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Saturday Night Live: The Complete Fifth Season [Import]
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Genre: Television: Series
Release Date: 0000-00-00
Media Type: DVD
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1. The quality of the show definitely begins to wane here, although come 1980-81, it was easy to render this season brilliant by comparison. With the Not Ready for Primetime Players pared down to five, heavy reliance upon Harry Shearer, Fr. Guido Sarducci (Don Novello), Franken & Davis, Mr. Bill (Walter Williams) and Paul Schaffer grows. Although all talented in their own right, they don't quite fill the void. Gone are the beloved Festrunk Brothers, The Coneheads, The Bees, Point Counterpoint, the Samurai, The Blues Brothers and the brilliant Olympia Café. The good news is that Bill Murray becomes a major powerhouse/focal point, returning with the ever-engaging Stargazer, Nerds and Nick the Lounge Singer bits. Gilda Radner is also a force, bringing back classics like Judy Miller and Rosanne Rosanadana.
2. Highlight sketches - the trademark, vintage SNL style is still firmly in place, and the show (unlike today) wasn't afraid to showcase quieter, ensemble, subtly comedic, human interest pieces, such as a teacher's union meeting sketch from the Martin Sheen episode, or "Aunt Judy's Basement" from the Bea Arthur show (premise: grown, adult "kids" forced to eat at the "children's table" during a family gathering). It was always a treat when Steve Martin hosted, and there are some strong sketches, such as "The Vandals", a historical comedy piece similar in tone to the two "Theodoric of York" bits from previous seasons, as well as the seemingly improvised time-filler "What the Hell Is That?" with Murray. The "Black Shadow" with host Bill Russell is sure to garner laughs with its now-very-un-PC racial humor, not to mention the sick joke that is Buck Henry's "Uncle Roy." Andy Kauffman begins his phase wrestling women, outrageously playing the sexist baddie role to the hilt, so much so that feminist Bea Arthur feels compelled to comment on it. A trend begins in this season, imo, of the show trying too hard with political humor, such as the obtuse presidential campaign sketch which opens the Terri Garr episode. It goes on way too long, and seems to be trying to cram as many references as possible, mostly at the expense of generating laughs. This problem persists with the show today.
3. Chevy Chase - As in the past, the return of prodigal son Chase is wrought with the bizarre. Chevy was going through a musical phase at this point (he even released an album!) and fancied himself a blues man a la Ray Charles. Let's just say his take on "Sixteen Tons" is an acquired taste. To make matters worse, this show included two songs from Marianne Faithful, who in my view is like listening to a cat getting its neck wrung. This show also opens with "The Bel Aires", a twice-tried take on an OPEC version of the "Beverly Hillbillies." I remember the original airing of this one well because Don Novello paints private parts onto a Venus de Milo statue at the beginning. In subsequent airings, this is always censored/deleted, but the statue is clearly visible in the background. It'll be interesting to see if it's restored here.
4. Music - Wonderfully eclectic as usual. With this season, we're made well-aware of the approaching `80s new wave and its disastrous accompanying fashion trends with such bands as Desmond Child and Rouge (who are so "Totally 80s!" its actually funny) and Gary Numan. The David Bowie appearance is perhaps the most bizarrely theatrical of SNLs history; I remember actually feeling frightened when I watched the marionette superimposed on him during Boys Keep Swinging. It was all just too weird for a kid to see. Although I'm not a fan, you'll likely find yourself drawn in by the electric performance of the B-52s' "Rock Lobster." I'm not sure how well the tune was known at this point, but you'd be hard pressed to find a band that garnered as deafening a reaction from the studio audience. Infectious and energizing, the studio microphones seem on the verge of overload by the end. It's also great to see what must have been one of the last few performances from Sam & Dave, and Chicago (still recovering from the suicide of member Terry Kath) are quite solid with their classic "I'm a Man" (previously a classic by Spencer Davis), as well as the disco-tinged "Street Player" (yes, even these guys fell prone to the fad!).
