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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Various
Cast:
John Candy, Eugene Levy, Joe Flaherty, Andrea Martin, Martin Short, Rick Moranis, Catherine O'Hara, Dave Thomas
Writing Credits:
Various

Synopsis:
An edgier version of "Saturday Night Live", the Canadian sketch comedy series SCTV premiered in 1977 and ran for three seasons in a half-hour format before being picked up by NBC and expanded to 90 minutes in 1981. Unusual for a sketch comedy series, SCTV's skits were tied together by the framing device of a fictional television network populated by feuding newscasters, dishonest talk show hosts, failed cabaret singers, fishing musicians, and other eccentric show biz types. In between were sketches of biting contemporary satire delivered by an inspired cast of future stars: Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Rick Moranis, Catherine O'Hara, Dave Thomas, and the late, great John Candy. This collection includes the series' entire fifth season, which bid adieu to Thomas, Moranis, and O'Hara, but featured newcomer Martin Short - and his iconic Ed Grimley character--in a more prominent role. Featuring such classic shows as "Towering Inferno," "Christmas Special," "Midnight Cowboy," "Sweeps Week," and "Jane Eyrehead," the fifth season also included guest appearances by Robin Williams, John Mellencamp, Joe Walsh, and Crystal Gayle.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Fullscreen 1.33:1
Audio:
English Monaural
Subtitles:
None
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 780 min.
Price: $89.98
Release Date: 9/13/2005

Bonus:
Disc One
• Audio Commentary on One Episode
• “Hinterland Who’s Who”
• “Goin’ Down the Road”
Disc Two
• “SCTV At Play”
Disc Three
• Audio Commentary on One Episode
• “SCTV Remembers Part Four”
Disc Four
• “Sammy Maudlin at Second City”
Disc Five
• "SCTV – The Producers, Part Two”
Disc Six
• “The Red Fisher Show”


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SCTV Network/90: Volume Four (1982)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 6, 2005)

All good things come to an end. Although the 1982-83 season didn’t mark the final hurrah of SCTV, it did signal the end of an era. The series became a moderate hit when it moved onto NBC in the summer of 1981, but eventually they gave up on it and the show left the network in the spring of 1983. It’d wheeze along as a Cinemax program for a while, which meant most fans couldn’t see it.

The 1982-83 season also demonstrated big changes in the show’s cast. Catherine O’Hara, Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas all quit after the end of the final program from the 1981-82 “cycle”, and only Martin Short came along to replace them. Actually, a few shows from the prior season featured all four of those folks in addition to holdovers Joe Flaherty, John Candy, Andrea Martin and Eugene Levy, but the two eras barely overlapped.

A few secondary actors added to the 1982-83 shows, and Mary Charlotte Wilcox took on the majority of this duty, especially since they had no other females. She never became a full cast member, though, and the series clearly felt the loss of O’Hara, Moranis and Thomas. Short went to the forefront as the remaining personalities scrambled to make up for such a substantial loss.

Did this make the 1982-83 season inferior to the prior ones? To my surprise, no. The year offered its share of duds, but so did the others, and I think the ratio of hits to misses remained about the same.

This DVD package provides more footage than in the prior three sets. Each of those encompassed one nine-show “cycle”. However, Cycles Four and Five only included six programs apiece, so Shout! Factory decided to combine them into one release. That means Volume Four of SCTV Network/90 gives us a whopping 12 programs. I’ll discuss each of these individually.

DVD ONE:

While the loss of so many important cast members may eventually make its mark on this DVD set, the package starts pretty well with Sammy Maudlin 23rd Anniversary Show/CBC. Don’t expect a classic episode, but anticipate some good bits nonetheless. When the SCTV janitors go on strike, this means the network has to use Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) footage to fill airtime. This method reminds me a little too much of Volume 2’s “CCCP” runner during which the Soviets took over SCTV’s signal; both offer opportunities to spoof non-American television.

