Release Date: May 13, 2008
3 ½ ½ /
Starring: Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Bill Murray, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner, Michael O’Donoghue and many guest hosts
Executive Producer: Lorne Michaels
Directed by: Dave Wilson
Saturday Night Live: The Complete Third Season is the full-season DVD release of the late night comedy show’s third year. By the third season, SNL had achieved what could be called perfect pitch. The edge of the first two seasons is a bit softened, but the performers have gotten into a really good rhythm. The show’s basic structure is now clearly established, with the cold opening, the monologue, the news parody, the commercial parodies, the musical guests, etc, and the mix of established characters and new creations filling out the program. The show’s popularity begins to really show this year – guest stars now include major contemporary names such as Richard Dreyfuss and Mary Kay Place, alongside regular hosts Steve Martin and Buck Henry. There are moments where the energy drops a bit, but the show is cruising along, and one episode (Ep 18 -Steve Martin/Blues Brothers) may well be the very best instalment of the entire 30+ year history of the show.
Universal has released the third season of SNL on 7 standard definition DVDs, most containing 3 episodes, and the final one containing the last two episodes along with a wardrobe test and a special program called “Things We Did Last Summer.” As before, the episodes are presented in their original full frame aspect ratio, from the master videotapes. At this point, the show’s title has now been completely converted to “Saturday Night Live”, and the opening credits reflect this throughout. My comments about the video and audio quality from the 2nd Season continue to apply here: The video quality is a good but not spectacular combination of vintage videotape and ragged film footage. The sound quality is a simple 2.0 mono mix that makes the voices clear and doesn’t try to do anything else. This season set, like the first two years, presents the episodes without the cast photo bumpers other than the final one before the goodbyes. The regular segues to commercials have been included, so that we either close in on an unsuspecting audience member who gets an interesting caption or go wide to see a gag title for what’s “Up Next”. With the 3rd season, some episodes now have a gag opening screen such as “’The Waltons Eat Their Young’ Will Not Be Seen Tonight So We Can Bring You This Special Presentation”. This is the first season to feature a clean-shaven Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray, although both of them change this up a few times throughout the season.
So now we dive into the 3rd season. As with my 2nd Season review, I’m dispensing with my usual divisions regarding special features and concentrating instead on the contents of each episode. THERE ARE MANY SPOILERS HERE, but this is to help fans of the show easily locate some of their favourite sketches and gags. I’ll take each disc in order. All the regular episodes are presented in full-frame with the aforementioned 2.0 soundtrack.
Ep 1 - Guest Host Steve Martin/Musical Guest Jackson Browne – The show picks back up where they left off last year, with a strong sense of familiarity flowing through the segment. The energy is a little lower than one might expect, as though the show was coasting a bit here. Martin’s opening monologue is an excerpt of his contemporary standup material. Jackson Browne turns in two good performances, including “Running on Empty” but the energy level there is as subdued as the rest of the show. This episode features a new opening montage with a Times Square Display and the faces of the cast superimposed over animated displays. This episode also introduces a new “Weekend Update” set with Dan Aykroyd now joining Jane Curtin as a co-anchor and Bill Murray contributing the first of his movie reviews (which usually are the result of Murray not having seen the film!). This episode also features the first appearance of Martin and Aykroyd’s Festrunk Brothers, and the first official incarnation of the “Franken & Davis Show.” I should acknowledge that Steve Martin does get in a nice bit as a sleazy defense attorney along the way. Lorne Michaels makes another appeal to the Beatles to appear on the show, this time upping his offer by $200.
Ep 2 – Guest Host Madeline Kahn/Musical Guest Taj Majal – Madeline Kahn returns to host the 2nd show of the year, which shows everyone is back up to speed and working with a lot more energy than the first instalment. The opening montage now features daytime shots of the cast walking past the marquee displays of their names and faces. (For some reason, Gilda Radner is once again eating an apple during the montage...) Leonard Pinth Garnell’s BAD OPERA memorably shows Kahn doing an endless soprano note. On the other hand, Aykroyd seems to be a bit uncomfortable with the co-anchor position at Weekend Update, based on his delivery. Barry Humphries makes a cameo appearance as “Dame Edna” and does a memorable interview with Kahn in the second half of the show. One noteworthy sketch late in the day is a simple character piece between Kahn and Radner that showcases their acting ability beyond simple sketches. I should note a terrific commercial film for the “Pocket Pal” featuring Dan Aykroyd and a device that can predict imminent mid-air collisions for air travellers. Regular viewers of SNL should be able to easily predict the end of the spot. Finally, Lorne Michaels makes a new appeal in the same vein as his offers to the Beatles. This time, though, he’s actually making a serious offer to the audience that “Anyone Can Host” if they send in a funny postcard with 25 words.
