Canadian sketch comedy is what makes Judge Bill Gibron's life worth living.
Our reviews of Christmas With SCTV (published November 30th, 2005), SCTV: Volume 2 (published September 29th, 2004), SCTV: Volume Three (published April 20th, 2005), SCTV: The Best Of The Early Years (published November 8th, 2006), and SCTV: Volume Four (published October 12th, 2005) are also available.
"Mr. LaRue? When are the gerbils coming?"
Comedy can take on many divergent coatings. There is the classic, carefully crafted shtick of the old-fashioned nightclub comedian, routines and rib-ticklers cast and recast into perfectly polished pearls of witticism. Then there is the anarchy and free-spirit speculation of "blue" humor, the taboo-testing themes and expletive-filled stream of consciousness acting like clever carpet-bombing in a witty war of words. All a stand-up can hope for is that one or two of his or her dozen or so bon mots lands on its intended funny bone target. There is the comedy of character, a sense of humorous insight provided by a detailed portrait of a person, place or situation. Mingling around on the outskirts of such recognizable mainstream idioms are items like satire, the spoof, and the toilet-based sophomoric, just to name a few.
But perhaps the most mysterious element in all of humor is improvisation. The concept of flying by the seat of one's pantomime, pushing the inner limits of acting skill and individual endurance of the unknown, just scares most performers. Taking a premise—familiar in general but brand spanking new in the moment—and turning it into something viable, let alone hilarious, is what separates the men of mirth-making from the bumbling boys of boredom.
The acknowledged masters of this crazy craft are the members of Second City, that brand name theater group formed in Chicago in the late 1950s. The wealth of incredible comic talent that passed through its stage doors (as well as the archways of its subsidiaries in Toronto, Canada) is enough to warrant its instantaneous inclusion in the great testing grounds for future funnymen and women. Though it provided talent for numerous shows, most famously Saturday Night Live, Second City is best known for and represented in its own excursion into the realm of television comedy, SCTV.
From small-time syndication to American broadcast and cable success, this once-classic comedy cavalcade has fallen off the relevance radar in recent years, while simultaneously staying deep in the heart of anyone who ever obsessed over it. Now, almost 30 years since its first incarnation and long after the reruns have faded away, Shout! Factory has revived this quintessential sketch comedy show for DVD release. Beginning with its NBC incarnation as 90 minutes of Friday night insanity, we can now own a small piece of humor history. For anyone who was ever a fan, or for those who want to discover a true humor hallmark, its time to shout it to the mountains: SCTV is back on the air!
Facts of the Case
SCTV is a show within a show, a wonderfully wicked satire centering on a small-town TV station owed by the slightly cracked Guy Caballero. Along with programming director Edith Prickley and various staff members—including Gus the guard and office gal Friday, the flummoxing foreign Perini Scleroso—it's up to Guy and his stable of actors, directors and producers to put on quality (?) programming every single day. Some of Guy's in-house talent includes newscasters Floyd Robertson (who also hosts "Monster Chiller Horror Theater" as the vampiric Count Floyd), Earl Camembert (who has his own "One on the Town" interview show), and self-proclaimed genius, filmmaker, and raconteur Johnny LaRue (a titan of arrogant skill who fashions his lifestyle after Hugh Hefner, Johnny even has his own version of Hef's Bunnies—only Johnny calls his gals the Gerbils).
Additionally, Bob McKenzie and his brother Doug offer a Canadian take on things with their show "Great White North," and Mel Slurp has his dance party "Rock Pile" to offer up antiquated musical goodies. Gerry Todd, a videophile with an extensive knowledge of the new VHS and Videodisc formats, showcases the technological advances on his after-hours show. SCTV even has its own set of critics, from the acerbic bite of Bill Needle to the agriculturally correct "Farm Film Report" with Big Jim McBob and Billy Sol Hurok. Resident 3-D moviemakers Dr. Tongue and his hunchbacked sidekick "Bruno" (actually, actor Woody Tobias, Jr.) are always around cooking up another multi-dimensional fright flick to showcase their formidable acting skills. And sportsman Gil Fischer has a chance to hobnob with celebrities as well as catch his limit on "The Fishin' Musician." But the true staple of the SCTV Entertainment Empire is "The Sammy Maudlin Show," a late-night chatfest featuring that versatile performer and all-around ass kisser, Mr. Showbiz himself, Sammy Maudlin. Regulars include his co-host, William B. Williams, crass comedian Bobby Bittman, and space-case singer/actress Lola Heatherton.
