Christmas with SCTV is another winner from Shout! Factory, featuring two holiday-themed episodes from the 1981-83 NBC series (following its 1976 debut). The two-hour-plus DVD offers just the right amount of material, and a nice alternative to the usual feast of perennial holiday specials and Christmas-themed movies. The DVD also comes with a couple of audio commentary tracks and a fun tribute to The Juul Haalmeyer Dancers.
The "SCTV Staff Christmas Party" (original airdate: 12/18/81), labeled Episode 94, finds SCTV's cast of recurring characters enjoying Christmas, including station owner Guy Caballero (Joe Flaherty), studio guard Gus Gustofferson (Eugene Levy), station manager Edith Prickley (Andrea Martin), dimwit brothers Bob & Doug McKenzie (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas), and glamorous Lola Heatherton (Catherine O'Hara). Meanwhile, Johnny LaRue, SCTV's unscrupulous, alcoholic "star," is ordered by Caballero out into the cold to host "Street Beef," despite the fact that Melonville's entire business district is shuttered for the holidays, and everyone is at home with their families.
This episode is quite good, featuring an especially funny promo for a Christmas special starring Liberace (Dave Thomas) and Elton John (Rick Moranis), and featuring Ethel Merman (Andrea Martin), and Orson Welles (John Candy), the latter mercilessly referencing Welles' infamous frozen peas commercial. Also good is an ad for "Frank Incense," a scent-dispersing bobblehead-type figure of Sinatra; and John Candy hilariously imitating Divine, singing "Santa, Bring Back My Baby to Me," pulled through the snow in a crib by scantily-dressed men. (John Waters would surely have approved.)
"Christmas with Catherine O'Hara and Andrae Crouch" (original airdate: 12/17/82), Episode 111, is more like a regular episode of the series, albeit chock-full of Christmas sketches. At this point Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis had left the series (soon to star and co-direct the underrated Strange Brew), Martin Short had joined the cast, and Catherine O'Hara was coming and going (hence the odd show title), but this episode at least suffers not at all.
Highlights include "The Fella That Couldn't Wait for Christmas," with Short's Ed Grimley too keyed up with excitement to sleep in the early hours before Christmas morning. The polka-playing Shmenge brothers, Stan (John Candy) and Yosh (Eugene Levy) invite viewers to join them and their families celebrate a traditional Latonian Christmas, complete with the ritual exchanging of the socks. Count Floyd's (Joe Flaherty) talk show is visited by Lucille Ball (O'Hara, who nails the aging comedienne) and "the kid from Deliverance" (Short). Best of all are the commercials for the Driftwood Inn (in segments narrated by Levy), which superbly captures the nuances of a faux-chic dining & lodging.
The episode is almost a direct sequel to the previous year's Christmas show. Johnny La Rue's beloved camera crane, given to him by Santa Claus at the end of the "SCTV Staff Christmas Party," is hauled away when La Rue falls deep into debt, but he convinces himself that Santa will bail him out once again, and returns to the site of Melonville's "Three-Door Mall," now razed, with a long wish list for Santa.
Video & Audio
Christmas with SCTV is presented in its original full-frame format, from a video source reflective of early-1980s technology, but both it and the mono sound are otherwise fine. Kudos to Shout! Factory for each episode's detailed index of chapter stops, which makes finding a particular sketch a breeze.
Supplements include an Audio Commentary for each episode. Andrea Martin and Catherine O'Hara, obviously still great friends after all these years, provide sketch-specific commentary on the first episode, with O'Hara joined by Martin Short on the second show, which has Martin typically full of energy and O'Hara keeping pace with the frantic comedian. Finally, Juul Haalmeyer appears on camera in a nine-minute interview (with clips) to discuss his years as SCTV's costume designer and as leader of the The Juul Haalmeyer Dancers.
Fans of SCTV won't want to miss these shows, which make great holiday viewing. The comedy is uneven, some sketches don't entirely come off, but at its best no show was funnier than SCTV.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf - The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune and Taschen's forthcoming Cinema Nippon. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.