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Those clever Kids in the Hall turned into brilliant grownups

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If you're expecting the Kids in the Hall's return to TV to be filled with rapid-fire gags and quick, easy sketch-comedy laughs, you might be deathly disappointed by what you see.

That doesn't mean Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town isn't brilliant. It is. But this new project by Canada's most famous comedy troupe is a decidedly different, distinctly weird and definitely-an-acquired-taste kind of great.

The eight-part comic serial, which premieres tonight at 9 on CBC, is actually something of a murder mystery, with a pasty, scantily leather-clad and disgustingly flabby embodiment of Death playing a central role in the gruesome storyline.

Set in the sleepy lakeside town of Shuckton, Ont. -- a place where nothing ever happens and nothing ever will happen, despite its mayor's delusional dream of hosting the 2028 Olympic Games -- Death Comes to Town features a fairly large cast of characters -- 20 or more, almost all played by Kids originals Mark McKinney, Dave Foley, Scott Thompson, Bruce McCulloch and Kevin McDonald -- whose shared mundane existence is sent spinning by a grisly murder and the investigation and trial that follow.

In the series opener, Death (played with an awe-inspiring lack of self-consciousness by McKinney) arrives in town, by bus, and sets up shop in the No-Tell Motel while awaiting instructions from beyond about the identity of the soul he's been sent to collect.

Meanwhile, the town is abuzz with excitement as the diminutive but cocky mayor (McCulloch) awaits the letter that will tell him whether his Olympics-hosting bid has been successful. A crowd gathers downtown, including the local TV station's ridiculous "breaking news" team (McKinney, Foley, Thompson and McDonald), and the excitement builds, until...

Of course, Shuckton's bid is rejected, by form-letter notification, no less. The mayor is crushed; later, back home, he engages in a boozy, bitter argument with his wife. And then Death gets the call he's been waiting for, and the mayor ends up cold and lifeless, with his bloodied head crammed into the mailbox in front of his house.

And that's where the fun begins.

Death Comes to Town showcases the Kids at their boundary-pushing best. Even as its rather linear storyline moves forward, the series features characters and vignettes that are edgy and uncompromising (including a morbidly obese former hockey star, a sexually adventurous TV-news reporter and an Alzheimer-addled pizza-delivery woman) and sure to shock and offend nearly as many viewers as they amuse.

If you're a Kids fan, don't miss this. If you're not, you'd best stay as far clear as possible, because this is the Kids in the Hall firing on all cylinders.

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Sometimes, TV serves up new shows that you really, really want to love... but you can't. CBC presented two such unrequited-affection arrivals last week, in the form of the family comedy 18 to Life (which airs Mondays at 8 p.m.) and the irreverent detective drama Republic of Doyle (Wednesdays at 9 p.m.).

Each show features a roster of exceedingly likable characters, the kind of made-for-TV folks you just can't help hoping for. But each premiere was also weighed down by a story that didn't deliver the goods.

18 to Life focuses on a pair of teenage friends/neighbours, Tom and Jessie (Michael Seater, Stacey Farber), who become engaged as the latest bet in an ongoing game of Truth or Dare. Their parents, of course, are mortified. And somehow, that's all that's required to push the still-very-adolescent lovers toward sealing the matrimonial deal.

Peter Keleghan and Ellen David are suitably stiff as Tom's uptight parents; Al Goulem and Tara Hill are equally adept as Jessie's permissive, tree-hugging mom and dad.

There's plenty of fodder for predictable next-door comedy, and 18 to Life does manage to mine some of it. But the problem is that the baseline premise -- that these two wide-eyed youngsters would actually get married on a dare -- simply isn't believable. And that makes it hard to say "I do" to the question about whether I think it's worth watching.

Republic of Doyle is a colourful, briskly paced private-eye yarn that harkens back to those long-ago days of Jim Rockford and Harry O. It tries ever so hard -- and succeeds to a limited extent, thanks to a strong central cast, a killer location and some pretty fabulous background music -- to be ever so cool, but like 18 to Life, is ultimately undone by its own script.

Series creator/star Allan Hawco plays Jake Doyle, a private detective working the not-so-mean (but dizzyingly picturesque) streets of St. John's, Nfld. His partner in crime-solving is his dad, Malachy (Irish import Sean McGinley); together, they run their gumshoe operation out of a chaotic family home that also features Malachy's late-in-life lover, Rose (Lynda Boyd), and tempestuous teen granddaughter (Marthe Bernard).

Jake's also got a furious ex-wife, Nikki (Rachel Wilson) he's trying to stay away from, and a hot-new-cop love interest (Krystin Pellerin) he's trying to get next to. And all of that is pretty intriguing; it's the actual private-eye storytelling that falls flat.

The good news is that there's room for improvement. The bad news is that the fickleness of TV audiences means you've only got a fleeting flipper-finger pause in which to make a second impression.


Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town

Starring Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson

Tonight (TUESDAY) at 9


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 12, 2010 C3

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