By the time the second “cycle” of 90-minute SCTV episodes began running on NBC Friday nights, the show had more or less worked through the best bits of their previous incarnations and were constructing entire episodes from scratch. Hence, a series that had already demonstrated that a sketch comedy strip show could also demonstrate strong thematic coherence and logic within each standalone episode, well, demonstrated an even stronger level of unity. In “CCCP 1,” Guy Caballero’s rinky-dink satellite feed is hijacked by its Russian counterpart, and self-promoter svengali Johnny LaRue (John Candy in probably his most iconic, self-fulfilling role) doesn’t take too kindly to having his epic adaptation of the life of Julius Caesar interrupted by vaguely nationalist propaganda masquerading as a Slavic version of the early-‘80s Scrabble game show. About the only thing uninterrupted in the entire episode is the Movie of the Week (a new tradition, allowing the cast to craft a nearly half-hour parody of whatever film trend captured their fancy, from Neil Simon to musician sob-stories): a downright hysterical remake of the Neil Diamond remake of The Jazz Singer, staring Al Jarreau as the R&B crooner who defies his father Sid Dithers (Eugene Levy, in unbelievably Yiddish Stevie Wonder cornrows) and performs at the corner synagogue as a cantor. The SCTV troupe was, at their best, uncanny in its ability to vamp on obscure pop-cultural references, such as when Liberace’s Musical Tribute to the Holidays is nearly derailed by a temperamental Orson Welles, who blames his own fumbling delivery on every technician in sight (based on an infamous bootleg video of commercial shoot dallies). And their approach to social insight was razor-sharp, as with Andrea Martin’s epic “I’m Taking My Own Head, Screwing It On Right and No Guy’s Gonna Tell Me It Ain’t,” a relentless firebomb thrown in the lap of self-righteous feminist expression. There may be no finer moment in SCTV history than John Candy’s exasperated response to Libby Wolfson’s beyond-amateur two-woman show: “What do you want me to say? It’s a bad play! Bad play!” Unless it’s Candy’s impersonation of John Waters’s transvestite star Divine, crashing into the Rusty Warren-esque Dusty Towne’s “Sexy Holiday Special.” With their second cycle, SCTV had bloomed into the most fearless and hysterical satire of its own medium.
Like the previous volume, SCTV: Volume 2 sounds all right (almost pristinely "all right," in direct reference to Ira Newborn's classy, Billy Joel-ish synth theme music) but looks pretty wretched. The series reveled in being a mixed-format show, sometimes throwing a camera on one character's shoulder and cutting, essentially, to second-generation amateur video. The lighting is harsh, many of the colors are blotchy, and black levels are practically ocean blue in some scenes. But, really, what do you expect? The only people I can imagine complaining about the video transfers are those trying to grab screenshots for the purpose of publishing them at the top of their DVD reviews.
For those who are rapidly tiring of Eugene Levy's dialed-in commentary tracks, this DVD release brings a much-welcomed change of the guard: One episode features Dave Thomas and writers Dick Blasucci and John McAndrew ("CCCP 1") and two others are handled by Andrea Martin and Catherine O'Hara ("I'm Taking My Own Head." and "SCTV Staff Christmas Party"). The chatter on the boys' set stays comfortably consistent, and Martin and O'Hara radiate humor and nostalgia. (O'Hara on Martin's Soul Train routine: "Always offering your crotch to the crowd.") Also included are four featurettes, the most unique of which is a look at the show's secret weapon, The Juul Haalmeyer Dancer troupe, a collection of the lamest, faggiest, most obliviously untalented male chorus boys ever assembled. The clip of the six trying to rouse an award show audience with above-the-head, gloved-hand guppy claps is alone more riotous than the entirety of Steppin' Out. Also included is a clip from an actual award show: the 1982 Emmys, where the show won a prize for comedy writing (for an episode credited to nearly 700 writers), as well as a medium-sized photo gallery.
Perhaps SCTV at its peak, this set is also essential for John Candy's vinegary impersonation of Divine singing raunchy Christmas carols.