SNL: The Complete Second Season review, SNL: Season 2 DVD review
Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Bill Murray, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner
Saturday Night Live:
The Complete Second Season

Reviewed by Will Harris



ans of the first five years of “Saturday Night Live” may now officially breathe a sigh of relief. Sales for the set of the first season proved sufficiently successful to warrant the release of Season Two. Perhaps there wasn’t any real reason to be concerned, given the flurry of people who picked up Season One for curiosity’s sake alone, but with the cost of music licensing these days, one never knows. (You haven’t seen “WKRP in Cincinnati: Season Two” announced yet, have you?)

Season Two was when the show really began to hit its stride, a feat that could only be achieved with a few personnel changes. Chevy Chase hit the road after a handful of episodes to begin his career in cinema, giving Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi a chance to emerge as stars in their own right, while Bill Murray entered the fray and, by season’s end, had been fully accepted by America as one of the Not Ready For Prime Time Players. Murray’s arrival resulted in some great self-deprecating material, where he referred to himself as “the new guy” and begged viewers to just give him a chance, just as Chase’s departure was the subject of plenty of cheap shots. Jim Henson’s Muppets were soon swept under the rug, and in a perfect example of where the “SNL” sensibilities were headed, they were replaced by Mr. Mike’s Least Loved Bedtime Stories.

“One day, while crossing the highway, Willy the Worm was run over by a large truck. His back half was just mashed. He was rushed to the worm doctor, who took one look at him, shook his head slowly from side to side, and said, ‘Willy, I have bad news for you. I'm afraid you'll never crawl again.’ ‘Not crawl? Not crawl? But crawling's my whole life,’ exclaimed Willy, and set out to prove the doctor wrong. Many years passed, and progress was slow, but Willy never gave up. His fierce determination drove him on, and finally Willy could crawl just as well as he ever did. ‘It's amazing,’ said the worm doctor. ‘Why, you'd be written up in medical journals…if, indeed, worms had medical journals.’ ‘That's nothing, watch this, Doc,’ cried Willy. And he quickly crawled up a rock, down the other side, over a log, around a stump, and partway across the highway, where he was run over by another truck, even larger than the first. This time, his front half was mashed. The end.”

Rest in peace, Michael O’Donoghue.

Like the show’s first season, the least likely hosts turn out to provide some of the funniest moments. Sitcom writer and producer Norman Lear hosted the second show of the season, and his opening monologue finds him going to the casts of all of his various shows in order to get testimonials about his talent. Isabel Sanford and Sherman Hemsley (“The Jeffersons”) assure Lear that they’ve never been treated differently because they’re black, then walk off camera, each with a ball and chain attached to an ankle. Lear also has a blast making fun of his reputation for creating new series using a “Mad Libs”-styled format, presenting the pilot for a new sitcom called “The Snakehandling O’Sheas.” (“The daughter is a nun, and their son is a gay state trooper!”) Also entertaining are Julian Bond, who has fun poking holes in as many racial stereotypes as he can, and consumer advocate Ralph Nader makes light of the government whenever possible.

Also as in the first season, however, one can’t help but notice the kind of risks “Saturday Night Live” used to take with its hosts. The idea that the current incarnation of the show would be able to say “to hell with the demographics!” and put on whoever they felt like, is just inconceivable. Back in 1977, though, they didn’t think twice before handing someone like Broderick Crawford the host duties for a week, even though it’d been almost 20 years since he’d had a full-fledged hit series (“Highway Patrol”). Why did they do it? Because they grew up watching him and had fond memories of him. But if one of the producers went to NBC today and said, “Hey, we’d really like to get Dirk Benedict to host the show, because he was awesome on ‘The A-Team’ and ‘Battlestar Galactica,’” there’d be no freaking way he’d ever get green-lighted. (Sorry, Dirk.) The same goes with musical guests, for that matter, given that we were treated to performances by Kinky Friedman and his Texas Jewboys, Frank Zappa and Tom Waits during the course of Season Two. The show used to be edgy and unique, but now it’s a boring mainstream institution.

Fortunately, we can still look back on the glory days. “Saturday Night Live: The Complete Second Season” is full of classic sketches (The Coneheads, Nick the Lounge Singer, Emily Litella), classic hosts (Steve Martin, Elliot Gould, Eric Idle), and some of the most unique comedic concepts of its time, like the Fran Tarkenton episode, where the host regularly runs off stage to confer with Coach John Belushi while sportscaster Bill Murray offers commentary.

Ah, the good ol’ days. Oh, how they’re missed.

Special Features: There’s a pair of audio-only performances from a dress rehearsal of the show, along with an Andy Kaufman screen test (one presumes that it was unearthed too late to include it on the Season One set). The bit that’ll be most fascinating to longtime “SNL” fans is the show’s infamous Mardi Gras special. The whole cast headed down to New Orleans to record a live show, along with special guests like Henry Winkler, Penny Marshall, Cindy Williams and Randy Newman, but it quickly devolved into a car wreck of a viewing experience, with nothing going like it was supposed to, forcing the run order of sketches and segments to be rearranged on the fly. The only possible reason to watch it more than once is if you’re a big fan of Newman’s music (every time something went wrong, they cut back to him for another song), but definitely watch it at least once, so you can appreciate why this is the first time it’s been made available for public viewing since its original airing.

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