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Shout Factory presents
SCTV: Volume 1 (1981)

"How are ya?!"
- Bobby Bittman (Eugene Levy)

Review By: Jeff Rosado  
Published: June 15, 2004

Stars: John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Rick Moranis, Catherine 0'Hara, Dave Thomas
Other Stars: Martin Short, Harold Ramis, Tony Rosato, Levon Helm, The Cate Brothers, Dr. John, Southside Johnny and the Ashbury Jukes, Robert Gordon, Roy Orbison, The Tubes, Ian Thomas
Director: John Blanchard, Jim Drake

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 13h:00m:00s
Release Date: June 08, 2004
UPC: 826663124491
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ A+B+B+ A

DVD Review

Some 23 years ago, a semi-imported television program buried in what was then a throwaway late-night time slot before the days of Dave, Craig, and Conan (12:30am Eastern) changed my life. I discovered soul-lite singer James Ingram in a commercial tease for what appeared to be a forthcoming comedy show (where he eventually performed his big hit at the time, Just Once). But what really caught my attention was the truly bizarre looking twosome whom the skit revolved around: a rotund figure dressed to the nines looking like he just unsuccessfully auditioned for a part in a Hammer horror film, accompanied by a poor man's Igor with a Paul Michael Glaser 'do. Without warning, the imposing, spectacled gentleman I would soon know as Dr. Tongue proceeded to break the third wall hurling a huge slab of beef back and forth from the camera, creating an poor man's attempt (and a delightfully cheesy one) at a 3-D horror movie effect accompanied by a Dark Shadows-flavored musical cue that only added to its effectiveness.

Although a well-produced but slightly less funny movie parody followed (Vikings attempting to torture the English with bees), I found myself wanting to catch an entire episode to see if they could possibly live up to the appeal on a second go-round.

A few weeks later after the holidays of 1981 lead into a new year, I witnessed a classic best-of show from this zany group of performers. Like a pre-All Star Game home run derby, one bit after another didn't just go over the fence, they catapulted Mickey Mantle-style out of the stadium into the comedy hall of fame: A Leave It To Beaver reunion with the boys freeloading? Ward an alcoholic? Brilliant! An already close-to-the-edge John McEnroe pitching coffee? Outstanding! Merv Griffith, sheriff of Mayberry? You're killing me, people! Perry Como's still alive? Doing "the disco rooooooounnnnnnnd" while lying virtually comatose on stage ? Honest to God, I'm on the floor at this point.

An evening with more laughs than a weekend festival of Three Stooges shorts climaxed with a letter perfect Woody Allen-Bob Hope parody and a swinging National Anthem sign-off courtesy of Mel Torme for good measure.

Like so many people my age who savored every bit of television comedy-variety we could set our eyes on from Laugh-In to Carol Burnett, laughter via the tube was in a major drought after the original cast of Saturday Night Live filed past the exit sign at 30 Rockerfeller Center. So leave it to the head-scratching source of Canada for an imported brand of humor, courtesy of a phenomenally talented group of performers who honed their craft at the legendary Second City stage shows in Chicago, Detroit, and Toronto. Syndicated during a period when that market consisted mainly of sporting travelogues, poorly conceived sitcoms that wouldn't have passed muster at network levels and nighttime versions of established game shows, SCTV was spottily unleashed across the country, mostly in horrible late-night time slots as an opening act for a station's sign-off routine.

But for those who managed to find it were treated to a jam-packed, "rat-a-tat-tat"-paced half hour filled with brilliant commercial parodies, well written movie and television sendups (accompanied by frighteningly perfect impersonations ranging from co-star Dave Thomas' incredibly accurate Bob Hope to Catherine O'Hara's brilliant take on June Cleaver) along with original characters whose lives centered around the fictional television network that inspired the program's namesake: Johnny LaRue (John Candy), the egotistical, chain-smoking actor, and one of the broadcast outlet's few breakout stars, the news duo of Floyd Robertson and Earl Camembert (Joe Flaherty, Euguene Levy), whose nightly news program oftentimes went the way of a Smothers Brothers routine; future station manager Edith Prickley (Andrea Martin), whose personality was as electric as her leopard skin wardrobe; Bob and Doug McKenzie (Thomas, Rick Moranis), the local hosers whose unscripted ramblings served as top-of-the-hour filler; and the one, the only Guy Cabellero (Flaherty), the white suit attired general manager bound to his wheelchair (not because of a disability mind you, but solely for the reason of "respect").

