The latest SCTV compilation from Shout Factory is a pretty uneven one, compiling all twelve episodes of the fifth season that ran on NBC from 1982 through 1983. Catharine O'Hara had more or less left the show, which hurt things a bit but thankfully Martin Short was brought in and proved to be exceptionally good for the series, creating some classic characters for which he is still remembered today. However, with Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis missing in action, the consistency just wasn't as strong as earlier seasons were. There's still plenty of great humor and parody to be found in this material though, and fans of the quirky Canadian series should find a lot to enjoy with this collection, even by this point in time the shows best years were definitely behind it.
The Sammy Mauldin 23rd Anniversary Show/CBC: The fourth seasons kicks off with this very uneven episode. It starts off with some clever bits where Mauldin looks back on his show, highlighted by some great clips from his 'earlier years' such as Andrea Martin as Lorna Minelli, eating a fly during her performance. From there it gets into the dispute between Guy Cabellaro and the SCTV janitors which shuts down the station to the point where they have to broadcast old Canadian Broadcasting Corporation material. The CBC material is hysterical, especially the curling bits, but the spots that lead up to it and show up in between these segments is weak.
Indecent Exposure: This one is a special episode as it served as the debut of two of Martin Short's better characters, Ed Grimley Jr. and Jackie Rogers. Harold Ramis also returns to the show for this episode only, as a character named Crazy Legs Herschmann. A very random sampling of skits, this episode is definitely more consistently funny than the first one, thanks to some brilliant work from John Candy in a great Jerry Lewis send up. Other highlights in this one include the aforementioned Martin Short bits and a hilarious send up of 12 Angry Men
Melonvote: There's an election going on in SCTV land for this episode, so the theme for this one is political campaigns and the insanity that is often times inherent in them. This is filled in with news broadcast skits that work well within the political themes as they tend to go hand in hand with one another, and the continuity in this episode is the strongest on the set. Again, John Candy as Tommy Shanks steals the spotlight in what has to be the funniest moment in this hour long broadcast, but the debut of Martin Short's Brock Linahan: television interviewer, is still as funny now as it has ever been. Ed Grimley shows up again in this one, a stand out episode in the set.
Jane Eyrehead: The big deal about this episode is that Robin Williams (before he ruined a great career with schmultzy roles like Patch Adams) shows up. His performance as a television evangelist is hilarious, as is his piece as John Houseman doing a dramatic reading of the phone book. Two of the more dominant bits in this episode, the title skit and the Bowery Boys knock off, don't fly as high as they could have which drags this episode down a few notches but it isn't without its funnier moments. America shows up to perform a song, but it isn't done very well and it feels out of place. Candy shines once again, however, and he saves the skits that he appears in.
The Towering Inferno: The running joke in this one is the obvious parody of the famous disaster movie, and it works really, really well here. The highlight of the episode is hands down Joe Flaherty's killer impersonation of a grizzled and angry Charlton Heston but we're also treated to some good Rat Pack/Sinatra send off courtesy of Count Floyd, and a fun bit where John McAndrew, one of the writers, do a solo piece about Shakespeare. Overall, a very solid entry.
Christmas: The theme for this one is that John Candy as Johnny LaRue is out to snag as many Christmas gifts as he can from Santa Clause. In between this running story are various bits, some of which work better than others and some of which don't work at all. Highlights include Catherine O'Hara's return in which she plays Lucille Ball and joins County Floyd for a Christmas Special. Ed Grimley's take on the holiday season is easily the best part of this episode, the rest of it is too sugary sweet and just plain not funny.
A Star Is Born: The running gag on this episode is that it's serving as an SCTV version of a day time soap opera, the often recurring Days Of The Week. The results are mixed, but again there are a few shining moments of comedic brilliance in here if you want to sit through the less impressive pieces to find them. Martin Short shines though doing a dead on Dustin Hoffman impersonation here, and Joe Flaherty is fun as Kris Kirstofferson. Crystal Gale shows up as the musical guest and while she's very pretty to look at, her performance here is nothing short of dull. This episode is a very mixed bag indeed.
