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SCTV Network/90: Volume Three (1981)
For SCTV fanatics, the fun continues with this newest DVD release. As with the first two sets, this five-disc package focuses on the 90-minute NBC shows that initially aired in the early Eighties. Referred to as SCTV Network/90, we get nine of those programs from their third cycle.
When I mention SCTV to non-fans, the easiest way to get them to remember it is to mention Bob and Doug McKenzie. Those characters gave the show its greatest fame, a subject at the heart of Great White North Palace (aired October 11, 1981). Rather than simply exploit their popularity, SCTV chose to mock the phenomenon.
Many of the ìNetwork/90î shows featured ìrunnersî. These were ongoing themes or stories that were told sporadically throughout the episode. ìPalaceî presents possibly the most dominant of the runners, as very little addition material appears. We get a couple of advertisement spoofs plus hilarious episodes of ìYou! With Libby Wolfsonî and ìNightline: Melonvilleî, but otherwise itís all connected to the McKenzie craze.
Thatís a daring choice, and one that succeeds terrifically in this fine episode. We get a deft look at the crass exploitation of a fad, and the use of the station regulars works well. I always like the episodes that focus on the alleged ìbehind the scenesî operations of SCTV, and this one fares particularly well as owner Guy Caballero (Joe Flaherty) ruthlessly uses the McKenzies for all theyíre worth. Itís a strong show and a good start to this cycle.
One reason SCTV worked so well was because its creators rarely pandered to the audience. They made shows that amused themselves; if anyone else liked it, that was gravy. Unfortunately, this led to a few examples of self-indulgent sketches, a problem that mars Pre-Teen World Telethon (aired April 23, 1982).
One of the more mediocre episodes, this one lacks any great pieces. Its runner offers some laughs, as we see the youngsters behind a kiddie show run the ìFirst Annual Pre-Teen World Telethon For Pre-Teen Worldî when they lose government funding. I always liked ìPre-Teen Worldî concept, so although this one doesnít ever soar, it presents a fair number of good moments.
However, it also demonstrates my idea that this episode suffers from self-indulgence. At one point, we get a musical performance from the ìRecess Monkeysî, a band of alleged pre-teens played by Rick Moranis, John Candy and Eugene Levy. Though they sing in character and muck up the instrumentation a bit, they actually sound pretty decent ñ much better than weíd expect from kids, and the song itself is catchy. The sequence is cute but feels like an attempt by those involved to get themselves a spot in which to play.
Another sketch suffers from indulgence: Maudlinís Eleven. This parody of the original Oceanís Eleven is a fun concept, and it has some good moments. However, it goes on too long and is just too obscure for something this extended. (I will applaud the amazing production design. Itís amazing what the show did on a regular basis, and here we get cool elements like Bobby Bittmanís car and even a Hofner bass for a stripperís band!)
Overall, ìPre-Teenî remains mediocre. ìThe Adventures of Shake ëní Bakeî exists mostly for its title, as the sketch mostly flops. A newscast that deals with Earl Camembertís (Levy) hyping of a possible kidnapping is funny, and the trailer for ìPrickley Heatî also works. Itís not a bad episode, but it fails to maintain any consistency.
In early 1982, unknown Pia Zadora won a Golden Globe award for ìNew Star in a Motion Pictureî over talent like Kathleen Turner and Elizabeth McGovern. This bizarre choice caused an uproar; folks questioned the veracity of the awards as some thought the fix was in for Zadora. That incident allowed for the set-up to the runner in The Peopleís Global Golden Choice Awards (aired May 1, 1982). We watch SCTVís inferior programming win scads of prizes over better choices Itís an inspired concept that fares nicely, partially because we get to see so many of the ìstation regularsî interact with each other and with impersonated celebrities like Bob Hope (Dave Thomas) and Elizabeth Taylor (Catherine OíHara).
Much of the rest of the show rebounds from the mediocrity of ìTelethonî with a number of good sketches. We get one of the better ìFishiní Musicianî sketches, as we meet Gil Fisherís (Candy) wife Whitey (OíHara) and they take reggae band Third World antique hunting. In a fun continuation of the cycleís first episode, we see the fallout of the ìGWN Palaceî flop; here, the McKenzies get back their show, but with only half the airtime.
