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What Is SCTV – SCTV Cast Members Will Reunite for Martin Scorsese Netflix Documentary
At the height of the comedy boom in the 1970s, two television programs emerged to represent the new wave of weird, progressive comedy that was shrieking from the bunkers of dingy blackbox theaters and anti-establishment rags like National Lampoon. One of them, Saturday Night Live, became an instant sensation, going on to spurn the careers of hundreds of comedians and writers, movie producers, late-night shows, and even franchising out into foreign language sister shows around the world.
The other, Second City Television (or SCTV, as it was commonly known), was friendlier, weirder, and more lovingly produced. Unlike the disappointing experience of re-watching live SNL sketches that lose their edge in a post-topical setting, SCTV can never really get old, because it was, in essence, timeless.
You’ve probably haven’t heard of SCTV, but chances are, all the comedy that you love today wouldn’t even exist without it. That’s all about to change though, because, like a bugle call from the clouds of comedy podcast heaven, Netflix just announced an SCTV reunion special—directed by none other than Martin Scorsese.
From left: Andrea Martin, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Scorsese, Dave Thomas, Martin Short, and Joe Flaherty
If, like me, you were lucky enough to have cool comedy-savvy parents who had a penchant for the truly bizarre, this is a huge announcement—especially for a series that’s been trapped in the recesses of deep YouTube bootlegs for decades. Although there’s no release date yet, the announcement has comedy fans expectedly abuzz, with an announcement photo that boasts returning cast members (and comedy icons) Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Dave Thomas, Martin Short, and Andrea fucking Martin!
Born from the landmark Second City troupe in Toronto—the Canadian outpost of the Chicago comedy theater—the eccentric variety program kicked off the careers of such giants as Rick Moranis, John Candy, and Harold Ramis. A truly bizarre mishmash of pastiche and lyrical nonsense, SCTV was based around the wily premise of a shitty, dysfunctional television network that aired everything from trivia shows, children’s programs, and behind-the-scenes showbiz dramas.
Do you love the manic energy of Rick and Morty or The Eric Andre Show? Or the mumbling, inter-personal realism of shows like Nathan for You or Broad City? One might argue that this popular style of deranged humor that stoners and meme-culture aficionados have come to hold so dear actually derives with the original weird show, SCTV.
Unlike Monty Python or Mr. Show, SCTV is a rare case of an important comedy series that our nostalgia-hungry culture hasn’t afforded a modern day renaissance. Take any class at UCB—or at one of the many comedy theaters across the U.S.—and you’re more likely to watch Will Ferrell-era SNL clips or sketches from British shows like Mitchell and Webb, even though these improv theaters are based around the core principles first made famous by the legends of SCTV.
In one episode, you may see a concert movie parody starring Martin Short as the over-energized yet ornery Jerry Lewis between commercial breaks for Harry’s Sex Shop, starring John Candy as Harry—aka the Guy with a Snake on His Face. Later, in the same episode, you’d get Andrea Martin as a goofy Italian immigrant, struggling to learn English language from Catharine O’Hara.
The experience of watching SCTV is not unlike returning home for the holidays, observing the strange eccentricities of your lovely, yet impossibly baffling, family around the dinner table on Thanksgiving.
Over the course of the show’s 30-90 min episodes (it changed throughout the various networks and programming turn-overs year to year), you may see 30 vignettes or more, each one stranger and more fascinating than the next.
With a cast of beloved recurring characters—like Joe Flaherty’s horny horror film presenter Count Floyd, or the charmingly dull Canadian newscasters of “Great White North,” Doug and Bob McKenzie (played by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, most famously in the feature film Strange Brew)—the experience of watching SCTV is not unlike returning home for the holidays, observing the strange eccentricities of your lovely, yet impossibly baffling, family around the dinner table on Thanksgiving. Or more specifically, it’s like watching a deteriorating VHS tape of that Thanksgiving dinner, with recorded programs and reruns from your past unwinding concurrently with your home movies.
Unhinged from the live TV constraints of its main competitor, this Canadian-born comedy series was free to deeply examine its cast of cuckoos and spend as much (or as little) time on its characters as needed—an advantage the long, ever-drawn-out sketches of SNL have never known.
While the two shows ran concurrently, you can see SCTV’s influence on its American competitor. Let’s not forget, it was Joe Flaherty’s dumb trivia show “Half Wits” that first inspired Norm McDonald to write the Celebrity Jeopardy sketches, which has gone down to be, perhaps, the most significant SNL running sketch of all time. Likewise, SCTV alumni Martin Short, Robin Duke, and Tony Rosoto all made the leap onto the NBC program which, of course, reached a much larger American audience.
There aren’t many details yet about Scorsese’s starry Netflix-produced documentary, anchored by the reunion between cast members Flaherty, Levy, Martin, O’Hara, Short, and Thomas. Let’s hope, at least, that the documentary pulls Rick Moranis out of retirement. For God’s sake, we need him now more than ever.