Today, NBCUniversal unveiled SeeSo, a subscription video on demand “channel” devoted entirely to comedy programming. The commercial-free, $3.99 per-month service launches in January on the web, mobile platforms, and TVs (via streaming players) with a mix of original series and specials, next day broadcasts of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Saturday Night Live, and “classics” like 30 Rock and the American and British versions of The Office. (At some point we need to discuss the categorization of anything non-current as “classic” in the streaming world, but now is not that time.)
Some of the originals sound promising, including series from Wyatt Cenac (infamously late of The Daily Show), comedian Big Jay Oakerson (a favorite of mine since I did standup in New York in the early ’00s), and Dan Harmon (creator of Community, which is not part of the service at launch). There’s also a new sketch series from seminal improv factory Upright Citizen’s Brigade, hosted by UCB co-founders Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh. (A previous UCB series aired on Comedy Central from 1998-2000.)
But those shows, while intriguing, will not wrest another $3.99 from my streaming-dried wallet. What will, however, are two of the best sketch comedy series in TV history: Monty Python’s Flying Circus and The Kids in the Hall – both SeeSo exclusives.
In 45 episodes produced for the BBC between 1969 and 1974, Monty Python (featuring Brits John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, and Terry Jones and American Terry Gilliam) redefined television comedy and inspired Saturday Night Live and countless other imitators. While sketch had previously been a somewhat disposable art form, the Python’s quotable catchphrases and absurdly memorable recurring characters became ingrained in the American psyche thanks to frequent PBS reruns in the 1970s and ’80s. The show spawned a series of feature films, including MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, the 1975 masterpiece that served as the basis for the long-running Broadway musical Spamalot. And the troupe continues to perform together (minus Chapman, who died in 1989), reuniting most recently for sold-out live shows at London’s O2 Arena in 2014.
Two decades after Python, the Canadian sketch group The Kids in the Hall (named after the young writers on Sid Caesar’s 1950s NBC series Your Show of Shows) launched a five-season run on HBO and CBS (as well as the Canadian network CBC). Produced by Lorne Michaels, KITH ran for more than 100 episodes and inspired the 1996 film BRAIN CANDY, as well as a reunion series called Death Comes to Town in 2010 and countless live tours (including one this past summer that I caught at New York’s Town Hall). Like the Pythons, the Kids – Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, Bruce McCullough, and Scott Thompson – frequently dressed in drag and pushed comedic hot buttons, most notably with Thompson’s flamboyant Buddy Cole character. Thompson, an out gay man, recently praised his partners for the “hits” their careers took by supporting what he admits was his agenda.
“I think they all paid the price,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “I was very naive. I didn’t realize how homophobic the world was.”
While both are available on DVD (the Python complete series set was released in 2005, KITH in 2011), neither show has been been widely broadcast in recent years, nor are they currently streaming on any SVOD service. (Both are available for digital purchase as of this writing, Python on iTunes and The Kids in the Hall on Amazon; because both series were shot on video a Blu-ray release is unlikely).
SeeSo’s promised curation by guest programmers will undoubtedly put Python and The Kids in the Hall in the spotlight for a new generation of viewers. And for an older generation (ahem) and our not-quite-dead parrots and Chicken Ladies, a revisit will be well worth the price.
And, if SeeSo is successful, maybe they’ll finance a new Kids series. According to The Hollywood Reporter, all five “have the time, interest and energy.”
SeeSo will be available as an invitation-only beta in December. You can register here.