Judge Patrick Bromley would like to feed Chris Kattan's (as well as the rest of the current SNL poseurs') fingertips to the wolverines.
"Jane, you ignorant slut."
I've always considered Dan Aykroyd (Ghostbusters, Grosse Pointe Blank) to be the patron saint of Saturday Night Live. Reading Live From New York, the oral history of the show that came out a few years back, I got the distinct impression that those elements once at the heart of SNL—the energy, the edge, the danger of it all—were all embodied by Aykroyd, who quietly carried the show for its first five years. And, judging by Lions Gate's new release, SNL: The Best of Dan Aykroyd, I'd say that's about right.
No, Aykroyd's never been the funniest of the Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Players—that would be a toss-up between Chevy Chase and his replacement, Bill Murray. But in a cast filled with heart, Aykroyd managed to be both the brains and the soul. He's the most versatile of that original crew (recognizing that yes, a number of his characters have a similar fast-talking, sleazy, Midwest affectation—especially the popular ones), not so much playing characters as disappearing into them; only Phil Hartman in the late 1980s has ever rivaled Aykroyd for versatility and character in the show's history. He also brought an element of Python-esque absurdity to the show, as evidenced with sketches like "Bass-o-Matic"—can anyone imagine a bit like that airing on the current SNL? Most importantly, though, Aykroyd believed in the purity of the comedy. He wasn't there for the fame or the partying, but because he believed in what that original crew was doing—so much so that he wouldn't stand for a guest host ad-libbing or laughing during broadcast. These days, it's the actual cast—not the host—that giggles its way through sketches.
The collection assembled for this DVD does a good job of balancing classic Aykroyd bits and characters with some of his more obscure moments. Yes, the Blues Brothers and the Czech brothers and the Coneheads are on hand (the Coneheads appear twice for some reason, which is two times more than I'd care for), as are Fred Garvin (Male Prostitute), Irwin Mainway, Julia Child (still one of my favorites of all time), and the notoriously posterior-exposing refrigerator repairman. Also included, though, are rarities like "Pocket Pal"—a device that lets the airline passenger be the first to know of an impending crash—and a very strange piece called "Bad Ballet." Not all of the sketches work; some of them are too dated (Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, and Tom Snyder impersonations have lost some of their relevance), and others don't seem to go anywhere. The disc's final sketch, involving Aykroyd as a mechanic telling a bedtime story to his daughter (Gilda Radner, doing her best little girl), is sweet but shapeless. That may be no different from any of the sketches in the show's current incarnation (minus the sweetness, of course), but those aren't being included in a "best-of" compilation.
Old Saturday Night Live has always had a tendency to look washed out in broadcast reruns, and that's the same way it looks on the Lions Gate DVD. Aside from this—clearly a fault of the source and not of the transfer—the picture quality is perfectly serviceable; the same goes for the stereo audio track. Where the disc really excels in its content: not only is there a full 90 minutes' worth of classic sketches (the length of a feature film, and about a half hour longer than most "best of" clip compilations), but a number of extras on hand as well. There's a photo gallery, a reprinted article from Rolling Stone, and Aykroyd's original screen test (great for posterity, proof of the guy's talent, uncomfortable to watch). The best bonus feature is a nearly 25-minute "Inside Look" featurette, comprised of classic clips (many from sketches that appear on the disc, making some of the material redundant) and contemporary interviews with original writers, cast members, and Aykroyd himself. If the material included on the disc hasn't already convinced you of Aykroyd's contributions to the show, this featurette should pick up the rest of the slack.
So, should you buy the disc? If you're a fan of classic SNL, sure. If you're more a fan of contemporary SNL, you owe to yourself to check out the show's history. If you're a fan of Aykroyd, the disc is a no-brainer—it's perfect for remembering a time when the man was allowed to be dangerous and funny, not relegated to supporting and cameo roles as the father of Jason Biggs (in Loser) or Britney Spears (Crossroads). If none of these describe you, why should you even bother? I'm sure Chris Kattan's got something on the shelves that you might enjoy.
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• Original SNL Screen Test
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