Despite that minor sense of déjà vu, the Canadian sketches work well. My most pleasant surprise came from “The Journal”, a sketch I don’t even recall ever seeing. Andrea Martin’s intentionally stiff turn as “Hunky Boot”-obsessed newscaster Barbara “The ‘P’ Is Silent” Frump provokes many laughs and helps make this bit very good. It’s also hard to resist the scene in which Edith Prickley (Martin) negotiates with Sid Dithers (Eugene Levy), and the titular parts from the “Maudlin Show” are terrific, especially when Lorna Minelli (Martin) swallows a fly. Those scenes even set up sketches in later shows when Wiliam B. (John Candy) gets his own program. “23rd” doesn’t strike all the time, but it launches the year nicely.

We get our first returning former cast member via Harold Ramis in Indecent Exposure. Back when Ramis was a series regular, I always thought he was the weak link in regard to acting. However, his guest turn as Allan 'Crazy Legs' Herschman is a hoot. Sure, he borrows from the Monty Python “Ministry of Funny Walks”, but he makes the character all his own.

Speaking of which, “Exposure” marks the SCTV debut of two prominent Martin Short personalities: Jackie Rogers Jr. and Ed Grimley. Both work well, but the show’s best moments come from John Candy, particularly as Dr Gunzelman in the hilarious “Nutty Lab Assistant”. Really, only one misfire occurs here; “Krishna Sings Manilow”, a one-joke skit based on a not very funny premise that becomes tiresome very quickly. Otherwise, “Exposure” flies high.

Today’s Joke I Didn’t Get When I Was 15: the cast of 12 Angry Men includes only effeminate guys like Charles Nelson Reilly and Richard Simmons. The promo refers to “12 closeted men”. No, I didn’t understand the overtones 23 years ago; I thought the gag was simply that all 12 were annoying and anyone would hate to be stuck in a room with them.

DVD TWO:

While most of the “Network/90” shows feature “runners” – themes that unite many sketches – few dominate their respective episodes as heavily as Melonvote. We see many ads for political campaigns as well as news coverage, and these pieces fill the majority of the show. They also make it consistently hilarious and turn it into a special program. From weaselly Vic Hedges (Joe Flaherty) to bonkers Tommy Shanks (Candy) to snotty Troy Soren (Short) to narcissistic Libby Wolfson (Martin), we find a funny cast of characters who add up to a terrific show.

The other bits fill things out well. We get our first appearance of Brock Linahan (Short), a TV interviewer whose terrible research department trips him up throughout his session with singer/actor Linda Hopkins. Ed Grimley makes a fun return with “Sunrise Semester”, and the Happy Wanderers’ “Salute to John Williams” is a hoot. I see no flab in this consistently terrific episode.

Lots of musical guests pop up through the “Network/90” shows, but we discover many fewer visiting actors. Bill Murray appeared in the prior season, and we got Harold Ramis and Fred Willard earlier this year. During Jane Eyrehead, Robin Williams makes a guest turn for a number of sketches. He does a bit as John Houseman in which he performs the phonebook, and he also plays a televangelist for two segments. Finally, he appears as Leo Gorcey in a Bowery Boys takeoff.

Williams never meshes with the show. Perhaps because he so often worked solo, he doesn’t fit with the ensemble format, and none of the various sketches in which he appears prosper. Murray was able to do some good work, but Williams’ time here goes nowhere.

Granted, I can’t blame Williams for the problems, as “Eyrehead” is a generally weak episode. Both “Jane Eyrehead” and “The Bowery Boys In the Band” work better as titles than as sketches, though I like the latter’s bizarre move into Deer Hunter territory. A minor runner related to security guard Gus Gustofferson’s (Levy) romantic interest in Edith Prickley links the show loosely, but it feels pointless. “Eyrehead” can’t even figure out a clever way to bring in musical guest America; they simply rent some rehearsal space at the studio. It doesn’t help that their “Right Before Your Eyes” may be the lamest, most insipid song ever committed to tape.

