SCTV: Best of the Early Years

"How are ya?” Funny man Bobby Bittman’s (Eugene Levy) limp catchphrase is an unlikely place to look for the comedic heart of the SCTV beast. But it’s precisely here, in Levy’s full commitment to and the insistence on the joke (which is now more than 25 years old), where SCTV shows its legs. There are more entertaining SCTV characters, many of them from Levy himself, but Bittman’s arrogant clowning is remarkable in that it gets funnier with age. Nowhere is this more apparent than in this DVD release of SCTV’s earliest episodes. Best of the Early Years offers selected episodes spanning this beloved Canadian sketch comedy’s first four years, from the uneven, under-lit and overlong 1978 sketches through to 1981, by which time many of the series’ core characters had been established and refined. As a bonus, these episodes occur long before the Network 90 (90-minute) format bloated the show’s concept out of control. (Its half-hour per format makes this release significantly more satisfying than the other SCTV DVD releases on the market, nearly all of which follow the Network 90 format.) The best of these sketches ("Cooking with Marcello,” "Komrade Kangaroo,” "Crazy Crafts with Molly Earl”) are among the tightest, sharpest moments in the SCTV catalogue. Joe Flaherty’s direct to camera Count Floyd addresses still kill ("Monster Chiller Horror Theatre”), as do pretty much all of Rick Moranis’s uncanny impressions (Woody Allen, Dick Cavett). And the McKenzie Brothers’ improvised Great White North slots still bristle with the inspiration that made Bob and Doug (Moranis and Dave Thomas) international stars. Mostly what comes through in the early years is the cast’s remarkable synergy. There are a few misses here and some of the recurring characters grate (sorry, Edith Prickly) but as a group the cast represents an irresistible range of character types, comedic styles and improvisational chops. And there’s a generous helping of their best work scattered throughout this set’s three discs. Also noteworthy on these early episodes are the hilarious contributions of Robin Duke and Tony Rosato, who make magic together in the demented "Breakaway Bottle” sketch, among others. The most impressive of this set’s extra features is an archival segment ("Take off, eh.”) from CBC’s The Journal on the McKenzie Brothers phenomenon: "Hosermania.” (Sony)