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Death Comes to Town (2010)

by on 2012/07/23

Some time in my mid-to-late teens, I sat down with my family to watch a then-new CBC show called The Kids in the Hall. Enter the cancer jokes, and exit my family. At least, officially.

In fact my sister and I continued to watch surreptitiously. Did we ever. We taped videos, rewatched them incessantly, and got tickets to see filming sessions.

I mourned the show’s end, met Kevin for all of five awkward minutes, got the T-shirt, followed Scott in The Larry Sanders Show, missed a reunion in Hamilton, bought both of Bruce’s comedy albums, enjoyed Brain Candy more than most seem to, know people who have worked with Dave and Mark, and edited together a “best of” compilation.

Understandably, I was expectant about their new mini-series, Death Comes to Town.

Death incarnate (Mark McKinney) rides into Shuckton, Ontario and, when the mayor suddenly dies, the locals cast about for a killer. Investigating the truth are an obese boy (Bruce McCulloch) and his lady friend (Kevin McDonald). Initially the mayor’s wife (Dave Foley) is a suspect, soon replaced by a down-and-out wannabe-native (Scott Thompson). But is he responsible, even with a confession and blood on his hands?

To be honest, I didn’t really care . . . and not by virtue of having so much fun. The premise is adequate, but it’s too little drawn out too long. The investigation fell flat, with too few, and less-than-interesting, developments. However, while the core is straightforward and bland, it’s decorated with unrelenting weirdness.

Unfortunately, without an emotional center, I neither cared about the plot, nor noticed particular oddities standing out from their surreal context. It’s a small thing, sometimes subtle, which makes a big difference. Having a “normal” or relatable observer in their early skits made outrageousness even funnier (as in “The Bill“).

Which brings me to the matter of humour. Death only pushes the envelope for its own sake. It offends, not because it should, but because it can. While the concept of limitation is frequently criticized by creators, limits can be more than a necessary evil; they catalyze focus, lateral thought, and creativity. I felt as if this series needed such invention.

Instead we get a parade of numbing “shock” topics: abortion, alcoholism, mental illness, necrophilia, racism, obesity, violence, and so on. Gru sat in on two episodes and said they came across as offensive. She herself is a veteran of the Kids’ glory days (they’re actually kind-of-sort-of responsible for our having got along in the first place) and not easily put off by all we’ve seen.

My problem, I told her, was less being offended than bored. With the Kids in the Hall you expect a certain level of edge, but provocation alone isn’t necessarily funny. An average half hour of their original show was on par with the whole of this series. Not a very successful hit ratio.

It all has me wishing they’d distilled Death down to a movie because — despite it being too stretched-out — there’s still some very funny material here. The news team thread is promising, yet never gains enough traction. Mark and Bruce as cops are fun, though they echo earlier characters. My favourite of the newer gags was a lawyer trying to keep his cat alive. Also, the theme song is pretty catchy.

Otherwise I found too little memorable. Maybe I’d have more examples if I’d made notes as I watched. Then again, I hadn’t intended to write about this series when I first sat down. I simply wanted an entertaining reunion. As I neared the end, however, I thought, “If I ever do review this, then I’ll have to see it all over again,” and that prospect filled me with a looming dread at wasting even more time. So here we are, forestalling a future chore.

The Kids in the Hall? Exemplary. Death Comes to Town? Not so much.

* *

Rated 14A

180 minutes (eight “half hour” episodes)

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