If anyone thought that waiting for The Simpsons to arrive on DVD was going to take awhile, fans of SNL have even longer to wait. With only one season a year coming out so far, it could be a long while before fans see the entire series released on DVD, but Universal isn’t about to rush the series out on DVD. Including the specials from the year the seasons take place as well as screen tests for the comedians and a scrapbook filled with images from the season, the SNL season sets are about as handsomely packaged as one could ever expect. For that reason alone the series commands respect from merely being on your shelf, with its one and a half inch spine standing out and dwarfing the other sets next to it.
With Saturday Night Live’s second season, running from 1976 to 1977, the show had just come off of a successful first season and added comedian Bill Murray to its ranks after Chevy Chase’s departure from the sketch show. In addition to Murray, the show debuted in its second season the Coneheads (who also grace this season’s front cover), who would later spawn their own film in 1993 of the same title. The second season was knee-deep in celebrity appearances, from Lily Tomlin opening the seasons premiere to Steve Martin, Eric Idle and Buck Henry each hosting two of the season’s twenty-two episodes. Along with the hosts we had such musical talent as James Taylor, Paul Simon & George Harrison, Frank Zappa and The Kinks. The series certainly was in no need of talent and what the series brought to the table with its edgy humor and political satire would go on to affect the way comedy was written on television for decades to come.
With nearly twenty-five hours of episodes to go through in this set, it’s hard to remember specific moments from individual episodes as they all seem to run together. Having never seen these older episodes (let alone having been alive during their original airing), it was a real treat to be able to experience what has long been lauded as one of the greatest sources for comedy for over three decades. Seeing Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner and John Belushi in their original element was entertaining beyond words. Despite tackling current issues of its time, the show remains a shining example of how to do edgy comedy that can remain timeless; there were several moments in this season that had me laughing harder than most modern comedies.
Even with all of the hilarity in the shows, they weren’t without their flaws. Several sketches in the season premiere fell flat to me and I quickly realized that what I was watching now, despite it being over thirty years old, was the same as the Saturday Night Light that I’d watched for the past few years. Amidst the hilarity, there are the dull sketches that don’t deliver in the slightest, making the viewer yawn or feign laughter just because they feel they should laugh. At times the show becomes a chore to watch, which is something I never heard people say about the classic years of SNL. It’s rather surprising that what the show was in its early years is the same show that it remains today: humor written on current events, with sketches that spawn feature films and other sketches that fall flat on their face.
One of the few sketches I remember from the set was the “Jeopardy 1999!” bit, painting an awkwardly advanced future for the United States. While the sketch wasn’t all that funny, it was interesting to see how writers always envision the future to be, even in comedic situations. Having a bit about a comedian’s career fizzling after they left “Saturday Night” being Chevy Chase (who played one of the contestants) was also particularly humorous, despite its inaccuracies. Chase’s career didn’t begin to falter until the 90s—his career in the 80s probably blasted him into higher profile roles than his stint on SNL would have.
What would the series be without its musical guests? Remarkably, Universal has gone to great lengths to include all of the original musical performances in the episodes, something that is likely causing the one-set-a-year release schedule. Tracking down and getting the musical rights to the performances, as proven by previous TV show on DVD releases, is no easy feat and one that can cost a large sum for the studios involved. Still, it’s commendable that they are retaining the show in its original format; if it was any other show, I doubt we’d see so much dedication, but SNL is known for its musical guests almost as much as for its comedy.
Not much about SNL – Season Two can be said other than that it still remains a classic. Considering my knowledge of SNL for years before Mike Meyers or Will Ferrel is limited, I’ve only heard of some of the sketches that were done in past years of the show, but if the Mardi Gras special included on this set is any indication, these older episodes are worth twice the price that Universal is charging for these sets. Highly Recommended.
Anyone who has seen or owns the first season on DVD will know what to expect in terms of packaging, but for those that don’t let me paint you a picture: the aforementioned 1 ½ inch spine, this time in a navy blue color, is coated in a faux-leather bound texture, with muted colors around the packaging’s front and back. The back of the set includes a removable piece of paper that tells you what’s in the set and inside is cast image on the left side panel. The scrapbook, thirty-two pages of images from the 1976-1977 season, lays on top of the digi-pak fold out, which is in the style of most standard digi-pak releases with the dual layer trays (think Heroes – Season 1). The trays fold out to reveal a description of the season, as well as descriptions of what’s on each disc along with the guest stars, hosts and original air date. Each of the eight discs features the cast of the season. Menus for all sets are the same with an animated intro with the same cast images from the disc art.
As with every other aspect of this release, the video presented here is in the 4:3 full screen frame. This is no surprise and the accompanying video quality that is here shouldn’t be either; quite frankly, it’s a horrendous transfer that shows its age in every way possible. Considering the source materials are so old, I doubt any kind of digital restoration would be possible on this series and with the music rights costing the studio enough as is, I’ve no doubt that any notion of investing millions into transfer cleanup is out of the question. What we do get is still watchable, it’s just incredibly blurry with plenty of video noise such as frame flicker, print marring and other things you’d expect from a show of this age. Admittedly it does add to the shows overall feel, but it really is difficult to watch, especially on an HDTV set. The accompanying Dolby 2.0 Mono audio is remarkably clear, however, and really is what you’ll be paying attention to more than the video at times. Again, the video may be bad, but you can hardly fault it as a downside of this set—simply having the older seasons of SNL on DVD will require this type of aging.
Moving onto the extras themselves, they are a bit on the slim side. With twenty-two episodes here to begin with it’s no wonder that there’s hardly any room for extras, what with 270 minutes being presented on each disc; if it weren’t for the video quality, I’m not sure they could even do this in an eight disc set. Once we get to the more modern episodes, it’ll be interesting to see if the sets expand in disc size any. The eighth and final disc in the set hold the extras for the set, which include the original Andy Kaufman audition, dress rehearsals for the Lily Tomlin and Sissy Spacek episodes and the Mardi Gras Special. Obviously the biggest extra here is the Mardi Gras special, which is hilarious to watch simply for the spontaneity and insanity of the crowd that surrounds the performers.
The Andy Kaufman audition tape is a bit curious; I guess they didn’t have room for his audition on the last season set and knowing that Kaufman was a bit on the…unique side still didn’t prepare me for the audition. I’m not entirely sure why he was only told to quote a poem, twice at that, and then go off on some kind of hill-billy version of the Superman radio intro, but that’s what his audition consisted off. I can’t really believe he was hired off of the tape, but perhaps he was.
Overall, even with its linear extras and sometimes hard-to-watch transfer, the season set is undoubtedly worth it for those who grew up with the series or for the die-hard fans of SNL. With over twenty-five hours of content on the set alone, it’s hard to pass up the set if you’re even remotely interested in it. Recommended.