Perhaps once a generation a television show seems to come out of nowhere and changes how we see the media of television. In the early eighties such a show hit the airwaves, Second City Television, better known simply as SC-TV by those in the know.
This troupe of young comics, based in Toronto (although it was formed in Chicago), not only changed sketch comedy on TV but impacted films and a whole generation of comedians. The format was a simple yet brilliant one; make fun of a low budget television station, SCTV. Populated by some of the most unusual characters ever this premise permitted incredibly great latitude to spoof everything from news casts to old films and commercials. With their regular characters the audience has an opportunity to get to know them; humor can be based on their specific quirks and foibles. Characters like Johnny Larue (John Candy), the over the top, flamboyant entertainer and Mrs. Falbo (Andrea Martin) the poor immigrant with a less than perfect command of English, these become people we know and can enjoy all the more. Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas as Bob and Doug McKenzie as the stereotypical beer enjoying Canadians shows that this cast is not above poking fun at themselves or their own Canadian roots. Joe Flaherty plays the self centered, handicapped, mogul wannabe, Guy Caballero, the owner of this fly by night station. He keeps the band of misfits somewhat together. The versatility of this cast is evident by the almost overwhelming number of parts they rapidly switch between.
Now some of the material may be a bit dated. The take off of Soviet Union television, CCCP1, refers to the cold war and the goods storage that plagued that country. Still, the innate humor shines through. The little shows within the shows like Russian Scrabble, where the winner gets moved up on the waiting list for a car, still remains as funny now as it was the first time I saw it. Some of the younger viewers may not catch the subtle references to some of the celebrities being sent up such as Phil Silvers and Joey Heatherton but for those of us with a few decades behind us, they imitations are dead on perfect. What works here is using great television to make fun of all those horrible little stations that where popular back then. The jokes are rapid fire, you will need to view this set many times to fully appreciate all that is being presented.
The comedians switch from doing a sketch to pulling back to ‘behind the scenes’ looks at the production all while staying in character. You start out watching a scene and suddenly the actors stop and argue about how badly each other are doing. This show is too often compared to Saturday Night live, something that is not a fair comparison. For one thing SNL depended on the live energy to carry the show. With SCTV the resulting comedy is from perfectly crafted and honed performances. Every movement, look and phrase builds together for a unique comedy experience. Included in this set are film spoofs of The Jazz Singer and The Godfather, you think you seen these films spoofed before but wait until you get a look at this twisted groups take.
Between the sketches there are even promos, ‘You are watching SCTV…. Why?’. You get coming attractions, new breaks and commercials. There where several variation of SCTV but these 90 minute episodes are among the best of the format. On the surface it’s all cheesy but pay attention, there are many levels to the comedy. If you are a frequent viewer of late night television you’ll get it right away. The loud commercials done by the shop owner, the over acting so typical of those late, late show flicks, its all here.
Many of the cast presented in SCTV: Volume 2 have gone on to become staples of film and television. Catherine O'Hara, perhaps best known as the mother that constantly left her son home alone has also directed episodes of Dream On and the Outer Limits. She is a regular of the Christopher Guest ‘mockumentaries’ like Mighty Wind and Best in Show. Actually, many members of SCTV: Volume 2 are welled used by Guest including the always amusing, often dead pan, Eugene Levy. Rick Moranis has been successful in the Ghostbuster flicks as well as the film version of Little Shop of Horrors. Of course one of the best of the lot was the late John Candy. His sense of humor was always genuine and sincere, a talent that will be greatly missed.
The unique format allows for the introduction of musical guests such as Natalie Cole, The Talking Heads, the Plasmatics and the Boomtown Rats. Instead of having a separate musical spot like SNL here they are usually incorporated right into the sketches. This gives just that little twist that makes SCTV: Volume 2 all the more special.
Shout Factory lived up to the legacy of SCTV: Volume 2 with a great DVD presentation. The packaging is far better than most television box sets. The five discs are in a slip case, each disc in its own plastic holder. As to the technical specifications Shout rose to the challenge. The Dolby stereo audio is clean; each priceless line comes across without distortion. The video no signs of aging, considering the material is over twenty years old there are almost no artifacts, no white speaks or other defects many box sets of older shows often display.
While the shows that are included on SCTV: Volume 2 are well worth the price Shout Factory goes above and beyond with the extras. There are featurettes like SCTV covering the Emmys, a retrospective look back at this unique series and behind the scenes photos. One featurette displays the lamentable talents of the Jull Haalmeyer Dancers, something I found unexpectedly funny. You also get some face time for the band of writers that helped to make SCTV: Volume 2 a high point of the early eighties.
For the older audience SCTV: Volume 2 is a delightful look back of some of the best television we have seen. For the younger demographic get SCTV: Volume 2 and see how comedy should be done.
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