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TELEVISION / NEW 8-PART SERIES / KIDS IN THE HALL: DEATH COMES TO TOWN

Here in the backwater we can also fail big

Headshot of John Doyle

jdoyle@globeandmail.com

As we all know by now, crackpot decisions and major mistakes abound in the TV racket.

As I write this, the latest is that Conan O'Brien might jump to Fox. Apparently he's annoyed with NBC. Totally steamed (about the network's tentative compromise plan to move Jay Leno back to his old 11:35 p.m. slot for a half hour and then have O'Brien follow at 12:05 under the Tonight show banner). Lawyers, agents and TV-racket execs are locked in meetings. And whatever transpires, you can guarantee that tens of millions of dollars will be wasted shifting around the late-night lineup on U.S. network TV. Ludicrous amounts of money will change hands and millions of words of irrelevant reporting, blogging and pontificating will ensue.

Down in Pasadena, where the TV critics' tour is taking place - and where I am not - the gathering is probably so mesmerized by the late-night shenanigans even that party to celebrate 10 years of Survivor on the weekend seemed a bit lame.

Meanwhile, up here in our boring backwater, major mistakes are also made. Like the idea that Kids In the Hall deserved a return to CBC and an eight-part series.

Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town (CBC, 9 p.m.) is just awful, an absolute mess of lame, laughless ineptitude, and a dismal coda to the comedy troupe's outstanding career. It is a fact of life that a lot of kids grow up and then aren't that lovable and funny any more. Such is the case here.

CBC officially describes the opening episode as this: "The award-winning Kids in the Hall comedy troupe star in an eight-part quirky murder mystery. In tonight's season premiere, Death arrives in Shuckton, Ont., while the town waits for news about their bid for the next Olympic Games." Excuse me - "quirky"? That's the default word for descriptions of things that are indescribable for people with a limited vocabulary. "Quirky" doesn't cover anything that goes on here. The episode has no comic rhythm, it's mediocre and maddeningly pointless.

Time was, Kids in the Hall made great sketch-comedy TV. Original, smart material emanated from these guys. Sometimes, it was outright deranged and fuelled by Lord knows what - anger, creativity, the need for these guys to outdo each other in originality. Many of us remember the original series with fondness. Some of the characters (such as Cathy and Kathie and The Headcrusher) and jokes entered the popular culture as touchstones.

Now it has come this - excruciatingly awful attempts at humour and a self-indulgence depressing to witness.

In fictional Shuckton, the mayor is murdered. The Kids - Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson - play all the major characters, male and female. McCulloch, the executive producer of the series, plays an obese, housebound ex-hockey player who spends a lot of time with a pizza-delivery woman with Alzheimer's disease called Marnie (McDonald). A lot of time is taken up with Foley's portrayal of the mayor's wife, a boozehound. Some scenes in which she encounters the town coroner (Thompson) have some vague comic sizzle, but the real fun is being had by the actors, not the audience.

There are attempts to satirize easy targets - local-yokel cops, a local TV news crew - and there are countless ill-defined bits that satirize elements of formulaic TV shows, but nothing really clicks. This is appallingly slow-witted TV, a mistake of major proportions.

Check local listings.

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Also airing

American Idol (Fox, CTV, 8 p.m.) returns tonight, and if it weren't for NBC's late-night shifts creating all that noise, American Idol probably would have generated a lot more buzz. This is the post-Paula Abdul era for Idol. And yesterday it was announced that this is the post-Simon Cowell era too - he will leave the show after this season. Tonight, apparently, Victoria Beckham is in what was Paula Abdul's chair, as the ninth season kicks off with the Boston auditions. There will be some slight changes to the familiar format this season, it seems - no "wild-card" round - but there will still be those tedious times when it's Motown night or Disco night.

The fifth estate (CBC News Network, 10 p.m.) is a handy repeat of last Friday's program, and if you missed it, it's a shocker. It's about the short and troubled life of Ashley Smith, who was a 19-year-old when she choked herself to death at Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont. Her death led to a devastating report by Canada's federal prison ombudsman. As the program explains, Smith was barely into her teens when she was first sent to a youth-detention centre in her home province of New Brunswick. Her crime, we're told, was this: She had tossed crabapples at a mailman. A one-month sentence would evolve into a seemingly endless series of terms spent in 11 institutions in five provinces. As we are told here, "What she really needed was mental-health assessment and treatment. She never got it."

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