McKinney turns his dark humour to TV series Less Than Kind

Kids in the Hall's Mark McKinney is turning his subversive comic spirit to a new television series with a dark premise.

Winnipeg plays itself in dysfunctional family story

Mark McKinney is producer and story editor for Winnipeg-shot TV series Less Than Kind. ((Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images))
Kids in the Hall's Mark McKinney is turning his subversive comic spirit to a new television series with a dark premise.

Less Than Kind, a half-hour comedy to launch soon on CityTV, follows the life of 15-year-old Sheldon Blecher, an overweight high school student with a self-destructive driving-instructor father, a pyromaniac mother and a failed-actor brother who still lives at home. McKinney is producer and story editor.

Sheldon is "the only adult in his dysfunctional family," McKinney told CBC's Q cultural affairs show, and his life is one no-win situation after another.

McKinney, who created the Chicken Lady and the Headcrusher for Kids in the Hall and went on to write for Saturday Night Live and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, said he believes TV audiences are ready for dark drama.

"They've been getting trained for a long time to embrace the dark side. If you look at the Emmy Awards or Geminis for the last few years, you see the dark interesting shows dominating in drama," he said, referring to programs such as Arrested Development and Weeds.

"You want your characters to have afflictions and have to deal with things. In this case, he's just overweight but really, what he's carrying is the burden of this tremendously dysfunctional family."

Jesse Comacho plays Sheldon, the 15-year-old protagonist of Less Than Kind. (Allen Fraser/Breakthrough Films-Buffalo Gals)
Choosing a character like Sheldon as a protagonist is a legacy of McKinney's time with Canadian comedy troupe Kids in the Hall, he said.

"This really is a tradition going back to Kids in the Hall. We would write the weirdest sketch we could and then try and make it accessible to the audience," he said.

It's risky TV, but cable TV makes it possible to build a loyal audience among the people "who get it," McKinney said.

The new series is shot in Winnipeg, which stars as itself, and the main characters do their best to make fun of their hometown, with the father, played by Maury Chaykin, at one point admitting that the city's sole strength is its great parking.

Chaykin anchors show: McKinney

"We love Winnipeg — even though the last three words of our theme song, which is by [Winnipeg band] The Weakerthans, is 'We hate Winnipeg,'" McKinney said.

McKinney said the anchor of Less Than Kind is Chaykin, a Canadian-American actor whose previous credits include Nero Wolfe, Entourage and At the Hotel.  

"The one thing you have to have to walk that [kind of comedy] to the audience in a palatable way is you have to have great actors," McKinney said.

"We have Maury Chaykin, which is everything we needed, and then the casting gods rained their love on us with Jesse Comacho and Wendel Meldrum and local casting in Winnipeg."

The show also stars Benjamin Arthur, Emma Bambrick and Nancy Sorel.

McKinney said he hopes to see Less Than Kind on U.S. cable to extend the reach of the show. The show debuts Oct. 13 on CityTV.