Shout! Factory // 1983 // 780 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // October 12th, 2005
"I am as doomed as doomed can be, you know!" -- Ed Grimley (Martin Short)
Easily one of the most influential and critically successful sketch comedy shows ever, SCTV was nothing short of a cataclysmic collision of mind-boggling talent. Who would have thought that this low-budget show, made up almost entirely of a small cabal of local talent from Hamilton, Ontario and filmed in the deep north of Edmonton, would make such a huge international splash?
Using a three-pronged humor attack consisting of subversive satire, outrageous slapstick, and tragically hilarious characters honed from the improvisational battleground of Toronto's Second City theater stage, SCTV spent eight years on the air championing the silly and the sublime. Taking their inspiration not from the obvious, broad pop culture trends that ended up as fodder for less creative shows, the SCTV performers instead turned to the obscure and the unknown, spoofing the then-forgotten wasteland of late night TV, B-movies, and minor celebrity. In this way, cast members Eugene Levy, Joe Flaherty, Andrea Martin, Martin Short, and John Candy were able to co-opt their esoteric muse and make it entirely their own, using their incredible comic talents to transcend the original inspiration and connect with their audience on a level of pure comedy that didn't require a knowledge of exactly what they were poking fun at.
Hot on the heels of their last fantastic SCTV box set, Shout! Factory has unleashed its biggest DVD release of the show yet, a monstrous six-disc collection that covers the show's entire fifth and final season for NBC. While signs of the program's end were starting to become evident as several cast members jumped ship for brighter shores, the comedy itself remained as sharp as ever -- in fact, I'd even go so far as to say that SCTV: Volume Four represents the celebrated sketch comedy show at its absolute peak.
SCTV begins another broadcasting day from its humble little local station serving Melonville and the tri-state area. From "Sunrise Semester" to the late, late movie on "Monster Chiller Horror Theater," the show takes us through a condensed day's worth of promos, commercials, news, and entertainment programs. We're also privy to a good deal of behind-the-scenes drama, as SCTV owner and president Guy Caballero (Joe Flaherty, Freaks and Geeks) and his station manager, Edith Prickley (Andrea Martin, My Big Fat Greek Wedding), deal with the headaches of running a TV station.
This set features 12 episodes from the fourth cycle of the show in its 90-minute SCTV: Network/90 incarnation on NBC:
* Sammy Maudlin 23rd Anniversary/CBC
On Sammy Maudlin's Anniversary clip show, sidekick William B. Williams (John Candy, Stripes) walks off because he believes he's bringing the show down. Meanwhile, a janitor's strike forces Guy Caballero to import in a day's worth of Canadian programming from the staid Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 10/10
"The Sammy Maudlin Show: 23rd Anniversary": William B. Williams abandons the stage in shame after Sammy shows a series of humiliating clips.
"Headline Challenge": A parody of the Canadian show Front Page Challenge skewers Canadian celebrity.
"Garth and Gord and Fiona and Alice": The quintessential Canadian film Goin' Down the Road is spoofed.
* Indecent Exposure
Guest stars: John Cougar, Harold Ramis, and Fred Willard
After scam target Fred Willard leaks the story to SCTV reporter Earl Camembert (Eugene Levy, Waiting for Guffman), Guy's bad checks get him in trouble with the Board of Directors, headed by Allan Herschman (Harold Ramis, Ghostbusters). 9/10
"Krishna Sings Manilow": A commercial for an LP of Barry Manilow covers as chanted by the cast dressed as Hare Krishna.
"The Nutty Lab Assistant": The first major role for Martin Short's (Primetime Glick) cow-licked geek Ed Grimley has him drinking a potion and turning into John Cougar.
"Swingin' with Mother Nature": A promo for a special of Short's lounge singer Jackie Rogers ends with him being killed by a lion.
Guest stars: Linda Hopkins, David Rasche
Newsmen Earl Camembert and Floyd Robertson (Flaherty) cover the local Melonville election. 10/10
"You!": Libby Wolfson (Martin) uses her show as a political platform for her cadency for councilperson, but she develops a crush on her opponent and guest, Robert Wellesly (David Rasche, Sledgehammer!).
"Stars in One with Linda Hopkins": The debut of Brock Linehan (Short) has the celebrity interviewer asking all the wrong questions to the jazz and blues singer.
"SCTV News Election Central": Earl thinks that his new computer can predict all the winners, but Floyd isn't so sure. This segment also features hilarious commercials from the various candidates.
