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Case Number 10308

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SCTV: The Best Of The Early Years

Shout! Factory // 1980 // 420 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // November 8th, 2006

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All Rise...

Judge Paul Corupe fell asleep, so we put his pinky in a bottle of warm beer to see if he'd wet his pants.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Christmas With SCTV (published November 30th, 2005), SCTV Network/90: Volume 1 (published June 1st, 2004), SCTV: Volume 2 (published September 29th, 2004), SCTV: Volume Three (published April 20th, 2005), and SCTV: Volume Four (published October 12th, 2005) are also available.

The Charge

"What the what is this?"—Molly Earle (Robin Duke)

Opening Statement

Easily one of the most influential and critically successful sketch comedy shows ever produced, 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, Catherine O'Hara, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, Robin Duke, and Tony Rosato were able to transcend the original inspiration and create their own world of pure comedy that didn't require a knowledge of exactly what they were poking fun at.

After blazing through four volumes of the show in its 90-minute SCTV: Network/90 incarnation on NBC, Shout! Factory has gone back to resurrect some of the troupe's earlier half-hour outings before they landed on a major U.S. network.

Facts of the Case

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 15 selected half-hour episodes from the second and third season of the show spread over three discs:

• "Municipal Election"
Johnny LaRue (John Candy, The Great Outdoors) unsuccessfully runs for city council against a vain ex-actress and a military nut. We also get promo spots for "One is Enough" and "The Silly Bastard." 7/10
Key Sketch:
"Election Central": SCTV reporter Earl Camembert (Eugene Levy, Waiting for Guffman) is Johnny's campaign manager, and has more than a little trouble staying objective in his newscasts.

• "SCTV's 30th Anniversary Special"
A look back at the history of the station, including "vintage" footage of Earl Camembert's dad Merle (Levy) fingering Commies at the McCarthy hearings, as well as promos for assorted past shows. 8/10
Key Sketch:
"What's My Shoe Size": This high-concept game-show parody is worth repeated viewings just for Flaherty's uproarious Kirk Douglas impression.

• "On the Waterfront Again"
Bobby Bittman (Levy) and Lola Heatherton (Catharine O'Hara, Beetlejuice) appear on The Sammy Maudlin Show to plug their new remake of the Brando classic. 9/10
Key Sketch:
"On the Waterfront Again" film clips: Despite talking up the serious dramatic tone of the film, Bittman and Heatherton are uniformly awful, alternating between mawkish melodrama and inappropriate wisecracks.

• "Thursday Night Live"
Looking to attract younger viewers, Caballero launches a new live sketch comedy program. Quintessential Canadians Bob and Doug McKenzie (Dave Thomas, Strange Brew and Rick Moranis, Honey I Shrunk the Kids) also appear to talk about ear muffs, and speedy-tongued K-Tel announcers perform "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" 8/10
Key Sketches:
"Thursday Night Live": Live from Edmonton, it's Thursday Night! Why is Tony Rosato (Hog Wild) hungry? Because he's really stoned! (Insert wild laughter and hooting). One of the troupe's better outright parodies.

• "My Factory, My Self"
Walter Cronkite hosts "Dialing for Dollars," which is showing an aggressively earnest parody of Norma Rae. Meanwhile, Bob and Doug discuss calculators. 7/10
Key Sketch:
"Money Talks with Brian Johns": Levy plays the clueless host of this money program who asks well-off executives inane questions like "Do you think someone like me could get rich?"

• Death Motel"
Count Floyd (Flaherty) has a real spooky one this week kids-Death Motel starring horror legend Woody Tobias Jr. (Levy). Bob and Doug like snow chains, and SCTV cooking show chef Marcello Sebastiano (Rosato) demonstrates the importance of hand gestures when speaking Italian. 6.5/10
Key Sketch:
None-a fairly forgettable episode.

• "Play it Again, Bob"
The centerpiece of this episode is a pretty funny spoof of Play it Again, Sam that replaces Bogie with Bob Hope to contrast the divergent humor of Woody Allen (Moranis) and Hope (Thomas). 8/10
Key Sketch:
"The Great White North: Making Doug Go": Doug's asleep, so Bob sticks his dozing brother's pinky in a bottle of warm beer to see if he'll wet his pants. A classic!

• "Gaslight"
An overwrought parody of the classic thriller Gaslight anchors this episode. We also get another appearance from Bob and Doug, and a good piece in which Dick Cavett (Moranis) interviews the most fascinating person he knows, himself. 7/10
Key Sketch:
"Sermonette with Father Raoul Wilson": Raoul Wilson (Levy) wants to know just what's wrong with thumbing through a little pornography every once in a while? A great, sleazy character we never really got enough of.

• "The Sammy Maudlin Show"
Tonight's Sammy's guests include Bob Hope and Bobby Bittman. Bob and Doug like backbacon, and there's a promo for the self-explanatory new game show, Stretch Your Arm!. 8/10
Key Sketch:
"I Owe Peking $2000": A hilarious teaser for Hope's 15-hour movie has him struggling to find common cultural ground until he hits on the international language of Matt Helm. Bittman, on the other hand, thinks Hope is getting a bad reputation for crashing talk shows.

• "Hollywood Salutes its Extras"
Kirk Douglas hosts a half-hearted tribute to the self-important little people that fill in the screen. Roger Ebert (Thomas) and Gene Siskel (Flaherty) discuss the new film Star Wars: Empires are a Girl's Best Friend. 9/10
Key Sketch:
"Hollywood Salutes its Extras": Once again, Flaherty's Douglas impression slays, as he yawns his way through his hosting duties.

