Al Franken, Don Novello
The Complete Third Season
- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Will Harris
eason Three was a year of highs and lows for “Saturday Night Live.” It must be said that the show’s ego was swelling at a disconcerting rate, focusing less on the novelty of having unique guest hosts and more on the talent within its own ranks. Okay, fair enough: the Not Ready for Prime Time Players were, by this point, full-fledged superstars. They also had such skewed comedic sensibilities that, as they were being allowed to spread their wings creatively, it was proving more difficult to find hosts who meshed well with their sensibilities. It’s no wonder, then, that they’d want to fall back on the tried and true regulars who were most able to adapt to the show’s modern mindset. Still, when you look back at these 20 episodes and realize that Steve Martin hosted three times and Buck Henry more or less did the same, it feels a little lazy.
As to the “more or less” comment about Henry, that’s a reference to the third season’s very interesting Christmas episode, which was hosted by Mrs. Miskel Spillman, an 80-year-old grandmother who had won the Anyone Can Host “Saturday Night Live” contest. The early episodes of the season featured regular promos for the contest by the cast, where they explained the rules, clarifying that, to enter, one must explain in 25 words or less why they should be allowed to host the show and send it in on a postcard. In one such promo, Michael O’Donoghue gleefully tears up an entry which prattles on for 26 words. It’s a great concept that’s built up in hilarious fashion, with the five finalists appearing on one episode, giving America the opportunity to meet them all before they vote on a winner. Mrs. Spillman proves to be a hoot as a host, though she’s quite obviously not a professional comedienne, which would explain why Henry was brought in to serve as somewhat of a hosting mentor, as well as to pop up in other sketches throughout the episode. It’s clear from the get-go, however, that Mrs. Spillman is a broad who is game for whatever they throw at her, including jokes about her toking up on one of Belushi’s high-powered joints to get relaxed and, in a later sketch, playing a college freshman’s new girlfriend. Frankly, it’s hard to believe “SNL” never ran this contest again, particularly given today’s world of reality TV, but count on this set resulting in the concept being revived in the very near future.
Of the other interesting hosts this season, the obvious novelty is O.J. Simpson, but the more controversial host that year was actually Chevy Chase, making his return to the series that made him famous. It was, by most accounts, a battle of egos that week, with Chase and Bill Murray almost coming to blows before Chase’s opening monologue, and the humor of his return to the “Weekend Update” desk echoing Chase’s real-life belief that America would be so interested in seeing him read the news again that there was little need for the current anchors, Curtin and Aykroyd, to be there at all. Fans of “Dirty Sexy Money” will be amused to see Jill Clayburgh hosting the show, but those who aren’t well versed in ‘70s movies will likely be at a loss when Michael Sarrazin turns up. (He does, however, contribute immeasurably to one of the longest but funniest sketches of the season with “Josh Ramsey, V.D. Caseworker.”)
Musical guests were again wide and varied during the course of the year, with huge names like Jackson Browne, Paul Simon, Willie Nelson, Billy Joel, Meat Loaf and Eddie Money sitting side by side with Taj Mahal, Libby Titus, Franklyn Ajaye, Eugene Record and Sun Ra. Both Ray Charles and Art Garfunkel had enough cool points next to their name to actually host the show, with the latter also popping up on the episode hosted by Charles Grodin. Grodin, who provided a hilarious running gag to his show by not only claiming to have never seen “SNL” before, but also missing dress rehearsal, teamed with musical guest Paul Simon by wearing a Jew-fro wig and pretending to be Garfunkel. Eventually, however, the real article emerged (noticeably doing so after Simon left the stage) and confiscated the wig from Grodin.
The inconsistent nature of the show is still there, but to throw out the line that’s been a staple of our past reviews for these sets, “Saturday Night Live: The Complete Third Season” is still a must-buy for fans of the show. As ever, it’s a comedy history lesson in a box. There’s some material you can’t believe was considered controversial, and there’s other stuff that’s so offensive that NBC would never allow it on the air, but then there are quiet, subtle character pieces which are so deep and thoughtful over the course of several minutes that kids today would never sit still long enough to appreciate them. Even with the misses, the hits and the history are more than enough to warrant another four-star rating.
Special Features: Though we’ve been graced with another set without audio commentary from any of the show’s principals, it’s to the credit of Broadway Video that they continue to dig into the vaults to find archival material that hasn’t been seen in years. The big win here is “Things We Did Last Summer,” an hour-long mockumentary from 1977 which details the cast’s between-season activities and how they dealt with their increased fame; Radner, Murray, Morris, and Newman each get their own segments, and we also get a live Blues Brothers performance. (Curtin is mysteriously absent from the proceedings.) There’s also a two-minute clip of Belushi and “SNL” music man Howard Shore getting a wardrobe test, but though it’s funny to see them just being themselves, you probably won’t watch it more than once.