Friday, December 28, 2012

SCTV: "Staff Christmas Party"

SCTV (AKA "Second City Television) was a series about an independent television station located in a fictional town called Melonville.  Most episodes presented a day of SCTV programming and lots of behind-the-scenes network politics.  In this episode, the staff Christmas party serves as a wraparound for the network's holiday programming.

SCTV - “Staff Christmas Party”

Maureen Wallace (Catherine O'Hara), SCTV's Director of Public Relations greets the partygoers as they arrive.
Aired December 18, 1981
It's Christmas Eve in Melonville.  The entire staff of the SCTV network has gathered at the studio for a Christmas party.  It's hosted by station owner, Guy Caballero (Joe Flaherty).

Johnny LaRue arrives drunk, flirts with Maureen.
Talk show host (and all-around sleaze ball) Johnny LaRue (John Candy) shows up to the party already drunk.  LaRue is in trouble for going over budget on his last project.   He used too many crane shots on a made-for-SCTV movie.  Caballero says LaRue needs to host his show Streetbeef, a show built around "person-on-the-street" interviews.  He begs Caballero to let him take the night off, to no avail.  

Guy Caballero reminds LaRue who's boss. 
LaRue is forced to go out in the streets of Melonville with one microphone and one camera.  It’s a cold, snowy night outside.  No one is out on the streets and all the businesses are closed. 

LaRue gets into a fight with his camera man and he’s reduced to sitting in the snow by himself talking into the boom-mic, looking into the camera. 

LaRue starts to ramble incoherently, until he gets a Christmas visit from the ultimate Streetbeef guest: Santa Claus!  Santa has a very special present for LaRue. 

Great White North:
The McKenzie Brothers, Doug (Dave Thomas) and Bob (Rick Moranis) host the Great White North talk show.  They advise viewers on how to get out of drinking eggnog during the holiday season.  Doug also performs a special "Christmas" version of the Great White North theme song. 

The Sammy Maudlin Show:

Sammy Maudlin (Flaherty) welcomes playwright Neil Simon (Dave Thomas) and Simon’s wife, actress Marsha Mason (Andrea Martin) to his chat show.  They’re promoting their new movie Neil Simon’s Nutcracker Suite, which will air on SCTV on Christmas Eve.  Maudlin and his sidekick William B. Willams (Candy) spend most of the time making jokes about the movie’s title.  They also keep calling Marsha Mason “Pamela Mason”, which makes her very angry.  

Later, we, the viewers, get to see Simon's movie. 

Neil Simon’s Nutcracker Suite:

Judd Hirsch (Levy) stars as Neil Madison, a Neil Simon-esque playwright, Marsha Mason (still played by Martin) plays his wife Jennifer.  They check into a New York hotel on Christmas Eve, where Neil intends to write a play that will feature Jennifer as the star.   

Neil & Jennifer encounter Richard Dreyfuss (Moranis) in the Nutcracker Suite.
He’s written several movies with her in mind, but never a play (this closely mirrors what Neil Simon had done for Marsha Mason in real life).  The hotel is overbooked, they have only one suite available: The Nutcracker Suite.  

Neil tries to calm Jennifer.
When they get to the room, Neil sits down at this typewriter and starts writing a new play.  

Neil takes a "reflective pause" while writing a new play for Jennifer.
He falls asleep and wakes up at midnight to find the Mouse King, a human-sized mouse, helping himself to food in the fridge.  

Neil is helped by the arrival of the Nutcracker Prince, played by Alan Alda (Flaherty). The Mouse King is winning the fight, until Neil tricks the mouse into leaving (Cheez Whiz in the hallway!).  

The Nutcracker Prince boxes with the Mouse King.
The Nutcracker Prince thanks Neil for saving his life and invites him to his suite.

Once there, Neil meets the Sugarplum Fairy and the Snowflake King, played by Maggie Smith and Michael Caine (actually Catherine O'Hara and Thomas), respectively.  They will give him the inspiration to finish his play and give it to Jennifer for Christmas.  

The Sugarplum Fairy (O'Hara) complains to Neil about being a Sugarplum Fairy.

Dusty Towne's Sexy Holiday Special:
Next up, it's time for singer/comedian Dusty Towne's first-ever tv special.  Dusty's guests are comic-actor Divine (Candy) and Solid Gold dancer Marcie Odette (Martin).  