Ep 3 – Guest Host Hugh Hefner/Musical Guest Libby Titus– This episode is squarely centered around Hef, including a surprising rendition by him of “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” and a science fiction sketch featuring a men’s ship intersecting with a women’s ship, and you can probably figure out all the visual jokes SNL could do with that idea. There is a great bit with John Belushi “Listening to Great Music” (in this case “The Ride of the Valkyries”) that builds to the usual Belushi explosion. And Andy Kaufman has one of his indescribable routines. All in all, a typically good episode.
Ep 4 – Guest Host Charles Grodin/Musical Guests Paul Simon & The Persuasions – This one doesn’t quite come off the way it may have been intended. The running gag of the show is that Charles Grodin is not prepared to do the show, having been absent for most of the rehearsals and having missed the dress rehearsal. I’ve read that this was an intentional setup, in the normally edgy mode of the show, but it unfortunately comes across in a convincing manner. Grodin appears in a minimum of sketches, usually only to break up the sketch and begin addressing Lorne Michaels. Paul Simon delivers a solid rendition of “Slip Sliding Away”, and is a good sport about trying a duet with Grodin (who wears a Garfunkel wig, breaks up the song and then is confronted by the real Art Garfunkel on camera). The regular players soldier on, with Gilda Radner debuting her “Judy Miller” Brownie character and the Coneheads making a return for the Halloween show. Aykroyd’s “Irwin Mainway” also makes a fresh appearance to hawk his completely unsafe Halloween costumes for kids (such as “Invisible Pedestrian” which comes with the helpful warning “Not For Blind Kids”). The 1250AM spot gets filled by a “Hire the Incompetent” sketch featuring Radner’s second new character of the night, “Roseanne Roseanna-Danna” (although she is not named here, there is no mistaking that person anywhere...) As of this episode, the opening credits shift again to a nighttime cross by the cast in front of their names and icons. And Gilda, of course, is continuing to eat her apple...
Ep 5 – Guest Host Ray Charles/Special Guest Franklin Ajaye – Ray Charles hosts a solid episode that appropriately tilts a bit more toward the musical side, with multiple songs played by Charles in various combinations and with the cast. The Weekend Update for this one features a rabid Dan Aykroyd and the latest appearance of the “Dancing N”. Charles appears in some inspired sketches, including Evelyn Woodski’s Slow Reading Course, and a quick one-joke gag about him getting the upper hand on two robbers after ConEd has a blackout in his apartment. On the other hand, Franklin Ajaye does a stand-up routine about “Star Trek” that simply falls flat. The whole thing gets a lift when Belushi does a passable Ray Charles imitation while Charles plays the piano for him, and the evening ends with Ray Charles playing a bouncy piece for the end credits. As of this episode, the opening credits are slightly tightened, with extra business of Gilda and her apple snipped out.
Ep 6 – Buck Henry/Musical Guest Leon Redbone – Buck Henry makes his first appearance of this season, introducing the five finalists for the “Anyone Can Host” competition. (This competition involved viewers turning in votes via a TV Guide Ballot based on the lettered blazers worn by the finalists on this episode.) As is the norm for the Buck Henry episodes, this is another classic episode, featuring the John Belushi “Little Chocolate Donuts” commercial, another great Samurai sketch, and the classic “Stunt Baby” sketch. Weekend Update features a new appearance by Baba Wawa, and we are shown Michael O’Donoghue’s twisted take on the Mouskateers, “The Ricky Rat Show”.
Ep 7 – Guest Host Mary Kay Place/Musical Guest Willie Nelson – Here’s an episode that, like the Charles Grodin episode, doesn’t completely come together. (The cheerleading cold opening and Place’s opening monologue of reading her diary just don’t go anywhere, in spite of the energy Place is trying to bring to the show.) Willie Nelson buoys the ship with two very nice solo performances and a solid duet with Place. Andy Kaufman makes another appearance, this time taking a volunteer from the audience.
