"I've got chunks of guys like you in my stool."
Taken from us far too soon in 1998, Phil Hartman was one of the few reasons to still tune in to new episodes of Saturday Night Live. With an amazing repertoire of characters, impeccable delivery, and a wicked twinkle in his eye, Phil Hartman could easily make you laugh. It seemed he could take almost every idea, be it good or lame, and make it funny. And, if that wasn't possible, he would infuse the sketch with enough energy and enthusiasm to keep you interested until the bitter end…which at the time was (and almost still is) three minutes too long.
Hartman is responsible for some of my favorite characters and sketches, and I am happy to see a healthy selection of them included. In fact in popping in this disc, this "best of" amalgamation is front-loaded with most of Hartman's greatest stuff: Admiral James Stockdale (Ross Perot's running mate, in case you've forgotten), The Sinatra Group, the "Compulsion" by Calvin Kleen ad, and President Clinton at McDonald's. Further into the disc you'll find some of his other memorable impersonations and characters: Phil Donahue, Barbara Bush, Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump, Jim Baker, Jesus, Frankenstein, and, of course, the Anal Retentive Chef.
There really is a lot of funny material on this disc, but there are also too many bad choices as well: while a good character, the Donahue sketch is weak; the Caveman Lawyer bit always made me cringe; and what was up with the seemingly interminable Anne Boleyn sketch? As I said, a lot of his best stuff is tucked in the opening minutes of the disc, so that by the time you get near the hour marker, you find the laughs aren't as numerous as when you started. But, that's pretty much par for the course for Saturday Night Live. They never know how to be funny for an entire show, so that seems to trickle into these "best of" collections. And that is a shame. For a man who so incredibly encapsulated his characters, Phil Hartman doesn't get the disc I think he deserves. It's good, but I don't think it fully explores everything that Hartman brought to the show during his 10-year run (from 1986 to 1995).
Our friends at Lions Gate bring this disc to you with just the slightest of flaws. The full frame transfer is exactly what you would expect from a TV show: adequate. You won't discover brilliant colors or stunning details, but, unfortunately, you do get some occasional artifacting. For the Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track, there are no problems and you'll clearly hear all of the dialogue during each skit.
Following the typical pattern on these releases, there are a handful of bonus features for you. You'll watch them once and probably not come back a second time. First up is Hartman's original audition tape (10.5 minutes). I was surprised by his ambitious and somewhat unconventional approach, which obviously got him the job. Next up is a humdrum photo gallery. After that is an outtake montage (3.5 minutes) that is best described as "okay." And, lastly, is a dress sketch (4.5 minutes) about dear old Uncle John. It's a little bit funny as it pushes the bounds of humor.
Fans of Phil Hartman and fans of Saturday Night Live will be delighted with the disc. Containing a wide variety of his sketches, there are plenty of laughs to go around. I think the choices for a few of the inclusions are questionable, detracting from the long-term rewatchability of the entire disc; but, then again, I own the "Best of Will Ferrell" disc for exactly one sketch. I'm happy to add this to my collection, because I know that I can watch The Sinatra Group, the Calvin Kleen ad, or the Anal Retentive Chef whenever I need a quick chuckle. Thanks for the laughs, Phil.
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