Call me an oddball, but I never found “SCTV” funny. I distinctly recall trying repeatedly to sit through the episodes when they were in first-run, but except for one wonderfully dumb skit (about the World War II Italian Army marching off to battle waving white flags and chanting “Hello, G.I. Joe, don’t shoot!”), I never once laughed at anything “SCTV” put forward.
This six-disk DVD set captures the fifth season’s episodes of “SCTV” from 1982 and 1983 caught my attention because I thought perhaps I was too young and unsophisticated to have appreciated “SCTV” when it was new. Visiting the episodes again two decades later, I believe that the problem is not with me – “SCTV” is just not funny, whether it is being viewed by a teenager or a 40-year-old.
Compared to “Saturday Night Live” or even the lamented “Fridays” (the “SNL” ripoff best known for Andy Kaufman’s bizarre disruption of two episodes), “SCTV” seemed like a public access self-indulgence: cheaply made, badly directed, poorly acted and never coming close to generating real belly laughs. Some of the ideas for skits were clever: “The Bowery Boys in the Band” had guest Robin Williams playing Leo Gorcey and Martin Short as Huntz Hall weirdly transposed into the notorious gay birthday drama – but the jokes never materialized, the imitations were ghastly (especially Williams, who couldn’t do Leo Gorcey if his life depended on it) and the entire skit died within minutes of its launch.
Likewise, mock-commercials such as an election pitch urging voters to reject an attempt to adopt Esperanto as the new primary language were pointless (unless you think Esperanto is amusing to listen to). An Ed Grimley routine in which he teaches a “Sunrise Semester” class about snakes and winds up being hypnotized by a cobra should offer irrefutable proof as to why Martin Short never found a solid niche. A spoof of “Masterpiece Theatre” called “Jane Eyrehead” is painfully awful, especially when the Rochester character comes out speaking like Jack Benny’s valet (and if you don’t get that joke, it is okay – it was never worth getting).
The only genuine laughs come from, of all things, the musical interludes. America, John Cougar Mellencamp and (of all people) Ben Vereen show up for tuneful diversions which show them at their least interesting. Their numbers are juiceless and pointless, to be certain, but the unintentional laughs they generate compensates for the lack of laughs the alleged funnymen serve up.