TV REVIEW : 'The Kids in the Hall': Flip and Funny Guys

Five young Canadians are "The Kids in the Hall," stars of a new comedy revue series airing tonight at midnight on HBO cable. The first ho-hum sketch (on the preview tape, that is; the order of sketches may change, according to a publicist) and then the opening credits, which try to make the kids look as trendy as the stars of a jeans commercial, lead to the question: Do we really need an all-male, all-white quintet of flip, hip kids, making with the jokes?

It turns out, though, that these guys are funny. Each episode of their series, which is overseen by executive producer Lorne Michaels (of "Saturday Night Live" fame), is only a half-hour, so they don't wear out their welcome.

While the kids are all male, they go in drag repeatedly, and their women characters are not necessarily the butt of the jokes any more than the men. For example, one sketch has a man who is literally a cabbagehead (Bruce McCulloch) making a fool of himself while his date (Kevin McDonald) and a waitress (Scott Thompson) strive, with some success, to retain their dignity.

The whiteness of the group is more problematic. Racial and gay/straight stereotypes are the target of a monologue by Scott Thompson, portraying an effeminate gay character. The script intends to skewer those stereotypes, but the blunt language and the fact that the group is white may lead some observers to question whether the sketch doesn't reinforce them.

Later, Mark McKinney dons blackface to portray an old blues singer. Some people regard any use of blackface as offensive. Still, it's a rich piece of comedy, as a split screen is used to give us not only the man's account of the woman (McCulloch) who makes him sing the blues but also her side of the story.

Dave Foley, the fifth member of the group, is especially effective as an extremely dilatory country doctor. Jack Budgell directed the series, which uses outdoor locations as well as sound stages.

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