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If you grow as tired of those crappy cast-compilation discs as I do, you'll welcome with open arms this entire first season of Saturday Night Live. On the long list of releases I thought would never see the light of Tuesday, this one ranked pretty high... just beneath anamorphic editions of the unscrewed-with original Star Wars trilogy. The argument against this title is staggering. An eight-disc release of a show thirty-two years old that would require numerous musical clearances and a likely high production cost? It's not exactly an attractive proposition. But now that the unthinkable has been thought and before me sit twenty-two episodes of SNL, how does it stack up?

Saturday Night Live - The Complete First Season

Feature


NBC's Saturday Night (which would become Saturday Night Live the next season) is a topical and zany sketch comedy show that airs live on Saturday nights. Each show has a celebrity host who participates in the sketches as well as a musical guest who performs between skits. Now in it's thirty-second season, the show has been wildly successful, you may have heard of it.

The quality of the show varies with each season, ranging from painfully unfunny to comedic genius. It's currently quite painful, but public opinion on recent seasons has always been diverse. I find that most agree, however, that the show was best when it was new. Being a child of the 80s, I wasn't around when these were first aired, so this marks my first experience with old-school SNL and I can now verify: the show really was best when it was new.

It takes SNL a few episodes to settle in with a comfortable blend of zany sketches, spoof commercials, fake news, movie parodies and musical numbers. The worst episode in the entire set happens to be the second one, largely due to Simon and Garfunkel performing eleven mind-numbingly mundane songs and the cast only cranking out six short sketches. Lucky for us, the musical guests are given less prominence in later episodes.

Saturday Night Live - The Complete First Season
Arguably the finest cast ever assembled for SNL, this first season features the original 'Not Ready For Prime Time Players'. This includes Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Gilda Radner and Laraine Newman, each one a comedic gem. Chase has the most screen-time, opening each episode with 'Live from New York...' and hosting Weekend Update. There's ample material featuring Aykroyd and Belushi with mostly everyone else playing second fiddle to these three bad boys of comedy.

For the most part, the sketches are comedy gold. Much of this material is every bit as relevant and funny today as it was when it first aired, if not more so. George Carlin's commentary on airport security measures and military intelligence (which he believes to be an oxymoron) is timeless. Similarly, Chase's 'Weekend Update' ribbing of President Ford feels very familiar, showing that the series hasn't changed all that much over the years - only the faces. Like most shows in their first season, SNL is still a work-in-progress here. The episodes are more hit than miss, but not every skit is worthwhile and some of the musical numbers feel painfully dated.

The first season has episodes hosted by George Carlin, Paul Simon, Rob Reiner, Candice Bergen, Robert Klein, Lily Tomlin, Richard Pryor, Candice Bergen, Elliot Gould, Buck Henry, Peter Cook & Dudley Moore, Dick Cavett, Peter Boyle, Desi Arnaz, Jill Clayburgh, Anthony Perkins, Ron Nessen, Raquel Welch, Madeline Kahn, Dyan Cannon, Buck Henry, Elliot Gould, Louise Lasser and Kriss Kristofferson, respectively. Musical guest highlights include Billy Preston, Joe Cocker (with John Belushi), Howard Shore (yes, that one!), Desi Arnaz and Kriss Kristofferson.

Saturday Night Live - The Complete First Season

Video


All twenty-two episodes are shown in their original fullscreen aspect ratio. The presentation is just as rough as you'd expect for something thirty odd years old and shot for television. The video quality is often soft and I did spot the occasional tracking line across the top/bottom of the frame, but honestly, nothing so horrible that it detracts from what's happening onscreen.

Audio


The only audio option provided is a Dolby Digital 2.0 track. Like the video, the audio quality is less than perfect, but does the job satisfactorily most of the time. For the musical numbers, it sounds as though the sound technician blindly tossed a single boom mic somewhere near the action and hoped for the best. Luckily, the sketches often sound better than the musical performances.

Extras


On disc eight, you'll find seven screen tests featuring Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman and Garrett Morris. Ranging from two to five minutes in length. These are every bit as funny as the episodes that followed from them. Clearly, this cast was hand-picked by God who then gave divine inspiration Lorne Michaels. Following those lovely gems is a five minute group-interview with Lorne and the cast on The Today Show dated 9/27/75. Finishing out the set is a thirty-two page booklet is included, chock full of fantastic behind the scenes photographs.

Saturday Night Live - The Complete First Season

Overall


As it would turn out, this classic first season is just as great as they say it is... ('they' being the elderly people who were around for its original broadcast, such as my parents). As far as quasi-vintage television goes, this release is well put-together set and I commend Universal Studios for having the testicular fortitude to release an entire season of Saturday Night Live. To even the most casual fans, I say run, not walk, to the nearest retailer and grab your own copy of this landmark first season. I'm Dustin McNeill and that's news to me.


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