Upon hearing about the buyout of A.T. & Love, fictional place of employment for the Kids in the Hall‘s beloved secretaries Kathie and Cathy, Kathie took the news of the company-wide layoffs with astonishing pragmatism. “I’m going to do what most of us are going to do, Cath,” she said. “Get drunk for a few days. Gain six pounds. And, when the dust settles, I’ll pick up the pieces and I’ll get a job almost exactly like this one.”
In that brief moment, the Kids not only provided an epilogue for one of their famous recurring characters, but also made a tongue-and-cheek reference to their own futures. That episode—and that sketch, to be precise—marked the end of the Kids in the Hall’s life on television, but its principals continued to appear, often together, in countless offbeat comedic roles. (Mark McKinney most closely follows Kathie’s pronouncement, joining Saturday Night Live, which was not only another sketch-comedy show, but one that shared the same executive producer.) Yet, even though the Kids came back quickly with a full-length movie and continued to pop up on the comedy scene, their final sketch was a bittersweet one, and, when the actors were told they had to trade in their wigs, you can catch a glimpse of a tear in Kevin McDonald’s eye.
Sense of the series’ impending finality takes root in season five—long before the final credit sequence portrays the Kids being buried alive. (Talk about gallows humor; it’s hard not to laugh while watching them take shovelfuls of dirt to the face.) The sketches throughout the season’s 21 episodes take the time to wrap-up and say goodbye to the cast of offbeat characters they had been cultivating for the previous four seasons. Buddy Cole tells one last uninhibited monologue, then burns down his bar for a finale. Gavin gets in one last dig at the adult world through a rambling anecdote about a “man who leaks”. The Chicken Lady, well, the Chicken Lady is just disturbing, but she makes a final appearance, as well.
It’s not clear whether stuffing the sketches, especially the last episode, with funny but often-used characters was the best course for The Kids in the Hall‘s final season. Evidence points to the contrary. While Gavin and Buddy Cole serve their purpose, their jokes are often predictable (Gavin always makes a pitiful reference to his dead mother, for instance), which runs counter to the Kids’ talent for off-the-wall, out-of-nowhere hilarity. It’s the left-of-center, unrepeatable sketches—such as “Gazebo”, wherein a picturesque backyard gazebo was involved in both a burglary and a homicide—that demonstrates their full potential for comedy.
Luckily, the fifth season doesn’t trade entirely in recurring bits, and the episodes stand among their best work. To their credit, none of the group’s rumored personality conflicts show up on the screen. The sketches are lean and efficient, especially the pre-credit opening ones, which are only long enough for a quick set-up and even quicker punch line. “Buddy, I’m about this close to coming over there and kicking the crap out of you,” said Scott Thompson in one such opening sketch. “Oh yeah?” Dave Foley responds. “Well I’m about this close to running away.” Just like that, the sketch ends and they move on to other material. It makes the writing of other sketch-comedy shows, including Lorne Michael’s sprawling 90-minute Saturday Night Live with its minutes-long cold open, look positively bloated.
Though the writing may be pared down, the fifth-season sketches are, in their own way, epic. The final piece of each episode is a longer, pre-filmed item that reads more like a mini-movie than a sketch. Often, the Kids use this time to poke fun at genre films, but in their own way, which doesn’t parody specific movies or personalities, but places all the clichés, conventions, and moods in a meat-grinder and spits back something uniquely Kids in the Hall. “Journey to the Top of the Stairs” was a glitzy, top-hat-and-cane Broadway number about climbing a random staircase in the middle of nowhere. “The Beard” was a mock-horror film about a man whose life was taken over by his own facial hair, culminating in a suicide-by-beard.
It’s almost impossible to pinpoint the inspiration for “Each Day We Work”, which opens with an impressive tracking shot towards two men who toil in “darkness and blackness” in an underground furnace, but it must be somewhere between Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and a strange dream Bruce McCulloch once had. The general, surreal nature of these, and most, Kids in the Hall work keeps the show feeling fresh and edgy more than a decade after the episodes originally aired.
In fact, the material is so strong here that it’s easy to take issue with its “Best of Season Five” episode, one of the two episodes that come with commentary from the performers (the other being the series finale). Not that the chosen sketches weren’t among the best, but too many great moments had to be left out.