kithtvdinner.JPG
Sarah Anne Lloyd, 2011.

As a repeatedly noted TV-barren August finally starts giving way to September's ripe crop of premieres, TV Dinner takes the time

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Smith's Poutine and The Kids in the Hall: Both Divisive Treats

As a repeatedly noted TV-barren August finally starts giving way to September's ripe crop of premieres, TV Dinner takes the time to look at two of Canada's most underappreciated imports -- sketch troupe legends The Kids in the Hall and poutine, the cheese curd coup native to Quebec. Luckily, no border crossing is necessary for lazy take-out junkies, due to most of the classic comedy being available through Hulu or Netflix, and a fine exemplar of fries and curds available at Capitol Hill's Smith.

kithtvdinner.JPG
Sarah Anne Lloyd, 2011.

As a repeatedly noted TV-barren August finally starts giving way to September's ripe crop of premieres, TV Dinner takes the time to look at two of Canada's most underappreciated imports--sketch-troupe legends The Kids in the Hall and poutine, the cheese-curd coup native to Quebec. Luckily, no border crossing is necessary for lazy take-out junkies, due to most of the classic comedy being available through Hulu or Netflix, and a fine exemplar of fries and curds available at Capitol Hill's Smith.

The Cuisine: Smith is the surprisingly easy-to-Google pub nestled on 15th Avenue right alongside similarly hip, one-word-name, small plate-friendly Liberty.

Despite the alpha-male hunting-lodge impression its mounted stag heads and stuffed game would impose, Smith has a mostly bookish crowd appeased by the bar's commitment to only use recycled or otherwise found trophies--a rule that extends to all of Smith's decor.

A lot of Seattle bars will proudly offer "pub fare" under the auspices of deep-fat frying whatever they can get their hands on behind the counter and putting enough potatoes on top of it all to drown your insides with insulin. However, Smith's stab at rustic bar snacks rings a little more genuine to that particular genre of food's hearty minimalism with just the right amount of "ick" factor. At least for the summer, Smith has forgone expected benchmarks like shepherd's pies, pot pies, and fish & chips in lieu of jars of pickled vegetables, fried green tomatoes, and of course poutine.

The poutine might not be up to everyone's personal code, but for those of you who have been all too often jilted for just another devious plate of cheese fries, the curds are thick and give a decent bite back even at their hottest. The fries themselves are thick, but so soaked through that they come off as Dick's Drive-In fries on steroids.

For an extra five bucks you can add Smith's spareribs to the mix. This is an all-but-compulsory feature for carnivores taking refuge from the neighboring vegan powerhouses of Sage Cafe and Teapot, offering much more substance than just a posh sprig of meat. The shredded pile of beef isn't elegant, but it fits perfectly with the rest of the stout mess, bringing the whole package to a predatory climax smothered in creamy brown gravy.

The Entertainment: Spawning five full seasons, more than a few live tours, a feature film, and a recent "reunion" miniseries, The Kids in the Hall bears the distinction of both being the most successful Lorne Michaels production outside of the United States as well as the most successful never to feature Joe Piscopo or Andrew Dice Clay.

Contrary to most long-running sketch-comedy shows, The Kids in the Hall stood firm in refusing any changes to the troupe's cast, which led to an ingenious sense of continuity across the show's wildly varied sketches. Similar to the sense some avid Beatles fans acquire, after you watch enough episodes it becomes fairly obvious which cast member wrote which sketch.

While The Kids in the Hall influenced many comedy shows to come with their offbeat pacing, running gags, and love for non sequitur poetic monologues, the defining feature of the Canadian import has to be its superb balancing act between offensive humor and social responsibility. One shining example is the running sketch Steps, featuring three members of Toronto's homosexual community as they make comic snipes around still-relevant issues like gay marriage and politics. While certain PC police will take a skit like Steps as a corral of gay stereotypes and cheap jokes at the expense of an oppressed minority, it's really hard to think of a single other mainstream comedy right now that even comes close to the accessible insight that those short skits presented.

Even as would-be sketch comedy torch-catchers like The Whitest Kids U Know or the increasingly notorious Internet shock addicts of 4chan take endless swipes at race, sexuality, and class issues, there's a sort of raw tension you get watching old Kids in the Hall sketches that just seem a little more controversial and incisive. Before the internet came along and inured an entire generation to hardcore pornography of varying legality, recreational genital mutilation, and unapologetic, self-aware racism, KITH was delivering belly punches like the high-powered businessmen tearing their dying hearts out of their chests and pouring coffee on them to power through a teleconference. Where Kids in the Hall played with audiences' prejudices, taboos, and values, it seems that some modern shock comedians just want to take their alienation nuclear.

Now that the grand majority of the series' standalone sketches are free on Hulu, full episodes are available through Netflix's Streaming service and full DVD box sets are cheaper than ever, there are few excuses for not revisiting this triumph of edgy humor.

The Pairing: The Kids in the Hall and Smith are two properties that outdo competitors, both past and present, through a skillful presentation of more vulgar, culturally maligned material that has a nigh-sublime intuition of when to "rein it in." Both certainly seek to push the boundaries of good taste, but rarely forsake the integral portion of their audiences who keep those boundaries sacred. While neither KITH nor Smith are likely to change the world through a lone gay joke or plate of hot curds and meat, their deft demonstrations of mild restraint may prove vital enough to change your perspective.

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