Still a success in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago, the Second City theatre continues to be one of the biggest places in the country for talented comedic performers to learn and improve their craft. For decades, the Second City theatre has seen the start of greats, with Mike Meyers, John Candy, Harold Ramis, Martin Short, Bill Murray, Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Dan Ackroyd, John Belushi, Eugene Levy, Bonnie Hunt, Steve Carell, Steven Colbert and others. An additional Second City exists in Toronto, and - due to the continued rise in popularity - other Second City theatres have sprouted in New York and Los Angeles.
The Chicago comedy troupe started in the 50's by a group of University of Chicago students. The troupe has not changed a great deal over the years, as while its shows are scripted at times, improv has always been the core of the group. Early on in the documentary, Alan Arkin discusses the kind of fear that came from having to improv scenes based on audience suggestions.
While Second City faced some rocky times over the years (including closures, difficult conditions in the building, cast depatures and more), the group managed to overcome the difficulties. When "Saturday Night Live" started poaching talent from the group in the '70's, the Canadian Second City started SCTV, which became a cult hit and eventually found itself promoted to a network slot after "Saturday Night Live". The documentary's second half spends a good deal of time following the rise "SCTV" and the obstacles the group faced once it finally made its way to network TV.
Thankfully, "Second City: The First Family of Comedy" is not a simple, thrown-together piece to try and capitalize on some of the names involved within. Hosted by Dave Thomas and featuring what appear to be new interviews with many former SCTV members, this is an extensive look at the development and success of Second City from birth to the end of SCTV. The only unfortunate aspect is that it ends there, really looking very little at the Second City of today. Still, for comedy fans, this 2-hour doc is a fascinating look at where so many comedic talents got their start.
VIDEO: The documentary is presented by Acorn Media in its original 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio. Image quality is understandably lesser in some of the archive footage, but the newer interviews and other material appear crisp and clear. Some minor shimmering is seen, as is some wear on the older footage, but no pixelation or other faults are seen. Colors remained natural and never looked smeary or otherwise problematic.
SOUND: Clear stereo soundtrack, with consistently crisp, well-recorded dialogue in the interview segments.
EXTRAS: Extended interviews with Tiny Fey, Dave Thomas, Martin Short and Dan Ackroyd. These interviews run a few minutes each and continue the discussion from each regarding their early years and how Second City contributed to their success. The Ackroyd, Short and Thomas interviews offer some great tales of their early years.
Final Thoughts: "Second City: First Family of Comedy" is an enjoyable look into the history of the legendary comedy troupe. The only issue is that I would have enjoyed a deeper look into Second City's present day continued success. Audio/video quality of the presentation is fine, and the bonus interviews make for a nice (if minor) extra. Recommended.