Outside of these interior elements, the version of SCTV offered in this DVD from Shout! Factory represents the fourth incarnation of the series since its start as a syndicated show in 1976. Based in Canada and sold around the world by Global Entertainment, the original SCTV lasted two seasons. Then it was abruptly cancelled. An interested businessman in Edmonton decided to give the show another chance, and a third season was produced. It wasn't until 1981, with NBC looking to replace the cast of SNL, that SCTV was brought to an American network. It lasted for three seasons, before again being cancelled. Cinemax picked up the final version of the show, but after several 45-minute programs on the pay channel, SCTV finally went off the air. The fourth season (the first for NBC) was presented in three "cycles." This five-disc DVD set represents "Cycle One," and consists of nine 90-minute shows, minus the usual commercials and station identification breaks. It relies on rerunning material from Seasons One through Three, along with the creation of new sketches and linking material.
Cycle One consisted of nine episodes (labeled #79 through #87 for some reason). Each one has a basic title: #79: "One On the Town"; #80: "Polynesiantown"; #81: "Southside Fracas"; #82: "Compilation"; #83: "Lunchtime Street Beef"; #84: "Moral Majority"; #85: "Pledge Week"; #86: "Bouncin' Back to You"; #87: "The Great White North."
A breakdown of the material offered in each installment can be found at:
From its first moments on the air, SCTV seemed doomed to fail. Produced in Canada and barely syndicated to the rest of the world, this little-seen showcase of exceptional talent was constantly playing second fiddle to its own bastard offspring, Saturday Night Live. The majority of SNL's suddenly superstar performers had honed their craft in the Chicago and Canadian versions of Second City's improvisational companies, and the birthplace wanted a little recompense recognition as well. But as NBC's new late-night novelty flourished, the low-budget runner-up was consigned to obscure UHF channels and wee morning hour time slots. By the time SCTV's third season rolled around, Global Entertainment cancelled the series. If it wasn't for that aforementioned influx of interest (and money), SCTV would have died a veritable undiscovered commodity. But thanks to that last gasp of homegrown gratuity, the show started to get the attention usually reserved for its now-established other half. When the major cast members of SNL bailed after the 1979 season for the greener pastures of Hollywood paychecks, the SCTV actors were called in. The idea was simple—take over Saturday Night Live and make it sparkle again. But the group had their own ideas. They wanted to explore the original dynamic from their syndicated days. Thus SCTV Network/90 was born, an expanded environment for the comic situations of the local broadcast station to shine within.
SCTV is probably the best example of pure satire ever created for the small screen. Where other shows offer us a snide kind of self-centeredness, hoping that the audience leaps onto their wavelength to capture the comedy subtext, SCTV just goes for the obvious or obscure with equal aplomb and makes sure that the skewering is exact. The key to any good send-up or spoof is context: a thorough knowledge of the pop culture, political, and personal climate surrounding you, and—more importantly—the ability to mine it for mirth. Not everyone has the skill to see the irony from the incidental. Years of working in front of a live audience, attempting to make manic improv work, honed the skills of the SCTV cast to the point where they were encyclopedias of human nature. They understood everything: the intricacies and irritations of married life, the cult of personality and the lure of celebrity, the essence of power and the potential to misuse it, and the inherent hilarity in the basic elements of daily life. Mix this all together with the hundreds of movie, theater, television, and musical elements the group could rely on, and the possible permutations were endless. Indeed, SCTV was a true multi-level spoof, a take-off on TV stations populated with lampoons of local programs. The cast then added to the parody by creating classic characters, recognizable icons of the famous and the instantly familiar archetype.