Ep 8 – Guest Host Miskel Spillman/Musical Guest Elvis Costello – And here we have the result of the Anyone Can Host competition. The winner of the contest is 80 year old grandmother Miskel Spillman, who is accompanied by an unbilled Buck Henry. They keep her to a minimum of appearances, including a quick scripted monologue (that plays on the joke of Belushi having shared marijuana with her), a couple of brief cameos, and then a full sketch with Belushi, Aykroyd and Curtin where Spillman plays Belushi’s new girlfriend. There’s a lot of great stuff here, including a return appearance by Emily Litella on Weekend Update (she enters as the “Dancing N”. Franken and Davis do a deliberately creepy bit where Franken and his parents stage a confrontation on camera. And Elvis Costello shows up, ostensibly to play “Watching the Detectives” and “Less than Zero”. Except that two bars into “Less than Zero”, Costello suddenly stops the song and surges into “Radio, Radio”, an anti-corporate song he was expressly told not to play. (The consequences for that one were a banning of Costello from the show for over 10 years.)
Ep 9 – Guest Host Steve Martin/Musical Guests The Dirt Band and Randy Newman – Steve Martin’s second appearance of the year is on more solid footing than his first one. His opening monologue is again pulled from his current standup, but there’s a lot of great sketches here, including an unforgettable appearance by the Coneheads on Family Feud, and an inspired Bigfoot sketch with Belushi and Radner. This show also marks the first appearance by Roseanne Roseanna-Danna on Weekend Update. We also get Randy Newman’s performance of “Short People” (and a pungent response to the people then attacking him for it.) The Dirt Band (who back up Newman on “Short People”) turn in two great performances including a great banjo playoff that features Steve Martin sitting in with them.
Ep 10 – Guest Host Robert Klein/Musical Guest Bonnie Raitt – Robert Klein returns to the show with a great episode that features the first appearance of the Olympia Cafe, which only serves cheeseburgers, chips and Pepsi. (As a sidenote, it is clear that Dan Aykroyd is actually grilling real burgers on the set, as we can see them getting done in the shot!) The whole thing starts with Paul Shaffer doing a vicious impersonation of Don Kirshner introducing the “Mr. Mike & Tina Turner Review” with Garrett Morris playing Tina Turner. (Mr. Mike’s contribution here is sit with a guitar, tell a horrifyingly gory story about a rabbit getting its ears stuck in a factory wheel, and then pull numerous stuffed rabbits out of the guitar!) This episode marks the first appearance of Bill Murray and Gilda Radner’s Nerd characters, although they don’t have their names yet. And Murray brings back the “Nick the Lounge Lizard” act, this time doing his interpretation of the “Star Wars” theme. The episode ends with the unfortunate destruction of the studio and death of the cast at the hands, er, pincers of a giant radioactive lobster. For the only time, the signoff begins with “This is Don Pardo, saying ‘Yaaaaggghhh!!!!”
Ep 11 – Guest Host Chevy Chase/Musical Guest Billy Joel – Chevy Chase returns as guest host for an uneven episode, the issues of which may stem from an off-camera fistfight that has broken out right before airtime between Chase and Bill Murray. Chase clearly appears to be a little off his game, with an opening monologue that lacks the punch you would normally expect from him. The show bounces back with a fun Weekend Update segment that really serves to allow Chevy Chase to work his way back in as the anchor, and Billy Joel turns in two solid performances of “Only the Good Die Young” and “Just the Way You Are”. Chase mentions that Joel missed his high school reunion in order to appear on the show. The opening credits for this segment revert back to the 2nd season model.
Ep 12 – Guest Host O.J. Simpson/Musical Guest Ashford & Simpson – This is a difficult segment to watch today, given the events of the past 15 years. But at the time of this one’s airing, Simpson was still a popular football player and budding movie star. He appears in most of the sketches of this one, more or less holding his own. The episode does include a memorable “Franken & Davis” sketch, with Al Franken putatively suffering from a terminal brain tumor and unable to remember more than one punchline. There’s also a great Rovco commercial for the “Mohawk Master”. And Roseanne Roseanna-Danna manages to push enough of Jane Curtin’s buttons to merit an explosion of “What the HELL are you talking about???!!!” As of this episode, the opening credits return to the last 3rd season look, only now the cast montage has mostly been replaced with new shots of the cast out and about in New York City.
