Kids In The Hall
Saturday Night Live introduced me to the genre, but it was my parent's show at the time. KITH was something I could claim as my own. Thematically, the show ran all over the place, but it seemed to have something for every taste. If you liked absurd, recurring characters (minus annoying title cards and theme songs) you could enjoy The Head Crusher, Chicken Lady and Mr. Cabbage Head. Do you enjoy television and film parodies? Try "The Darcy Panell Show", "The Pit of Ultimate Darkness" or the foreign movie work of Francesca Fiore and her lover/director/co-star, Bruno Puntz-Jones. How about some slice of life humor? Drop in on rebellious teenager Bobby, lonely housewife Fran, corporate drone Dan Husk or secretaries Cathy and Kathy. KITH had it all and it took five very different talents to pull it off. This one is available on DVD and if you want to give it a try, you can buy one of two "Best Of" discs that will give you a taste without having to eat all of the "salty ham". Or just type "Kids In The Hall" on YouTube. You'll see more favorites including: Gavin, Buddy Cole, and Mr. Heavy Foot.
Saturday Night Live
I recall watching the early episodes with my parents and enjoying the recurring characters - The European Brothers, The Samurai and The Killer Bees. The other stuff was over my head, though I returned to it later and appreciated the social satire. Many people consider the first cast, the best and they may be right. I grew up with the show and continue to watch it today. Sticking with it is like riding a rollercoaster. A lot of highs and lows, sometimes occuring back to back. (Compare the '84-'85 season featuring Harry Shearer and Christopher Guest with the '85-'86 season featuring Anthony Michael Hall and Robert Downey Jr.). My own favorites were the early '80's and the mid '90's, though great performers and writers existed throughout its history.
Monty Python's Flying Circus
I didn't see this until after watching "The Holy Grail", but I certainly enjoyed it. The fact that you had to live near a PBS station that ran it made it all the more special (though MTV aired it briefly in the latter part of the '80's.) You didn't have to be British to enjoy the comedy which mixed the absurd ("Argument Sketch") with social commentary (any time they played an English housewife). Some highlights include "Queen Victorie Steeplechase", "How Not To Be Seen" and "The Funniest Joke Ever Told".
This was the closest thing in style and construction that Americans have ever come to Monty Python. Like KITH, this one was aired on HBO and certainly is best experienced uncut. Like Python, recurring characters seldom showed up, but you won't soon forget some of the situations that unfold into one another. I dare you to not laugh/cry if you get to see what happens when heavy metal band, Wycked Sceptre discovers they are gay through a record executive's intervention. Don't forget to check out a lost chapter in the history of American pornography.
The Dana Carvey Show
A brief-live, audacious cousin of Saturday Night Live, this one aired in the family hour on ABC. I'm astounded that some of the material got onto television. Carvey was the star, but the ensemble was destined for greatness. The cast included Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell. The head writer was Robert Smigel (owner of Triump, the insult comic dog). Notable for the debut of "The Ambiguously Gay Duo".
- The State - These guys and gal were closer to my age than any of the prior programs and were about half funny to me. With a cast of 11, I think that too many cooks spoiled the soup.
- MadTV - I've tried. I've really tried to like this show, but I can't embrace it. I can't argue against the mastery of celebrity impersonations that occur here. But impersonation is just that. When you reduce a character to tics and weird voices there isn't much left to play with in a scene. I'm just saying.