Although it attained a cult following on our shores back in those days, SCTV became a smash in its home base of Canada; an initial 13-week commitment mushroomed into three seasons. Such successful comedic finesse was not lost upon the network brass at NBC who wanted to fill a hole in their Friday late-night lineup, currently occupied by the once popular Midnight Special. Blessed with a 90-minute format (along with the return of Candy and O'Hara who sat out the show's third season) and an increased budget that allowed for more elaborate creativity in the areas of costuming, make-up, and location shooting, SCTV finally got a relatively prominent time slot and the backing of a major network outlet across the border on which they could strut their stuff.

Shout Factory's long-awaited release of SCTV: Volume 1 collects those first nine NBC episodes, a period where this magnificent seven realized their full potential. Thanks to the increase of time, characters like LaRue, Prickley, and Cabellero became more fleshed out through clever wraparound plotlines. But there had to be material in between to keep viewers watching.

Boy, did they ever live up to the challenge.

From the polka-playing Shmenge Brothers (Levy, Candy) to the tech-loving pre-MTV V.J. Gerry Todd (Moranis) and at least a dozen more original characters combined with the hallmarks that made the show such a hit in Canada caused history to repeat itself in the U.S., although to a much smaller audience (but I dare to say the American fan contingent was even more loyal and rapturous than their Canadian following; just look in the set's accompanying booklet for evidence). But the American makeover didn't stop with new fictional faces. Following the lead of their fellow laughmakers at Saturday Night Live, musical guests soon became a part of the format, only their time in the spotlight didn't end with the obligatory song or two; this set features some truly brilliant examples of letting the likes of Levon Helm, The Tubes and Roy Orbison getting in on the act with hilarious results. In fact, one of the coolest parts of watching SCTV came courtesy of watching guest performers trying (sometimes in vain) to keep a straight face during skits like The Fishin' Musician and Mel's Rock Pile (which includes a laugh-out-loud flashback sequence spotlighting Orbison in all his original 1960s pompadour splendor as the show's host goes all breathless).

There's practically no filler material to be found anywhere. Trying to pick favorites from from this set is like naming a favorite Beatle song or being forced to single out the nephew or niece you love best when the truth is, I love them all. Still, a few moments are worthy of singling out: Dick Cavett interviewing Dick Cavett (Moranis' performance is a master class in acting opposite yourself); Mrs. Falbo's Tiny Town, a wickedly funny kids show parody with Martin as the program's namesake teamed with grumpy sidekick Mr. Messenger (one of Candy's most underrated characters); National Midnight Star, a seedy television gossip fest (which eerily foreshadowed the likes of Hard Copy and A Current Affair) that climaxes with hilarious hidden camera footage of an intoxicated Henry Kissinger (portrayed by Levy) embarking on a drunken rampage; and Bouncing Back to You, a variety special hosted by the legendary Lola ("I want to bear your children!") Heatherton (an O'Hara classic) that quickly turns into a train wreck as the blonde songstress' quivering on a climatic ballad segues into a confessional breakdown so riveting, you don't know whether to laugh or choke up (I think I did both, but thankfully more of the former than the latter).

For those of you who've been exposed to the multitude of media love letters in reviews like this greeting the inaguration of this legendary series to DVD, yet unexposed to the awe of its brilliance, I'm completely envious. Then again, newbies can't feel the joy of longtime fans finally being reunited with the odd yet eternally endearing media makeup of Melonville that is SCTV.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: I don't know how much care went into preserving SCTV's masters, but these shows look pretty nifty for tapes just past their second decade. Except for minor dropouts on the '70s-era clips from the half-hour shows (used as filler in the initial NBC installments), there's very little in the way of tape noise or grain. Colors may be a bit faded for some tastes, but that's how these programs looked originally.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish (Dolby Digital)yes


Audio Transfer Review: Standard 1980s television sound, so no big shakes in terms of improvement. Bass is slightly lacking, but with the abundance of witty dialogue all over the place in this show, I'll take a tad bit more in the higher frequencies than the muffled audio of multi-generational syndicated tapes (or faded VHS copies).

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 54 cues and remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Cast members Joe Flaherty and Eugene Levyon Episode #80 (Polynesiantown) and Episode #84 (Moral Majority)
Packaging: Book Gatefold
Picture Disc
5 Discs
5-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. SCTV Remembers
  2. Origins of SCTV
  3. Remembering John Candy
  4. The Craft of SCTV
  5. SCTV Reunion At The 1999 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival (with Conan O'Brien)
Extras Review: In an era when pre-1990s television boxed sets are mostly featureless or offer nothing but increasingly generic "where are they now" catch-ups, what a pleasure it is to see a program embrace its legacy wholeheartedly and take full advantage of the DVD format (and pardon the gushing, but it's particularly enlightening to fans like me who love this show so much).