SCTV was (and to this date, is still) the only member of the triumvirate of classic sketch comedy (SNL and Monty Python adding the other sides to the triangle of jollity) that never filmed before a studio audience. While Saturday Night had its previously recorded elements, and the boys from Britain occasionally ventured beyond the barricades of the BBC to produce a few location larks, the SCTV crew were allowed the freedom to flesh out their themes. As was true of The Beatles (another excellent entertainment analogy to this show), the audience-less studio became SCTV's experimental domain, a place and plane of existence that allowed the cast's imaginations and invention to run wild. This allowed the show the luxury to actually film "man on the street" interviews on the street, or to utilize the epic scope of the outdoors to expand their humor horizons ("The Fishing Musician" is a great example of this ideal). So unlike its brethren in belly laughs, SCTV had a whole other lampoonable element at its disposal. Time could be taken to craft a look or a feel and real elements—like actual studio settings—could be employed to exaggerate the ersatz TV channel concept.
There was a downside to this lack of a live element; something that really isn't mentioned much when the show is praised as a groundbreaking triumph. SCTV has a laugh track, that '70s staple of comedy Cliff's Notes. Whenever a joke was seen as dying or a situation needed an extra "zing," the track was employed and a false sense of enjoyment was created. As recently as the mid-'80s, TV humor was supposedly helped / hampered by the addition of canned—or previously recorded—laughter. The use of this phony device doesn't really distract from SCTV; as a matter of fact, there are those who look at it as a further commentary on the crackpot product being produced by the talentless staff of Melonville's local broadcast outlet. But when the counterfeit chuckles come crawling across an obvious moment of humor, it can be awkward.
Good thing that SCTV is so fiercely funny. Even without the recorded rib-tickling, there are moments here that will inspire shrieks of hysterics (The Mayberry take-off "The 'Merv' Griffith Show," any installment of "Great White North") as well as grateful guffaws of glorious goofiness ("Farm Film Report," the incomparable Perini Scleroso). But more often than not, what SCTV mostly inspires is a knowing nod of anarchic appreciation. The entire talk show satire, "The Sammy Maudlin Show," is so spot-on with its gallery of insincere guests that when it comes on, it's like SCTV has suddenly vanished and this actual example of entertainment at its most existential has somehow magically appeared. There are no attempts at obvious jokes. Characters like Sammy, William B., Lola Heatherton, and funnyman Bobby Bittman are so fully fleshed out and comprehended that you never once see the comedy coming. Then, when it does hit, it ricochets off all of your memories of Johnny Carson, Mike Douglas, Joey Bishop, and every local talk show host you've ever seen. Along with perfectly played parodies of all genres of film (the Chinatown lampoon "Polynesiantown," the reverse redux of The Grapes of Wrath) and the stellar television spoofs (everything from local learning shows to the evening news), there is a sincere level of intelligence and insight into the entire entertainment medium, something that most sketch series avoid. This is why, to some, SCTV is the thinking man's comedy show, a well-observed peek into the people, personalities, and parameters that go into creating that voodoo that the boob tube does so…well?
During its run, Mystery Science Theater 3000 was often compared to SCTV because of its bounty of references and comedy styles. Just like that outer space farce, the ideas abounding in an episode of SCTV are almost endless. Part of the reason why this series works so well is that it is based in character and craft, not the instant joke or the jerky punchline. Yes, SCTV did indulge in the silly ("Harry Filth," a Dirty Harry take-off, carries a gun four times bigger than himself) and was not above going for the "cheaper" laughs (Ms. Scleroso's broken English, the usual sexual obsessions of the male characters). But more times than not it achieved its wit through nuance and style, through a sharp recognition of the material the cast members were drawing on, and a clear understanding of how to get the comedy across on-screen. When Catherine O'Hara puts on her spinster persona, or Joe Flaherty takes to the wheelchair to give Guy Caballero the "respect" he wants, these bits are not funny because they are stuffed with gags. No, this material resonates with subtle sharpness because of the clever way it meshes cliché with the arcane, performance with perception. When SCTV takes on a subject, they hardly ever get it "wrong." Some sketch comedy shows miss the point of their parody, going for the obvious angle or some obscure internal reference to try and outsmart the audience. That is, when they're not hitting them over the head with the familiar. SCTV avoids these pitfalls by being exceptional students of every medium. Then they break their subject down to its basic elements and rebuild it in their own image. This is why the show is so effective. This is why it is a classic.
