Now would probably be a good time to bring up two banes of SCTV lovers' existence: canned laughter and reruns. The laugh track generally doesn't bother me because I'm often drowning it out with laughter of my own. But the show's reliance on repeats can be a little vexing, especially since there's an awful lot of crossover between the sketches repeated in the SCTV Network 90 DVDs and SCTV: The Best of The Early Years.
At the same time, the show's heavy use of repeats to pad out its 90-minute episodes is understandable. Why deny NBC audiences the opportunity to see such stone-cold classics as Yellowbelly and Dick Cavett interviewing Dick Cavett just because they were old news to a bunch of Canadian comedy geeks? Besides, these sketches hold up beautifully to repeat viewing. I've probably seen both of the above sketches ten times at least and could probably stand to watch them ten more times.
As you might imagine, today's episode of SCTV is chockablock with what Guy Callabero euphemistically refers to as "Golden Classics". For once, these sketches mostly merit the "classics" label. It's a veritable SCTV greatest hits compilation, interspersed with a few new bits. Of the repeats, one of my favorites is a sketch lampooning Babe Ruth's perhaps apocryphal (that's a fancy word for "probably made up") deathbed meeting with a terminally ill child who asks him to hit a home run just for him.
The sketch begins with an adorable, sickly moppet asking John Candy's to hit first one, then two home runs for him. Candy acquiesces with a smile but begins visibly worried when he then requests a home run over the scoreboard, topped off by a climactic inside-the-park homer. Emboldened, the dying boy then demands that Ruth eat fifty hot dogs while spinning around and get him a baseball autographed by every player in the league. Candy plays the scene beautifully, getting more uncomfortable and agitated with each ridiculous demand. Finally, a sketch with the brass-iron cojones to mock terminally ill children.
The Cavett on Cavett sketch is equally perfect. Moranis' characteristically pitch-perfect Cavett sycophantically introduces his idea of a perfect guest: himself. It's a quietly devastating takedown of Cavett's narcissism, shameless name-dropping, sycophancy and soothing, NPR-ready purr. I interviewed Cavett a while back and was delighted to see him once again ensconced in delightful self-parody but I regret not having asked him about Moranis' scathing parody. I don't whether he'd be flattered or shattered.
In other Golden Classics, Joe Flaherty's incompetent, continually thwarted horror-movie host and howling enthusiast Count Floyd meets Ingmar Bergman when "Whispers Of The Wolf" plays "Monster Chiller Horror Theater". Back when The A.V Club shared an office with the comedy writers, the funny folk used to have something called "The Two Percent Rule"; if a story or an idea flew over the heads of ninety-eight percent of the Onion's audience it was still worth doing, since you'd hook in the two percent that did the reference for life.
The SCTV gang seemed to be big believers in the "Two Percent Rule". Who else would do multiple Ingmar Bergman parodies (at least one of which perfectly cross-pollinated the gloomy art auteur with Jerry Lewis) or devote valuable television real estate to an extended parody of the half-forgotten cult TV show Johnny Stacatto, about a hipster beatnik jazz musician (played by Johnny Cassavettes) who moonlights as a private detective?
"Southside Fracas" gets its title from one of the few new sketches, a sitcom about a bickering, angry WASP family called The Fracases and musical guest Southside Johnny and The Jukes, who play the wedding of the Fracases' Poindexter son (Rick Moranis). Now would probably be a good time to hail Dave Thomas one of the great angry screamers of comedy. Some comic performers are preternaturally gifted at playing angry men with short fuses who yell a lot and seem perpetually apoplectic (quick, try saying that fast three times in a row). On Mr. Show, Bob Odenkirk played that role to perfection. On Human Giant, Rob Huebbel does the lion's share of the screaming and hollering and carrying on. John Cleese reigned as the Python gang's preeminent angry young man. On SCTV Dave Thomas was the go-to guy to play frustrated, screamy fonts of rage and anger. His signature character Bill Needle was never more than a few seconds away from exploding. The same can be said of his unhappy Fracas patriarch Bill Fracas, who takes center stage in a nicely observed slice of domestic and marital hell.
Thomas was similarly gifted at delivering voluminous amounts of intricate copy at breakneck speeds, a skill he shared with Eugene Levy, as evidenced by their nifty little motormouth duet "Speaking of Talk With Lou Jaffe", where cheeseball announcer guy Levy's fast-talker meets and bonds with one of his peers, Dave Thomas' equally verbal Harvey K-Tel and they trade machine-gun banter. In their precision and virtuosity, Thomas and Levy are the SCTV equivalent of Dan Aykroyd. I suspect that a fast-talking contest between these three would probably end in a draw.
Levy could be fast and furious but he was also drawn to broad, retro Vaudeville/Catskills-style shtick, most notably in the form of diminutive, cross-eyed, bespectacled, half-deaf old Jewish guy Sid Dithers, a foggy font of confusion who turns private eye in another of the episode's golden classics, "Sid Dithers, Private Eye". Good stuff but definitely not the most subtle or understated bit of comedy.
Andrea Martin similarly liked to go broad and brassy with her signature characters, tiger-print-crazed station manager Edith Prickley and crazy furinner, Perini Scleroso, who pops up to discuss illegal immigration in her trademark inscrutable fashion with Guy Caballero. I previously found this character a little broad but I'm warming up to her.
Today's episode was filled with guffaws and also chuckles not to mention tee-hee-hees and muted laughter but I can't wait for the newness to kick in. So I'm super-excited about next week's episode, which is, ah fudge, all repeats. Eh, as the old saying goes, if you haven't seen them, yet they're new to you.
Grade: B+ Stray Observations– –I really envy homeless people because they get to spend so much time outdoors. On a beautiful day like today, that's gotta be pretty sweet. That doesn't really have anything with SCTV. I just wanted to get it out there. –I missed "Maniac Mansion" when it was on the air but based on the comments here it definitely sounds like something I should check out. –Has anyone seen "Intern Academy", the film Dave Thomas wrote and directed? It looks more promising than anything called "Intern Academy" possibly should. Thomas, Dave Foley and Aykroyd all play doctors. –A friend of mine, Ben Oren, is working on a Bob and Doug Mackenzie cartoon now. Man, those characters will never die. He says Dave Thomas is a hell of a nice guy and a pleasure to work with. –Despite what the image at the beginning of this piece might seem to promise, SCTV will not be coming to Cinemax this January. I didn't want to get anyone's hopes up unnecessarily.