After a 15-year hiatus from national television, the comedy troupe The Kids in the Hall are reuniting to do an eight-part comic murder mystery to air this January on CBC.
Production starts later this month in North Bay, Ont. - code-named Shuckton in the series - where the five members of The Kids in the Hall and assorted extras will hunker down in motels to shoot Death Comes to Town, which centres on a character named Death (Mark McKinney), who gets off a Greyhound bus and wreaks havoc in a small Canadian town.
"It's Corner Gas meets Twin Peaks," explains Bruce McCulloch.
The Edmonton-born comic came up with the initial concept, but it soon captivated the rest of the Kids - McKinney, Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald and Scott Thompson - who co-wrote the scripts. The show is scheduled to start airing Jan. 12.
"The first, teeny little impulse was mine, but the other guys exploded with it after we discussed it on the bus at the end of our live tour last June," says McCulloch, on the phone from Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and their two young children.
"It's pretty wild. We hope it's pretty interesting."
The Kids in the Hall was formed in 1984. Their television show, which featured audience favourites such as the Chicken Lady (a half-woman, half-chicken who was easily sexually aroused) and a man who pretended to crush people's heads from a distance with his fingers, aired on CBC from 1988 to 1994, and on CBS and HBO from 1989 to 1995.
In Death Comes to Town, the whole town is shocked when one of its most distinguished citizens is discovered murdered. As a suspect is arrested and the trial begins, dark secrets begin to tumble out.
It marks the first time the Kids have reunited for television, and it will be their first narrative outing since the 1996 movie Brain Candy, directed by Kelly Makin, who will also helm the new program. As in their sketch comedy, the Kids will play multiple roles - freely cross-dressing - including a pizza delivery woman with Alzheimer's (McDonald), a 600-pound ex-hockey player who won't leave his house (McCulloch), and a child named Rampop (still to be cast) who sees all people as butterflies.
"We're still working out what Mark is going to look like as Death. We want him to be haunting and hilarious," says McCulloch, who adds that the drifter holes up in a sleazy motel and has a weakness for redheads.
Collaborative writing is nothing new to the Kids, says McCulloch, who is also the executive producer on the project. He says they typically work by throwing around different ideas, come up with characters they want to play, "and then stories develop out of that."
It's a terrible process really," he quips. "Everyone complains."
The name Shuckton, he notes, was Thompson's idea. "He's obsessed with everything, of course. And one night he came in with 300 different names of towns. He couldn't work until we'd read them all and discussed them all."
As for the timing of the Kids' reunion on the small screen, McCulloch says it mainly came about because "after the tour last year we realized there still was a lot of good juice in the troupe. We wrote all new material for the tour as well, and we enjoyed doing it. ... "We've all been around for a while. We all know the excitement and disappointment of our post- Kids In The Hall days. In a way, our show has receded and grown in people's minds, both at the same time. We all realize how lucky we are to have an entity we can all identify with, and it's the place we all, arguably, do our best work. It's never easy as you get on in years - and as a group floats apart - but we all figured it's, like, now or never."
Still, McCulloch insists Death Comes to Town will end after the eight planned episodes. "It's eight. It's not 28," he says. "I suppose we could do Death Goes to Vancouver, but it's built to expire. It feels like the right amount of shows we should be doing."