Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger takes a nervous peek around the corner at one of the most anticipated SNL compilations.
"And there's other people there that got them funny bellybuttons. Like some go in, and some go out, some are like a ball, or curl around, or it's like a little knob on it like a door. Some people even got little pieces of their sweater still in it. Some of them even look like a little shell or a clam or something you don't know what they are."—Roseanne Rosannadanna
Lions Gate has released a steady trickle of Saturday Night Live "best of" DVD compilations over the years. Some of these compilations have featured lesser known comedians, such as Saturday Night Live: The Best Of Jimmy Fallon. Some of them (Saturday Night Live: The Best Of Jon Lovitz and Saturday Night Live: The Best Of Christopher Walken, for example) have featured big names, but inexplicably ignored their best work in favor of obscure skits. It is safe to say that this latest batch of DVD compilations is among the most anticipated by SNL fans. The storied original cast steps up to the plate; infamous names such as Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, and Gilda Radner.
Fortunately, The Best Of Gilda Radner does arguably present the best of Gilda Radner. Her immortal characters are here, such as Roseanne Rosannadanna and Baba Wawa. Even if you haven't seen these skits firsthand, you may hear the faint echo "Baba Wawa" in the back of your mind when Barbara Walters is mentioned. Such staying power is remarkable for sketch comedy. Her absurd caricatures make an appearance, most notably the Veggie Soup Girl shoving corn kernels up her nose. There is even a healthy dose of Gilda's surreal sendups; she is captivating in her graceful-awkward ballet number with Steve Martin, scathing as the dolce prima donna in her parody of La Dolce Vita.
But Radner is most known for her unquenchable reservoir of energy and her willingness to exploit it. At her best, Gilda turns these outbursts into offbeat shenanigans that may never be matched. Few comedians would continue to slam themselves against closed doors with broken ribs. At her worst, Gilda comes off as a whinier Lucille Ball, and we mark time until the next skit.
The outbursts for which she is known paradoxically affect Best Of Gilda Radner viewing experience. Saturday Night Live has always grooved in the cerebral and quixotic, which often translates to slow. Belushi and Radner were frequently the relief pitchers, the color commentators, shots in the arm to reset the audience. But when you put five of Gilda's frenetic skits in a row, the contrast is lost. Her tomfoolery irks when it shouldn't, and her charm is harder to discern.
Therefore, this disc might be difficult for casual watchers to digest. I viewed it under the best of conditions: with my wife, at night after our son was in bed, primed to laugh at almost anything. In a nearly unprecedented mood, she herself requested we watch "something from Saturday Night Live." And yet, we went nine sketches deep before the first laugh came forth. It probably doesn't help that the mood was set by one of the lamest SNL openings ever. My wife went to bed halfway through, and I continued to watch. I'm glad I did, because the second half of the disc was much better at presenting Gilda's sugar-coated, yet piercing, observations of humanity. Had Roseanne Rosannadanna kicked things off, the laughter might have come sooner.
Lions Gate has taken care with this disc's extras. All of them (even the photo gallery) inform us of who Gilda was and what she brought to the show. We get to hear from Gilda herself in a pair of television interviews given at different points in her career. These interviews are not fluff, but actual explorations of her role as a comedienne on national television. We also get to hear retrospective comments from many of the SNL comedians, producers, and writers. Gilda was well liked by her teammates, and it shows in their genuine respect. Her screen test and a Rolling Stone article round out our glimpse of Radner, which makes this a hefty packet of extras. The audio and video are on par with other SNL discs, which is to say capable.
This disc will surely please fans who love and remember Gilda Radner, particularly those old enough to have a sense of context; Roseanne Rosannadanna's send up of Bo Derek requires familiarity with 10 and Derek's meteoric rise to stardom, just as the carbonated douche parody (absolutely hysterical, by the way) is funnier for those who recall the feminine hygiene commercials of the day. If you know what you're looking for in a Best Of Gilda Radner compilation, you'll likely find it here. If you don't, the DVD may require repeat viewings until you fall in love with Gilda Radner. But you should make the investment, because at her best she is irreplaceably funny.
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