SCTV Classifieds/Vic Arpeggio: Short is at his comedic best in this episode where he plays a character named Rusty Van Reddick in a sitcom send up in which he is the lead, spoofing actors who settle into roles and live them out for the rest of their careers. Andrea Martin is very funny in a Cagney and Lacey parody, and Short fills in a few spots with some fun commercial parodies. Candy is excellent as a German home improvement wizard with an angry vicious dog at his side, and Sammy Mauldin shows up again in this exceptionally good episode.
Bobby Bittman's Retirement: This particularly unfunny and rather dramatic episode obviously focuses on Bittman's retirement. That's the bulk of the material covered in this segment and the results are middling at best but there are, as always, a few spots in this one that do shine. John Candy in The William B. Show is great, branching out from the role of sidekick into his own format where he fails miserably. Martin Short shows up as Irving Cohen, composer, in the first of a few appearances for that character and the results are quite good in that he really brings that snobby sense of artistry to life.
Sweeps Week: The running joke in this one is a send up of Tobe Hooper and Stephen Spielberg's Poltergeist which works reasonably well. There's also a lot of material here involved in supposedly boosting the ratings – it is sweeps week after all – which lends to a lot of TV parodies. Andrea Martin does a good job as the creepy psychic lady in the Poltergeist knock off bits, and once again John Candy is the highlight of a mediocre episode with his portrayal of Merlin Olsen, one of the acclaimed late night stars brought in just in time for sweeps week at the station.
South Sea Sinner: Betty Thomas shows up as a guest star in this episode for a pretty funny film parody. Jackie Rogers Jr. playing Jackie Rogers is a clever piece, as is John Candy's stand out performance as Andrea Martin's horrifying new boy toy. A few of the skits don't work at all though and they tend to drag this one down a bit, which is a real shame as the good bits in this one are quite exceptional and very, very clever at the same time. Betty Thomas as Coral, the tough chick, is brilliant though, and that sketch alone makes this one completely worth your while.
Midnight Cowboy II: The last of the NBC episodes is a very strong one, with guest appearances from Catharine O'Hara and the one and only Carol Burnett adding to the enjoyment and humor. A great Sex Pistols parody band called The Queen Haters is a stand out moment, and Martin Shot is hilarious as Lawrence Urbach, a geographically impaired idiot. John Candy plays Dr. Tongue in the Midnight Cowboy parody that runs throughout the episode, and his performance is really good and stands as one of the best bits in the entire series. Eugene Levy does a mean Neil Sedaka bit, while Short returns once more as Brock Linahan.
The episodes were all shot and broadcast in fullframe 1.33.1, and that's exactly how we get them here (as it should be). The image quality, though far from perfect, isn't bad for a television show originally recorded over two decades ago. There is very little in the way of print damage – the image is quite clean throughout, though there are some times where the picture is a little flat looking. For the most part, color reproduction look decent and the black levels are pretty strong, but there is some inconsistency here and there are a few spots where you'll notice some delineation in quality there. Luckily, that's the worst of it. There aren't any compression problems and edge enhancement, while present, is minimal pretty much at a all times.
The English Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack gets the job done well enough. There are a few moments where some of the dialogue is a wee bit on the harsh side and pretty much the entire set sounds a little bit flat, but anyone who has seen any of these episodes before knows to expect a little bit of that and on that level, this set is okay in the audio department. It could have been polished up a little bit more and there could have been a little punch added to it, but none of that was done. Thankfully, the quality as it stands is at least acceptable, even if it isn't great. Optional English closed captioning is also available.