If forced to pick a dud, Iíd go with ìThe Merv Griffin Show ñ the Extended Editionî. Reworked versions of films were a novelty in 1982, so this one makes fun of Spielbergís longer cut of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Like the filmís reissue, this one goes on too long and beats a good concept into the ground. Despite that misfire, ìGlobeî stands as a solid show.
SCTV never emphasized topical humor, but it involved enough then-current subjects to mean that the comedyís occasionally difficult to understand for anyone not around during its era. That problem affects 3D Stake From the Heart (aired May 14, 1982), a show that focuses on Francis Coppolaís largely-forgotten bomb One from the Heart. The programís main sketch includes enough funny stuff with Dr. Tongue and Bruno to offer some entertainment, but it relies too much on Heart-related issues to become sufficiently universal.
îStakeî suffers from another negative distinction: it marks the debut of SCTVís running soap opera, ìThe Days of the Weekî. Had ìDaysî existed as a one-off sketch, it might have been a decent little spoof. However, it kept goingÖ and goingÖ and going. Granted, that became part of the gag; it acted as an ongoing parody of the genre. However, ìDaysî consistently provided little return for all the time invested into it. Donít get me wrong – it did have its amusing moments, and I know it has some fans who adore it. Nonetheless, Iíve long considered ìDaysî to be SCTVís biggest flop due to its over-extended run.
Possibly the oddest ñ and most entertaining ñ part of ìHeartî comes from a sketch called ìJust for Funî. Its premise involves a talk show with many very notable names, but the host (Thomas) only wants to discuss babes. Here he chats with Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Aaron Copland, and Betty Friedan. Itís a one-joke sketch, but itís a good one.
We also see the end of the marriage between Tex (Thomas) and Edna Boil (Andrea Martin), as he leaves her in the middle of a commercial. This leads Edna to search for a replacement, with amusing results. Despite that winner, ìHeartî is one of the less exciting episodes.
We can tell that no really prominent runner shows up in Pet Peeves/The Happy Wanderers (aired May 21, 1982) since it presents two titles. ìPet Peeves of the Starsî indeed acts as a runner in that those spots pop up occasionally throughout the show; we hear the petty annoyances of Morgan Fairchild, Luciano Pavarotti, Bob Hope, and Elizabeth Taylor. Itís a good bit but not anything amazing.
We do find the debut ìThe Happy Wanderersî, the polka show led by Yosh (Candy) and Stan Schmenge (Levy). Itís a funny concept brought out successfully.
Indeed, this episode comes chock full of good sketches, though not many great ones. On the negative side, we get more ìDays of the Weekî. Actually, that series will continue through the rest of the cycle, so Iíll stop griping now. Otherwise, we get a nice ìDonahueî spoof in which he looks at porn, and the wonderful ìSecond Nose Jobî. One of the better newscasts comes from a ìNightline: Melonvilleî in which a drunken Floyd Robertson (Joe Flaherty) angers Mayor Tommy Shanks (Candy). Outside of ìDaysî, nothing here flops.
Due to their usual refusal to license their songs, Led Zeppelin significantly mar this episode. Itís four or five minutes shorter than normal because some bits had to be removed. We lose the musical performance by Linsk Minyk (Rick Moranis) on the ìWanderersî since he played ìStairway to Heavenî, and an entire ad called ìStairways to Heavenî ñ in which many different acts play that classic ñ also gets the boot. Itís too bad the DVD canít include this stuff, but if they donít have the rights, thereís not much they can do.
Musical guest stars became a prominent part of SCTV when they moved to NBC, but none of their efforts ever worked as well as Chariots of Eggs (aired June 5, 1982). Hall and Oates show up here to play ìDid It In a Minuteî and also chat on ìThe Sammy Maudlin Showî. There they interact with director Bobby Bittman (Levy) as they promote their new flick, ìChariots of Eggsî. This leads to a deft parody of both Chariots of Fire and now-forgotten semi-lesbian movie Personal Best. Itís an inspired affair across the board.
