Judge Erich Asperschlager is two wild and crazy guys. He's been seeing a shrink about it.
Our reviews of Saturday Night Live: The Complete First Season (published January 24th, 2007), Saturday Night Live: The Complete Second Season (published December 19th, 2007), Saturday Night Live: The Complete Fourth Season (published December 8th, 2008), and Saturday Night Live: The Complete Fifth Season (published December 14th, 2009) are also available.
"Ahhhh Star Wars, nothing but Star Wars, give me those Star Wars, don't let them end. Ah, Star Wars, if they should…bar wars, please let these Star Wars…stay."—Meatloaf Mountain lounge singer Nick Winters (Bill Murray)
I was born in late August, 1977, in New Jersey, at the end of a summer marked by the debut of Star Wars, the New York City blackout, and the capture of "Son of Sam" killer David Berkowitz—less than a month before Saturday Night Live's season three premiere.
I don't remember much from those first few weeks, but I wonder: when host Steve Martin took the stage that September, did I feel it? Did I stir briefly in my crib? Did I, for no apparent reason, smile for the very first time? Did I, on a subconscious level, share in some small part of a nation's relieved laughter at Saturday Night Live's triumphant return?
Facts of the Case
Saturday Night Live: The Complete Third Season features all 20 episodes, across seven discs:
Host: Madeline Kahn
Host: Hugh Hefner
Host and Musical Guest: Ray Charles
Host: Buck Henry
Host: Miskel Spillman
Host: Steve Martin
Host: Chevy Chase
Host: O.J. Simpson
Host: Jill Clayburgh
Host: Christopher Lee
Host: Michael Sarrazin
Host: Steve Martin
Host: Buck Henry
When NBC's Saturday Night hit television in 1975, it hit like a freight train. In the untamed wilderness of late night weekend TV, SNL built an oasis of hipness that became a fiefdom of cool that has since evolved into a comedy empire so powerful it should probably have its own ambassador to the U.N.
That first year was marked by the experimental efforts of a cast at times overshadowed by breakout star Chevy Chase. When Chase left in the middle of season two to pursue a movie career, everyone else (including "new kid" Bill Murray) rushed in to fill the void—proving they could not only survive without Chevy, they could thrive without him. That second season was one of change for Saturday Night Live, and it set the stage for what followed: arguably one of the best seasons of the series' three-plus decades on TV.
These DVD sets are the first time many people will get to see early SNL episodes in their entirety. Even so, this third season has so many classic sketches, so many classic characters, and so many iconic moments, it almost feels like a best-of collection.
Though it takes the Not Ready for Prime Time Players a few episodes to shake off the rust, the season hits its stride with the Charles Grodin-hosted Halloween show—featuring Paul Simon, Irving Mainway's unsafe children's costumes, and the Coneheads handing out six-packs to kids. In addition to carry-over characters like John Belushi's Samurai, Gilda Radner's Baba Wawa, and Bill Murray's Nick the lounge singer, the third season introduced many of the series' best-loved sketches—including Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd's "wild and crazy" Festrunk brothers, the "cheeseburger cheeseburger" Olympia Diner, Radner and Murray's lovable nerds, and Don Novello's Father Guido Sarducci.
How big of an impact has Bill Murray had on American comedy? I'm not sure. But I do know this: he's made it near impossible to not sing Nick Winters' "Star Wars Theme" in the shower. Murray's slow burn debut in SNL's second season was only a tease for his towering presence in season three. He steals just about every sketch he's in—from his most famous sketches to little-known gems like "Funeral Magician," in which Murray tries to cheer up a grieving widow by performing various illusions that include sawing her dead husband in half.