This supplemental treasure chest begins on Disc 1 with SCTV Remembers (30m:48s), which includes new interviews with virtually the entire 1981-1983 cast (save for a disappointingly absent Rick Moranis and the departed Candy) that sheds much light on how the show was pitched and brought to NBC, the surprising origins of many of Melonville's most unforgettable characters, lots of clips from the syndicated episodes and many great stories including Levy's classic recollection of a meeting with then-programming honcho Brandon Tartikoff, who originally wanted to rework the concept to fit a family-friendly Sunday time slot. In no uncertain terms, the actor told the executive that he would not let that happen ("I think you were a little bit more emphatic than that," chuckles co-star Joe Flaherty). Taken collectively, Remembers paints a portrait of a gifted group of actors whose non-competitive attitudes combined with an unusual home base far away from the likes of New York and L.A. enabled them to create an unusual yet highly accessible program.

Origins of SCTV (25m:35s) is a big draw for those interested in the history of the legendary improvisational Chicago theater (and its sister sites in Detroit and Toronto) where all of the cast (and many top comedy stars of the last four decades) got their start. Rare clips from a 1961 video featuring original Second City alumnus Alan Arkin and Barbara Harris are among the highlights in a highly informative mini-documentary that shows how modern-day humor evolved out of the staid atmosphere of the mid 1950s, thanks to a theater that original SCTV cast member Harold Ramis refers to as the comedic "equivalent of jazz."

Remembering John Candy (27m:09s) pays tribute to its most beloved and sorely missed cast member. Although SCTV prided itself on its ensemble approach where every performer shined in equal measure, there's no question that there was something special about the native that couldn't help but make him stand apart from the crowd. Virtually all the cast members and staff writers have nothing but wonderful stories to share, framed by many of his funniest moments (The Babe Ruth Story, Yellowbelly, the final crane shot in Polynesiantown). Remembering is a well deserved, fitting remembrance of a professional, likeable, driven and vulnerable comic genius that left us far too soon.

The Craft of SCTV (29m:00s) tips its hat to the unsung heroes of the television classic: wardrobe designer Juul Haalmeyer, make-up artist Bev Schechtman and hair/wig specialist Judi Cooper Sealy. If you total up the complete number of characters created and performed during the show's seven-year run, the sum total would be longer than a dozen Phish jams. Now think about that again and maybe you'll get an inkling of just how much in the way of latex, fabric, and strands this creative trio had to come up with; there's no underestimating how vital costumes and such are in making a character complete. Many classic examples including Dave Thomas' memorable look back at how a simple suggestion helped perfect his classic Bob Hope impersonation. Additionally, many of the show's most memorable get-ups are brought out of storage along with many candid backstage photos (some of which are cleverly integrated in this set's packaging), taken after finishing touches had been applied to the likes of Moranis' Bob Hope, Flaherty's Salvador Dali, and O'Hara's Brooke Shields.

SCTV Reunion at the 1999 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival (63m:11s) provides the set's curtain call via a memorable question/answer session moderated by late-night talk-show host and long time fan, Conan O'Brien. Following a funny, heartfelt introduction (much of which also appears in the set's handsome 24-page companion booklet), the self proclaimed comedy junkie puts his highly underrated interviewing skills to great use unearthing even more hilarious recollections, additional background into the show's history and inspirations for some of the most memorable sketches and impersonations from the cast (including some bitingly laugh-until-your-sides-hurt run-ins with some of the celebrity targets including Dance Fever host Denny Terrio and actor Richard Harris).

There's also two highly informative commentary tracks with cast members Levy and Flaherty on the Moral Majority and Polynesiantown episodes. Obviously very tight in real life, these two wonderful performers contribute a relaxed, charming, and relentlessly entertaining pair of sit-downs.

Although some of the material is unavoidably repeated from some of the other extras in the set, there's more than enough fresh tales from these raconteurs including Flaherty's surprising disappointment in his Barney Fife impersonation from the hilarious Merv Griffith show from Mayberry (I thought it was fantastic, myself), the unlikely inspiration for Cabelero's wheelchair prop and neat little bits of set gossip like the beverage Candy drank during one Dr. Tongue sketch ("That's not iced tea<," Flaherty cracks).

But wait kiddies! In the nice 24-page booklet referenced above there's an introduction from producer Andrew Alexander, tributes from notable peers turned die-hard fans (including SNL's Dan Ackroyd, actors Fred Willard and Ben Stiller, the latter of whom proudly confesses that he still has all the shows on VHS from their original broadcasts), episode summaries and a tightly written essay from pop culture journalist Don Waller.

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

Unquestionably the finest sketch comedy show in television history, SCTV: Volume 1 marks the beginning of a phenomenal series of multi-disc sets that should be mandantory viewing for anyone remotely interested in the history of the genre. Exhaustive extras that will enlighten both hardcore fans and charm newcomers make this the boxed set of 2004 for me thus far—at least until Volume 2 hits shelves in October.

 


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