Judge Paul Corupe fell asleep, so we put his pinky in a bottle of warm beer to see if he'd wet his pants.
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.
"What the what is this?"—Molly Earle (Robin Duke)
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"
• "SCTV's 30th Anniversary Special"
• "On the Waterfront Again"
• "Thursday Night Live"
• "My Factory, My Self"
• Death Motel"
• "Play it Again, Bob"
• "The Sammy Maudlin Show"
• "Hollywood Salutes its Extras"
• "The Irwin Allen Show"
• "1984—Big Brother"
• "Two Way TV/Pit Bulls"
• "Midnight Express Special"
• "Dick Cavett"
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.
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.
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