Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: Bob Odenkirk and David Cross’ new Netflix series With Bob And David has us thinking about our favorite episodes of our favorite sketch shows.
Over the course of five seasons and nearly 800 sketches (if home-video packaging is to be believed), The Kids In The Hall’s eponymous sketch show demonstrated an uncanny knack for getting under the skin of its characters. It helped that many of those characters—like Bruce McCulloch’s precocious rambler Gavin or Scott Thompson’s flamboyant raconteur Buddy Cole—recurred throughout the run of the series, picking up their own twisted mythologies and continuities along the way.
The 14th episode of The Kids In The Hall’s third season captures one of the darkest chapters in Gavin’s unfortunate, unsupervised youth: His mother’s funeral, introduced as the outcome of an unseen mishap at a dance marathon. But the characters the Kids knew best were the Kids themselves, which led to onscreen soul-searching that materialized as theatrical monologues or fictionalized interactions between the quintet, like McCulloch reciting his life-ruining showbiz pointers or Thompson calling an emergency troupe meeting to share a matter of the heart. This despite the fact that the last time Scott called an emergency troupe meeting, it was to announce that he didn’t believe in emergency troupe meetings.
Like the types they were so good at squeezing repeated laughs from (see also in this episode: Dave Foley’s dissembling, swastika-shaped-scar-leaving sham of a surgeon) the guys’ various screen personas were honed to a fine, comedic point, points that poke at the pompous reactions on display in “Emergency Troupe Meeting.” Greeted with the news that Thompson—whose homosexuality didn’t define his onscreen roles or persona so much as it emboldened them—is in love with “someone in this room,” each Kid assumes they’re the one, and their responses follow fine-tuned patterns they’d played many times, in and out of character. Boyish everyman Dave can’t believe he had to get married to hear how Scott really feels. Bruce, with all his tough-guy affectations, presumes Scott wants him for his physique. In vocal cadence and total misreading of the situation, Mark McKinney nearly transforms into his love-lorn Chicken Lady character; with the body language of a born wallflower, Kevin McDonald is flattered and open to the possibility, then mutters self-deprecatingly to himself when Scott shoots him down. But they’re all right, in a way: Scott wants a piece of each Kid, stitched into a Frankenstein’s monster of raging father issues and the “ability to drink.” “Although individually I think you’re all messes,” he says, teeing up a perfect epigram for the episode and the troupe, “together you form the perfect man.”
But this is sketch comedy, so the episode’s marvels of characterization are cooked up in mere minutes and stretched across the years. One of Kids In The Hall’s finest filmed sketches (second only to “Girl Drink Drunk”), “The King Of Empty Promises” locks McDonald and Foley into an epic comedy of manners that requires all of five minutes to play out. Deadpan popinjay Dean (McDonald) steamrolls his flustered fellow stockboy Lex (Foley), incurring costly video-store fines and placating his floppy-haired doormat of a co-worker with extravagant promises like The Godfather on VHS and a dubbed Paul Simon cassette. Its styling and performances may appear cartoonish, but “The King Of Empty Promises” feels like it’s rooted in people the Kids knew—or possibly were at one time. We’ve all been a Dean, too caught up in our own bullshit to remember a friend’s Mahogany tape. We’ve all been a Lex, enraged at a friend’s carelessness, yet willing to extend the benefit of the doubt. It was The Kids In The Hall’s gift to recognize this quality in us—but more importantly in themselves, individual messes that could come together to form the perfect comedy troupe.
Availability: This episode is available as part of The Kids In The Hall: The Complete Series DVD set, and can be purchased digitally from Amazon Video, iTunes, and Vudu.