On the negative side, we get one of the seriesí odder ñ and more misbegotten ñ sketches with ìMurder in the Cathedralî. This purports to be a NASA production of the TS Eliot work. I guess thatís an intriguing concept, but in reality, the sketch drags miserably and never goes anywhere.
The remaining aspects of ìEggsî all fall solidly in the ìmediocreî category. The episode of ìMrs. Falboís Tiny Townî in prison is pretty decent, and the ìRevengeî TV show gets some laughs. Otherwise, thereís not much that stands out here.
Although SCTV went through a number of cast changes over the years, it stayed stable for its first 24 ìNetwork/90î episodes. Thatís no longer the case once we get to Battle of the PBS Stars (aired July 16, 1982), as it brings in Martin Short to the group. ìStarsî finds Short tossed into the mix actively from the very start, as he pops up in many of the showís sketches.
Rather than ease Short into the show, he gets a lead character for ìI Was a Teenage Communistî. A wonderful spoof of both the Fiftiesí Red Scare as well as the eraís cheesy horror flicks, this one neatly integrates musical guest Dave Edmunds. (Trivia: the song he plays doesnít come from the Fifties, though it might sound like an oldie. It was a then-new composition from a Mr. B. Springsteen of New Jersey.) Short shows no signs of intimidation and blends with the cast immediately.
Unusually, ìStarsî includes additional guests, as Pittsburgh Steelers Joe Greene and Rocky Bleier appear in a couple of sketches. First they spoof enormous meals with the ìBig Dude TV Dinnerî sketch; thatís an odd one since no SCTV cast members appear in it. Then we get ìThe Big Dude and the Kidî, a spoof of ìThe Pittsburgh Steeler and the Kidî, a TV movie spun off from Greeneís hit Coke commercial. Greene and Bleier couldnít act well, but the regular cast ñ with Short in another prominent part ñ make it amusing.
Add ìThe Battle of the PBS Starsî to the list of successful sketches. Back in the Seventies, we got a series called ìBattle of the Network Starsî; TV actors would compete in various fluffy activities. ìPBSî deftly mocks that series and gives us indelible moments like a boxing match between Mr. Rogers and Julia Child.
Itís good stuff, and it illustrates the generally high quality of this episode. A couple of the sketches meander a bit; ìWok on the Wild Sideî isnít a classic by any stretch. Still, the show stays positive most of the time.
Unfortunately, we head back to self-indulgence with Rome, Italian Style (aired October 15, 1982). The title sketch is a lot like ìMaudlinís Elevenî: it offers a great concept but not much else. This parody of Italian flicks rambles badly and feels more like a triumph of production design than anything else. The participants make it look like an old Italian flick, but it usually ainít funny.
A few elements elevate this episode, though. Itís a one-joke sketch, but ìMr. Know-It-All: The Life of Nostradamusî is consistently funny due to an obnoxious performance from Dave Thomas. Itís also amusingly self-referential, as it actually discusses its one-joke nature.
We get our first taste of Shortís Jerry Lewis in ìMartin Scorseseís Jerry Lewis Live on the Champs Elyseesî. Slightly mean-spirited, itís still damned funny, especially when Lewis berates his musical director (Thomas). Another slam of a personality comes via a look at photographer ìNorton Sheeffî. This parodies Norman Seeff, a shutterbug who shot the cast for Life magazine ñ and apparently didnít endear himself to them. This is an obscure reference, but itíll make much more sense for fans who watched the extras from the Volume Two set of DVDs.
Overall, ìItalianî is a spotty episode. The major elements like the title sketch are weak, and the smattering of successes arenít quite enough to make it a good program. Thereís some good stuff here, but not a lot. DVD FIVE:
Finally, we head to The Days of the Week/Street Beef (aired October 22, 1982). Unusually, this one includes no musical guest. However, we get a kindred spirit on board, as Bill Murray guests in many of the sketches. He starts with a winner via an ad for ìDiMaggioís on the Wharfî, a San Francisco restaurant run by Joltiní Joe; strike him out and win a free dinner.
