirty years — American audiences may be most familiar with Foley, thanks to his starring role in "NewsRadio", among other titles — they all seem as nimble and willing to dive into sublimely ridiculous premises. (And as a fan of the Disney film "Sky High," it was particularly funny to watch a recurring sketch where Foley gets to play a sidekick ... of sorts to a strange twist on a classic superhero.) For the most part, "The Kids in the Hall" feels about as unchanged as possible, in that the troupe doesn't seem to have missed too much of a step.

One recurring bit through the first five episodes, and likely through the remaining installments, is dubbed "Friends of the Kids in the Hall," in which a series of famous performers (including Pete Davidson, Catherine O'Hara, and Samantha Bee) briefly talk about their love of the Kids while also playing particularly weird characters in what amounts to a direct appeal to the camera. Though it's nice to see these performers, it's hard not to wonder what it would be like to have seen them in sketches with the Kids themselves. (The other two big names so far are Kenan Thompson and Will Forte, so we're talking about people with plenty of comic cred already.) These bits almost serve as a way to prove to a younger audience that "The Kids in the Hall" is worth their time and attention, as if the show itself isn't enough proof. And though there are some slight missteps, it's great to see the Kids back in form. The guest stars are a nice bit of oomph, but almost an unnecessary one. The Kids are good enough on their own.

"The Kids in the Hall" premieres on Prime Video May 13, 2022.