Judge Paul Corupe had to fight a moose for this DVD set. Really.
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: The Best Of The Early Years (published November 8th, 2006) are also available.
"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.
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 12 episodes from the fourth cycle of the show in its 90-minute SCTV: Network/90 incarnation on NBC:
• Sammy Maudlin 23rd Anniversary/CBC
• Indecent Exposure
• Jane Eyrehead
• Towering Inferno
• A Star Is Born
• SCTV Classifieds / Vic Arpeggio
• Bobby Bittman's Retirement
• Sweeps Week
• South Sea Sinner
• Midnight Cowboy II
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.
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