Canada’s Most Memorable (English) TV Thing: Final Round

And here we are. Mr. Dressup vs. Kids In The Hall.

After hundreds of thousands of votes, and two weeks of tearing Canadian Social Media apart (insert stereotypical “Meanwhile in Canada” joke here), we’re left, after 64 initial entries, with two finalists.

But first, let’s quickly decide which of the semifinal losers deserve third place.

Alright, now that we have that out of the way, let’s get back to our melodramatic preview of the final.

We have two incredibly worthy contenders for the title of most memorable (English) TV thing in Canadian history. Kids In The Hall and Mr. Dressup were discussed as heavy favourites from the outset of this tournament, and there’s no telling which one will win.

But perhaps just as interestingly, they come from two very different places in our country’s collective psyche.

Mr. Dressup is all about the broad strokes: your childhood, a feeling a comfort, a bonding of generations, 30 years of repetition, 30 years of crafts and sketches and costumes that are geared towards young children, but fundamentally accessible to all ages.

Kids In The Hall is, um, not Mr. Dressup. It’s focused, passionate, character-driven sketch comedy, a cult hit that went big if there ever was one, a show of weird and daring conceits, a show for when you were 15 to 24, and somewhat difficult to understand if you didn’t love it during those years.

But this is the Internet. You have to pick one. In the balance hangs a victory that will be cited on various CBC programming for a couple of days, and for eternity 80% of the way through the Wikipedia entry for the winner. BIG STAKES PEOPLE.

Here is the endorsement for Kids In The Hall. It comes from John Semley, who literally wrote the book on the group.

Look, what am I? Made of friggin’ stone? I love Mr. Dressup. I grew up watching Ernie Coombs, Casey, Finnegan, Chester the Crow, that creepy-as-hell granny doll, and the whole gang, just like most Canadians born in this country between the mid-‘60s and the mid-‘90s. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? I grew up.

Of all the other youthful entertainments I binged on, nothing escapes the honeytrap of nostalgia like The Kids in the Hall. (Peak Simpsons comes close, maybe.) With its biting satire (of business, of family, of whatever-you-got), weathered cynicism (“Screeeeewwww the bank I work for. screw the b-b-b-baaaaank”), exultant queerness, and ludicrous characters (a Belgian twit with a brain tumour whose imagination consists solely of an oompah band) and scenarios (a child molester winning a preserves contest at a small-town fair), the comedy of The Kids in the Hall feels meaningfully timeless. Sure, the fashions and haircuts may seem desperately dorky in a date, ‘90s grunge way. But the humour holds up — still funny, fierce, and, for the most part, wonderfully un-topical.

Unlike a lot of other cheesier Canadian TV, The Kids in the Hall offers more than a warm-fuzzy reminder of the innocence of our bygone youth. If anything, it was the show that ruptured that innocence, and dragged generations of plucky adolescents into the bleak, jaded, hopeless landscape of teenage rebellion and, finally, adulthood. It remains a singular piece of Canadian entertainment, and of comedy, writ large.

And even if your sole criteria for who wins this thing is the capacity to dress-up, well, the Kids’ own expansive wardrobe of wigs, dresses, poorly-tailored business suits, and flying pig costumes outshines even Ernie Coombs’ formidable Tickle Trunk.

John Semley is a Toronto-based writer and author of This Is A Book About the Kids in the Hall (ECW Press).

Here is the endorsement for Mr. Dressup. It comes from your childhood memories.

I guarantee Mr. Dressup helped millions upon millions of Canadian children make what can be a scary thing — starting school — a much happier experience. Mr. Dressup WAS Kindergarten. The songs, the paper crafts, the stories and the tickle trunk mirrored my own K year with Ms. Caldwell at Mundy Rd. Elementary in Coquitlam, B.C. (except Ms. Caldwell had a dress up corner instead of a trunk).

Can there be anything more noble? No, there cannot.

– Karin Larsen, CBC Vancouver

And it’s time to say goodbye to this tournament. Voting is open until midnight PST on Sunday. Results will be announced on Monday morning.