Murray also makes a Graduate-style turn in this episodeís ìDays of the Weekî and plays a major part in the showís main runner: Caballeroís programming changes and the ìStreet Beefî program with Johnny LaRue (Candy). LaRue meets hoodlum Donny (Murray) at a bar and picks him up as a bodyguard. Itís fun to see LaRue finally turn the tables on Caballero, and it creates a true sense of continuity throughout the episode.
Otherwise, this is a pretty average show. On the positive side, thereís an ambitious and clever spoof of movie serials that takes some cues from Raiders of the Lost Ark but goes down strange alleys. ìCarlís Cutsî presents a great spoof of Deliverance, and ìHow Nosy the Short-Haired Terrier Dog Got His Nameî is a weird but hilarious ìAfterschool Specialî parody. A couple of the sketches fall flat, and not much of it really soars, but itís a generally decent show.
Fans didnít know it at the time, but the end of Cycle Three would mark the end of an era. After ìDays/Beefî, three cast members formally left: Moranis, OíHara and Thomas. OíHara did a couple of return appearances as a guest, but I donít think Moranis or Thomas ever returned to the show in any capacity.
But all of thatís an issue for the next set of DVDs. Volume Three presents a high level of good comedy. I must admit itís not quite up to the standards of the first two sets, as a few more duds creep into the mix here. Nonetheless, average SCTV beats the best work done by almost everybody else, and thereís a lot to enjoy in this package.
The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio C-/ Bonus B-
SCTV Network/90 appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Donít expect any revelations, as picture quality remained consistent with the prior two sets.
Consistently erratic, I should say. At times, the sketches could look absolutely terrific. Witness some of the bright and vibrant outdoors shots from the ìCarlís Cutsî Deliverance parody. On the other hand, matters occasionally became really fuzzy and muddy, such as during parts of ìMaudlinís Elevenî. Volume One was erratic partially because it includes a lot of older footage, but thatís not the case here. Variable production values caused the mix of problems.
For the most part, the shows remained somewhat loose and indistinct much of the time, especially in wider shots. They usually were acceptably defined, despite some really blurry moments like ìElevenî. Some moirÈ effects and jagged edges cropped up at times, and some edge enhancement marred parts of the production. Source flaws appeared as well, mainly through some occasional video interference and pixelization. A few examples of specks also popped up for filmed footage. However, these stayed minor and infrequent.
Colors varied but seemed fairly solid. At times the hues came across as surprisingly vibrant and dynamic, though these elements didnít appear consistent. Sometimes the tones became a bit muddy and flat. Overall, though, the colors provided some of the transferís best elements. Black levels actually came across acceptably well, as they looked moderately deep, but shadow detail was somewhat thick and excessively opaque. Ultimately, SCTV provided a pretty spotty image, but given the source material, I thought the DVD replicated the show in an acceptable manner.
I felt the same about the monaural soundtrack of SCTV. Actually, the whole thing didnít present single-channel audio, as some brief moments blossomed into stereo. This occurred for the music at the very end of ìFishiní Musicianî sketches. I believe this occurred due to rights issues; I think the stereo music represented pieces replaced from the original shows. Otherwise, I noticed no signs of sound from the side speakers.
Intentional sound, at least, as I sometimes heard bleed-through to the sides. Speech and other information occasionally spread unnaturally to the right or left speakers. This clearly wasnít meant to work that way. In addition, some audio interference created a few pops and noises that appeared in the sides and created distractions.
Nonetheless, the audio remained acceptable for an older show like this. Dialogue appeared acceptably distinct and accurate; occasional examples of edginess occurred, but no problems related to intelligibility happened. Effects were similarly flat and insubstantial, but they didnít suffer from any distortion and they appeared perfectly adequate.
The music offered erratic quality. The shows used a mix of cues that sometimes sounded pretty robust and lively, but on other occasions they came across as somewhat tinny and lackluster, but occasionally the tunes appeared more robust and full. Somewhat surprisingly, a few of the numbers from musical guests sounded blah. Prior discs presented reasonably dynamic tunes, but here they were a bit on the dull side. Some hiss appeared in addition to the various pops and interference I already mentioned. The audio was decent given its age and source, but I thought the distractions and weaker music meant Volume Three offered slightly inferior audio than on the prior set.
