SCTV Network/90: Volume 1
Look at almost any Saturday Night Live episode, and you can't help but detect a smug self-centeredness, a knowing smirk in which the performer lets everyone know he knows how funny he is. There was never any such problem with SCTV, the "other" offshoot of the Second City comedy troupe that had its roots in Canada and Chicago. When Second City alums went off to SNL fame, the Canadians wanted their own fame, but the SCTV versions came and went before an ill-fated attempt to actually replace SNL on NBC in the late 1970s.
So right off the bat, a sense of defeatism hovers around the SCTV Network/90 version of the show, which lasted two seasons on NBC before its cancellation. But this was the genius of it all, for SCTV skewered the whole notion of network television with much more precision than anyone else, from the glad-handing network exec Guy Caballero (Joe Flaherty) to TV show ideas so bizarre ("The Fishing Musician") that they just might work in today's vast cable expanse.
SCTV also had a more balanced, if not star-studded, ensemble cast: Flaherty, Rick Moranis, John Candy, Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy, Dave Thomas and Andrea Martin each brought a collaborative open-mindedness to the brilliant improvisational work that has rarely marked SNL's output. (Give me an SNL episode, and I'll show you sideward glances at offstage cue cards.)
This five-disc set contains nine 90-minute episodes, commentaries by Flaherty and Levy, and almost 90 minutes of new segments created by cast members, another nod to the notion that failure can indeed be funny. -- David Lee Simmons
Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Season
Did My So-Called Life ruin it for all future shows about life in the hell that must be high school? A lot of people don't think so -- and thought that Freaks and Geeks also tapped into the pain and suffering of a time that generally eludes TV execs and writers but sometimes is remembered by viewers. But F&G went the same way of Life, suffering the ax after one critically acclaimed season, nominated for two Emmys and winning one (Outstanding Casting in a Comedy Series, 1999).
Frankly, the cult popularity (Shout! Factory received 39,000 requests for this DVD release) eludes me, and this is coming from someone who remembers all too well high school in the late '70s and early '80s. So many of the characters here feel like recycled versions of previous TV shows (and movies): the brooding daughter (Linda Cardellini, looking suspiciously like Shannon Doherty), the rebel without a clue (James Franco, looking blissfully hunkier than Luke Perry), and so on.
And yet, like the MTV marathon that gave My So-Called Life its immortality (just after being canceled), this six-CD set -- with all 18 episodes, more than 40 hours of bonus material and myriad commentaries -- offers viewers a chance to revisit the show's charms. As a comedy, F&G often hit on minor notes, but the characters certainly grew on you, not the least of which is Martin Starr as the thick-glasses-wearing Bill Haverchuck, whose geeky unself-awareness results in scenarios like going as the Bionic Woman for Halloween. Freaks and Geeks may not have been as original as it wanted to be, but it was certainly better than what normally passes for high school. -- Simmons
Best of Burlesque
(Something Weird Video)
Their names were as wild and broad as their routines: Gypsy Rose Lee, Tempest Storm, Lili St. Cyr. But what is perhaps one of burlesque's greatest enduring charms -- in the face of omnipresent pornography and disinterested stripping with its promises of lap dances in the champagne room -- is its appreciation of a certain aesthetic. In the 1940s and '50s, the dancers actually cared about how they looked, what they wore, how they moved. They even smiled. There's no question that the suggestion of sex is a lot more enticing than the guarantee of it, and this two-disc set emphasizes the wicked fun of the "tease" in striptease.
But there's no doubt about the kitschy pleasures here, starting with two plot-addled films, A Virgin in Hollywood (how long do they last?) and Too Hot to Handle, both of which serve as weak excuses to show lots and lots (but really, never too much) flesh. So much of the rest is simply a burlesque archivist's dream: three- to five-minute dance routines that showcase the moves of an era. There's Sally Rand with her famed "Fan Dance"; Evelyn West performs her popular "Hubba-Hubba Girl" routine; Lorraine Lane performs "Satan's Dance"; and St. Cyr performs in the color short, "A Bedroom Fantasy." There are lots of other shorts, and an impressive photo gallery, that help make this the must-have of every retro burlesque performer -- something of which New Orleans has plenty. -- Simmons