You can't be a film critic and not feel melancholy about the passing of Ebert & Roeper, yet another sad milestone in the imminent death of film criticism. It is truly the end of an era. Ebert's always been a hero and an inspiration. At the risk of sounding disingenuous, it was an honor just be rejected as a guest critic on Ebert & Roeper. It really was. So I couldn't help but feel a little wistful when today's kick-ass episode of SCTV opened with "Gene Shalit's Critic's Special", a variety-show spoof where the owner of the world's greatest walrus mustache and caterpillariest eyebrows mugs and sings his way through songs and sketches alongside Dave Thomas' Roger Ebert, Joe Flaherty's Gene Siskel and Catherine O'Hara's Rona Barrett.
It's a pitch-perfect spoof of both tacky variety shows (that trickiest, most elusive of satirical targets) and soundbite-driven TV film criticism. Plus, it offers the beguiling spectacle of Siskel & Ebert doing the robot while dressed in sequined hats and what appears to be Mork from Ork's discarded wardrobe. In honor of Siskel and Ebert and, oh what the heck, Roeper, here's a clip:
Catherine O'Hara's Lola Heatherton has always struck me as a bit of a one-note character, a screaming, pill-popping, catchphrase-spouting ("I love you so much it's scary!", "I wanna bear your children!") spoof of ditzy nightclub/variety-show glamour girls like Joey Heatherton and Lola Falana. Ironically, if people today know Heatherton or Falana at all, it's probably as inspirations for O'Hara's desperately sad, outwardly ecstatic show-biz monstrosity.
But today's episode, "Bouncin' Back To You", invests a glib caricature with remarkable depth and sadness. Though there are plenty of other brilliant sketches, like "Jake Lamotta's Raging Bull-B-Que" and "The Nobel", the show really belongs to O'Hara's signature character. O'Hara's Heatherton's downward spiral begins when she gives a drugged-up, deliciously manic-depressive interview with Dave Thomas' Bill Needle to promote her upcoming special, "Bouncin' Back To You", that veers from her usual psychotic cheerfulness to paranoid, druggy despair.
An alarmed Guy Caballero cancels Heatherton's special after she pops pills on live TV. "You cancelled my special like you cancelled our love!" Heatherton bleats, leading to a genius sight gag where Cabellero thinks back to the good times he once shared with Heatherton. We then flash back to Heatherton running deliriously towards Cabellero in an open field in a flashback filmed with a Vaseline-smeared lens that reduces Heatherton and Cabellero (rolling through a field in the wheelchair he uses "for respect") to smudgy abstractions. "I had to cancel our love. It wasn't doing well in the overnights" frets Cabellero.
Rumors of Heatherton's downward spiral rock the studio to the point where Eugene Levy's Earl Camembert goes on the air to deliver an amusingly insulting eulogy for Heatherton, only to be informed by Flaherty's Floyd Robertson that Heatherton is sleeping in her dressing room. Heatherton eventually gets her special but is taken off the air when she goes off script and starts railing against Guy Cabellero and every other man that ever loved and left her. In a perfect capper to one of the more tight, compelling narrative arcs in SCTV history, the show concludes with a loving parody of Wizard Of Oz where it's revealed that Heatherton had been dreaming in her dressing room all day, and Johnny Larue was there, and Earl Camembert and Guy Cabellero and Auntie Em and even little Toto. The Lola Heatherton story is funny but it's also surprisingly poignant. She's a good time girl whose good times always seem to end in loneliness and heartbreak.
I haven't written enough about O'Hara, a phenomenally gifted, eclectic actress with the looks to convincingly play sexpots like the wife from Raging Bull (in this episode's awesome Jake Lamotta parody) and Faye Dunaway in Chinatown (in Polynenesiantown) and the guts to play creepy, desperate monsters like Lola Heartherton.
The episode's "Movie Of The Week" is a genius parody of the crazed 1966 showbiz melodrama The Oscar (which I bought on Ebay after watching the sketch), another half-forgotten bit of pop-culture ephemera perhaps best known today for inspiring a great SCTV sketch. Fun fact: The Oscar was co-written by Mr. Harlan Ellison. The SCTV gang has enormous fun transferring the boozy, sordid shenanigans of Jaquelline Sussan-style inside-showbiz pulp to the rarified world of medicine.
All that plus The Tubes visiting Gil Fisher, the Fishing Musician and a fake coffee ad featuring Rick Moranis' rage-filled John McEnroe. I loved this performance so much it's scary! Since I'm doling out long-overdue props I'd also like to praise SCTV's make-up and costume department. They did a fantastic job transforming a handful of actors into a dazzling array of celebrities and comical characters week in and week out. Huzzah, sayeth I, huzzah.
Today's episode worked on a micro and a macro level, with great sketches, a strong overarching plot and lots of wonderful character moments. I've only got one more episode left to cover this season, then I'll probably be moving on to season three of Saturday Night Live. Here's my question for you, dear reader: should I return to cover future installments of SCTV for TV Club after I write up SNL's third season? Man, am I going to miss this show.
Grade: A Stray Observations– –Flaherty doesn't really nail Siskel's very distinctive, almost hypnotic delivery but I like his performance all the same –The make-up is especially on point in the Raging Bull-B-Que sketch, where Candy, Moranis and O'Hara very convincingly look like Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty –How perfect is Levy as Gene Shalit?