Thursday, September 27, 2007

For SCTV fans

I've got a book that lovingly lists and describes every one of Claude Rains's movies, TV appearances, stage performances and radio recordings. On the Yahoo discussion group I used to frequent, we'd consult this tome so often we gave up listing the name and just referred to it as "The Book". Well, now SCTV has a volume that will eventually be known to fans as simply The Book - 'Second City Television - A History and Episode Guide' by Jeff Robbins. It's an absolute must-have for any fan of SCTV, and is available through Amazon.com and Amazon.ca, and probably other Amazons, if you use them.

This book is an episode-by-episode guide to every memorable sketch, character, and line created in the roughly 8 years SCTV was on the air. Dave Thomas's book SCTV: Behind the Scenes provided lists of each episode in the appendix pages at the back, but I always found them very confusing and difficult to use - closely printed, and just listed by title. Robbins's book uses that basic information and then provides several paragraphs describing some of the plotlines underway in the episode, as well as giving reference information such as the original appearance of a repeated bit (some of the commercial parodies were reused many times in later episodes). New characters are carefully noted upon first appearance, as well as their later evolution - Raoul Wilson, for example, the disgustingly oversexed host of "Men On Women" later evolved into Dr. Rawl Withers, editor of the tabloid National Midnight Star and host of 'Hollywood Dirt Tonight'. Performers who appeared as guests or eventually became cast members are also listen by name - I never knew who was the actor who played Robert Wellesley, Libby Wolfsson's opponent in her disastrous attempt to run for Councilperson during the great Melonville Election episode (Melonvote). I also didn't know some of the guests they had on the show. Betty Thomas from 'Hill Street Blues' was one of the dejected women on 'The Women Who Donahue Forgot', and since I'd never watched that show, I didn't know who she was.

Robbins isn't shy about rating the episodes and sketches, and for the most part his opinion tracks exactly with mine, so of course I appreciate his evaluations! I'm glad to know that I'm not the ONLY one who thought a little Mrs. Prickley went a long, long way, and that by the end, she was being overused to the point of positive aggravation. I differ on a few others, but that's to be expected, and Robbins is always reasoned in explaining why he thinks a sketch doesn't work. If it happened to strike me in just a slightly different way (NASA's production of 'Murder in the Cathedral' is one that has grown on me through its oddity to the point where I quite enjoy it) it doesn't detract from his very intelligent reading of the piece.

The book filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge; I now realize that I must have started watching SCTV at episode 3, because I have no recollection of anything he describes in the first two episodes. There are also some later ones I never saw, from the Cinemax years - naturally, we didn't get that early specialty channel. I just wonder now where I could have seen some of the pieces I remember - I did see "2009: Jupiter and Beyond" (and hated it), but where could I have seen it? It must have been included in a later syndication package. And once SCTV moved to late night on NBC, I saw it less often because I was in school and just couldn't stay up that late. There are some lines I now know correctly for the first time, because I just didn't hear them before. During Lola Heatherton's disastrous "Bouncing Back to You!" special, she's both high on pills and deeply depressed, and launches into a terrible, self-pitying song as she has a nervous breakdown on live TV. But I never really heard all of the followup rant, which Robbins hilariously gives in its entirety:
Embarrassing would describe the roll call of SCTV staff members that Lola has bedded, which she without warning begins to recite before being dragged out of the studio: "Mr. Guy Caballero! Johnny 'Why don't you just suffocate me' LaRue! Bobby 'How was I?' Bittman! Count Floyd, you're so bad it's scary! Bob and Doug, you hosers!"

The best thing about the book, though, is that it's FUNNY. I was laughing out loud every few pages, as Robbins would summarize some particularly amusing scene or transcribe some hilarious dialogue. It's almost as good as watching the show itself; of course, with the book as a prompt, I can replay all these scenes in my mind much faster than I can look them up on dvd, if they're even available. Now when we want to remind each other of past episodes, we don't have to rely on recitation from faulty memories - we can just read them out from the book.

10 Comments:

Blogger Nicholodeon said...

My fave?

'No...I only meant how exquisite they are. It must require a lot of skill to make them'

'I get the ivory from Boston and do them myself...'

3:27 pm  
Anonymous ellie m said...

"Gypsies -- pthuuh!!"

I adored SCTV. It was only in that show that John Candy's comic genius came to light. When he went to Hollywood they promptly typecast him in lame comedies as "Uncle Buck" and other big jolly loveable lugs.

But Candy's true brilliance was in roles where he had a nasty psychotic edge. I never laughed at "Uncle Buck," but he had me in stitches when he played Dr Tongue, the Mayor of Mellonville, Johnny LaRue, or that sinister guy in the soap opera. If it weren't for SCTV, we wouldn't know the true extent of Candy's talent.

3:55 pm  
Blogger Nicholodeon said...

My comment is regarding my favourite portrayal by Claude Raines. Am I in the wrong posting again?

4:22 pm  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

Claude Rains quotes are ALWAYS welcome, Nick! But what is this one from? Somehow, I can't shake the idea that he's talking about making false teeth!

ellie, you're perfectly right, Candy had a range on SCTV that "mainstream" Hollywood just couldn't accommodate. (I think you must be thinking of the great Dr. Wainwright.) Another one of his characters from SCTV I just loved was Mr. Mambo, and Robbins does highlight one of the rare Mr. Mambo appearances. There was just something so joyful about him - even though John Candy was a complicated guy with problems, I felt that something very essential about him came through in that character.

5:08 pm  
Blogger Dr. Alice said...

There is a book? About Claude Rains? That lists everything he ever did?? And a Yahoo group?

Wow. I had no idea. First Peter Sellers, now Claude Rains - who was my favorite actor ever. How are you on Colm Feore? :-)

5:24 pm  
Anonymous Christopher Johnson said...

I guess this is sacrilege down here or something but I still think SCTV was a far better show than Saturday Night Live. It had wit and intelligence, for one thing, and it was never full of itself. Plus, any show that can come up with a concept like "Gordon Lightfoot Sings Every Song Ever Written" is light years ahead of the competition.

7:08 pm  
Blogger Nicholodeon said...

That's the scene from 'Now Voyager' whre he meets Charlotte, that's Miss Charlotte Vale of Boston' and they are talking about the cigaret boxes carves...

But I may not have got the exact dialogue ... going for an impressionist recollection.

But now I am off on a The Thin Man odyssey as today's post brought my six pac of all the Thin Man movies plus a bonus disc on the series itself.

Podden me, Nora, while I poah another mahteenee...

7:53 pm  
Blogger The Bovina Bloviator said...

Christopher Johnson, it's not sacrilege at all, I couldn't agree with you more. SCTV was miles ahead of SNL. The promo for a remake of "My Fair Lady," starring "Perini Sclerso" as Eliza Doolittle and "Whispers of the Wolf" by "Ingmar Burgman" are just two examples of the funniest stuff that was ever on TV. Oh, and let's not forget the Schmenge Brothers' Christmas.

8:30 pm  
Blogger Daniel Muller said...

I thought everyone agreed that SCTV was superior to Saturday Night Live. Then again, I am told that I missed the glory days -- the earliest days -- of SNL.

8:49 pm  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

Dr. A, I have to beg off when it comes to Colm Feore; I really don't think I've seen ANYTHING of his! But the Claude Rains book is a real goldmine, and has lots of pictures from all his movies, plus a very interesting biographical chapter at the beginning. Maybe you could start dropping hints for a possible Christmas present!

10:00 am  

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