This package includes a mix of extras spread across its five platters. Two episodes present audio commentary. For ìPre-Teen World Telethonî, we hear from cast member Joe Flaherty plus writers Dick Blasucci and Paul Flaherty, while ìRome, Italian Styleî includes remarks from Blasucci and writer Mike Short. For their respective pieces, the participants all sit together and provide running, screen-specific remarks.
The Flaherty/Blasucci/Flaherty conversation is a major disappointment. Very little information pops up along the way. The most interesting note connects to ìPre-Teen Worldî, which Joe states he didnít like; he thought it was too weird to play young kids at their age. Otherwise, the useful material pops up exceedingly infrequently. Instead, mostly the track consists of dead air and laughter. Itís not a good commentary and is barely worth the effort even for die-hard fans like me.
In the Blasucci/Short chat, we donít get a great discussion, but itís easily the better of the pair. They provide general anecdotes about their experiences and also let us know a few details connected to this episodeís sketches. Mostly we hear non-specific remarks, though, as they talk about cast changes and working with the different participants. They repeat a fair amount of information that weíve heard on previous sets, but they make this a reasonably useful piece.
The rest of the extras spread across the various discs. On DVD One, we find SCTV – The Producers, a 29-minute and nine-second featurette. It includes comments from executive producer Andrew Alexander and supervising producer Patrick Whitley, both of whom were interviewed separately. They discuss the seriesí origins, early challenges and evolution of characters and situations, monetary problems and issues finding airtime, the showís time in Edmonton, the eventual move to NBC and related concerns, difficulties holding things together with the changes, and various forms of politics. Inevitably, we hear material related elsewhere, but they present an alternate perspective. That makes the producersí comments intriguing and informative.
Next we go to DVD Twoís Thatís Life with John Candy. The six-minute and 36-second clip comes from the early Eighties and spotlights Candyís career to that point. He chats with an interviewer about his success, his characters, and his family. We also get a look at Candyís rural home and see him there. The piece doesnít provide tons of information, but itís a decent little archival slice.
DVD Three includes only a John Candy Photo Gallery. This presents 52 stills and combines shots from sketches with some behind the scenes snaps. At the end, it focuses on ìVikings and Beekeepersî; that area features shots without Candy in them, which makes them odd additions.
Over on DVD Four, we discover SCTV Remembers, a 24-minute and 57-second program. It includes comments from Catherine OíHara and Martin Short as they sit and chat together with occasional prompting from an off-screen interviewer. They discuss their long history together as well as some of their work and characters. A good amount of information pops up, but even when we donít learn anything, the pair have so much fun together that they make this piece a joy to watch. Itís consistently amusing and entertaining and stands as the highlight of the DVDís extras.
Lastly, DVD Five includes a program called SCTV at the Museum of Television and Radio. An event that took place March 4, 1997, this 69-minute and 59-second piece collects a mix of show personnel for a panel. We see Alexander, Martin Short, OíHara, Dave Thomas, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Robin Duke, Andrea Martin, Rick Moranis, and producers Del Close and Bernie Sahlins. They cover the usual mix of subjects like the showís roots, characters, sketches, and general anecdotes. A lot of funny material pops up, but the main attraction comes simply from the presence of so many cast members all in one place. The show remains consistently fun to watch.
Volume Three of SCTV marked some personnel changes, but for the most part, the show still offered the same high-caliber of comedy. Inevitably, a few duds appeared, and the introduction of the much-maligned ñ by me, at least ñ ìDays of the Weekî causes problems, but we continue to find a lot of truly inspired material. The DVDs present picture and audio that can only be described as mediocre, but thereís little than could be done; the problems result from old, cheap source footage. We get a fairly good collection of extras despite one bad audio commentary. Ultimately, I think thereís a lot to love about Volume Three and I definitely recommend it.