Wednesday, December 20, 2006

What Becomes A Legend Most?

Probably the most important DVD release of the year is the complete first season of Saturday Night Live. Culturally this is the show that changed television as we know it and the original cast have all become legendary. In the years since SNL first aired we have only been given glimpses of the work of the original 'not so ready for prime time players' and this set gives us the chance to view all of their groundbreaking work, warts and all.
Early reviews of the set expressed some disappointment that the actual episodes didn't stand up to the iconic status that's been given to them. Some seemed unable to accept that not every skit would be genius, that even the originals might have an off night. In a way I suppose this release does damage their reputations as super comedians but it does remind us of their humanity which is what drew people to them in the first place.
The first two disc are the most problematic. The show is still trying to get grounded into what exactly it's going to be. The second episode is essentially The Paul Simon show which is great, especially the reunion with Art Garfunkel, but the players get lost behind the scenes. This happens several times early in the show but things start to change around the Candice Bergen episodes. Bergen was finally getting to prove her comedic chops that she would perfect in the next decade and the cast, especially Gilda Radner, seem to come alive around her. Bergen was so good at hosting that she actually does two shows the first season.
Things really take off, big time, on the Richard Pryor episode. If anyone needs any proof of how possessed by genius everyone on this show was they should watch this episode. Everyone is firing on all cylinders and the season is stronger after this. Pryor himself is demonically funny and is one of their great all time hosts. The famous job interview word association test with him and Chevy Chase is still one of the funniest and most biting things I have ever seen.
The music was always a big part of it and the complete performances are here from (on the great side) the likes of Abba, Gil Scott-Heron, Bill Withers, Patti Smith, John Sebastian, Carly Simon and Kris Kristofferson to (the not so great side) Anne Murray, Desi Arnaz and Loudon Wainwright 111.
The Muppet segments sucked then and they still suck and are the only thing on here that might be skipped over. I love the Albert Brooks short films, even the unfunny ones.
The cast themselves all have shining moments. It's easy to see why Chevy Chase became so popular so quickly and left so soon. The talented and gifted Chase dominates many of the shows and his weekend updates are always a highlight. Garrett Morris and Laraine Newman are always considered the most underused but they are both given many shining moments here, Newman, able to slip into whatever persona handed to her, is particularly sharp. The proper,with a secret, Jane Curtain seems to be the calm in the midst of a major storm and her talk show interviews are hilarious. Dan Aykroyd is Dan Aykroyd and he's always great but seems to be the only one to me slightly underused. Along with Chase the two that shine through completely are the two that are no longer with us. Gilda Radner is lovely and she radiates such a warmth that it's hard to take your eyes off her in a skit, simply one of the most moving comedians who ever lived. John Belushi, like Pryor, is an absolute powerhouse; the singing, the impersonations, his sheer intensity adds an importance to the show that no comedian before or since could have given.
I hope that they continue to release these complete seasons for their cultural importance as well as the fact that at their funniest no one could touch them.

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