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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.