Nicknamed the "Not Ready for Prime Time Players," the original cast of Saturday Night Live ignited a comedy revolution with their mix of irreverent characters and satirical impressions of political figures and pop culture icons. From the premiere of this groundbreaking sketch comedy show on October 11, 1975, live from historic Studio 8H in New York City's Rockefeller Center, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Chevy Chase, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, and Gilda Radner launched themselves into instant stardom and were often referred to as "The Beatles of Comedy." Created by Lorne Michaels over three decades ago, few other shows have had the cultural impact and relevance of Saturday Night Live. Nowhere else can you see the complete first season of SNL, featuring hosts George Carlin, Rob Reiner, Lily Tomlin, Richard Pryor, Elliott Gould, Candice Bergen, or original musical performances by Simon & Garfunkel, ABBA, Patti Smith Group, Jimmy Cliff, and Carly Simon. And if you're curious as to how the original cast was hired, check out the DVD bonus features that include the screen tests of each performer.
Saturday Night Live: The Complete First Season boxed set is much more than the sum of its parts, in fact it's one of the most significant TV DVD releases yet. This isn't just an 8-disc set featuring 24 episodes of live sketch comedy, it's a big box of zeitgeist. This really is the complete first season, mostly uncut and complete with every musical act and short film intact (a few bumpers and transitions were removed to make it flow better on DVD). The first broadcast aired on October 11, 1975, hosted by George Carlin and featured musical guests Billy Preston and Janis Ian. At first, things seem a little raw: Carlin's opening monologue is painfully unfunny, Chase's first shot at the seminal "Weekend Update" is amusing but sloppy, and much of the cast seem to be holding back. But the groundwork is all there, and soon in subsequent episodes you can see it all start to come together (especially with John Belushi who lets his simmering intensity out to tremendous effect), proving that the first episode simply belies the historic impact the show would come to have on popular culture. Here you'll find the first airing of some of the many skits that stayed famous over the years: the Land Shark, Samurai Hotel, Chevy Chase's opening pratfalls and the impersonations of Gerald Ford which would spin off into the proud SNL tradition of presidential parodies.
The set is a very entertaining look at a significant point in TV and American cultural history. It is so 1975, but that's a major part of its appeal: did Chevy Chase really used to look that young? Did a young George Carlin really used to look so old? Check out Abba in those disco jumpsuits. And if you're a fan of The Muppets, seeing them here on late-night TV making jokes about getting drunk will blow your mind. Younger fans may not fully understand just how groundbreaking this show was at the time. For example, Richard Pryor hosting the seventh episode, which includes the famous "Word Association" sketch. Back then, to have a comedian of Pryor's reputation joking about drugs, sex, and race on live TV was a tremendous risk (it's also gratifying to see the obvious effect he had on the next generation of comics like Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock), and it helped established the show's cache as unpredictable and edgy. The DVD set is full of moments like this and, like the show itself, it has its ups and downs. Watching hosts like Rob Reiner (back when he was still in his "Meathead" days from All in the Family), Madeleine Kahn, and Desi Arnaz work their comedy chops with the cast are high points. Whereas the infamous Louise Lasser episode, which is known for being among the worst episodes in the show's history
not so much. Still, it's entirely to Executive Producer Lorne Michaels's credit that it's included here. It's a tremendous collection of everything that gave birth to Saturday Night Live, and the seed of what SNL would become, spawning many movies (not to mention a few catch-phrases), launching the careers of many great comedians, and providing TV viewers with some of the most famous, and infamous, moments in broadcast history. And it all started right here.
The set is packaged in a well-designed, sleek fold-out digi-pack with every episode listed on the sleeves, with hosts, musical guests, and the original air date. The special features include a rare look at the cast members' original screen tests, and a 1975 TV interview with the cast. --Daniel Vancini