Perhaps no other cast, not even the stalwart specialness of the original Not Ready For Prime Time Players, excelled at this format better than Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Catherine O'Hara, John Candy, Dave Thomas, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, and Martin Short. Each had his or her own special niche in the show. The two women, Andrea and Catherine, represented the yin and the yang of the female experience. O'Hara was either the glammed-out celebrity (Lola H., the pitch-perfect takes on Brooke Shields and Katherine Hepburn) or the completely put-upon hausfrau (Mrs. Fracas, any number of commercial pitchwomen). Martin, on the other hand, was the more cosmopolitan gal, hitting high notes with hints of feminism (Libby Wolfson) and the foreign (the perky Perini) mixed into her multifaceted face (who else could be both Indira Gandhi and Barbra Streisand?). Though he was only with the show in its first season (and shown on this set in a couple of quick skits), Harold Ramis personified the gawky geek, always looking too underdeveloped for his body parts and ready to collapse under the weight of his own head. Both Martin Short and Rick Moranis were late editions to the cast (Moranis in Season Three, while Short came in halfway through the final cycle of Season 4) but each brought his own idiosyncrasies to the series. Moranis added Canadian kook Bob McKenzie to the cast of classic characters, as well as an outright musical parody element (everything from the Gerry Todd sketches to his impersonations of Michael McDonald and Ringo Starr). Short would bring his madcap mania and such endearing entities as Ed Grimley and Jackie Rogers Jr. to later incarnations of the show.
But the core group of SCTV was Thomas, Levy, Flaherty, and Candy. These four men carried the majority of the comedy heft in the act, representing a veritable who's who of people, famous and fanciful. Of the four, Levy is the most out-and-out versatile, able to play suave (Ricardo "Fantasy Island" Montalban), snide (Bittman), stupid (Dr. Tongue's sidekick Bruno), or sinister (any number of characters) equally well. Flaherty always comes across as that jovial guy you know who hangs out down at the bowling alley, a regular working-class blue-collar Joe who somehow manages to transform himself into famous actors (Kirk Douglas, Donald Sutherland) or completely crazy clowns (Count Floyd, Big Jim McBob). Dave Thomas seems to represent the exact opposite of what Flaherty does, exuding a kind of wound-up urbane intensity that spills over into his characters (Bill Needle, Mr. Fracas). Thomas, however, can also call on a laconic lunacy to sell his shtick, whether it's to get inside Bob Hope's stage mannerisms or Bob McKenzie's tattered toque.
And then there is John Candy. Over the 10 years since his passing, it has been easy to forget what a memorable funnyman this actor was. Candy was often called "larger than life," and that may have had more to do with his physical presence rather than some professional prowess. But make no mistake about it, Candy is stellar in SCTV, the kind of comic gold that's rarely found or mined anymore. Most "fat" men are required to play down to their physicality. Not Candy. He constantly rises above it to play everything from a pompous, self-important playboy (Johnny LaRue) to an overgrown Beaver Cleaver. It's no surprise that so many of this talented cast went on to be stalwart Hollywood character actors and/or stars. The ability they fostered during SCTV's run rubbed off on every set or show they performed on.
