Courtesy of NBC Studios, Inc. / Photo by Edie Baskin
He wielded a samurai sword. She got in a dither about "school busting" and "Soviet jewelry." The late John Belushi and Gilda Radner were two of the original members of the Saturday Night Live cast.
DVD: Saturday Night Live: The Complete First Season
What It Is: An eight-DVD set with the 1975-76 shows
List Price: $69.98 for the 8-DVD set, but in the mid-$40s on various Web sites
October 11, 1975. Boy, I remember it as if it were yesterday, sitting in my beanbag chair in front of our wood-paneled black-and-white RCA television set and watching the first episode of NBC’s Saturday Night, a crazy little variety show featuring an obscure comedy troupe that was, they said, "Not Ready for Prime Time." Actually, I just made that up. I wasn’t even born in 1975, and the first time I ever saw an episode from before the ’80s was when I popped in disc No. 1 of the newly released eight-DVD set, Saturday Night Live: The Complete First Season.
Oh, the joys of watching a 31-year-old classic come to life before my very eyes, misty with nostalgia at episodes I’ve only heard about in hushed whispers of reverence. Like "Samurai Hotel," in which John Belushi portrayed a sword-wielding front desk clerk, establishing the show's absurdist streak. Not to mention the self-destructive streak of its cast members.
Even after wading through the duds — and there are plenty — it's hard not to appreciate the palpable energy and excitement among the members of the original cast. Like Gilda Radner's Emily Litella with her editorial miscues. ("What is all this fuss about school busting?") And thanks to a jumble of video and syndication rights issues, I'm not the only one who's watching the debut season for the first time — in all its juvenile, groundbreaking, sometimes prescient glory. A fake ad promoted a three-blade razor as the ultimate in consumer overkill; 31 years later, five-blade razors are on sale at drugstores everywhere.
The set itself is elegantly packaged but sparsely complemented, although the cast members' screen tests do reveal that Dan Aykroyd is as much of a chameleon as Robin Williams, segueing effortlessly from toothless news announcer to Louisiana crab harvester. If that's not suitable for prime time, I don't know what is.
Andy Guess works on podcasting for NPR's digital media. His favorite SNL skit is "Delicious Dish," in which the cohosts of a public-radio show wax poetic about mundane foods like toast.