5. Side Comment - like the other SNL releases, I'm sure this one will not include the wonderful photography of Edie Baskin, which was always used for the commercial bumpers. I really miss them, and it aggravates me no end that Universal feels they "aren't part of the show" (although they do include that last bumper before the credits).
If these releases continue, I think I just may skip season 6. The largely-forgotten, oft-maligned Eddie Murphy/Joe Piscopo years are extremely underrated and I hope to see those eventually as well.
For me this final season of the "first era" of SNL illustrated perfectly everything that was right and (sadly) everything that went wrong with what many call the "golden" years. You get sublime musical performances by acts like the B-52s and the J. Geils Band along with some nightmare appearances like the frog croaking of Marianne Faithful. Although many bemoan the exit of old cast members, some of the recurring skits (most notably the Nerds) get long in the tooth and lose their humor. It's difficult to maintain one-dimensional characters without running them into the ground and one of the reasons we remember the Coneheads and Samurai characters so well is because we were left wanting more. Unlike many who look at their absence as a great loss, I'm grateful that the actors left before repetitive usage of the same ideas reduced classic characters to the hell of long and unfunny bits that wind up going nowhere.
This is the season that much of America became better acquainted with a few of the people that toiled in the background during the first 4 years. Al Franken and Tom Davis, long involved with the writing of the show, emerge with greater onscreen presence and it lays the groundwork for a lot of the work Franken in particular did later. Brian Doyle Murray, forever consigned to stand in the long shadow cast by his brother Bill, is perhaps the most consistent performer the show will ever see. Even during the most meandering sketches, Brian delivers his lines with confidence and a stronger sense of timing than the rest of the cast. He never loses his place, never flubs a line, and almost never stutters. It stands in stark contrast to the performances of some of the veteran players such as Larraine Newman who shows definite signs of frustration and burnout. The amount of drug usage backstage is now common knowledge and there are times when it had a definite impact on what manifested on camera.
Despite the shortcomings I've mentioned however, there are enough magic moments in Season 5 to make this worth buying. The Rodney Dangerfield episode in particular is fantastic and features a very politically incorrect sketch dealing with the unexpected problems that arise when an older man gets involved sexually with a 10-year-old child. The odds are that if you purchased the earlier seasons you will be buying this one regardless of what any reviewer has to say one way or the other. But if you've watched any of the SNL episodes from the past 10 years or so you do owe it to yourself to buy at least one of the earlier years so you can fully understand how far the show has fallen from the peaks it once reached. This should NOT be the first set you buy. Seasons 2 and 3 in particular are much stronger than this one. But Don Novello (Father Guido Sarducci) is a bigger presence in Season 5 than in any other year and, as I've already stated, Franken & Davis and also Harry Shearer are prominent during this season. That alone makes this set good enough to add to your collection.
Add to that the rare television performances of acts like the Greatful Dead and David Bowie in an environment that allows them to be themselves with less censorship than anywhere else away from an actual concert, and you have no reason to hesitate. As always with a full season of SNL the highs far outnumber the lows and this is the final chance to see the remaining members of the Not Ready for Prime Time Players. Many fans are speculating that the sets will stop at Season 5, but if they continue on beyond here and release the Piscopo, Murphy, and Farley years there will be a large enough fanbase to make them profitable so I think we'll see these continue. Hopefully they will speed up the release schedule a bit though because I'd like to be alive long enough to own them all and at the present rate they'll be shipping quite a few of them to my surviving heirs.
John Belushi and Dan Aykroid left the show after season four. Aykroid had told SNL producer/creator Lorne Michaels going into the fifth year that he would stay on as a castmember, but not as a writer -- then Dan had found out that he and John were given the chance to make The Blues Brothers movie starting that November, so Dan left too. As a replacement for the two, Lorne hired on Harry Shearer - who felt he was handed a raw deal (he kinda was). As the story goes, he was hired on as a writer/castmember by Lorne, but the others at SNL were told that he was hired on just as a writer. This brought some bitterness towards him from the other cast and writers when he would write himself into scenes. They thought he was just some stupid new writer, who didn't know that it was frowned upon to write yourself into sketches, week after week. After a friendly dispute with Lorne thereafter, Harry's time on SNL was pretty much over. Harry's side of the story states that Lorne was as friendly as can be, and said he would make everything all right. And then, Lorne simply decided that he wasn't going to do business with Harry anymore. Harry was caught completely off guard, and hated Lorne afterwards. Many have said that Lorne Michaels conducts business in an unusual way.