Dusty Towne (O'Hara) opens with a Christmas song and an opening monologue filled with sexual innuendo.  

Odette follows with an "interpretive dance" built around "Deck The Halls." Then Dusty performs a medley of Christmas songs with new, lyrics, most of which consist of sexual puns.  

Divine shows up next.  After a brief exchange of banter, they play a music video that features Divine performing Elvis' "Santa Bring My Baby Back To Me".  

Dusty closes the show with a reading of a sexually charged version of "Twas The Night Before Christmas" called "What A Night Before Christmas". 

We cut back to the staff party, where Lola Heatherton (O'Hara) leads the staff in singing "White Christmas" in front of a chroma-keyed Bing Crosby. 

Lola Heatherton performs a "duet" with Bing Crosby.
Plus, we get a promo for SCTV's upcoming Liberace Christmas special!  And a commercial for "Frank Incense". 

J.A. Morris says:

I'll admit that it's hard to be objective here.  I remember catching some of this episode when it first aired in 1981 (on the first day of Christmas Vacation!).    
Dave Thomas as Liberace
Around 1987 or '88, I taped it during a "Nick At Night" Christmas marathon.  It became a Christmas Eve tradition for my parents and I to watch Sammy Maudlin, Neil Simon's Nutcracker Suite and Johnny Larue.  Every year the picture quality on that tape a little fuzzier.  Thankfully, it was released on DVD in 2003.  

Orson Welles (Candy) blows up on the set of Liberace's special.
It's a great Christmas episode, one of the best.  SCTV featured one of the best comedy ensembles of all time.  They're all great here, in every role they inhabit.  I still laugh at "Neil Simon's Nutcracker Suite" and Dusty Towne's horrible puns even if I can recite the whole episode by memory at this point.     

Liberace backs up Ethel Merman (Martin) on "Silent Night"
But one problem with this series is that much of what it parodies is now out-dated.  The Liberace promo and the Dusty Towne show are brilliant send-ups of variety specials that were omnipresent at the time.

The Nutcracker Prince arrives in the Nutcracker Suite.
If you're under 40, you probably don't remember those variety shows.  There's a running gag on the show about "Jane Russell's Cross Your Heart Bra" that won't make any sense if you don't remember the early 80s.  Also, who remembers Marsha Mason or Pamela Mason today? 

Edna Boil (Martin), sings at the Staff Christmas Party, backed by her husband Tex (Thomas) on organ.
But you don't need to know who they were to appreciate the Nutcracker Suite sketch.  Sammy Maudlin and William B. are brilliant characters, both personifying the schmaltzy phoniness of show biz.  And Candy is brilliant as Johnny LaRue.  His bit was taped on location in the freezing streets of Edmonton, Alberta.  Much of his dialogue was made up on the spot.  It's a hilarious, acting tour de force by the late, great Candy. 

Edith Prickley (Martin) and Lola Heatherton get sentimental & weepy talking about the movie Holiday Inn.
"Staff Christmas Party" is must-watch viewing in my house every Christmas and it's also one of the best episodes of a great series.    

Season's Greetings from Sammy Maudlin!

J.A. Morris' rating:
4 candy canes


Dr. Mabuse said...

To me, SCTV can never be dated. I pity the younger people who'd find themselves turned off by Jane Russell's Cross-Your Heart Bra jokes; I'm lucky enough to have been around when that was all very familiar, and it hasn't lost its freshness. The Sammy Maudlin segments are so hilarious, from a cigarette-wielding Sammy bounding out in front of a tinsel curtain to belt out the first line of "Here Comes Santa Claus", and then collapse in the most horrific smoker's cough ever heard. And when he's recovered, we hear his *heartfelt* statement that SOMEDAY he's going to give up cigarettes.

RigbyMel said...

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Dr. Mabuse.

I suspect that the SCTV segments are still funny even if younger folks don't get all of the nuances of the references. (At least, I HOPE that is the case!)

mrtnllisra said...

Is it me for a moment, or does Andrea Martin as Marcie Odette look like Roger Daltrey (The Who)?

RigbyMel said...

Never thought of that, mrtnllisra! The comparison is apt! LOL! :-)

mrtnllisra said...

actually, Marcie Odette (Andrea Martin looking more like a glammed-up Roger Daltrey) is dancing to "Frosty the Snowman", not " Deck the Halls"!