Screw SNL; the real outlaw genius pioneers of late-night TV satire were on SCTV, the imaginary network conjured up in the '70s and '80s by John Candy, Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas, Rick Moranis, Joe Flaherty, Martin Short, and a few close friends. They really were friends, a rarity in showbiz and a startling contrast to the gory shark-pit SNL culture.
At SNL, skits were written, rehearsed to death, and sloppily shot live within a week. As the in-depth interviews and commentaries accompanying this five-disk set indicate, the SCTV gang collaborated collegially and at greater length, writing and shooting with multiple cameras, polishing and complicating their own coherent parallel universe. In that universe, Taxi Driver's stars are Woody Allen, Gregory Peck, and Levy's doddering Sid Dithers; Evita becomes Indira ("Don't cry for me, Rawalpindi!"); Fantasy Island becomes a Bob Hope Road picture, then Casablanca and The Wizard of Oz; Andy Griffith's and Merv Griffin's shows become one; and O'Hara's edge-dwelling chanteuse, Lola Heatherton, vows to any viewer who pledges $5,000 during pledge week, "I will bear your children!"
This collection features the first nine 90-minute episodes seen on NBC in 1981. Purists may kvetch, because these are slightly rejiggered versions of the original 30-minute shows made in Canada in the '70s, with new musical interludes done at studio insistence to ape SNL and hype SCTV's never-titanic ratings. The show only became great because it gestated for years in the frozen north, for $3,000 an episode, far from studio greed and formulas. And it was the difficulty of securing rights for the NBC-mandated song sequences that delayed SCTV's DVD debut for so unconscionably long.
But fans should quit whining. It's here, and there is no DVD I've yearned for more. If you've never seen Candy as oily Johnny La Rue, reduced after the bomb of his Polanskian opus Polynesiantown to the one-man hell of the show Street Beef, I envy you.
Also out June 15 are 50 First Dates, in which Drew Barrymore forgets Adam Sandler every morning; Touching the Void, the harrowing docudrama about a Peruvian climbing expedition gone horribly awry; The Wedding Banquet, Ang Lee's deft 1993 comedy of manners; and Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Second Season, with Larry David starring as himself.