Not everything about “Eyrehead” falls flat. The opening bit with Steve Roman (Candy) as “Angel Cortez, FBI Jockey” is funny, primarily due to Candy’s performance. “Farm Film Report” and a Bobby Bittman (Levy) PSA have some amusing moments as well, and I rather like the “National Midnight Star”. Expect a few nice bits here, but overall this is one of the weaker shows.

DVD THREE:

Matters rebound somewhat with the occasionally excellent Towering Inferno. For the first two-thirds or so of the episode, we get fine material, especially via the titular parody. I always loved disaster movies, and the spoof here works very well; Flaherty’s impersonation of Charlton Heston stands out as particularly terrific. I also rather like the “Monster Chiller Horror Theater” in which Count Floyd (Flaherty) tries to sell his kiddie audience on a Rat Pack flick, the odd game show “Let’s Find Jerzy”, and Earl Camembert’s (Levy) look at mass transit puts him in amusingly humiliating situations.

Unfortunately, too much of the last third flops. “When Wives Look Older Than Their Husbands” goes nowhere, and “Shakespeare for College Credit” is a dud made interesting solely because it features no main cast members; writer John McAndrew does the whole thing. The show closes with “Mr. Mambo”, a sketch that offers no amusement and just fills a lot of time. I still like “Inferno”, but the weakness of the last third mars it.

While the earlier “SCTV Staff Christmas Party” offered a lot of great laughs, Christmas is an uninspired as its title. Part of the problem comes from its main runner in which Johnny LaRue (Candy) tries to get presents from Santa. (Saint Nick gave Johnny a camera crane in the earlier show.) This theme straddles the line between drama and comedy but serves neither well. It also brings in guest musician Andrae Crouch for an ineffective turn.

Speaking of guests, Catherine O’Hara returns for One Episode Only! Too bad it’s such a bland show. She brings back the usually reliable Lola Heatherton for a mediocre sketch, though she’s more effective as Lucille Ball in “Count Floyd’s Scary Little Christmas”, one of the episode’s better bits. I do like her return as Sue Bopper-Simpson – who goes by Sue BopSTEIN-Simpson for Chanukah – in a reasonably strong turn with Libby Wolfson, and despite a sappy conclusion, she and the others turn out a good “Pre-Teen World” skit.

Actually, I guess most of the work in “Christmas” isn’t bad – it’s just not exceptional. I like the sketches I mentioned, but few really stick with me. Ed Grimley’s “The Fella Who Couldn’t Wait for Christmas” is probably the best part of the show – or at least tied with the Count Floyd special – and the Happy Wanderers bit works. Boy, that LaRue runner really drags down the rest of the show, though. Parts of “Christmas” offer decent humor, but it remains pedestrian for the most part.

DVD FOUR:

While I welcomed the sight of O’Hara in the prior episode, an unwelcome return shows up with A Star Is Born: the boring soap opera parody “The Days of the Week”. We’d not heard from this spoof since the final program in the last DVD release, and I didn’t miss it for the six shows through which it went absent. “Days” is a love it or hate it series among SCTV fans, and I fall squarely into the “hate it” camp. Actually, I wouldn’t go that far, as it occasionally musters mirth, but I think it misfires much more than it connects, and that continues here.

Unfortunately, “Born” and this package’s remaining five episodes all contain “Days” sketches. I won’t gripe about it again, since that would become almost as tedious as the skits themselves. Suffice it to say that nothing will occur here to make me enjoy “Days”.

Even without “Days”, “Born” would be a lackluster episode. Like “Christmas”, I find it hard to actively dislike most of the skits, but too many of them simply fail to sizzle. On the positive side, I love the game show “Half Wits”; it follows in the footsteps of “High Q” from earlier shows but infuses it with even dumber contestants. Martin Short does a terrific Dustin Hoffman for the “Farm Film Celebrity Blow-Up”, and he also offers a great Jerry Lewis in the Bergman parody “Scenes from an Idiot’s Wedding”.

Other than “Days”, only one real misfire occurs: the titular “Star is Born” spoof. Guest musician Crystal Gayle can’t act and actively sucks the energy out of this piece. Joe Flaherty’s take on Kris Kristofferson attempts to redeem things but the sketch lacks the life and spark to work. This episode has its moments but not enough of them to overcome the general flatness that makes it mediocre.

