Relive great moments from SCTV and P.D.Q. Bach

Critics' picks: New DVDs

October 22, 2006|By TIM SMITH

SCTV -- BEST OF THE EARLY YEARS -- Shout! Factory / $39.95

Even its fans tend to describe SCTV in relation to Saturday Night Live, claiming it was an edgier version of SNL, or a more unified version, or one with a less-political edge. But SCTV, a Canadian import that debuted in 1976, stands just fine on its own. In fact, save for perhaps the first two or three seasons of SNL, SCTV may represent the most inventive sketch comedy to be seen on television since the days of Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows.

It certainly proved just as fertile a comedic breeding ground as its more famous neighbor to the south. SCTV (which stood for Second City Television, reflecting the Chicago comedy-club roots of many of the cast members) introduced audiences to John Candy, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara and Rick Moranis. "The Great White North," a recurring feature in which Moranis and Dave Thomas played Bob and Doug McKenzie, a couple of beer-guzzling, bacon-eating, parka-clad chowderheads whose favorite expression was "eh," was every bit as funny as any appearance by the Coneheads. And the Canadian show's framework, which offered a fictional television network -- SCTV -- on which all these shows were being broadcast, helped maintain a level of hilarity more consistent than the helter-skelter approach employed by SNL.

Best of the Early Years offers 15 episodes culled from 1978 to 1980, when the series was available in the United States only through syndication. (It would be picked up by NBC in May 1981 and air on Friday nights through June 1983.) Cast members come and go -- Moranis isn't on the earliest episodes that are included here, and even Candy disappears for a time -- but early incarnations of all the great SCTV characters are here. There's loudmouth station manager Edith Prickley (Andrea Martin); unregenerate flooze Lola Heatherton (O'Hara), who seems to want to bear everyone's children; and the proudly vain and spectacularly sleazy Sammy Maudlin (Levy), with his signature "How are ya!" greeting.

Extras include an interview with Martin, commentaries with cast members Joe Flaherty and Robin Duke, and a 20-year-old Canadian TV newsmagazine segment (no joke!) on the McKenzies and their influence.

Chris Kaltenbach

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

P.D.Q. BACH IN HOUSTON: WE HAVE A PROBLEM --Acorn Media/ $19.99 P.D.Q. Bach, "the last and least" of Johann Sebastian Bach's many children, has been assaulting, and cracking up, audiences for about 40 years now. This amazing fellow -- actually the creation of composer and humorist Peter Schickele -- is responsible for such instantly regrettable classics as the Schleptet in E-flat, the "Unbegun" Symphony and Iphigenia in Brooklyn (with a great role for "bargain countertenor").

These items and more can be savored on this DVD release, recorded live in Houston. Although Schickele, attired in his usual tails and work boots, tells the crowd that "In the great quarry of music, P.D.Q. Bach is a stone better left unturned," he proceeds to dish out the ingenious parodies with contagious enthusiasm. There could be a little less talk in between the music, and not all the gags hit the spot, but the show makes an ideal introduction for the uninitiated and a fun reminder for the well-acquainted.

Extras include a guide to P.D.Q.'s innumerable "borrowings" in the "Unbegun" Symphony.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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