Revisiting these shows almost 23 years after they first aired brings back a lot of memories (this critic was around for the series' original 1976-79 syndicated incarnation), but they now also exhibit perhaps the show's single shortcoming. If there is one downside to SCTV, something that would keep it from connecting in 2004 with an audience beyond the loyal fans, it is that the series is topical to a fault. As a matter of fact, a better way to describe its current events situational satire is to consider it insularly relevant, focusing on the more abnormal elements of the newsworthy to draw out its own internal logic. So when the cast parodies, say, Don Kirshner's Rock Concert (Obscure Reference #1) by having cast member Dave Thomas impersonate former Chrysler Motors chairman Lee A. Iacocca (O.R. #2) as the new host, you are already in a strange contemporary time frame. When you add in specific premises like begging for a government loan (O.R. #3) or offering a rebate (O.R. #4), the distance grows. The final factor is the introduction of a Canadian crooner, the rather hairy Gino Vanelli (O.R. #5), to the parody powwow. Unless any of this rings a bell, the bit will fall flat and that is the problem with a great deal of the show's humor (just like that crazy old kook, Proposition 13 poster boy Howard Jarvis, showing up in Airplane!). Other obvious targets that have the potential to play out onto deaf, outdated ears are the numerous Ronco and K-Tel references, the "oohs" and "ahhs" of Mr. Big Butt, Merv Griffin, or Dick Cavett interviewing himself. They all lend themselves to a level of head-scratching that will leave newcomers more mystified than merry. Frankly, how many people even remember who Mr. Cavett is/was and why a Q&A with himself would be so cleverly creative?
Still, there are several standout sketches and moments from the show, classic bits of comedy that truly stand the test of time and changing temperament. Who else but SCTV would envision Bob Hope and Woody Allen working together, and then go one better and have it play out in a perfectly realized spoof of Play It Again, Sam (entitled, oddly enough, "Play it Again, Bob")? A 25th Anniversary celebration of the Leave It To Beaver show features all the unspoken scandal and subtext—as well as some clever cracks at urban legends—that the mainstay of the '50s seemed to suggest. The parody of Evita, fashioned around the life on Indira Gandhi (naturally named "Indira!") is so good it seems less like a spoof and more like a lost, loony Broadway show. Music was a big element in SCTV's work: a patented classic like "The Fishin' Musician" featuring those rock and roll oddities, The Tubes, highlights this perfect mixture of songs and silliness (the bass fishing material is hilarious). There are several brilliant running gags, everything from pointed plays on words (the differing "Howards" in the "Melvin and Howard" promos) to imagining unusual actors in classic roles (Gregory Peck as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver?).
But it is the series mainstays that cement SCTV's exceptional qualities—like "Mel's Rock Pile," that pathetic American Blandstand rip-off that features the most rhythmically challenged human being on the entire planet, "Rockin'" Mel Slurp. "Monster Chiller Horror Theater" is another example where the basic premise hardly hints at the promise and delivery in the actual segment. Count Floyd's show is a brilliant amalgamation, every local late-night spook show host juxtaposed against some of the most non-frightening films ever lampooned (like ennui-inducing foreign flops or bait and switch B-pictures). Every time Sammy Maudlin makes an appearance, you know you're in for a wonderful bit of ironic celebrity skewering (especially classic is the take on famous faces who "walk on" during the middle of other performers' showcases). Frankly, Flaherty (Maudlin), Candy (William B. Williams), O'Hara (Lola Heatherton), and Levy (Bobby Bittman) are never better than when they are taking this perverse panel discussion to new heights of subtle subversion. Their work on SCTV and the "Maudlin" skits represent the zenith of comedy.
Then, of course, there are Bob and Doug, the McKenzie brothers, the breakout superstars from SCTV who went on to phenomenal success outside the show (a hit album and the movie Strange Brew). But here, still trapped in the small screen format, Bob and Doug are endearing and delightful, as far removed as possible from the cartoon versions of these Canadian cornholes they later became. When the McKenzies become the main focus of the final episode of this DVD set, we are watching their premise performed at its most faultless. No wonder they went on to bigger and better things.