We’ve seen a lot of Martin Short so far this year, and that makes sense. As the newest cast member, I’m sure he had more energy and new ideas than the others, so it’s logical that he became a prominent creative force. One of his best bits shows up during SCTV Classifieds/Vic Arpeggio: an episode of “Stars in One” that concentrates on “Oh, That Rusty!”, a fictional long-running sitcom. Short plays Rusty Van Reddick, a middle-aged man who continues to play the same eight-year-old role he created in the Fifties – on a show that uses the same old gags each week. It’s a consistently amusing piece with many fine touches.

Short also skewers recent guest star Robin Williams, and his TV commercial spoof is funnier than anything the real Williams did on SCTV. The female cop parody “Koffler and Meltzer” puts Andrea Martin in a role a little too close to Libby Wolfson, but it’s still pretty funny, and Candy’s continued appearances as incompetent actor Steve Roman mine further comedy, even though the gag is starting to wear a little thin.

We get our first look at lounge singers Sandler and Young in a “Sammy Maudlin Show”; they’ll pay greater dividends later, but they come across amusingly here. Another turn by Candy as Luciano Pavarotti helps that sketch, though Flaherty’s “Vic Arpeggio” film noir spoof never quite ignites. “Building a Better House” with Karl Bildenhausen (Candy) features one joke – the stern German’s scary Doberman – but it’s funny and makes me wish they used Bildenhausen again. Some of the homemade TV commercial parodies have their moments, but just “Arpeggio”, they fall short of their potential. Chalk up “Classifieds” as a generally good episode that lacks many really memorable bits.

DVD FIVE:

One of this package’s better shows, here the runner concentrates on Bobby Bittman’s Retirement. The episode veers perilously close to pathos on a couple of occasions but manages to avoid sappiness, and the elements connected to Bittman’s brief departure from show business shine. It helps that they involve an actual talented actor in guest star Ben Vereen; he works fine as singer and thespian, so unlike a Crystal Gayle, he bolsters the show.

I also love the “William B. Show”, as our favorite second banana gets even more pathetic as his program bombs. Look for Martin Short’s first turn as elderly composer Irving Cohen in this great sketch. We get another excellent “Farm Film Celebrity Blow-Up”, as Andrea Martin’s impersonation of Bernadette Peters flies, and she also enlivens the amusing “Sunrise Semester” about “Communicating with Extremities”. Of course, “Days of the Week” causes a dead spot here, but the rest of “Retirement” is a hit.

SCTV gets on its soapbox with Sweeps Week. The show becomes preachy as it spoofs and denounces the then-tawdry state of TV. Actually, it reminds me a lot of the old “Zontar” episode due to the mysterious threat that zaps many station personnel. The runner that parodies Poltergeist drags as it progresses; by the time Andrea Martin plays a take on that movie’s clairvoyant, it’s already worn out its welcome.

On the other hand, the “Night of the Prime Time Stars” elements are terrific. I love Andrea Martin’s whiny take on Linda Lavin, and Candy’s overly-serious turn on Merlin Olsen is a hoot. The recurring “Long Hard War” scenes also add amusement. Despite some weak parts, “Sweeps” usually fares pretty well.

DVD SIX:

Remember when I mentioned that Sandler and Young would score in a later episode? That finally happens during South Sea Sinner. Along with guest star Betty Thomas, they show up for the titular movie spoof. Thomas has directed a slew of bad comedies over the last decade or so, but she showed great comic chops as bad girl Coral in this sketch. I adore her “They Call Me Coral” song and she proves to be a hoot.

Other winners here come from “Jackie, We Hardly Knew Ye”, a hilarious biopic in which Jackie Rogers Jr. plays his dad. John Candy goes for his most disgusting role ever as Edna Boil’s (Martin) new beau in a Prairie Warehouse and Curio Emporium ad, and Troy Soren’s anti-capital punishment editorial is also very amusing. The Happy Wanderers’ “Miss Leutonian Pageant” isn’t as good as expected, and the other sketches seem lackluster, though nothing terrible appears. Overall, this show is quite good.