With John and Dan gone from the show, a major majority of the male characters went to Bill Murray, which made him feel overwhelmed. He himself had just finished a starring role in the movie Meatballs. Most all the male sketches went to John and Dan on the seasons before. Bill has said some years later that he felt kinda bitter about that fifth season because of it. Gilda Radner was very burnt-out in this season because she appeared on Broadway (in her own show - Gilda Live!) during the summer between seasons four and five. Lorne Michaels had produced Gilda's broadway show - which made him on the edge too. Laraine and Garrett weren't featured much in this season. One may speculate that drugs was a factor in that scenerio (and could be right...it was a different time...no judgement needed). As far as Jane Curtin was concerned, she was happy to see John and Danny leave. She considered them the bad boys of SNL. All she cared is that she had Weekend Update, so she could care less about everything else.
Keep an eye open in this fifth season for a sketch involving writer (now Senator) Al Franken called "Limo for a Lame-O". Lorne Michaels got alot of heat for that sketch from one of the NBC heads at the time, Fred Silverman. Al Franken refered to Silverman as a Lame-O for riding around in an NBC limo everywhere. For some reason, Al thought that Silverman didn't deserve to ride in that limo. Right before this happened, Fred Silverman had requested from Lorne to put Gilda Radner in her own show, the following season. Silverman saw Gilda as the next Lucille Ball. Lorne said no, and Fred was angry. A few days before the "Limo for Lame-O" sketch aired, Lorne and Silverman were schelduled to have a meeting, which Silverman didn't make it to. In the end, Silverman thought the "Lame-O" sketch was Lorne's reaction to Silverman missing their meeting.
As many know, this fifth season was the last season for many. All the cast (although i think Harry Shearer returned for one season sometime later), and most all the writers. And of course, Lorne Michaels left too. He would return to SNL some five years later. Lorne had suggested to NBC that Al Franken take over as the new head of Saturday Night Live. Of course after the "Limo for Lame-O" sketch, Fred Silverman was not going to make Al the new SNL guy. The person that NBC chose to run Saturday Night Live was a lady who acted as an 'asscociate producer' during those first five years, Jean Doumanian. She wasn't given a chance by her staff, or anybody for that matter. There were petitions being sent around hoping to get her fired from day one. She only lasted 10 months. One major note was that she wasn't a comedy writer. To run a show like Saturday Night Live - you need to be trained in the ways of comedy writing.
The one major reason why the first five years, the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players, and their writers will always be better than any other SNL cast and writers is this: they didn't know that they were going to be breaking into fame by being on the show. They didn't know that Saturday Night Live was going to be a comedy show that everyone would see. That it would launch them into careers. Every other SNL castmember after them knows that SNL can be a show that could possibly launch their career. And they focus on that. They focus on that there could be some very important people watching them, and they are playing to them. And it hurts their work. It hurts the quality of their work. They may have good material, but it could be better if their thoughts aren't lost on SNL being the stepping stones they want to hopefully give them a successful comedy career. The original cast didn't know this. And that made the quality of their work great. And you have to give credit to Lorne Michaels towards the end of that first era. As his cast and writers were started to develop big egos, Lorne's major job was to help keep things together. After seeing Chevy Chase leave the show and become a star. After seeing the same thing start to happen to Belushi. With the critics and the papers, and all, talking about how great this show is, how these men and women have potential for greatness -- Lorne's job (which he did well) was to hold this group together, and make this thing work. There will never be another cast or writers like these.