Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
I think it was film critic Roger Ebert who once said he felt sad after watching his last unseen Marx Brothers movie, because it meant he would never again experience a film of theirs that was new to him. I know exactly how he felt, because earlier this week—and nearly 33 years after the fact—I finally watched the last episode of my favorite television program of all time, the Canadian sketch comedy show SCTV. And just like Roger, after the end credits played out, and I knew it was over for good, I too felt a little sad.
SCTV—the acronym for Second City Television—aired its final installment on the pay channel Cinemax (and on Superchannel in Canada) on July 17, 1984, ending a seven-year run that saw it go from 30-minute syndicated programs to two seasons of 90-minute shows on NBC, and then finally to an 18-episode stint on the above-mentioned pay cable channels, where the show’s length was cut to 45 minutes and the cast was cut to four. What began with a team of Joe Flaherty, Dave Thomas, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, John Candy, and Harold Ramis, and would later see the addition of new cast members Rick Moranis and Martin Short, had been whittled down to just Flaherty, Martin, Levy, and Short for that final season.
My friends and I had discovered the half-hour shows when they first aired here in the US, during our freshman year of high school, and I soon introduced SCTV to my brother Scott, who became hooked along with the rest of us. At last, we’d found a television show that understood our sense of humor! Many late-night Fridays and Saturdays were spent watching this goofy little comedy, and when NBC announced that they’d soon be televising the show—an hour-and-a-half of it—every Friday night at 12:30 am, we were ecstatic. And we loved these new SCTV Network 90 shows; the production value had gone up, the writing had improved, and the skits were not only funnier, but smarter and more complex. Every Friday night I’d race home from my nighttime job at a local supermarket to sit down with Scott and enjoy our weekly dose of comedy heaven, not once thinking it would ever end.
Sadly, thanks to the numbnuts at NBC, it did come to an end, on a June night in 1983, after two short but glorious seasons on the air. I was in shock; I remember the exact day when I looked in the TV Guide to check on that week’s episode, and in the synopsis saw these words: Last show of the series. Say WHAT! And then I noticed the episode was a repeat…how in the world did I miss it the first time around, back in March? As you can imagine, the news of the cancellation was devastating to me, and at that point, I thought I’d truly seen my last SCTV.
But less than a year later, after I’d arrived home from another late shift at work, I found a note from Scott which contained some surprising news: he’d somehow stumbled upon a brand-new episode of SCTV earlier that night on Cinemax! At the time, our family couldn’t afford the luxury of pay channels, but for those of you old enough to remember, what we did have were cable boxes, and with careful manipulation of the box dial, the scrambled signal could be somewhat straightened, and the picture thus watchable. And so whenever we could find an episode, that’s how we’d watch it: through a fuzzy haze of bent lines and twisting images.
That summer our family moved to a small country town where cable wasn’t available, and though I’d been able to catch most of the eighteen Cinemax episodes that aired before our departure, I never did have the chance to see the final one. It would be another twenty years before I’d be able to watch any episode of SCTV again, when the NBC seasons were released on DVD, and though I was grateful for having those two seasons in my possession, I still eagerly awaited the release of that final season on Cinemax. Which unfortunately never happened.
So, you must be asking yourself by now: how and when did I ever watch that last episode? Well, jump forward to 2014, when I did one of my semi-annual searches on-line for anything SCTV, and found that someone had taken his original collection of Cinemax episodes, transferred them from VHS to disc, and was now selling the entire set for a mere twenty bucks! I jumped on that offer like white on rice, and over the next two years I slowly savored every one of those first seventeen episodes, in all their faded, tracking-lined, warped-over-time glory. Though the season—now called SCTV Channel—wasn’t quite up to par when compared to the NBC offerings, there was still a lot to be loved, including Canadian Gaffes and Practical Amusements, the Oliver Twist take-off Oliver Grimley, and the wonderful mash-up of the German U-boat film Das Boot and the teen sex comedy Porky’s, called Das Boobs.
And that eighteenth and final episode? Well, it took me another year, but I finally caved in and sat down to watch it, late on the night of my birthday…one last present to myself for the day. And trust me, it was quite strange to be watching an episode that was so new, and yet so old; a missing link awakened from a long hibernation. Interesting, too, was that the entire episode concentrated on a pledge drive for the SCTV station, with different station characters—including Bobby Bittman, Count Floyd, and a surprise appearance from Catherine O’Hara as Lola Heatherton—begging viewers for money. There were no skits, but instead a comically dubbed presentation of the Bette Davis movie Of Human Bondage, here titled The Steve Bashekis Story, which played throughout the drive.
And then—all too suddenly—it was over. With only $111 pledged, the station was kaput, and when station owner and president Guy Caballero hurried off to take a call from his mistress, station manager Edith Prickley remained to give a short speech and say goodbye. The familiar end credits rolled, the familiar end credits music played, and it was done.
At the very end of Dave Thomas’s book SCTV: Behind the Scenes, fellow cast member Joe Flaherty makes a statement that, to me, sums up what it was like to be a part of that show. He said, “We will never have that chance again. We will never get that kind of shot at it.” And like my final viewing, I will never have that chance again to watch a ‘new’ episode of SCTV. Thankfully, I’ve got all those seasons on disc to enjoy whenever I want; in fact, I think I’ll watch an early episode tonight, and start the cycle all over again.