Week in Review
With every season of Saturday Night Live, viewers say it wasn't as good as it used to be. But what do we really have to compare it to? Many viewers of the current seasons are younger than the show itself. Are we always comparing this season to the first season we personally watched? Season One of Saturday Night Live came out on DVD this week, and if you're at all a fan of sketch comedy, you definitely should check this out. It's an eight disc set of all the original episodes, uncut. Each disc has three episodes, each episode a little more than an hour in length without the commercials. Now's our chance to compare the current show to its origin.
The show was remarkably different than it is now. Even the credits call it "NBC's Saturday Night," not Saturday Night Live. In 1975, when the SNL first aired, Howard Cosell had his own show by the name of Saturday Night Live. The program started as more of a variety show than a sketch comedy show. Along with the now-famous cast, each episode had a short film by Albert Brooks, a running sketch by Jim Henson's Muppets like you've never seen them before or since, and more performances by the hosts and musical guests. Rather than being wall to wall sketches, the show was a mix of viewing entertainment.
The first disc contains episodes the first three episodes. George Carlin builds the first episode around his now-classic standup routines, including the differences between baseball and football; it's prime Carlin. In Episode Two, Paul Simon leaves little time for the cast members as he plays songs alone and with Art Garfunkel, and Garfunkel performs a solo number. Simon then plays a game of one on one with basketball legend Connie Hawkins. It's quality viewing, but there's little humor, frankly.
The second disc, which contains the next three episodes, picks up a lot of steam and is a harbinger of things to come. A recurring sketch about a land shark, a shark that prowls the hallways of New York City apartments appears, outshines the guest hosts and is hilarious. Candace Bergen, Lily Tomlin, and Robert Klein take the show in a funnier direction and interact with the cast much more than the hosts of the first three episodes. But most importantly, we get to see the comedic talents of Gilda Radner and John Belushi emerge as the real stars of the show. Chevy Chase's news reporting takes shape, and provides a foundation for the centerpiece of the show that remains to this day.
I was hoping to be able to review all the discs, but they are in high demand and they didn't all come this week. I'll be reviewing each disc as it arrives separately rather than do an overall season review as I do with most of the TV shows. There's too much to each show to wrap it up cleanly.
Hopefully, we'll get a new set of each season, at least through the early years. Along with Monty Python's Flying Circus, SNL is one of the two most influential early sketch shows in TV history. The ancestral lineage of every sketch show that has since aired will lead back to one of these two series. At a suggested retail of close to 70 dollars, this package would make a nice last minute X-mas gift. If it's out of your price range or you're not that committed, it's definitely worth the rental.
Pick of the Week
There is more than one film I'd like to recommend out of this week's batch. Rise Above: The Tribe 8 Documentary catches one of San Francisco's most notorious punk bands. The Jerry Stiller vehicle The Independent is an under-the-radar satire of Hollywood. The Outlaw Josey Wales is a prime Clint Eastwood Western. But The Missouri Breaks has not one, but two great performances by the enigmatic Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando and that's my pick.
The Missouri Breaks is one of those films that has top notch talent at every level. The script was written by Thomas McGuane, a famous Montana novelist; the "Missouri" in the title refers to the river which stretches through Montana on its way to the Mississippi River. Arthur Penn, a veteran of Westerns and a three time Oscar winner directed. Jack Nicholson, fresh off One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, stars as the anti-hero protagonist. Marlon Brando, clearly nutty by 1976, but not yet as far gone as he would become, plays the antagonist. Also in the cast are Randy Quaid and Harry Dean Stanton.
Nicholson plays Tom Logan, a horse thief with an eye for The Big Score. So far, no one has found out that he and his gang are the ones who have already stolen a number of horses. The local horse rancher, knowing he'll likely be hit next, hires a "regulator," Robert E. Lee Clayton, played by Brando, to resolve the situation. Brando's performance is nothing if not bizarre. I've never seen a character like his in any other Western.
Where the film really succeeds is in its refusal to take sides with Logan or Clayton. Both characters are equally compelling and crafty. It's impossible to tell who's going to come out on top until the film ends. The conflict between the two characters is a true clash of the titans. In my imagination, it was much like watching a well-spoken monster film. Queue it.
I watched two of the Saturday Night Live discs this week. They're each a little over 3 hours long, which slowed me down a bit. With all the holiday parties and whatnot, I'm really surprised that I got to 10 DVDs this week. 477 DVDs in 344 days. 23 DVDs left in the next 21 days for a pace of 7.66 per week.