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Cathode Ray Mission: THE VACANT LOT (1993-94)

CanTV expert Cameron Archer navigates the often inhospitable landscape of Canadian television for the CATHODE RAY MISSION, our regular blog column that highlights some of Canadian television’s most offbeat offerings.

Debutting in 1993 and lasting a full six episodes, CBC’s sketch comedy showcase THE VACANT LOT (CBC, 1993-94; Comedy Central, 1994) was one of a handful of attempts by the natinoal network to exploit the success of their flagship show, THE KIDS IN THE HALL (CBC, 1988-94; CBS/HBO, 1988-95). THE VACANT LOT featured Mark McKinney’s brother, Nick McKinney and it was executive produced by Jim Biederman, who  fulfilled the same role for THE KIDS IN THE HALL.

THE VACANT LOT‘s most appealing feature was the full support of Lorne Michaels’ production company, Broadway Video. Michaels needs no introduction — SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (NBC, 1975- ) and THE KIDS IN THE HALL are his two most enduring cultural signposts. THE VACANT LOT was in a unique position to become the next big Canadian comedy export. Unfortunately, that never happened.

The Basic Formula

The show basically cribs THE KIDS IN THE HALL‘s formula. It’s a Broadway Video show, so it’s slick, looks good, and is America-ready. Troupe members Vito Viscomi, Rob Gfroerer, Nick McKinney and Paul Greenberg are set to be household names, on par with Dave Foley, Mark McKinney, Scott Thompson, Kevin McDonald and Bruce McCulloch.

The Weird Bits

THE KIDS IN THE HALL starts with Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet’s “Having an Average Weekend,” and scnes of  the Kids having fun. It doesn’t let viewers in on the show’s potentially offensive material right away. By comparison, The Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant” serves as THE VACANT LOT‘s theme song. An allusion to the Maxell “Blown Away Guy” commercial lets the audience know what The Vacant Lot are about, from the off.

THE VACANT LOT is less straightforward, and more absurd, than THE KIDS IN THE HALL. But THE VACANT LOT also looks unfinished and spotty, as the castmembers feel the television medium out. Broadway Video’s series often look like that by design, but THE VACANT LOT is messy even by BV standards.

Let’s Watch

The first part of episode 5 (or episode 1, in the Comedy Central run.)

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