‘Death’ becomes this comedy troupe
A lot-lot-lot has happened in TV comedy in the years since the great 1988-94 series “The Kids in the Hall’’ was at the head of the class. Single-camera sitcoms such as “Arrested Development’’ and “30 Rock’’ have changed up the pace and heightened the satire, and so have viral shorts. The shock value of political incorrectness has gone mainstream, so that even a wholesome hit such as “Modern Family’’ pokes at stereotypes. And then there’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,’’ a sitcom that is just so epically, unbeatably, splendidly wrong.
So the new miniseries from the reunited Kids in the Hall, the legendary Canadian sketch comedy group, doesn’t feel incendiary in the least. Called “Death Comes to Town,’’ and premiering tonight at 10 on IFC, it’s a consistently amusing and, at times, inspired piece of comic storytelling. It’s the Kids doing what they do best — pulling laughs from ugly cross-dressing and gender cliches, ripping on media fraudulence, and taking down taboo topics from Alzheimer’s to intellectual disability. But “Death Comes to Town’’ is not groundbreaking or raw in the manner of the early material from the gang of five, and if you’re expecting that kind of fantastically sick originality you may be disappointed. In a way, the world has caught up with them.
Settling for nicely gauged lunacy and satire? Not a bad deal. In the eight-part miniseries, of course, the Kids play nearly all of the main characters. They are almost the entire population of Shuckton, which is a twisted version of a generic small town. Shuckton boasts a pizza delivery lady who has Alzheimer’s, a quaint “Town Abortionist’’ storefront, a cougary meteorologist named Heather Weather, an obese shut-in with a toilet built underneath him in his couch, and a man who is 1/16th Native American and who freebases hand sanitizer. When the mayor is murdered, his head stuck into his family’s mailbox, a pair of idiotic Shuckton cops are on the case.
There’s also a town priest-rabbi — Prabbi Goldstein Murphy — who swings both ways, religiously speaking.
And, finally, there is Death, who arrives in town on his tricked-up cycle with bad teeth, black fingernail polish, the latest copy of the newspaper the Dark Times, and a self-esteem problem for failing to kill as many humans as his grim-reaper competitors. Death also has a taste for overweight women with red hair, and when the mayor dies he collects the mayor’s soul powder and snorts it. Oh wait, did I forget to mention Dusty, the medical examiner who is secretly in love with the mayor and won’t let a little rigor mortis stand in his way?
Like I said, twisted. And funny enough. The miniseries is beautifully orchestrated, too, so that all of the characters are introduced effortlessly and their story lines crisscross cleverly in service of the Who Killed Mayor Quimby plot. Like “Brain Candy,’’ the negatively reviewed 1996 Kids movie that has become a bit of a cult treasure, “Death Comes to Town’’ has a different, less punchy rhythm from the group’s more familiar sketch comedy. It’s slightly more character- than concept-driven, which may throw off some longtime fans, which is too bad. Like it or not, the Kids have matured.