Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 27, 2006)
After we got four volumes of SCTV’s 90-minute network episodes, we go back to the source with SCTV: Best of the Early Years. As you can glean from that title, the set retreats from the complete season focus on the prior packages. Here we get 15 episodes from the series’ second and third seasons. These are 30-minute programs that aired in syndication. I’ll discuss each of these individually.
DVD ONE (2:00:36):
Municipal Election (Episode 32, Season 2, broadcast 10/21/78): “This marks SCTV’s first election episode with Johnny LaRue (John Candy) running for city council.” SCTV would later do better election spoofery during the Network/90 days, but “Municipal” stands as a pretty solid show anyway. We get lots of laughs with the coverage from Earl and Floyd, especially when Earl shows absolutely no attempt to be impartial in his support of LaRue.
Dave Thomas has a particularly good show. I love his "Silly Bastard", and he also plays a slick but awfully aggressive politician who runs for City Council. A personal fave spoof comes with One Is Enough, a stupid sitcom with "Barbie Summers" (Catherine O'Hara), a Suzanne Somers-esque bimbo who spends time with no one but herself and a long list of "Things to Do Today". Add to that a memorable line like "I know the people of Melonville love God's little creatures - and craps!" and we find a fine episode.
SCTV’s 30th Anniversary Special (E37, S2, 11/25/78): “SCTV celebrates its ‘30th anniversary’ with tributes to 50s television, including a parody of the McCarthy hearings.” God help me, I do love the look at how Earl’s cowardly father Merle (Levy) feigns strength but quickly rolls over under pressure and rats out everyone he knows – including his mother. I love the western parodies, and What’s My Shoe Size remains a great game show spoof highlighted by Candy’s man with freakishly large feet. This turns into another effective program that I really like.
On the Waterfront Again (E45, S2, 1/20/79): “Bobby Bittman (Eugene Levy) and Lola Heatherton (O’Hara) show clips of their new film on The Sammy Maudlin Show”. Spoofs that involve intentionally bad acting can be iffy, but “Again” succeeds because Bittman and Heatherton can’t help but fall back on their usual shtick. Combine those moments with the overwrought elements and the bits amuse. However, they don’t get a lot of company. “Again” is a decent show but not a particularly memorable one.
Thursday Night Live (E54, S3, 9/26/80): “Live from Edmonton, it’s Thursday Night! SCTV’s hip new comedy series takes direct aim at their friends in New York.” Or LA, really. On the surface, “Thursday Night” seems to peck at SNL, but I think it actually served more as an attack on the lame ABC late-night show Fridays. That show was always the brain-dead rip-off of SNL, so it deserved slamming much more.
I’ve always loved “Thursday Night” for its dead-on barbs of comedy aimed at “pimply-faced teens zonked on Quaaludes”, and those parts are great. Plenty of little gems emerge too, as with Thomas’s hilariously snide introductions of Guy. We also get the second appearance ever of Bob & Doug, and we find Rick Moranis’s delightfully swishy “Guy Friday”. Throw in the wonderful “Fast Talking Playhouse” and our initial Season Three episode is a good one.
Note that Season Three brings some personnel changes. There was a break of about 18 months between the end of Season Two and the start of Season Three. John Candy and Catherine O’Hara departed, while Rick Moranis, Robin Duke and Tony Rosato came on board. Duke and Rosato aren’t on the level of O’Hara and Candy, but as we’ll see, Season Three wouldn’t suffer due to their presence.
My Factory, My Self (E56, S3, 10/10/80): “Dolly (Andrea Martin) goes from victim to victor in this spoof of the overly earnest women’s lib films of the 70s.” I always loved the incisive parody of Norma Rae and other genre flicks. My Factory” was so dead-on that it became tough to take Rae on its own terms. And nobody fake-cries as well as Joe Flaherty in simpy Dustin Hoffman mode.
While “My Factory” soars, it does so in something of a vacuum. Not much else about the episode goes much of anywhere. A few decent laughs emerge, but the show’s spottier than I’d like.
DVD TWO (2:03:37):
Death Motel (S3, E57, 10/17/80): “From Sunrise Semester to Count Floyd’s (Flaherty) Monster Chiller Horror Theater to Bob (Moranis) & Doug (Thomas), this episode has it all.” If by “has it all” they mean “doesn’t have all that much”, I’d agree. This is an agreeable show but not one with any particular highlights. We do see the effect of Candy’s departure via the titular “Death Motel” sketch. It offers a 3-D movie sans Dr. Tongue, a fact that makes it less enjoyable; Woody on his own just doesn’t fly. The Count Floyd segment also goes on way too long – less is more with those bits.
Play It Again, Bob (S3, E59, 10/31/80): “Woody Allen (Rick Moranis) gets writing help from Bob Hope (Thomas) and Bing Crosby (Flaherty).” The package improves with the solid “Bob”. Thomas always did a great Hope, and the intersection of Bob and Woody creates a fun piece. A few other sketches succeed as well; I particularly like “The Trial of Oscar Wilde”. I wouldn’t call this a stellar show, but it’s a good one.
Gaslight (S3, E60, 11/7/80): “Tony Rosato is Chick Monck: Roadie Marriage Counselor, Dick Cavett (Moranis) interviews Dick Cavett (Moranis), and Cecil (Flaherty) and the low-class maid Tessie (Robin Duke) drive Cynthia (Martin) crazy in a parody of a suspense classic.” Martin carries “Gaslight”, as her nervous, hyper performance as Cynthia is an absolute delight. The thriller spoof threatens to run a little long, but the actors make it fun. The Cavett piece is amusing as well, and these combine to create a nice episode.
