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SCTV: "Pledge Week"

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Hey you guys,

I'd like to start off by apologizing for not posting an SCTV blog post last week. Week after week I am buried under a proverbial shitstorm of work. But last week the shitstorm was even shitstormier than usual. It could even have been the shitstormiest week ever. Incidentally, profanities tend to get out of my reviews so I'm forced to channel my profanity into these cocksucking, motherfucking, unedited blog entries.

But enough about shitstorms, cocksucking and motherfucking. On to the show! When we last caught up with the gang from Melonville, SCTV was facing financial ruin after Harry The Guy With The Snake On His Face and Sunbright Detergent pulled their ads. In desperation, Guy decided to throw a telethon to raise money for SCTV featuring the station's most beloved characters.

One of the reasons SCTV has proven so resonant for comedy geeks is its boyish, infectious, Mickey and Judy-style "Let's put on a show" quality. Today's episode, "Pledge Week", epitomizes this winning trait, showcasing the show's recurring characters at their best along with ambitious sketches about Oh Henry and Rocking Mel's 20th Anniversary, a laugh-out loud gigglefest with deep reservoirs of sadness and resignation underneath. Not to mention an especially funny installment of "Farm Film Report". "Farm Film Report" is the quintessential one-joke sketch, but oh, what a joke! John Candy and Joe Flaherty play country bumpkin who judge movies and music through a rather unique filter: does shit blow up in it? If so, it's a success. If not, it's a failure.


Accordingly, Flaherty's Big Jim and Candy's Billy Sol pan the new Godard film ("That Godard sure is obsessed with the dialectical" Candy complains), criticize Antonini's Blow Up for its shameful dearth of shit blowing up good but praise Zabriskie Point and the latest Fassbinder for their commitment to blowing stuff up. They lavish their greatest praise for fellow Canadian David Cronenberg's Scanners, the blow-uppiest movie in the history of blowing stuff up.

Meanwhile, back at the telethon, Bobby Bittman brings back his oversized prop comedy phone, pimps his book Bobby Bittman's The Complete Filmmaker, which he hears is very intelligently written and banters with Rick Moranis' glad-handing crew member. Catherine O'Hara's manic, demented Lola Heatherton reads the final monologue from Neil Simon's Out of Towners, but not before performing the entire play herself, eating up most of the telethon's running time in the process.


She's then joined by Joe Flaherty's Count Floyd, who enthuses about how scary Heatherton's performance is with uncharacteristic conviction. Count Floyd always looks ridiculous, with his half-assed vampire costume and equally half-assed Transylvanian accent but he looks particularly absurd in the context of a gaudy, well-lit telethon.

The show's b-story concerns the plight of Dave Thomas' The Elephant Man, a hooded, mysterious creature who enters the SCTV studios as part of a tour led by Catherine O'Hara's chatty tour guide and becomes the victim of an angry mob out for his thick, leathery hide. In desperation he enters a room with Candy's Dr. Tongue and Levy's Woody Tobias Jr., where they mistake him for The Fly and lurch hypnotically at him 3-D style. Candy and Levy's b-movie ghouls lurching at the camera: another recurring gag that never gets old.


Levy's pricelessly awkward Rocking Mel, meanwhile, celebrates his twentieth anniversary by welcoming back Roy Orbison (also pricelessly awkward) and showing clips from his very first show. "Mel's Rock Pile" is a parody of dance-show institutions like American Bandstand and Soul Train, where an incongruously square host presides over a dancing army of young people. Only Rocking Mel gets even less respect than Rodney Dangerfield. If Dick Clark and Don Cornelius always seem in total control of their youthful kingdom, Rocking Mel never seems in control. "Mel's Rock Pile" always teeters on the edge of total collapse. A dance-floor insurrection to overthrow Rocking Mel and install a puppet regime perpetually threatens to break out.

Mel welcomes back some of the original "Mel's Rock Pile" dancers, then shows them in the full flower of their youth. There's something strangely poignant about watching bickering, desperately unhappy married couple John Candy and Catherine O'Hara as sour middle-aged grumps, then flashing back to them as lovestruck, infatuated kids, and something deeply hilarious about watching history repeat itself on "Mel's Rock Pile" in tragicomic ways. Plus Roy Orbison! That ain't too shabby.


The show's last twenty minutes are dominated by a genius O. Henry parody. Flaherty's Hugh Betcha introduces a television production of one of the great short story writer's lesser-known works, "The Private Booth". It concerns a desperately unhappy aristocrat who visits his beloved private booth in an exclusive eatery and gloomily tells Thomas' working-class waiter of his plan to kill himself with a gunshot right then and there. An apoplectic Thomas denounces Candy for wanting to kill himself when he'd been given so much by an indulgent society while he's had to struggle tirelessly for a few meager crumbs. Thomas commandeers the gun and threatens to kill himself, only to get eaten by a lion.

This "twist" ending makes Flaherty's Hugh Betcha so angry that he travels back in time to O. Henry's life around the time he wrote "The Private Booth" in his bid to determine what could have driven such a great storyteller to write such a ridiculous ending. We learn that pretty much everyone Candy's O. Henry showed "The Private Booth" to snorted in disgust over the "lion eats the waiter" twist. In despair, O.Henry decides to kill himself, only to be eaten by a lion who is revealed to be Hugh Betcha warning writers that if they write implausible stories they're doomed to get eaten by a lion.


It's a brilliant example of what SCTV does best: create frames within frames. It begins with a funny, obscure, satirical premise then pulls back and comments on that premise in a very meta, very funny way. In a neat bit of symmetry, "Pledge Week" has a twist ending of its own. The Elephant Man's hood is ripped off to reveal a face that looks more like adorable Dumbo than John Hurt in the David Lynch film. Donations pour in from impressed viewers and Guy leaps out of his wheelchair and does a series of wildly acrobatic flips in delight. It turns out that Elephant Man is nothing more than Thomas' Bill Needle in a ridiculous disguise. It's the perfect way to end a more or less perfect show. In conclusion, may the good Lord take a liking to you and blow you up.

Grade: A Stray Observations– –Is it just me or did the moment where Rocking Mel faints while introducing Roy Orbison and Orbison grouses "Can I just do my song now?" seem like a happy accident they kept in? Do you think the line was scripted –I loved the Tommy Shanks Fireside Chat where they pull back to reveal that he's delivered his entire soothingly mindless speech to a circle of stuffed animals he then playfully throws peanuts at. It's the apex of the character's quiet, unassuming insanity.


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