"Sunrise Semester: Reptiles Part 4": Ed Grimley returns to teach the class about snakes, and is hypnotized by a cobra.
* Jane Eyrehead
Guest stars: Robin Williams and America
SCTV security guard Gus Gustofferson (Levy) has a crush on Edith Prickley, and allows the band America to rehearse in one of their studios on her say so. 8/10
"Angel Cortez: F.B.I. Jockey": John Candy introduces the character of Steve Roman, an actor completely unable to do accents despite being consistently cast as foreigners.
"The Bowery Boys in the Band": This movie-of-the-week manages to spoof The Bowery Boys films, The Boys in the Band, and The Deer Hunter, all with a plum role for guest Robin Williams (The Birdcage).
"Jane Eyrehead": An adaptation of the "wife-in-the-attic" Jane Austen classic ends up colliding with The Jack Benny Show.
* Towering Inferno
Guest star: Banda Brava
When SCTV moves its offices to the newly constructed world's tallest building, the shoddily constructed structure catches on fire, and Guy Caballero tries to lead everyone to safety. 9/10
"Peter Pan Live at the Melonville War Memorial Auditorium": Pink Flamingos' Divine (Candy) stars as the boy who wouldn't grow up.
"Towering Inferno": A parody of the 1970s disaster classic, with Flaherty as Charlton Heston playing a fire chief.
"Words to Live By with Mr. Mambo" Mambo band Banda Brava are on hand to help Mr. Mambo (Candy) deliver his closing message: "When things get you down, mambo!"
Guest stars: Catherine O'Hara and Andrae Crouch
Catherine O'Hara (Beetlejuice) returns for this continuation of the earlier Christmas episode, as Johnny LaRue learns that there's more to Christmas than just crane shots. 9/10
"The Fella Who Couldn't Wait for Christmas": More Ed Grimley nonsense, as Ed unsuccessfully tries to fall asleep on Christmas Eve.
"The Driftwood Inn": South Melonville's dining hotspot offers three days and one night vacation packages for the Christmas season.
"Christmas Day with the Shmenges": Yosh (Candy) and Stan (Levy) explain all the Leutonian yuletide traditions.
* A Star Is Born
Guest star: Crystal Gayle
Singer Crystal Gayle stars in a spoof of A Star is Born, but it's something of a misfire. 7/10
"Half Wits": A revised version of the classic "Hi-Q" sketches with even stupider contestants.
"Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from an Idiot's Marriage": Short impersonates Jerry Lewis in a Bergman film for a hilarious "slapstick meets art house" effect.
"Scrapco Presents Artisans and Their Art": Boorish industrialist Brad Allen (Short) tries to buy his way into the arts at the opening of the Tommy Shanks Hall.
"The Days of the Week": The second season of this soap opera parody begins.
* SCTV Classifieds / Vic Arpeggio
SCTV cuts its advertising rates to encourage small business to buy commercial airtime. 9/10
"Stars in One: Oh That Rusty!": An amazing sketch! Brock Linehan takes a backstage look at an embittered 45-year-old actor still playing a precocious 8-year-old on the sitcom "Oh That Rusty!"
"Vic Arpeggio Private Investigator": A clever spoof of film noir mysteries stars Flaherty as the slightly inept, "reefer"-smoking jazz saxophonist Vic Arpeggio.
* Bobby Bittman's Retirement
Guest star: Ben Vereen
After being upstaged by opening act Ben Vereen, perennial Vegas lounge act Bobby Bittman (Levy) decides to retire to a farm in Idaho. 9/10
"Masterpiece Theatre: In Celebration of Alternatives": The sexually ambiguous Dutch Leonard (Martin) stars in three different plays, each celebrating "women loving women."
"The William B. Show": Continuing from an earlier episode, William B. Williams' solo talk show is a flop, and he walks off that one too. Features Short in a memorable performance as octogenarian songwriter Irving Cohen-"Give me a C, a bouncy C!"
* Sweeps Week
As SCTV and the other networks swamp the airwaves with sexy programs to boost ratings, an energy ball, composed of television's id, begins to absorb the bodies of several SCTV personalities in a send-up of Poltergeist. 9/10
"SCTV News": Coming up on SCTV News this sweeps week: a whorehouse raid, a lingerie fashion show, a strip search at girl's academy, and a special investigation by Earl Camembert condemning the networks for trying to bolster ratings by selling sex during sweeps.
"The Days of the Week": Rocco (Flaherty) breaks out of jail and ties up Mojo (Martin) and Billy (Short).