Elsewhere, peppered throughout Network/90 are small moments, minor works that have become cult classics and clear-cut celebrations of this humorous hullabaloo. The episode of "Shock Theater," with a father trying to find the perfect "scary" bedtime story for his son, is as frightening as it is funny. A commercial parody for a Connie Francis-like singer, known as the queen of the incredibly sad songs, is sheer musical mayhem. The long form Fantasy Island skit manages to merge a (then) popular TV show with Hope and Crosby's Road pictures and Casablanca to create a pristine example of comedy excellence. Almost as good, the Moral Majority storyline (which actually won the group their first of several Emmys) was both political and cutting, the satire managing to undermine the conservative grass roots movement even as it ridiculed the ultra-liberal ideals on the opposing side.
SCTV was equally effective in the use of musical guests (another NBC concession/mandate), always finding ways to incorporate these notorious non-actors into the shows with effortless (Dr. John, The Tubes, Ian Thomas) or sometimes only partial (Robert Gordon, Levon Helm) success.
But at the core of this certifiable television classic is the general premise. To date, SCTV marks the only successfully attempted satire of television as an overall entity. Sure, there have been shows that lampoon certain types of programs or show business genres, but only SCTV took the larger conceptual leap. It actually strove to replicate its device with pinpoint precision, the better to bolster the comedy. And this is why, after almost 30 years and a wealth of content completely tied to its times, SCTV still works. It is one of the best comedy creations ever.
Shout! Factory unleashes its second heaping helping of classic TV this year (the first being the phenomenal Freaks and Geeks Complete Series Box Set) in an exceptional five-disc offering. Sound-and-vision-wise, fans couldn't ask for more. SCTV is not some carefully preserved product, like SNL or other broadcast entities. And it was not the most expensive comedy series ever made. So production and budgetary limitations should be prevalent throughout the set. But in reality, SCTV looks and sounds great. The 1.33:1 transfer is crisp, full of detail and deep contrasts. The colors are vibrant without flaring or bleeding, and even some of the weaker elements (a lot of the filmed material pales in grainy comparison to the video image) look wonderful. Aurally, SCTV has some minor issues. All the divergent aspects struggling to be heard on the soundtrack can occasionally overwhelm the Dolby Digital Mono. Especially when a musical number is employed, you can have voice, music, effects, and laugh track all going at once, and there is a near-tinny quality to the mix. Still, for a show this old, the sonic qualities are quite excellent. (Heck, even the laugh track works!)
Where this DVD set really excels (and what is rapidly becoming a hallmark of Shout! Factory's work) is in the area of extras. There are four making-of documentaries, each focusing on a different feature of the series. "SCTV Remembers" is an overview of the show, featuring most of the people responsible for its creation (sadly, Rick Moranis is absent from all the bonus material) reminiscing on their favorite elements. These people have a genuine fondness for their work and open up about their favorite funny bits. They also tell a few wonderful anecdotes about performing together and the transition from Canadian TV to NBC. Some of the "notes" given to the cast by the major American network are classic in their cluelessness. "Origins of SCTV" gives a wealth of wonderful data about how this Chicago theatrical mainstay got its philosophical foundation and beginnings. Again, many of the main players are here, and they provide excellent insight into the novel, new form of performing known as improvisation (Second City was originally conceived as a way to teach acting to children?!). It links to the show as well, discussing how the idea to take Second City to television came as a direct result of SNL's "talent raid" on the Chicago and Toronto troupes. "Remembering John Candy" is self-explanatory—30 minutes of emotional recall (both funny and sad) of the late, great star of the show. Thankfully, this retrospective does not turn overly mawkish. Keeping Candy's memory upbeat and brash is the cast's main mantra. The final featurette, "The Craft of SCTV," does a bang-up job of championing the most unsung heroes of the series: the make-up and costuming people. It's fantastic that these talented individuals get a chance to speak for themselves about the massive contribution they made to the show. The cast acknowledges that without their help, many of the classic characters we've come to know and love would have never existed.
