SCTV: Volume 4
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SCTV: Volume 4

For about the last year or so Shout Factory has been releasing DVD box sets of one of the funniest comedy shows on television, the now famous SCTV, Second City Television. This rag tag band of comedians gathered together in Canada and formed their troupe with little realization that it would become one of the most successful training grounds for comedians ever. Most of the alumni of this troupe have been staples of both television and film for years with little indication that their popularity would wane. While there were several incarnations of SCTV on the air what has been in this series of box sets has been the fourth season of SCTV-Playhouse 90, the 90 minute variation that ran on NBC. Volume five includes the fifth and last season that this show ran. In this season thee where several cast changes. Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas left the series to work on the film Strange Brew, a vehicle to highlight their beer guzzling Canadian McKenzie Brothers. Following shortly afterwards was the departure of Catherine O'Hara who wanted to concentrate more on her film career. On the addition side was the inclusion of Martin Short to the ensemble cast. Making appearances in this set is Harold Ramis and the perennial side kick, Fred Willard. Even though it was a bit obvious that this series was winding down it still managed to make one last hurrah. The fundamental format of a third rate television station trying its best to stay alive continued to work. While many of the gags will be a little funnier to those of us that remember the early eighties the humor stands up even after two decades.

Each episode contains basically three types of skits, commercials, programming and the behinds the scenes antics at the station. One commercial parody took on the then very popular spots for a new camera. Here, the product is hawked by a paparazzi (Martin Short) has he stalks Jackie Onasis This only leads into the first episode presented, the 23rd Anniversary of the Sammy Mauldlin Show. Maudlin (Joe Flaherty) is a washed up entertainer who has a television show that has been the air just a little too long. With his side kick William B. Williams (John Candy) he takes a look back on his career with such guests as a Liza Minnelli (Andrea Martin) and a take off of the famous Ed Ames tomahawk throwing incident on the Johnny Carson show. This is interrupted by an impending strike of sanitation workers which threatens to close the station. Owner, the white suited, wheelchair bound Guy Caballero (Joe Flaherty) immediately arranges for station manager Edith Prickley (Andrea Martin) to get shows from the Canadian Broadcast Company to keep new programming running. This includes highbrow game shows and Canadian promos. One spot is for Canadian facts, one of which since they celebrate their Thanksgiving in October it is obvious that Canadians invented it. Adding a little realism is some sketches are interrupted mid sentenced for a news break or other message. There are investigative reports by Andrea Martin as a Barbara Walters style television journalist looking into why a certain comfortable shoe, the ‘hunki-boot’ is only available by direct purchase from the source, Hungary, not in Canadian shoe stores. The cast makes this format work since they never seem to break character; they become the people they are impersonating to a tee, not maliciously but with good old fashion satire. Nothing that has ever been on television is safe from this inspired cast, children’s shows, television movies and even public service announcements are all fair game. After watching awhile I almost felt I was really watching one of the third tier stations that where around years ago. The length of the segments usually reflects what is being spoofed with movie send ups running longer than the typical comedy skit show would permit. As usual there are some guest stars that make the viewing even more enjoyable, such notables as Robin Williams, Ben Vereen and Betty Thompson wind up performing when least expected. Musical guests include America, John Cougar, Joe Walsh and Crystal Gayle.

Even with the lost of Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas the core cast here are more than enough to keep the series entertaining. These are incredibly versatile comedians who back when this series was on where just honing their skills. Sure, some of the bits where rough but considering it in context it still worked. John Candy used many of the characters he invented here later in his career. The flamboyant Johnny LaRue helped show is extroverted side while the always degraded William B. Williams afforded Candy the opportunity to play the sad clown. Andrea Martin could play just about any type of character you could imagine. Her station manager Mrs. Prickley was loud and crass in her head to toe leopard outfits. She also could portray the immigrant cleaning lady with broken English or a major star with equal ease. Martin has a natural manner about her that just reached out to the audience to accept whatever role she was presenting. The addition of Martin Short was excellent. His bag of tricks supplied a never ending supply of goofy characters to keep the show afloat during these last episodes. One of the characters that he made very popular when he moved to Saturday Night Live was the irrepressible Ed Grimly. With his single spike of hair and constant, manic motions he came to life here on SCTV, dontcha know, I must say..

As with the previously three DVD sets Shout Factory has done this one right. Considering the source material is over twenty two years old it has stood up rather well. The video is typically free of noticeable noise or defects although the color palette is often muted. Since this is supposed to be a low end television station this actually works to an advantage. The audio also will take you back to when some of us watched network shows like this on an old television with a single tiny speaker. There are some extras sprinkled throughout the six disc set. On disc one there is a commentary track with Joe Flaherty and Martin Short who look back and recall these formative years. On disc two there is a little SCTV at Play behind the scenes look. The Christmas episode on disc three features the second commentary track with Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara. An in character interview with Sammy Mauldlin is to be found on disc four. Disc five has part two of the Producers segment which started in the third box set. The last disc has an episode of the Red Fisher Show. While this set will mostly appeal to those of us out there that can get the eighties references even the younger viewers will be won over by the sheer talent of this cast.

Posted 9/23/05

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