* South Sea Sinner
Guest star: Betty Thomas
William B. Williams reunites with Sammy Maudlin, and they interview guest Betty Thomas (Hill Street Blues), who is there to promote her new film, "South Sea Sinner." 9/10
"Western Redundancy Playhouse Theatre": Very strange ad for the plays "Deadman's Wager Bet," "The Homesteader Settlers" and "The Frontier Pioneers."
"Jackie, We Hardly Knew Ye": Jackie Rogers Jr. plays his father in this lengthy promo for his biopic.
"South Sea Sinner": A parody of the film of the same name.
* Midnight Cowboy II
Guest star: Joe Walsh
Dr. Tongue (Candy) and Woody Tobias Jr. (Levy) decide to do a 3-D remake of the classic Midnight Cowboy, and Joe Walsh guest stars with Candy on Gil Fisher's "The Fishin' Musician." 10/10
"Mel's Rock Pile: Punk Rock Tribute": Misguided Mel (Levy) brings on UK punk band The Queen Haters to perform their hit "I Hate the Bloody Queen."
"Stars in One: Brock Goes Home": Brock Linehan returns to his hometown to interview people from his childhood.
"The Days of the Week": In the final episode of the series, Wainright (Candy) tries to get Rocco to confess to trying to steal Janet McKay's money in court.
Note: Full episode breakdowns can be found at The SCTV Guide, linked in the Accomplices.
The losses of Catherine O'Hara to Saturday Night Live and Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis to the Bob and Doug McKenzie movie Strange Brew are this season's biggest regrets, but it's frankly surprising how well SCTV weathered the seemingly critical blow. While new cast members Mary Charlotte Wilcox and John Hemphill prove to be poor stopgaps for the gifted trio, it's the previous year's addition, Martin Short, who picks up the slack this season and all but holds the crumbling show together with his boundless energy and incredible talent. This was the year that Short brought forth virtually all of his best known characters, including Ed Grimley, ScrapCo president Brad Allen, Jackie Rogers Jr., Brock Linehan, and Irving Cohen, and continued to delight fans with his popular impressions of Jerry Lewis and Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Buoyed by Short's rising star and a more vigilant writing team, what should have been SCTV's final, reluctant season turned out to be one of its most impressive.
While SCTV's little seen, limited run on American TV often gets the show pegged as a "cult classic," for Canadians like myself, the show is nothing short of a national institution. In fact, reruns continue to regularly appear on Canadian TV today, partly because the majority of the cast and crew were Canadians, but also because the Great White North still has a strong connection with the show that goes far beyond just those beer-swilling, toque-wearing hosers. I have little doubt that SCTV's American audience is still mostly unaware that the show was rife with none-too-subtle references to Canadian culture, and that a good portion of the show's most beloved characters -- Libby Wolfson, Rockin' Mel Slirrop, Red Fisher, and Brock Linehan, for just a few examples, are based on real (albeit low-rent) Canadian TV personalities and their meager, early 1980s programs. While, as mentioned earlier, a full understanding of the origins of these particular characters is not essential to truly appreciating the humor of the show, these sly nods have always made the show somewhat special in the eyes of Canadians; there was a definite feeling that we were sharing a private joke with the performers in skits like "Canadian Gaffes and Practical Amusements" and their spoof of the hockey film Power Play. Even the show's most famous alumni, those exemplary Canucks Bob and Doug McKenzie, were devised only as an elaborate joke on the Canadian regulations that dictated the show must have some identifiable nationalistic content. This season, however, SCTV produced what is still one of the finest moments of Canadian comedy ever seen on the small screen -- the "Sammy Maudlin 23rd Anniversary/CBC" episode.
This show, which has the station supposedly piping in a feed from the venerable Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, is an incredibly funny, dead-on skewering of Canuck culture that is still beloved by Canadian fans as the finest episode the troupe ever did. From "Hinterland Who's Who" and "Hello Metric, Au Revoir Avoirdupois," to "Monday Night Curling" (with your hosts Dandy Dick Bedlow, Gord McLellan, and Gord McKee) and Norman McLaren's National Film Board short of a dancing chair, it is an amazingly irreverent take on the unique Canadian TV experience that remains devastating to this day. Of particular import is "Garth and Gord and Fiona and Alice," a sketch which parodies director Don Shebib's rarely seen, disheartening Canadian classic Goin' Down the Road. Often recognized by homegrown critics as one of the finest achievements in Canadian cinema, Goin' Down the Road is a film about two proto-hosers from the Maritimes who seek their fortune in Toronto, unaware that their blue-collar education on the docks will not translate to big city success. With the help of Jayne Eastwood (Welcome to Mooseport), an original Second City Toronto troupe member who plays the same character that she did in Shebib's film, the parody has become even more widely seen that the original, and remains a kind of institution unto itself. While I'm sure that this particular episode is still somewhat humorous for American viewers, it's a certified Canadian television classic -- that the writers and performers were able to get away with region-specific jokes about Luba Goy and Pierre Berton on NBC is still astonishing to this day.
