Growing up in the '80s, SCTV was the television highlight of my week. From the moment my sister walked into my room at 1 in the morning and described a bizarre show in which Merv Griffin replaced Andy Griffith in The Andy Griffith Show, I was transfixed. While SCTV had been in syndication and produced in Toronto since 1976, it wasn't until NBC began broadcasting it in 1981 (in a 90-minute format) that it found its cult status in the United States. Finally, the folks at Shout! Factory have gotten a first round of SCTV to DVD, and here's hoping it's a success, because we need all three NBC seasons. This DVD captures the first NBC season, which began with a majority of its skits comprised from the syndicated years, but gradually became all-new material. While Martin Short had not yet joined the cast, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, Catherine O'Hara, Andrea Martin and Joe Flaherty were all on hand. In my humble opinion, this cast could stand up to any of the best Saturday Night Live lineups, with characters like Flaherty's Guy Caballero, Candy's "Guy With a Snake on His Face" and, of course, the McKenzie Brothers making every show solid entertainment. Favorites to be found on this collection: Candy's "Yellowbelly," in which he plays a nervous Civil War-era outcast who guns down a wisecracking kid in the street; Eugene Levy and Candy's spoof of Fantasy Island, in which Candy as Tattoo humps a Stradivarius to death; and my favorite, "What's My Shoe Size?" a bizarre take off of '50s game shows, in which Flaherty performs his classic, frustrated Kirk Douglas impression. Sure, there are some clunkers in the older material, but even SCTV's failed sketches were better than most things on TV at the time. For a geek like me, having this on DVD is a gift from God.
Special Features: There are five discs containing the nine first-season episodes. Each disc has extras, including Remembering John, a moving tribute to the late John Candy. There are newly produced interviews with the cast on each disc, covering everything from the creation of the series to the wild parties they used to have. (It is revealed that Candy once held Chevy Chase in a headlock for a half an hour.) Levy and Flaherty contribute commentary to one episode, and the 1999 reunion of the cast at the Aspen Comedy Festival can be found on disc five. This is a collection to be cherished.
Fox and Simpsons creator Matt Groening go all out when it comes to DVD releases, and the fourth season is no exception. As for the shows, the collection is worth buying just for the infamous Whacking Day episode, in which Springfield participates in its annual tradition of beating the town's snakes to death with sticks, complete with a Barry White guest appearance. The season also did great things with Krusty the Clown (Krusty Gets Kancelled, Kamp Krusty) and had Homer Simpson arrested for drunk driving (Duffless). To this day, the series--remarkably, in its 15th season--remains as comically potent as the day it started. Groening claims there's a movie in the works, and it will be interesting to see what he does with a 90-minute format.
Special Features: There are audio commentaries featuring Groening and cohorts on all 22 episodes. There are deleted scenes, multiple featurettes and even some multi-angle animation showcases on select episodes. Seriously, these Simpsons sets are the television equivalent of the extravagant Lord of the Rings extended editions that Peter Jackson has been releasing.
Television's other great animation show got downright insane in its fourth season, with such controversial episodes as "Cartman Joins NAMBLA" and "The Wacky Molestation Adventure." Most importantly, this is the season that introduced Timmy, emphatically shouting his name from his wheelchair and becoming the lead singer of The Lords of the Underworld. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have always been bold, but this was the season that clearly illustrated that no subject, no matter how shocking or troublesome, was safe from their sights. Recent episodes involving The Passion of the Christ and Michael Jackson's legal troubles show that the program has not lost its sting. It's actually getting better.
Special Features: The only special features are quickie commentaries by Stone and Parker on each episode, in which they make funny and rather nonsensical observations. The guys are always funny, but their commentaries here don't top the drunken hilarity they delivered on their commentary for Cannibal!: The Musical.