For some time now, Saturday Night Live has suffered in its DVD incarnations from an acute case of best-of-itis. First, the cable-TV outlets have increasingly played down to the 18- to 25-year-old market by only broadcasting the most recent seasons in syndication. Oh, the glory days of Comedy Central, when you could still catch a dose of Murphy and Piscopo or Hartman and Lovitz; hell, they even showed the dire Jean Doumanian-produced 1980-1981 season. While E! momentarily demonstrated they may not have rendered themselves completely worthless after all by airing classic SNL from the show's landmark first five years—a.k.a. the golden era of the Not Ready for Prime Time Players—a trend eventually gave way, too. (They were hacked up to bits, anyway.) Meanwhile, the availability of our seminal sketch-comedy show has been limited to greatest-hits compilations for particular cast members, from Aykroyd and Belushi to Hartman and Farley.
At last, however, this week sees fan clamoring and general good sense prevailing with a beautiful compilation of SNL's first season arriving complete and unedited. And that means everything, from Don Pardo's dulcet opening voice-over to those group bows on the Studio 8H stage that ushered in the closing credits. In between the maverick freshman year's worth of material from the still-unmatched cast (with the exception of Bill Murray, who joined later) are those fab musical performances, including Billy Preston, Joe Cocker, Patti Smith, Carly Simon and more. The hosting talent—George Carlin, Lily Tomlin, Richard Pryor, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and, um, more—are no slouches either, and grok those fantastic short films and bonzo guests. (Yup, the Andy Kaufman appearances are here, too.) It's a whopper of a package, and it won't come cheap, but for comedy aficionados, it's essential; let's hope it's the first of more on the way.
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Also recommended this week: 1900: Collector's Edition; Black Christmas (1974): Special Edition; 24: Season 5; The Conformist: Extended Edition; The Frank Capra Collection; Mission Impossible: The Complete First Season; Pinky & the Brain: Vol. 2; Rocky: Collector's Edition; The Wim Wenders Collection, Vol. 2.