Our reviews of Saturday Night Live: The Best Of Will Ferrell, Volume 3 (published July 28th, 2010), Saturday Night Live: The Best Of Will Ferrell (published July 1st, 2010), and Saturday Night Live: The Best Of Will Ferrell, Volume 2 (published October 5th, 2004) are also available.
Vile from New York—It's Saturday Night!
In its almost 30 years on the air, Saturday Night Live has given rise to some of the premiere comic talents and indelible comedic moments of the electronic age. The honor roll includes such performers as John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, Billy Crystal, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, and Mike Meyers. SNL sketches like "Samurai Delicatessen," "The Coneheads," and "Hans and Franz" are burned into our collective cultural consciousness forever.
SNL has also had its share of dry spells in its long run. There have been times in its history when SNL has been basically unwatchable, and has even been rumored for cancellation. The latest slump really started in the early- and mid-1990s when the departures of John Lovitz, Victoria Jackson, Dana Carvey, Meyers, Dennis Miller, Chris Farley, and Phil Hartman brought the show's second "golden era" (the first having occurred with the original "Not Ready for Prime Time Players" like Aykroyd and Belushi) to an end. The show has never really recovered, and for most of the last eight or nine years it has been about as funny as a colostomy.
Case in point: this disc featuring the "best" of Will Ferrell. Almost nothing in this collection of uninspired, interminable sketches would have even made it to rehearsals back in the early '90s. Ferrell seems to labor under the impression that "loud and spastic" is the winning formula to creating any character. There is a lot of material here that doesn't just fall flat but is amazingly unfunny. Music teacher Marty Culp, the sensitive cowbell player for Blue Oyster Cult, Harry Carey impressions, the head-bobbing moron Steve Butabi—they are all here, making this disc like a trip through Dante's descending circles of Hell. Farrell's most abysmal creation, Craig the Cheerleader, makes an appearance as well, demonstrating in one short (though not as short as it should have been) sketch just how bad Ferrell and SNL can be at their worst. Perhaps Ferrell doesn't deserve all the blame; the writing in most of these sketches is unbelievably bad, after all. Still, his performances usually manage to take horrid material and milk it for all the wretched excess it is worth.
To be fair, Ferrell has some shining moments and once in a while shows some real brilliance. His impersonations of George W. Bush, for example, rank as some of the most accurate, hilarious political impersonations in the storied history of SNL, right up there with Dana Carvey as Bush Sr. There is a clip of Ferrell's recurring role as a morning talk show host that successfully, gleefully lampoons Regis and his clones. The pseudo-commercial for the "Dissing your Dog" video series was excellent, in large part because it showed a subdued, natural Ferrell exploiting the comedy in the material, rather than relying on grotesque physical shtick. Still, even the few sketches on this disc that succeed do so more often in spite of Ferrell than because of him. Several bits, such as a celebrity Jeopardy game, serve to highlight the much greater talents of costars like Chris Kattan and Darrell Hammond. To make matters worse, the producers of this disc evidently made a point to include as many sketches as possible featuring famous guest stars. Thus Sarah Michelle Gellar, Christopher Walken, Alec Baldwin, Garth Brooks, Drew Barrymore, Jeff Goldblum, Jim Carrey, and Rudy Giuliani all make appearances in some of the very worst material in this collection.
There is a nice collection of extras for you Ferrell fans out there. His audition for SNL, relying heavily on wigs and glasses, is provided. It is an interesting bit of history and makes one seriously wonder how Ferrell ever got the job in the first place. There is a dress rehearsal sketch that was cut before it aired; it's mildly interesting, and no worse than most of the bits that actually were broadcast. There are some other outtakes, including a nice bit with Ferrell as Dubya and Dana Carvey as Bush 41 on a father-son hunting trip. Finally, there are two Conan O'Brien appearances and a photo gallery. The funniest thing on the whole disc is Ferrell's first appearance with Conan, showing up in character as Robert Goulet and drunkenly calling the host "Johnny" the whole time. Like almost all of Ferrell's better material it starts strong, but doesn't know when to end. Kinda sounds like a certain late-night weekend variety show we all know and used to love, doesn't it?
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Scales of Justice
• Will Ferrell's Saturday Night Live Audition
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