But that's not all -- beyond the essential "Sammy Maudlin 23rd Anniversary/CBC" episode, there are several other well-regarded shows presented in this set. "Melonvote" which takes a hit at political campaigns, and especially the role of the media in the democratic process, has long been a personal favorite with its small town political ads for everything from dog catcher to mayor, and "Midnight Cowboy II" not only features the titular spoof, but also an episode of "Mel's Rock Pile" with the cast playing the punk band The Queen Haters, a mockery of the Sex Pistols that is still fondly remembered by most fans of the show ("I feel sorry for you, Lady Di, having a mother-in-law like that"). You'll also notice that these episodes are of a more consistent quality than those earlier sets -- overlong, frequently unfunny misfires like "Shake & Bake" and the infamous "Vikings and Beekeepers" sketch are thankfully absent, as the writers seem more focused on getting the show back to its comedy basics. There are a few sketches that don't work out, but they're short and easily forgotten, allowing the viewer to concentrate on the finely developed running storylines that make each of these fifth season episodes cohesive juggernauts of comedic smarts.
Like Shout! Factory's previous box sets, SCTV: Volume Four looks pretty incredible for a thirty year-old, shot-on-video sketch comedy series. Although the shows have the tendency to come off slightly soft, the transfers look quite excellent -- better than you've ever seen them on TV. Audio is a typical Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. Everything sounds nice and clean, and you should have no trouble with any of the dialogue. If there's any small disappointment on SCTV: Volume Four, it's the rather skimpy extras, at least in comparison to the earlier sets. The best extra is undoubtedly "SCTV Remembers: Part 4." This 30-minute featurette is entirely devoted to Martin Short, and it's both illuminating and hilarious, as he talks about how he joined the cast and his memories working on the program, especially in that final year on NBC. "SCTV at Play" is about 10-minutes of Super-8 footage of the cast and crew unwinding by playing baseball that's worth one viewing. Also less-than-essential is the four-minute "SCTV The Producers: Part 2" and "Sammy Maudlin at Second City," which has Joe Flaherty reviving the popular talk show host during a recent stage performance at Second City. What's most frustrating about this piece is that they only show you brief clips narrated by Flaherty -- why not the whole thing? Canucks will also flip for two original "Hinterland Who's Who" shorts and a five minute excerpt from The Red Fisher Show (which served as the basis for Candy's portrayal of Gil Fisher, the Fishin' Musician), even though they've obviously been included only to help Americans make sense of the references to obscure Canadiana. Flaherty and Jayne Eastwood also appear for a 10-minute look at the film Goin' Down the Road featuring original clips that can be compared to "Garth and Gord and Fiona and Alice." Last but not least, there are also two fun commentary tracks, one by Joe Flaherty and Martin Short on "Sammy Maudlin 23rd Anniversary/CBC," and another by Catherine O'Hara and Martin Short on "Christmas."
Is this the last SCTV DVD set we'll see from Shout! Factory? Let's hope not. Even though the NBC shows have all been exhausted with this fourth and possibly final volume of SCTV Network/90, the show went on to another season on the cable station Cinemax. Although John Candy also left the show at this point, many classic sketches still came out of this final year, including "Das Boobs," "Black Like Vic," a second Vic Arpeggio mystery, the "Soren/Weiss Report" and "Ed Grimley's Celebrity Fairie Tales." Also, let's not forget the show's early low-budget years, another 78 half-hour episodes that house a further treasure trove of vintage SCTV material. While Shout! Factory's four DVD volumes of SCTV Network/90 are absolutely indispensable releases for comedy fans, there's much more from this talented troupe that has yet to see the light of day.
This season is totally decent, I must say.
Review content copyright © 2005 Paul Corupe; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 780 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Hinterland Who's Who
* Goin' Down the Road
* SCTV at Play
* Sammy Maudlin at Second City
* SCTV Remembers Part 4
* SCTV: The Producers Part 2
* The Red Fisher Show
* Review: Volume One
* Review: Volume Two
* Review: Volume Three
* The SCTV Guide