SCTV: "Lunchtime Street Beef"
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SCTV: "Lunchtime Street Beef"

A commenter last week remarked that it was a little ridiculous for me to complain about excessive repeats on SCTV since the whole fandango isn't exactly brand-spanking new to begin with. I suppose my beef–my street beef as it were–wasn't so much with the idea that a show that ended its run a little under two and a half decades ago wasn't hitting me off with the brand spanking newness but that repeat episodes lack the conceptual ambition and narrative threads that separated SCTV from just about every other sketch comedy show ever.

Today's episode contained its share of repeats, or "Golden Classics" as Guy Callabero would call them, but it certainly can't be accused of lacking conceptual ambition. Loyal readers might remember that a few episodes ago John Candy's Johnny Larue got himself into hot water with SCTV brass over the now-legendary crane shot that ended Pollynesiantown. It was a gloriously perverse gag with a basis in real life: SCTV really did get into trouble for its expensive crane shot, and the episode itself was panned by a prominent critic named Marvin Kitman. In wholly unrelated news, a not-so-prominent critic named me totally panned Marvin Kitman's terrible, inexplicably fawning biography of Bill O'Reilly (http://www.avclub.com/content/node/58645).

In yet another case or real life bleeding into the show, Joe Flaherty's Guy Callabero holds up a paper with the screaming headline "Kitman Pans Polynesiantown" before ordering Larue to atone for his free-spending ways by doing a show called "Street Beef" with one camera, one mic and no budget whatsoever. I love, love, love Larue's initial topic for the show "John Cassavettes: Filmmaker or Just Jerking Around" but apparently that was nixed as lacking widespread appeal.

Actually, an extended riff on John Cassavettes would be right up SCTV's alley. It was absolutely fearless in what it chose to parody. Like so little television, it talked up to its audience instead of dumbing down for the lowest common denominator. That is made abundantly clear by an extended Grapes of Wrath parody (a repeat, alas) highlighted by Eugene Levy's crazy-eyed disgraced man of God and Harold Ramis' nefarious capitalist dog.

Aside from "Grapes of Mud", the big repeat in today's episode is a loving homage to the over-the-top acting and shameless mugging of forties B-movies called "Bad Acting In Hollywood". It's a clever bit that becomes something much more when the ending of the turgid melodrama in question takes a left-field turn into patriotic propaganda when it's announced that Pearl Harbor has been attacked and the entire disreputable cast of character instantly morph into super-patriots who can't wait to do their part for Uncle Sam.

Commenters have complained that SCTV featured a lot of second-string, journeyman acts, then awkwardly shoe-horned them into sketches but I generally like the musical guests here. They may not be icons but then I like being exposed to new, more offbeat acts. Today's episode featured the stilted acting and rockabilly song stylings of Robert Gordon. Who? Exactly. I wouldn't necessarily run out to buy a Robert Gordon album but he did a fine job with "Some Day Some Way".

In between repeats, Candy's Larue goes looking for professional validation after his Polynesiantown disgrace, consulting with Rick Moranis' Larry Siegel, a twitchy, overly caffeinated producer very overtly based on Joel Silver, the prolific super-producer he worked with on Streets Of Fire. To add to Larue's humiliation, he's given the topic of "Male Nude Dancers" for his first "Street Beef" segment. To save face, he begins the segment by asserting his heterosexuality. It isn't long until Larue's Street Beef turns into a legitimate street fight, with pro and anti-Polynesiantown factions erupting into violence.

The "Street Beef" segment concludes perfectly with a wide shot that is gradually revealed to be nothing less than a helicopter shot. It's a goddamned, motherfucking thing of beauty. If a simple crane shot was enough to angry up Guy Caballero's blood I imagine a helicopter shot would send him into an early grave.

Ah, but onto the repeats. It's a strong bunch highlighted by Rick Moranis' Sunrise Semester Lecture on How to Imitate Celebrities, including tips on how to combine impersonations of James Stewart and Ed Sullivan, Joe Flaherty and Eugene Levy as punch-drunk boxers arguing over whether Biller Lite has "less taste" or "better calories" and Andrea Martin's Cheryl Kinsey giving hilariously straight-faced tips on faking orgasms. It wasn't all new but it was new enough for me.

Grade: A- Stray Observations– –Johnny Larue is kind of an interesting case in that he's played relatively straight. Sure he's a cad and a hustler and an egomaniac but he's also very identifiably a John Candy character. There's no crazy voice or weird accent or ugly prosthetics or outrageous costume, though he does love his monograms and smoking jackets. In that respect he's a bit of an anomaly among SCTV core characters. –Oooh, "Moral Majority" next week. Fun, fun, fun –Incidentally I'm trying to misspell Guy Caballero's name a different way each time I mention him.
Filed Under: TV, SCTV

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