SCTV’s run on NBC came to a close with Midnight Cowboy II. The series continued on Cinemax after an eight-month break, and it’d last there until the summer of 1984. At that time, they turned off the lights at the SCTV studio for good.

I’ll mourn that fact when the Cinemax episodes hit DVD. The show’s NBC run ends on a very positive note with this excellent program. Even “Days of the Week” works better than usual, largely because of some short but fun guest appearances by Catherine O’Hara and Carol Burnett.

“Mel’s Rock Pile” is a blast. Guest band “The Queen Haters” spoof punk rock well, and we get a second appearance from Short as the hilariously stupid Lawrence Urbach; he believes Italy is nestled between Australia and New Zealand and that his morning glass of milk comes from cats. The titular Midnight Cowboy remake is very entertaining, especially when Dr. Tongue (Candy) can’t maintain his accent. Neil Sedaka (Levy) blows up good, and Brock Linahan’s humiliating visit home concludes SCTV’s NBC run on a high note. “Cowboy” stands as arguably this year’s best program, so it’s a very solid send-off.


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. I don’t know if the picture quality of this set declined compared to the prior ones, or if I was just less critical of them and grumpier here. Whatever the case may be, I thought Volume Four was the least attractive of the bunch, though not radically so.

In the past, I thought at least some of the sketches looked terrific. That didn’t occur here, as I didn’t find a single segment that I felt presented really good visuals. Of course, the quality varied quite a bit, and some of the pieces were fairly attractive; they just weren’t better than that, and a lot of ugly images occurred.

As in the past, sharpness usually appeared pretty weak. The segments generally came across as soft and moderately undefined, though bouts of greater clarity occurred. Jagged edges and shimmering appeared with some regularity, and edge haloes popped up throughout the shows. 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.

Just like with prior sets, colors were erratic. I thought they tended toward the bland and muddy side of things, though they occasionally mustered brighter tones. Blacks were flat and inky, and shadows usually seemed dense and flat. I couldn’t call the visuals of this set a disappointment, as SCTV never looked good. However, I thought it marked a minor decline from the other sets.

As for the monaural soundtrack of SCTV, it came across as a little better than in the past. Just like those sets, some brief moments blossomed into stereo. This occurred for scenes in which new music replaced songs they couldn’t clear. I noticed generic versions of “These Boots Are Made for Walking” during the “Hunky Boots” segment of “The Journal” and “Everybody’s Talkin’” during “Midnight Cowboy II”. In the Count Floyd Christmas special, Gene Upshaw and Ed Garvey originally dueted on “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”; now we get no song at all and just hear scary noises. I think “Hunky” and “Cowboy” work just fine with the generic tunes, but the Count Floyd bit makes absolutely no sense in its current incarnation. It’s too bad they couldn’t clear the original song, as its absence makes a good sketch into something incoherent.

One improvement compared to the prior sets related to the focus of the audio. In the past, elements occasionally tended to bleed to the side channels. Here I thought the bits stayed better concentrated in the middle and didn’t demonstrate those distractions.

Audio quality stayed unspectacular but just fine. 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 didn’t suffer from any distortion and they appeared perfectly adequate.

Music showed growth from previous packages. Those elements were erratic in the past, but here they seemed pretty bright and dynamic. Bass response was better than decent, and the tunes usually were reasonably lively. Make no mistake: this was a mix that showed its roots as a TV show from more than 20 years ago. That said, the audio was more than fine given those constraints.

This package includes a mix of extras spread across its six platters. Two episodes present audio commentaries. For “Sammy Maudlin 23rd Anniversary/CBC”, we hear from cast members Joe Flaherty and Martin Short, while “Christmas” includes remarks from Short and guest/returning cast member Catherine O’Hara. For their respective pieces, the participants all sit together and provide running, screen-specific remarks.