Kids In The Hall: 1989-1995, CBC. Defeated Double Exposure (95% of the vote), Royal Canadian Air Farce (67%), Trailer Park Boys (80%), SCTV (54%), Degrassi (66%)

Mr. Dressup, CBC (1967-1996): defeated The Edison Twins (93% of the vote), Reboot (75%), The Raccoons (79%), The Friendly Giant (76%), Heritage Minutes (71%)

Categories: FeaturesTags: , ,

24 Comments

  1. D.W.

    I just voted and am not being shown the bar graph to let me know what the results are so far. Is this an intentional change from previous rounds? Have you been hacked by the Russians? Do we need a Parliamentary probe into possible voting irregularities here? Will this issue make it to Question Period? Will PM Trudeau declare that voting here is “underway with challenges”? Am I taking this all WAAAAY too seriously? (Ok, I know the answer to the last question, but still….)

  2. jay loder

    I’m with DW, I’m feeling uneasy that the bar graph has disappeared. Who’s behind this? Should we follow the money? Or did Mr Dress-up send a couple of his thugs over to rough you up?

  3. Your correspondent @banker_by_day is absolutely correct. I was there. It was like Beatlemania. No joke. For those hundreds of people who were in UMSU Centre that day so long ago, today’s vote is a no-brainer. #Finnegan4PrimeMinister

  4. Either way…. i feel dirty, and that i surrendered a piece of my soul having to choose one over the other.

    Damn you. Damn you all to hell.

  5. Nicky Walker-Kobly

    When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. KITH

  6. Julianna

    Personally, I would love to see a TIE between these two. Mr. Dressup was my favorite as a kid and Kids in the Hall ensured that inner kid did not die…. but rather raced down the hall trailing chicken feathers and flipping the bird.

  7. Uppyday

    My god- the anguish and guilt having to make a choice… but… while I think with longing of those youthful 90s young adults we were, watching KITH we had taped off the tv onto VHS, watching on long winter Canadian nights, enjoying a Canadian and clam or four… nothing will ever replace the pure joy and excitement of hearing the “twit-twoo” on Mr. Dressup, and knowing the owl was making one of it’s rare appearances. I was a little girl obsessed, and my nickname was Finnegan. Thanks for this post, ahhh good memories.

  8. I was a student at Western when Mr. Dressup came on the same tour. I got his autograph on a tshirt and asked if I could give him a hug. I spent every day following along making the crafts, drawings, and it really started my love of art. Although I was also a major KITH fan later, hands down Mr. Dressup for the influence he had on many Canadian children (bet KITH watched it too!) Note: he cross dressed and I believe Casey was always intended to blur gender lines…

  9. Heritage Minute: Ernie Coombs arrived in Canada in 1963 to work with Fred Rogers on a children’s show for the CBC. When Rogers went back to the USA, the CBC offered him a part in a new show, which became Mr. Dressup.
    And that’s why Canada needs the CBC.

  10. Dan McCarthy

    Justin,
    My father was one of the founders and then Producer of Mr Dressup and of The Friendly Giant and spent the last several years of his career at CBC, building the Canadian segments of Sesame Street. He passed away a few years ago, and he would have been extremely pleased to see that Children’s television still has a significant “place” in Canada, decades later. I will relay this great news to my mother and siblings. Thanks very much for all your work on this great story. Dan McCarthy

  11. Casey

    I’m sorry I didn’t get my act together earlier to vote but I have no problem with the eventual winner. I’m so glad I took the time to go back and read the whole thing though. So much entertaining and thoughtful writing by you, Mr McElroy. Plus Canadian culture. This is the sort of thing the internet is for.

  12. David Ginsberg

    Ok I just came across this battle royale, but what sort of society do we live in where Fraggle Rock ousts Hilarious House of Frankenstone in any sort of competition? And what about Mighty Machines? My kids watched that show at every opportunity, primarily because I would ALWAYS put it on…

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