The Sammy Maudlin Show (S3, E63, 11/28/80): “Bob Hope (Thomas) appears on The Sammy Maudlin Show to promote his new movie, I Owe Peking $2000. The miracle of back bacon is discussed by Bob and Doug.” Although it seems soon for another Hope sketch, I like “Peking”. It’s a hilarious take on comedy writing and presents plenty of laughs, especially since it heaps humiliation on Bittman. Bring in a great promo from Edith Prickley and an unusually good Bob & Doug and you’ll find a fun program.
Hollywood Salutes Its Extras (S3, E66, 12/19/80): “Bill Needle’s Mailbag takes a beating, Bob & Doug discuss exercise, and Kirk Douglas (Flaherty) hosts a special look at the Hollywood extra.” SCTV didn’t use Needle a lot, and that was probably a good thing, as he’d have been less effective with overexposure. As it stands, he’s a delightfully acerbic presence and a laugh. “Extras” is a hilarious special that aptly mocks similar tributes, we get a funny Cavett take on Taxi Driver, Siskel and Ebert get their knocks, and Duke gets an amusing showcase in a Harvey’s Bristol Cream parody. All of these connect to form a strong show.
Unfortunately, music rights issues neuter one of the episode’s jokes. Hawaii Five Ho can’t use the Hawaii 5-0 theme, so we lose much of the sketch’s zing. Ho’s closing song makes no sense without his vamp on the original series’ theme tune. The Siskel and Ebert piece also fails to retain the original Star Wars theme and instead uses the Schmenge brothers’ polka version.
DVD THREE (2:03:36):
The Irwin Allen Show (S3, E67, 12/26/80): “Former station manager Moe Green (Harold Ramis) is being held by radical Lutonians and Guy Cabellero (Flaherty) won’t pay the ransom. Irwin Allen’s (Moranis) classic 70s disaster movies sink lower with Shelley Winters (Duke), Charlton Heston (Flaherty) and Red Buttons (Thomas).” I believe “Allen” offers the first – and possibly only – appearance of Guy’s wife Googie. This comes in response to the hilariously skuzzy “Men on Women”, a delightful experience in sexism. The titular “Allen Show” is a blast as well; it parodies talk shows and Allen’s big-budget misery-fests in a fun romp. We hear about Moe Green’s fate for the first time in a while too. Even “Cooking with Marcello” is especially good; it keeps in the same tone as the “Allen Show” when Robin Duke plays a goofy stuntwoman. “Allen” works well and delights.
1984 – Big Brother (S3, E68, 1/2/81): “On New Year’s Eve, Guy Cabellero dreams of the network’s future (1984!) with programming like Komrade Kangaroo and the Doublethink Game Show. Dr. Sid Dithers (Levy) discusses stress.” More than most episodes, “1984” dates somewhat poorly due to its chronological connotations. That said, the spoof of the Orwell classic stands up well, especially via Robin Duke’s take on Tammy Faye Bakker. Catherine O’Hara played Tammy later, but I prefer Duke’s more low-key version. Though erratic, “1984” has some good moments, especially its never-ending conclusion with Guy.
Two Way TV/Pit Bulls (S3, E69, 1/9/81): “Mr. Kessler (Moranis) demonstrates a way to use your TV for banking and medical services – even to choose the programs you watch! Earl Camembert covers a dog fight.” Despite a few good moments, “Bulls” is a disappointingly drab episode. “Two Way TV” gets funny when Kessler refuses to accept the public will, and Early’s attempt to blend with hicks is amusing. Otherwise, there’s not much that stands out in this very ordinary program.
Midnight Express Special (S3, E71, 1/23/81): “A combination of the film Midnight Express and the rock performance TV series Midnight Special, hosted by none other than Abbott and Costello (Levy and Rosato), with special appearances by Wolfman Jack (Moranis) and Randy Newman (Thomas).” Matters rebound with “Special”, a terrific little “mash-up” of old-time comedy, rock and then-modern movies. It boasts an inspired idea and great execution. We also get a great “Sunrise Semester” with Edith Prickley and her cousin Shirley (Duke), and Bill Needle goes over the edge in this good episode.
Unfortunately, another problem with music rights mars “Special”. They cleared the John Denver and Anne Murray tunes, but Randy Newman’s “Pants” goes MIA. Bizarrely, a dance tune pops up instead and the gag makes no sense.
Dick Cavett (S3, E76, 2/27/81): “Monster Chiller Horror Theatre presents Dick Cavett! Dick interviews Bobby Bittman. Bob & Doug, on the lam, discuss cops.” Though I’ve never been wild about Moranis’s Cavett, I do love the contrast between Dick and Bittman. Funny Stuff is also a delight due to Bittman’s controlling nature as movie mogul. The Bob & Doug piece offers a clever twist too, and we end the package with a nice show.
Note that if you own all of the Network/90 DVDs, you’ll find some sketches here that also appeared on those. Especially in the early days of the 90-minute shows, they borrowed a lot from the syndicated years. Don’t expect tons of repetition, but I don’t want you to think you’ll only find material never before seen on DVD.
SCTV: Best of the Early Years is a somewhat odd compilation just because of its focus. It offers absolutely nothing from the show’s first season and barely touches on its second year. Instead, it focuses on Season Three. Why not balance things better? With 15 episodes, five per year for the first three seasons would have been nice.
That said, I’m sure SCTV aficionados will be satisfied with Early Years. Yeah, I/we would prefer full season sets ala the Network/90 packages, but I/we also realize that financial realities may not make that practical. There's a lot to like about Early Years, as it presents plenty of prime SCTV.