• "The Irwin Allen Show"
Shelley Winters (Robin Duke, Groundhog Day), Charlton Heston (Flaherty) and Red Buttons (Thomas) appear on Irwin Allen's (Moranis) disaster-plagued talk show. Chef Marcello's special guest is a stunt woman (Duke) who demonstrates breakaway bottles, and Raoul Wilson returns to discuss bikinis. 8/10
Key Sketch:
"Message from Guy Cabellero": Cabellero flatly refuses to pay Lutonian terrorists ransom to return former station manager Moe Green (Harold Ramis), a running gag from the beginning of season two when Ramis left the show.

• "1984—Big Brother"
An uneven concept show features what programming would be like under the watchful eye of Big Brother, including Komrade Kangaroo and The Praise Big Brother Show. 7/10
Key Sketch:
"Doublethink game show": Prizes include razor blades and shoe laces.

• "Two Way TV/Pit Bulls"
Scattershot episode has Moranis demanding that viewers use a new "on demand" voting system to choose The Happy Hooker Goes to Hollywood over a Leave it to Beaver rerun, while Earl Camembert delivers a special report from an illegal Arkansas dog fight. 7/10
Key Sketch:
"Crazy Crafts": Molly Earle (Duke) interviews a dumpster diver who dresses up discarded tin cans by mounting stuffed birds on them. Though a favorite season three character, this is Earle's only appearance on this set.

• "Midnight Express Special"
Midnight Express meets The Midnight Special in one of SCTV's most inspired half-hour shows, hosted by Abbott and Costello (Levy and Rosato). Bob and Doug also explain the pitfalls of Bowling while loaded. 9/10
Key Sketch:
"The Band introduction": A great parody of Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First?" routine, substituting 70s rock acts The Band, The Who, and Yes.

• "Dick Cavett"
Dick outclasses Bobby Bittman while they discuss the comedian's latest project, the drama Funny Stuff, and Bob and Doug are on the run from the cops. 8/10
Key Sketch:
"Cooking with Marcello": Marcello Sebastiano is found sleeping on the set hungover, and has to quickly find his bearings. One of Rosato's better efforts.

The Evidence

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. These 15 30-minute episodes, which first aired on Canada's national broadcaster CBC, aren't the best the oft-brilliant sketch comedy show has to offer. But they still represent an essential chapter of the celebrated sketch comedy show's amazing run.

The set kicks off with three episodes from the show's second season, featuring all the familiar SCTV cast members you know and love. By the time the third season rolls around for the final 12 shows, you'll notice some missing faces. The temporary absence of Catherine O'Hara and John Candy (who were both off pursuing other projects at the time) is this season's biggest regret. It's frankly surprising how well SCTV weathered cast changes. Brought on to help beef up the third season are new Melonvillers Robin Duke and Tony Rosato. Each contributed several noteworthy characters to the mix, including tacky craftster Molly Earle and bubbly Italian chef stereotype, Marcello Sebastiano. Really, though, it's Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis who clearly pick up the slack in the third season. They successfully hone improvisational comedy duos like Bob and Doug McKenzie, Cronkite and Brinkley, and Bob Hope and Woody Allen into a well-polished give and take that would ultimately impress NBC execs. It landed the troupe a 90-minute nationally-broadcast show the following year.

That said, these episodes are not as consistent as already released episodes from later years. Overlong, frequently unfunny misfires like Flaherty's affected "The Trial of Oscar Wilde" as well as the "1984" show crop up occasionally, leading me to believe that Shout! Factory's "Best of" tag on this box set is simply ad copy window dressing. It's also curious that no episodes from the show's first season appear, as ex-cast member and head writer Harold Ramis contributed many of the show's finest moments in its debut year.

Like Shout! Factory's previous box sets, SCTV: The Best of Early Years 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 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. SCTV: The Best of Early Years also has a good selection of bonus features. The best extra is undoubtedly "Looking Back With Andrea Martin." This 13-minute interview reveals how she got involved with the show, her thoughts on the various cast members, and how she regards her career with Second City. It's a solid piece, and I would like to see more of these should Shout! Factory decide to release additional sets. In "SCTV at the Firehall," the show's executive producer Andrew Alexander takes viewers on an uneventful tour of the troupe's old live venue, which now houses the Gilda's Club charity organization. It's interesting, but runs a little long at 15 minutes. Embarrassingly, "The McKenzie Brothers: Take Off, Eh!" is a puffy CBC news story on the Bob and Doug phenomenon, with clips from the "International Hoser Day Parade," which seems to be little more than an excuse for beer-swilling Canucks take to the streets. It's not particularly flattering, but at least there's a bit of nostalgia to be wrangled out of the piece. Last but not least, there are also several fun commentary tracks. Joe Flaherty and Robin Duke offer intermittent insights over "My Factory Myself" and "Gaslight," while Andrew Alexander answers fan mail on "Municipal Election" and "Dick Cavett," which serves to fill in some of the specifics for viewers not as familiar with the history of the show.

Closing Statement

With the NBC shows of SCTV Network/90 already exhausted by Shout! Factory, I never thought the early TV work of this talented troupe would ever see the light of my DVD player laser. It's great to see them take a chance on this sometimes raw material. Though fans may bicker over the impact Rosato and Duke had on the show, there's simply no denying that there are many classic moments scattered throughout this set, making SCTV: The Best of Early Years a must-buy for fans of the show. If only Shout! Factory had opted for full season sets rather than a suspiciously labeled "Best of" collection.

The Verdict

Not guilty, eh?

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Scales of Justice

Video: 92
Audio: 85
Extras: 70
Acting: 93
Story: 91
Judgment: 91

Perp Profile

Studio: Shout! Factory
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 420 Minutes
Release Year: 1980
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Comedy
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentaries
• Looking back with Andrea Martin
• The McKenzie Brothers: Take Off, Eh!
• SCTV at The Firehall

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