I’m on vacation, so I didn’t get mine yet!!

First ‘SNL’ season still genius on DVD
NEW YORK – The show then known as “NBC’s Saturday Night” debuted in October 1975 and, ever since, the series it became has been measured against it … and usually found wanting. That is part of the legacy of “Saturday Night Live”: a past never to be equaled.
Now anyone who wonders what all the fuss was about ó or who was there for it and wants to refresh a dimming memory ó can roll back the years with a just-released DVD set.
“SNL: The Complete First Season” (Universal Studios Home Entertainment; $69.98) reunites the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players. It reprises comedy classics like Land Shark, Baba Wawa, Bass-O-Matic and the Killer Bees. It tracks a groundbreaking series in its formative phase. And does all this in context, with the 24 shows preserved intact.
Guest hosts include Candice Bergen, Rob Reiner and Elliott Gould, as well as more novel choices like Racquel Welch, Dick Cavett and Ron Nessen, press secretary for then President Ford.
Musical guests include Jimmy Cliff, Simon & Garfunkel, Patti Smith and (mama mia!) ABBA. Andy Kaufman makes several comic appearances, and Albert Brooks contributes a number of short films. Even the Muppets are on the bill.
Viewers who have never seen “SNL’s” Michael O’Donoghue impersonate a show-biz personality with 15-inch needles in his eyes, or heard the latest update that “Generalisimo Francisco Franco is still dead” will be richer for the experience.
But this DVD collection packs an even greater payoff for vintage fans like me, who back then greeted each show as nothing less than an event and lived it right along with the performers. With those shows as our ideal, we’re the stubborn traditionalists always carping, “They just don’t make ’em like they used to,” while we dismiss “SNL” of modern times as an ever-deepening rut.
Maybe that’s harsh, but there’s no question the series (officially christened “Saturday Night Live” in its second season) was born to lampoon cultural institutions, yet itself has become such an institution that today it’s spoofed by one NBC series (“30 Rock”) and glorified by another (“Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”).
It’s easy to argue that now, under the continuing rule of 62-year-old creator Lorne Michaels (who in 1975 made noises about hiring no one much past age 30), “SNL” stands for nothing other than its own accumulating years.
But here’s a chance to cut through three decades’ distance (and through the, um, marijuana haze that may have clouded certain viewers’ judgment at the time) for a clear-eyed reappraisal: Once and for all, just how good WAS that inaugural season?
During more than 30 hours of immersion recently, I was able to bring my present-day perspective to those old shows (even beyond concluding that, in 2006, Francisco Franco is STILL dead).
In retrospect, I can certify that the complexity, irreverence and live-ness of “SNL” made it revolutionary for a time when there was little if any other topical comedy on the tube.
And despite the pioneering nature of this venture, its premiere ó which aired Oct. 11, 1975, with George Carlin as host ó is remarkably good.
But, reflecting a series in its shakedown phase, the comedy troupe was scarcely seen on this first show. And scarcely credited in the opening, with the performers’ names all squeezed onto a single title card while announcer Don Pardo botched their introduction, calling them “The Not for Ready Prime Time Players.”
And what of this soon-to-be-legendary team? Well, to watch Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi three decades later is to behold enduring genius. Gilda Radner shines bright as ever.
On the other hand, I was startled by my latter-day aversion to another troupe member. Did we viewers really laugh, week after week, at the quip, “I’m Chevy Chase and you’re not”? Could we really have adored him for his trademark pratfall and smarmy pronouncement that, “Live from New York, it’s `Saturday Night'”?
Back then, Chase was hot, hip, the series’ breakout star. Seen now, he comes across as a budding version of himself after bolting from “SNL” in its second season to make movies: a one-note, insufferable ham.
The DVD set confirms my recollection of some wonderful shows that first year. Those hosted by Lily Tomlin, Desi Arnaz and Madeline Kahn are among the gems. And maybe grandest of all is the program that aired Dec. 13, 1975, with guest host Richard Pryor. Besides his two extended monologues, he joins Belushi in “Samurai Hotel” (the first for Belushi in that popular recurring character).
Amazingly, by then ó show No. 7 ó the “SNL” format was firmly in place, destined never to change.
Not that a consistent formula would guarantee consistent quality. Week to week and sometimes moment to moment that first season, the shows were wildly uneven, and some of them real dogs ó just as in all the years since.
But if “SNL” has always been a hit-or-miss affair, my look back satisfied me that something special drove it then: an unruly effort to surprise its viewers along with making them laugh. It set out to defy the television medium it had invaded, as well as the larger culture. But all too soon it became part of the culture. It was digested by TV.
So “SNL” long ago lost its capacity to startle, abandoning that mission to repeat itself instead, simply catering to viewers’ well-entrenched expectations. It began with a subversive streak. Then it got comfortable.
For some of us, “SNL: The Complete First Season” will expose the series’ genesis as maybe not as great as we might like to remember. But the impact of those early shows was greater than we could’ve imagined, and far greater than the series that evolved. Watching those shows now, it’s clear why.