Ep 13 – Guest Host Art Garfunkel/Musical Guest Stephen Bishop – Art Garfunkel hosts a more musically-oriented episode, starting with a rendition of “What a Wonderful World” that is briefly interrupted by feedback and then a John Belushi explosion. (I should note that the cold opening is played as a silent movie, including a title card for the “Live From New York!” line...) Andy Kaufman makes an excruciating appearance as “British Man” which actually draws boos and heckling from the audience as he goes on and on. (This episode has no end credits, I believe as a result of the show running over as a result of Andy Kaufman going long.) Finally, this episode features the short Schiller film “Don’t Look Back in Anger”, with an aged John Belush visiting the graves of his fellow cast members. The irony of that piece is still with us today.
Ep 14 – Guest Host Jill Clayburgh/Musical Guest Eddie Money – Jill Clayburgh returns for her second hosting opportunity, and spends her monologue discussing how she wanted to do a better monologue this time than the last time. Clayburgh is clearly at home here, appearing in most of the sketches and joining in the mayhem. The show opens with Garrett Morris singing “Danny Boy” in a leprechaun outfit, with a scrolling title that you should probably experience for yourself. We also get to see Leonard Pinth-Garnell’s presentation of “Bad One Man Theater”, with a really terrible impression of Hal Holbrook’s “Mark Twain Tonight”. We also get the commercial for Nutrifix (the breakfast you inject), and a new Coneheads sketch where Beldar has an affair with Clayburgh. The only odd note here is the musical performance of Eddie Money, who sings okay but seems a bit wired.
Ep 15 – Guest Host Christopher Lee/Musical Guest Meat Loaf – Here’s another classic episode, this time featuring the horror film star in multiple good-natured sendups of his usual material. The fun begins with John Belushi being renamed “Kevin Scott” as part of the latest NBC rescheduling – Belushi is even introduced by Don Pardo as Scott in the reordered opening titles. (Those titles also feature a different shot of Gilda Radner than we have seen before.) There’s a lot of great stuff here, from Lee as Henry Higgins trying to work with Baba Wawa, to a meeting between “Mr. Death” and a sweet little girl, to a new segment of “Mr. Bill.” And if ever there was a sign of the times, it would be Christopher Lee triumphantly announcing, “Meet....Loaf!” An inset Gary Weiss film, “Cold as Ice” features an uncredited Stacy Keach being repeatedly attacked by a blonde to the tune of the Foreigner song. And Richard Belzer makes a standup appearance, including horrifyingly muzaked versions of Rolling Stones hits. It should be noted that this episode is the first to feature the Weekend Update Point/Counterpoint debate – an exchange of ideas between Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd that quickly degenerates into “Jane, you ignorant slut!”
Ep 16 – Guest Host Michael Palin/Musical Guest Eugene Record – Michael Palin comes in and does pretty much what fellow Python alum Eric Idle did the previous season – he makes himself at home and fits right in with the ensemble. (The sensibilities of SNL and Monty Python are fairly compatible.) The show begins with a vicious satire of Vanessa Redgrave’s political speech at the Oscars, so we see Redgrave give the stage to Arafat, who gives the stage to Sadat, who gives the stage to Jimmy Carter, who objects to people trying to talk about awards during politics. Palin’s opening monologue is typically Pythonesque, with Palin presenting himself as his manager Syd Biggs, and then doing a really scary routine involving dumping a seafood salad into his pants and then trying to add in two REAL LIVING CATS. (This is not one of SNL’s friendlier moments, even with an on-air acknowledgement with both cats during the goodbyes at the end of the night. It is quite possible that it was this episode that pushed Charlton Heston to write the angry letter he would eventually read on the air at SNL’s 15th Anniversary.) The episode also includes a new “Mr. Bill” segment and a combination confessional sketch/H&L Brock commercial.
Ep 17 – Guest Host Michael Sarrazin/Musical Guests Keith Jarrett & Gravity– This one is another solid episode, although host Michael Sarrazin isn’t involved that much. (At the time, he was a major film actor) Sarrazin does the best he can, including an impression of Peter Fonda as a VD case worker, but he’s clearly a little uncomfortable here. This episode includes the Gary Weiss film “La Dolce Gilda”, which is actually quite poignant in spite of itself. And we get a performance by the tuba band Gravity, led by SNL band member Howard Johnson.