But Murray is only part of an outstanding cast. With Chevy Chase out of the picture, everyone gets their chance to shine (even the sadly underused Garrett Morris and Laraine Newman). Besides Murray, Gilda Radner and Dan Aykroyd have perhaps the best showing—she with the infectious exuberance of characters like bouncy Brownie Judy Miller and gross-out consumer reporter Roseanne Roseannadanna; and he by joining "ignorant slut" Jane Curtin at the Weekend Update news desk and adding Elwood Blues (of The Blues Brothers) to his slate of father, salesman, and presidential characters.
Part of the fun of these full season box sets is the staggering variety of sketches, guest performers, musicians, and celebrity hosts. Even with Steve Martin and Buck Henry collectively hosting one-fourth of the season, the remainder of the episodes featured actor/comedians like Madeline Kahn, Robert Klein, and Charles Grodin, recent Oscar winner Richard Dreyfuss, Monty Python's Michael Palin, horror film workhorse Christopher Lee, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, a pre-trial O.J. Simpson, New Orleans grandmother Miskel Spillman (winner of SNL's "Anyone Can Host" contest), and the highly publicized mid-season return of a surprisingly disappointing Chevy Chase.
The bonus features in the second season box set included the infamous live "Mardi Gras Special" (which was such a disaster Lorne Michaels reputedly vowed never to air it again). This time, Universal dips back into obscurity with the long-lost 1977 TV special "Things We Did Last Summer," a 45-minute collection of mockumentary-style vacation vignettes that include Gilda running tours of her apartment, Aykroyd and Belushi performing as The Blues Brothers, Murray giving up comedy to play professional baseball, Garrett going back to work as a jockey, and Newman's misadventures on a tropical island (with a surprise cameo by a young Paul Reubens). "Summer" is worth watching, if only for its historical value. At least it's more interesting than the other feature: a three minute wardrobe test for John Belushi and Howard Shore.
Like the two previous sets, the audio is a competent 2.0 stereo mix, and the full frame video looks about as good as expected for a thirty-year-old live TV show.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It's great to finally have access to complete episodes of Saturday Night Live. For too long, these early sketches were available only in heavily edited compilations. The downside, of course, is that the not-so-great material isn't filtered out. Fortunately, there are far fewer clunkers this time around than there were in season two. Steve Martin's last episode, for instance, is wall-to-wall funny.
The other problem with watching a topical comedy series thirty years after it originally aired is that some of the references are lost on a modern audience. Jokes, for instance, about marijuana crops sprayed with the herbicide Paraquat, or about the Egyptian raid on the capital of Cyprus, don't have the punch they once did. As a late-'70s time capsule, Saturday Night Live: The Complete Third Season can be fascinating. Just don't expect it to always be funny.
And while I'm nitpicking, Universal once again misses the opportunity to include audio commentaries for any of the episodes. Even if they couldn't assemble the original cast, how much work would it have been to scrape together the odd stagehand and a nostalgic gaffer or two? What goes on behind the scenes on Saturday Night Live is often just as interesting as what goes out over the air. How else are viewers supposed to know that the reason Chevy Chase seems so off-kilter during his monologue is because he and Murray had a fight that almost came to blows, minutes before air, or that Laraine Newman was rumored to have threatened to quit if she wasn't allowed to play in a sketch opposite Christopher Lee? Heck, even if the gaffers are busy, why not just include excerpts from the audio version of James Miller and Tom Shales' must-read SNL history Live From New York? It would be better than nothing. Whatever they do, they'd better hurry up, before the Jean Doumanian-produced '80-'81 season rolls around and no one cares.
It's encouraging that Universal has started releasing these Saturday Night Live box sets on a biannual basis. Hopefully, they figure out a way to release them even faster. I'd like to see the late-'80s seasons sometime before I own my first flying car.
If you bought the first two SNL seasons on DVD, there's absolutely no reason not to pick this one up as well. If you've been sitting on the fence, there's no better season to start with than this one. With classic characters, great writing, and a sure-footed cast, Saturday Night Live: The Complete Third Season is worth the trip back to the '70s—bad hair and all.
No! No Guilty…Cheeseburger!
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• "Things We Did Last Summer"
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