Reviews by - Lindsay Planer

Judging by the sheer volume of titles making their way onto DVD, it is safe to say that there is tremendous interest in viewing vintage TV. So this week we're going to channel surf a few obscure blasts from the past that are being turned on by a whole new generation.

Martin Tahse's After School Specials (Brentwood/BCI Eclipse)

Any kid who grew up in the 1970s or '80s inevitably had their psyche forever altered by the series of After School Specials that ran on the ABC-TV networks between 1974 and 1989. Martin Tahse was the visionary behind creating these mini-movies from adaptations of a variety of books, novels and short stories for young adults. The results were unlike anything that had been on the small screen before as the subject matter was often of a mature nature and dealt with a myriad of contemporary and socially relevant topics.

Much of the attraction for the program's primarily teen-oriented audience was the solid star power of popular actors such as Rob Lowe, Dana Plato, Nancy McKeon, Melissa Sue Anderson, Kristy McNichol, Kirk Cameron, Malcolm Jamal-Warner, Eve Plumb, and Christopher Knight.

The episodes were also popular among educators and other children's literacy activists. After School Specials' plaudits and honors include a total of 18 Emmys and a trio of Blue Ribbons from the American Film Festival. They likewise garnered 1 st, 2 nd and 3 rd Place prizes in the Chicago Film Festival -- all in the same year mind you -- not to mention a prestigious Peabody Award.

Now, some 15 years after leaving the air, the After School Specials are being introduced to a new audience thanks to their recent resurrection onto DVD. The six volumes have been compiled chronologically with all the shows that aired during a specific season presented together.

The innovative packaging is worth mentioning as the respective seasons are housed in replicas of Trapper Keeper notebooks, school lockers and the like. Those who spring for the After School Specials' Collectors Set not only get all 24 episodes from the aforementioned half-dozen seasonal sets, but also "The Dog Days Of Arthur Cane" (1984) and "Picking Up The Pieces," which can only be found on the mammoth school bus shaped 13 DVD anthology.

Clutch Cargo -- The Complete Series Vol 1 & 2 (Brentwood/BCI Eclipse)

Long before modern computer-generated action/adventure animation began cluttering the airwaves, there were the continuing adventures of Clutch Cargo and his pals Spinner and Paddlefoot. The show was hailed as TV's first comic strip and presented in three cliff-hanging segments. However the most distinct feature was the use of Syncro-Vox. This procedure required a human actor's mouth to be superimposed onto the animated background.

More recently, Late Night With Conan O'Brien has reintroduced this technique during segments when the host 'interviews' a still picture of a public figure -- such as the President or Michael Jackson -- and only the lips move. This is the same thing, but with cartoons instead of a photograph.

Some 45 years after initially being broadcast, Clutch Cargo debuts on home video in a pair of multi-disc anthologies. Volume One contains the initial batch of 26 episodes with supplementary materials that include "The Story Of Clutch Cargo," and "Clutch & Company," both providing mini-bios and details of the people behind the scenes and outlines for the characters.

There is also an installment of "The Ghost And Crystal Mace," from another Syncro-Vox series titled Space Angel. For Volume Two, viewers are treated to the final 26 shows and the extras go beyond the ink for a glimpse into "The Making Of Clutch Cargo," and short featurettes covering aspects that might seem "Politically Incorrect" today as well as an episode of the Syncro-Vox cartoon Captain Fathom called "Pisatro's Private War."

SCTV -- Volume 4 (Shout! Factory)

As 2005 winds to a close, Shout! Factory continues with their stellar restoration of the entire Second City Television (SCTV) series. Their most recent installment is the six-disc Volume Four with the cast's penultimate 1982/1983 season.

These were the first shows since the departure of Rick Moranis, Catherine O'Hara and Dave Thomas. While that trio of talent would be impossible to replace, the multi-faceted Martin Short steps in and introduces the world to a slew of new characters, most notably Ed Grimly and Jackie Rogers Jr. Short joined the remaining cast of John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin to produce one of the best comedy ensembles to have ever been assembled.

The folks who give out Emmy Awards must have thought so too, as SCTV was listed in five different categories that year -- bringing home the "Outstanding Writing" award for the "Sweeps Week" episode. Each 90 minute program is packed with a barrage of memorable scenes. A few highlights would include the "Sammy Maudlin 23 rd Anniversary" [aka "The Canadian Show"], the stunning MellonVote parody with SCTV's incompetent election coverage and a personal favourite, the Emmy-nominated "Midnight Cowboy II" remake by Woody Tobias Jr. (Levy) and Dr. Tongue (Candy).

As always, there are guest stars galore: John (Cougar) Mellencamp, Fred Willard, Linda Hopkins, Robin Williams, the rock group America, Andre Crouch, Crystal Gayle, Ben Vereen and Betty Thomas are but a few of the luminaries who pass through hallowed halls of the SCTV Network. A particular standout is when Joe Walsh and company drop in to the Scuttlebutt Lodge to see Gil Fischer (Candy) on the fictional Fishin' Musician show. Just as they have done on their previous box sets, Shout! Factory is loading up Volume Four with extras.

Not to be missed are the occasionally ribald and always hilarious commentaries from cast members, plus "SCTV At Play" -- showing the gang in friendly game of softball -- as well as the "SCTV Remembers" featurette, spotlighting Martin Short this time around.

Lindsay Planer is a freelance journalist and technical producer at WBT AM/FM in Charlotte, NC. He is a regular contributor to All Music Guide, CrutchfieldAdvisor.com and Gaston Gazette. Comments and questions can be sent to <asthediscspins@earthlink.net>.


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