Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Next Christmas

One completely unseasonal DVD that crossed my desk recently was a package called "Christmas With SCTV," compiling that series' Christmas specials from 1981 and 1982. The first, originally aired on December 18, 1981, has two primary pieces folded around the network's staff Christmas party: Neil Simon's Nutcracker Suite, starring Judd Hirsch, Marsha Mason (natch), Richard Dreyfuss, James Coco, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith and Alan Alda (there's also a bit of a Sammy Maudlin show with Neil Simon himself), and Dusty Towne's Sexy Holiday Special, with special guest star Divine (!), singing "Santa Bring my Baby Back to Me" on ice skates.

These are both incredibly funny. Maggie Smith is one of those impressions that, going in, you're not even sure if you'll recognize someone doing Maggie Smith, but as soon as you see Catherine O'Hara, you think, "Oh, right, Maggie Smith." But the real keeper is Joe Flaherty's supremely unctuous Alan Alda: Margarine oozes from his pores.

By the time of the next year's special, everything has changed: Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas are gone, and Catherine O'Hara is officially gone but has returned for a special Christmas guest shot. And although there are several very funny bits, much of the magic is gone too. Martin Short tries, as always, very, very hard as Ed Grimley, who can't wait for Christmas to arrive, but what you notice most is how alone he is in the sketch, in a way that Johnny LaRue didn't seem alone on the frozen streets of Melonville doing a one-man "Street Beef" the previous year.

Let that be a lesson to you: No matter how good things are, they can disappear faster than you can say "Earl Camembert."

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