The extras in this six disc set are spread across the entire package rather than confined to one disc. A twenty page booklet containing two written pieces from SCTV writer John McAndrew and detailing which skits are contained in which episode (and on which disc!) is also included inside of the packaging, as are two sheets of four trading cards with some of the more memorable characters' faces on them. Here's what you'll find in terms of extra features on the actual DVDs themselves, and where you'll find it…
DISC ONE: One the Sammy Maudlin 23rd Anniversary episode we're treated to a lively commentary track from performers Martin Short and Joe Flaherty. This is a pretty interesting discussion and it covers not only where a lot of the ideas for the material come from, but also some fun behind the scenes gossipy bits as well. Flaherty doesn't speak too highly of Catharine O'Hara here, which is interesting, and Short has fun trying to get Flaherty to admit to certain weaknesses in some of the material in which they were involved to amusing results. While the talk is a bit unfocused at times, there's definitely enough content in here to make it worth a listen for fans of the show.
Also on this disc are two clips from some of the original CBC material that inspired the gags that were used in the Mauldin episode – Hinterland Who's Who and Going Down The Road. I'm not sure if this material is funny to anyone who didn't grow up watching the CBC, but I found it a pretty hilarious trip down memory lane and it was fun to see where the writers got their ideas from. The comments from Flaherty and Jayne Eastwood that play over top of this material is pretty witty, although it would have been nice to be able to see the clips in their entirety without the anecdotes playing in and among them.
DISC TWO: On this disc is a behind the scenes segment entitled SCTV At Play that runs for just under twenty minutes in length. This material is comprised of home movie footage that was shot when the writers of the show challenged the actors to a baseball game. This is a fun look at the cast members relaxing off the set and just out having run. I don't know how many times anyone would want to go back to it, but it's kind of neat to watch it once.
DISC THREE: Martin Short and Catherine O'Hara provide a very lackluster commentary track for the second episode on this disc, Christmas. It's lackluster in that O'Hara doesn't really say much about anything of interest and really just sits there enjoying the episode and laughing at various bits and pieces. Short tries to get a few words in and brighten things up here and there but it's too little too late and there's really nothing of interest contained in this discussion. There are also numerous instances of dead air, where neither participant has anything to say at all.
SCTV Remembers Part 4 is a half hour long documentary that is basically made up of Martin Short explaining his life in comedy and how he got his start at SCTV. He details how he came on board at the show and how it influenced his life from then on, as well as where he got a lot of the ideas for many of the characters that he played on the series. There are plenty of clips from throughout the series used to illustrate his comments and this one is definitely worth your time if you're a fan of Martin Short.
DISC FOUR: Joe Flaherty brought his Sammy Mauldin character back from the grave for a performance at the Second City theater in Toronto in July of 2004, and the twelve minute Sammy Mauldin At Second City segment captures this return to form for Flaherty. While some of the jokes work better than others and some of the material has aged nicely while some has gotten rather ripe, it's fun to see Flaherty doing his thing in front of a live audience who seem rather appreciative of his abilities. Flaherty adds some comments discussing the performance in between clips captured on stage, and this is also quite worth your while.
DISC FIVE: The only extra feature on this DVD is a quick, four and a half minute clip entitled The Producers Part 2 which is a brief discussion with SCTV producer Len Stuart. Len covers his relationship with Andrew Alexander, who was the co-producer while Len was working on the show, and some of the odd things that happened between them. He also discusses how the show ended up playing on NBC and how the show grew very quickly once it was off and running.
DISC SIX: A six minute featurette entitled The Red Fisher Show demonstrates Red Fisher heading out to cast his lines with Fergie Jenkins of MLB fame. Why is this here? Because Red inspired the Gil Fisher – Fishin' Musician bits and it's kind of neat to see where the idea came from and just how closely they were able to nail Red's mannerisms and quirks which are readily apparent from the instant you see him doing this thing.
Not the strongest of the seasons released thus far on DVD, SCTV – Volume Four still offers plenty of quality laughs and some truly brilliant satire and parody. Shout Factory!'s set looks decent, if not spectacular and uneven at times, and it sounds okay but again, isn't going to blow your speakers. The extras are decent and we get more material than most TV sets offer, even if the results aren't consistently great. Overall, this one is pretty easy to recommend if you enjoyed the show, as it's really more of the same.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.