Joe Flaherty and Eugene Levy do double duty, appearing in the documentaries as well as adding a couple of genial commentaries to the package. Appearing on Episode #80: "Polynesiantown" and #84: "Moral Majority," these narratives are fun-filled trips back to the precious past for the duo. Self-deprecating and completely open (they even discuss the use of "recreational pharmaceuticals" by the cast), Levy and Flaherty provide some very witty and warm remarks. We learn where characters like Sammy Maudlin, Johnny LaRue, William B. Williams, and Guy Caballero got their names and personas. We get insights into the writing process, hear about celebrities who were "unhappy" with how they were depicted (Merv Griffin? Are you paying attention out there?), and learn how completely obscure many of the references really were. Occasionally, the guys will stop to take in a performance or a portion of the show, which leads to some gaps in the comments. But overall, the material here is crucial to understanding how SCTV managed to produce such passionate, pristine satire under the most minimal of conditions. Together with the documentaries, we begin to get beneath the surface of this cult classic and see the real talent it took to make SCTV run so well.
The last SCTV related bonus is a Reunion Special from 1999 (presented by HBO as part of its coverage of the US Comedy Arts Festival), hosted with great enthusiasm and heart by big-time fan Conan O'Brien. Everyone from the original cast is present (with the exception of the late John Candy and a "sick" Rick Moranis), and they tell many wonderful stories. Especially enlightening are the comments about the pre- and post-stroke Floyd the Barber from The Andy Griffith Show, and about how an aged Bob Hope used to think he worked with Dave Thomas in the '40s. While the clips shown to the audience are not featured here (and seeing the "Perry Como: Mr. Relaxation" skit would have been fantastic), this panel discussion is a breezy and satisfying 65 minutes.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There is just a small quibble here, nothing obscene or obsessive. SCTV was on the air in syndication for three years prior to coming to NBC for these Network/90 shows. Some of the material from those seasons, when presented in compilation form, was edited, if only in very minor ways. A word (Harry Filth is supposed to protect the "Pope," not some indecipherable word) or a whole sequence (Lee A. Iacocca introduces his sister…Imogene) has been removed or altered. These changes were already a part of Network/90 when it was broadcast originally (they're not new to DVD). There are websites out there in Internetland which actually pinpoint sound and music cue issues, but as far as this critic is concerned, the only editing that is important is the difference between Seasons One through Three and the Network/90 shows. Here's hoping that, one day, we get all of SCTV—each and every season filled with each and every skit the classic cast created.
SCTV is the great missing link, the cool cosmic connector between Monty Python's Flying Circus and Saturday Night Live. Indeed, SCTV can be seen as the only rightful heir to Python's perverse, perfected televisual anarchy. SNL is too scattershot (even self-proclaimed as such) to warrant a true comparison to the bad boys of Britain. Its boundary-pushing and barrier-breaking elements are far more important than the amount of consistent hilarity it provides week in and week out.
No, SCTV is the North American version of England's experimental exercise in entertainment. It's not hard to see why. Both shows relied on a novel, new approach to TV comedy. Both built recurring and reliable characters, creations of instantly recognizable craziness relished by the audience. Together, both shows broke new ground and absconded with old ideas. And they also shared a special intelligence, a Mensa-level knowledge of the media and the medium. But where SCTV breaks away is in the tricky areas of improvisation and satire. This practice ended up creating what is, arguably, one of the most influential and exceptional sketch comedy shows of all time. SCTV is a true gem, a lost connection between the baggy pants of the past and the future of ironic funny. SCTV Network/90: Volume 1 is, hopefully, the first phase in the inevitable full picture that makes up one of comedy's shining moments.
Not guilty. SCTV could never be found guilty of anything (except incredible comedy) and is free to go. And Shout! Factory is hereby given a special commendation by the court for pursuing and finally placing this deserving classic on DVD, where it belongs.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
• Commentaries on Two Episodes by Joe Flaherty and Eugene Levy
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