The Flaherty/Short chat is erratic but mostly enjoyable, and it improves as it progresses. Too often –particularly at the start - Flaherty just says “Remember that?” and they laugh at the gags. However, we get good notes about the inspirations for various sketches and some behind the scenes notes. Flaherty even reveals his continued bitterness at O’Hara for leaving the show, and both men loosen up as the piece continues. I really like Short’s attempts to get Flaherty to acknowledge the cast member who didn’t like the Sid Dithers character. There’s more than enough useful content and amusement to make this one worth a listen.

As for the Short/O’Hara discussion, it presents a major disappointment. They mostly just watch the show and laugh. Very little good information pops up here, as instead they kid around and go silent quite often. In fact, O’Hara encourages this, as she wants them to hush up and listen to the gags. A few funny moments emerge – such as when the pair do dueling Hepburns – but this track largely exists as an exercise in frustration.

The rest of the extras spread across the various discs. On DVD One, we get two elements: Hinterland Who’s Who (two minutes, five seconds) and Goin’ Down the Road (7:52). Both of these let us see the elements that inspired sketches on the “CBC” episode. “Who” shows a couple of short segments with animals, while “Road” mostly offers comments from Flaherty and actor Jayne Eastwood. They discuss the parody and the source material. Unfortunately, we only see a few brief shots of the original Road film; I’d have preferred more excerpts from it so we could better compare it to the parody. Since Flaherty also conveys some of the information in the commentary, this piece isn’t as valuable as expected.

Over on DVD Two, we get some home movies entitled SCTV At Play. This eight-minute and 19-second snippet shows parts of a 1982 softball game between the show’s cast/writers and the crew. We get lots of shtick from the cast in this amusing look at the folks on their down time.

The most significant and useful extra comes to us on DVD Three with SCTV Remembers Part Four. The 30-minute and 41-second program features remarks from Martin Short. He talks about his start in show business, how he came to SCTV, and some of his characters and sketches. We see too many show clips but Short’s comments offer lots of good information and make this a valuable feature.

DVD Four presents the 12-minute and 11-second Sammy Maudlin at Second City. In July 2004, Joe Flaherty did a week-long stint on the Second City – Toronto stage and reprised his Sammy Maudlin character there. We see some snippets of his work along with a discussion of the bits and his guest stars. It looks like you can’t go home again, as the modern Maudlin doesn’t seem funny. Nonetheless, it’s kind of cool to get a look at this work.

Heading to DVD Five, we find SCTV – The Producers, Part Two. This four-minute and 22-second featurette offers remarks from producer Len Stuart as he discusses his partnership with Andrew Alexander, the development of the series, and its move to NBC. The program provides a decent general overview, but fans will already know a lot of this info from other pieces on prior sets, so don’t expect revelations here.

The video extras finish with DVD Six’s The Red Fisher Show. The five-minute and 50-second snippet lets us see the inspiration for Gil Fisher, the Fishin’ Musician. The real Red goes on a fishing trip with baseball great Ferguson Jenkins. It’s a hoot to watch this because we can see just how close the SCTV people came to their target; they really replicated the Fisher program to a “T”. Too bad the segment ends before we get to the big ending Fisher promises.

Some non-video extras finish the set. A fine 20-page booklet offers lots of information. We get an introduction from producer Andrew Alexander plus an essay from writer John McAndrew. The booklet details all the episodes’ chapters and the extras, and we also get some photos as well as the lyrics to “I Hate the Queen”. Eight trading cards depict the major cast members of the series and present notes about a few characters.

Since SCTV lost three major cast members for its fifth season and only added one new person, it probably should have gone in the toilet. However, the show maintained the same high level of quality most of the time and finished its network run well. The DVDs present acceptable picture quality, though the visuals seem a little weaker than in the past. We hear some minor auditory improvements, though, and we get a decent little set of extras. With 12 episodes, this is the best value yet of the four SCTV releases. I heartily recommended all of them, so I’ll do so again for Volume Four.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4285 Stars Number of Votes: 49
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