Ep 18 – Guest Host Steve Martin/Musical Guests The Blues Brothers – This single episode is justifiably thought by many to be the single best one in the entire history of SNL. There may not be a single false note in the whole episode, which starts with an introduction of the Blues Brothers by Shaffer’s Kirshner impression. What follows is a series of classic sketches, including the great “King Tut” song, which wound up being released as a hit single at the time. Included in the mix for good measure is the classic “Dancing in the Dark” routine between Steve Martin and Gilda Radner. If you were only to watch a single episode of this season or even of this series, this one would be the one to see.
Ep 19 – Guest Host Richard Dreyfuss/Musical Guests Jimmy Buffett & Gary Tigerman - This is another high energy instalment, starting right at the monologue, where Belushi dares Richard Dreyfuss into doing the Hamlet “To Be or Not To Be” speech in full dress. And during the Weekend Update movie review by Bill Murray, we get to see Belushi’s take on Dreyfuss’ Oscar-winning turn in “The Goodbye Girl.” Jimmy Buffett performs “Son of a Son of a Sailor” in his new leg cast, which leads to him re-writing the lyrics to say “This cast is a bore, keeps draggin’ the floor, and I feel like I’m pulling a trailer...” Bill Murray does his latest “Nick the Lounge Lizard” routine, complete with his rendition of the “Close Encounters” theme. Father Guido Sarducci (Don Novello) makes his first appearance.
Ep 20 – Guest Host Buck Henry/Musical Guest Sun Ra – As usual, Buck Henry finishes the season with a solid episode. We get another batch of good sketches, including “Samurai TV Repairman”, the latest visit to the Olympia Cafe, and a cold opening with Akroyd’s Richard Nixon. I should note that the presence of Henry inspires to revisit the “Stunt Baby” sketch with a new variation: “Stunt Puppy”. This entails Buck Henry throwing an obvious stuffed animal all over the set and then out the window. The last sketch of the season is the latest “Franken & Davis Show”, which features one and then both men “coming out” on live television. As usual with Franken and Davis, this leads to a child yelling “I hate you Daddy!” from the audience and then gunfire onstage.
The rest of the seventh disc is taken up with the special features:
Things We Did Last Summer (42:37, Full Frame) – This special feature visits the cast during their summer hiatus, ostensibly to show what they’ve really been up to on their own, but really to have a lot of fun playing with each actor’s image and personality. We see Gilda leading tours of her apartment, Bill Murray playing minor league baseball, Laraine on vacation, and Garrett Morris modeling as a lawn jockey. But the highlight is two performances by Belushi and Akroyd as the Blues Brothers: “Hey Bartender” and “Rubber Biscuit”.
Wardrobe Test with Howard Shore and John Belushi (2:19, Full Frame) – This is exactly what it sounds like. We see Howard Shore standing in a potential band outfit, and he is joined by John Belushi for a minute.
Trailers – (1:05, Non-anamorphic widescreen) Here are quick previews for DVDs of Charlie Wilson’s War, and the television series “30 Rock”, “The Office” and “psych”.
Beyond this, the packaging includes four small black and white cards of various characters that originated during the 3rd Season, and the inside of the package lid holds a 3rd Season cast photo (albeit one that was taken during a time when both Aykroyd and Murray had moustaches.)
As with the 2nd Season, the packaging indicates there are English subtitles, but I was unable to activate them on any disc. Once again, if anyone can find them, please post a response.
VIDEO QUALITY: 3/5
Saturday Night Live: The Complete Third Season is a full-frame presentation of the best video master available. As with the earlier seasons, what you see here is what you saw when these episodes originally aired. And the point here is just to be able to see these episodes uncut. I seriously doubt that anyone is expecting anything more from 30 year old videotape masters.
AUDIO QUALITY: 3/5
Saturday Night Live: The Complete Third Season is presented in an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mix that gives the original audio as was heard when the shows aired back in the day. The voices are clear and the music comes through nicely. As with the earlier seasons, this isn’t really the set for discussions about high end audio – it’s just nice to hear the original shows in their original format.
IN THE END...
Saturday Night Live: The Complete Third Season is another must buy for anyone who is a fan of the original “classic” years of the series. And it’s a must rental for anyone who hasn’t seen these shows before. As I said with my review of the 2nd Season, I’ll leave it to the many fans to dissect all this and let us all know which areas I have missed. And I encourage everyone to try to see these shows, particularly if the only version of SNL you have seen is from the last few years.
May 14, 2008.