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DVD Review: SCTV/Kids in the Hall

By Glenn Abel

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photo Just imagine the mess in Melonville when all those fancy plasma TVs come crashing down on the sidewalks. Bet that high-tech stuff blows up real good.

It can only mean SCTV is back -- this time in a hip and hilarious five-DVD time capsule from the early 1980s.

SCTV on DVD is brought to you by Shout! Factory, the new music and video label from Garson and Richard Foos of Rhino Records fame. Shout! is coming through loud and clear in the classic-TV business, having already this year brought out the highly recommended "Freaks and Geeks" and a timely Jack Paar collection.

The SCTV set is expensive (retail $89.90), and Shout! still is getting a handle on how to package extras, but this box is essential for anyone who howled along with the Second City gang back in the day. Viewers of a more recent vintage will find the vibe comfortable as well, partly because of the show's influence on today's TV gagsters.

Conan O'Brien, for example, says SCTV remains "The Show" for comedy performers of his generation. It was, he gushes without irony, "the most beautiful comedy show ever made."

The DVD set's title, "SCTV Network/90: Volume 1," is a head-scratching way of saying these are the first nine shows from the Canadian import's first season on NBC.

The episodes ran 90 minutes -- an eternity for the cast, which already had spent several seasons cranking out tight, insanely well-written 30-minute shows for syndication. "There's a lot of time to fill, we found out," SCTV veteran Eugene Levy says as he provides commentary on a numbing "Great White North" episode.

Many of the older shows' best bits are repurposed on these DVDs, with NBC-era wraparounds. Most of the favorites are here: Dave Thomas' killer Bob Hope impersonations, Dr. Tongue's 3-D effects, "Indira," "Mel's Rock Pile," "5 Neat Guys," "The Sammy Maudlin Show" -- classics all.

Starting out in Toronto, the show covered its measly production budget with the thematic gag that it was a small-town (Melonville) TV station. Always struggling to get through a broadcast day were such bickering crazies as Edith Prickley (Andrea Martin), Guy Cabellero (Flaherty), Johnny LaRue (John Candy), Lola Heatherton (Catherine O'Hara), Bobby Bittman (Levy) and token Canadians Bob and Doug McKenzie (Rick Moranis and Thomas). The station was so bad that viewers greeted the start of broadcasting by chucking TVs out their windows.

The DVD set seems straight out of Melonville in telling the real-life story of SCTV, with half-hour documentaries sort of stuck on each of the discs. The show's history is fairly involved, and viewers may get the feeling they missed something as cast members and producers struggle to remember it all. (A nicely put together tribute booklet helps clarify things.) Levy and Joe Flaherty provide commentary on a couple of episodes, providing the best moments in the DVD extras. Writers and craftsmen have their say, a nice touch.

Star writer Harold Ramis is on hand to stroke his chin and offer the big picture. Here's Ramis on the still-simmering rivalry between SCTV and "Saturday Night Live": "It's hard for winners to do comedy. We represented the underdog." (NBC entertainment chief Brandon Tartikoff at first envisioned a merger of the shows, an idea apparently beaten back by the SCTV cast, who roosted on late-night Fridays.)

Looming large (how else) over the SCTV legacy is John Candy, the Toronto comic who went on to movie fame and died young. The Disc 3 documentary on Candy spins some great backstage tales while clipping such characters as Yellowbelly, Orson Welles and Mayor Tommy Shanks. photo

"In Canada, you're nothing until the Americans notice you," says Scott Thompson of the Kids in the Hall. "SNL" creator Lorne Michaels (a fellow Canadian) made sure U.S. audiences took note of the Toronto comedy troupe, importing their silly and subversive series for HBO and CBS.

A&E has unleashed "The Kids in the Hall: Complete Season 1: 1989-1990" in a smart four-disc set (retail $59.95). The grown-up Kids are on hand to recall their transition from "ratty" club act to somewhat seasoned performers on Canadian TV. "You can see us change" as the year goes on, Thompson says.

The Kids churned out oddballs such as Buddy Cole the "alpha fag," the Nobody Likes Us Guys and Cabbage Head, all protected in the "happy creative bubble" that Michaels provided his charges. Cross-dressing? Why not. By far the Kids' most famous bit was Mark McKinney's bitterly neurotic Head Crusher, taking his vengeance, from afar, on offending yuppies.

The A&E package is well-organized and generous, reviving old club footage and reprinting the Rolling Stone article that brought the troupe its initial U.S. fame. "An Oral History" is a vastly entertaining 37-minute visit with the original fab five.

Glenn Abel is Executive Editor, Electronic, at The Hollywood Reporter

Reprinted, with permission, from The Hollywood Reporter

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