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Being stuck at home on a Saturday night was considered a stigma. Nobody wanted to admit to such a pathetic fate. Everyone dreamed of being turned into a Hustle sandwich between Bianca Jagger and Halston at Studio 54. How many people lied about sniffing lines off Liza’s tongue as the moon with the spoon descended from the ceiling? But in 1977, it became cool to stay in the living room instead of freezing on the wrong side of the velvet rope. Why the attitude change? Saturday Night Live brought the party to you.
For a kid in junior high, watching the show was a bigger sign of impending adulthood than hair growing below your nose. This was a time before people owned VCRs. If you didn’t watch it live, you didn’t see it. If you knew the final sketch, that meant you stayed up till 1 a.m. You were a grown up. Geek kids quickly became popular on the Monday morning bus ride if they acted out the sketches from the show. A few kids put tape recorders up to the TV speaker to record the audio. This allowed them to go to bed before midnight and spend Sunday after church memorizing the lines. They’d try to look cool repeating the routines during lunch. But their fraud would be exposed when they screwed up which character said what.
The third season of Saturday Night Live found the show cementing its legendary status with a stable cast of Not Ready For Prime Time Players. Season Two was unbalanced as Chevy Chase went AWOL so he could bolt to Hollywood to co-star with Bengi in Oh Heavenly Dog. John Belushi got injured and people feared he was pulling a Chevy. Bill Murray was finding his legs around the seasoned cast. The only major departure during the 1977 hiatus was Dan Aykroyd’s mustache. Season Three’s consistency allowed the seven NRFPT players to completely gel without worrying about who was showing up on the set. The Coneheads, the Samurai, the Blues Brothers, Nightclub singer Nick Springs and the Nerds became character icons that future SNL sketches would be judged against. This would be the prime of the Not Ready for Prime Time Players.
The guest hosts this season were a rather diverse crop. The show had yet to resort to only casting stars of upcoming blockbusters, hit TV shows or Super Bowl MVPs. They even allowed Miskel Spillman to host. Who is she? This 80-year-old woman won the “Anyone Can Host” contest. Shame they don’t do this more often since the elderly are much more entertaining than Jon Bon Jovi. What’s makes this night more significant is Elvis Costello calling an audible and changing songs after a few seconds. Lorne Michaels was furious at this unauthorized switch, but he loves to show the clip during all the “great moments” montages.
The big winner of hosting duty is Steve Martin by headlining three episodes. What’s amazing is that Steve hadn’t even started his career as a movie star. He was still working the comedy stage. Think Lorne would let that happen again? In his first visit, Steve teamed up with Dan Aykroyd to introduce the Festrunk Brothers. These two Czech brothers are two wild and crazy guys that want to hook up with swinging American chicks. Their plaid pants look like they were cut from a rumpus room sofa. The characters played bigger roles on Steve’s next two gigs. His final hosting session was legendary as Martin became a pop sensation by introducing America to the funky “King Tut.” Buck Henry gives the opening monologue twice. He hosts the disturbing “Rickey Rat Show” that turns the kids into test subjects. His second appearance gets good and freaky with Sun Ra and his Arkestra giving America a dose of cosmic jazz from Saturn. Mr. Mike even sings. Where are the Steve Martins and Buck Henrys of the 21st Century?
The Hugh Hefner episode is of major significance since this is the moment that the Playboy magazine founder constantly tries to recapture. Hef looks perfect in his silk pajamas during the disco era when he was merely middle aged. The sexual revolution was about to take a hit from AIDS so this was the Swinger’s swansong. The musical guest on this episode is Libby Titus. Are you wondering whatever happened to her? Turns out she recently married Donald Fagen of Steely Dan. O.J. Simpson episode isn’t as funny as its first airing since he’s no longer a comic character. The sketch where he uses extreme measures to keep Walter Payton from breaking his rushing record was hilarious in 1978.
Chevy Chase returns as a host. This reminds us that his leaving the show was a good divorce. How much cocaine was America sniffing to find his smug act that funny? Was his Ford impersonation humorous? Or do we laugh in retrospect because he suffers in great pain from the pratfalls like we suffered watching Memoirs of an Invisible Man? When Jane Curtain has her “mock outrage” at Chevy taking over the Weekend Update set, it seems too real. Did anyone really like Chevy? Christopher Lee has great fun with his horror persona. Although the funniest part of the show is a sketch of fake horror movie trailers including Belushi as house guest who won’t go home in “The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave.” Ray Charles gets a good ribbing from Mr. Mike. Mr. Bill gets constantly destroyed during his short films.
One of the regular segments on the series was “The Franken and Davis Show.” I never completely liked this duo’s show within the show as a kid. They took away time from Belushi and Murray. After three decades, I’m still not a major fan. It is odd that Al Fraken is the one running for the U.S. Senate since Tom Davis has the face for the halls of Congress. They aren’t nearly as bad as The Muppets from season one.
Watching Saturday Night Live: The Complete Season Three reminds me that staying awake until one in the morning was much better than sleeping. Who needs to be well-rested in Church? There was so much great comedy coming every Saturday night in 1977. I didn’t need to see it re-enacted by a dork at the bus stop on Monday morning. Contrary to my parents’ belief, I made the right choice. Today’s kids don’t have to worry about this with the Tivo giving them Saturday night experience on Sunday mornings. Although what’s the point? Even the lamest sketches of Season Three rival the best material of the last decade on SNL. When they syndicated the early years of SNL on cable, they chopped off a third of each show. The last sketch of the night was always the first victim. Three decades later we’re privileged to see those final routines missed if sleep took hold. Now you can watch these truly classic episodes at a decent hour without yawning in the pews.
“Steve Martin/Jackson Browne,” “Madeline Kahn/Taj Mahal,” “Hugh Hefner/Libby Titus,” “Charles Grodin/Paul Simon and The Persuasions,” “Ray Charles and the Raylettes,” “Buck Henry/Leon Redbone,” “Mary Kay Place/Willie Nelson,” “Mrs. Miskel Spillman/Elvis Costello & the Attractions,” “Steve Martin/The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Randy Newman,” “Robert Klein/Bonnie Raitt,” “Chevy Chase/Billy Joel,” “O.J. Simpson/Ashford and Simpson,” “Art Garfunkel/Stephen Bishop,” “Jill Clayburgh/Eddie Money,” “Christopher Lee/Meat Loaf,” “Michael Palin/Eugene Record,” “Michael Sarrazin/Keith Jarrett,” “Steve Martin/The Blues Brothers,” “Richard Dreyfuss/Jimmy Buffett, Gary Tigerman” and “Buck Henry/Sun Ra.”
Video is 1.33:1 full frame. The episodes were shot on video. The image gets fuzzy at times, but never too disgusting. It reminds me of having to watch it through the rabbit ears antenna. The audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. It’s a live show so sometimes the audio isn’t crystal clear. The subtitles are in English.
The Things We Did Last Summer (42:37) was a network special that allowed the NRFPT Players to not go live. Gary Weis gets to do more than his little short films that he’d been doing for the show. Gilda gives fans a tour of her home after they’ve paid a buck. We get to go on the road with the Blues Brothers.
John Belushi & Howard Shore: Wardrobe Test (2:15) makes this duo look perfect for the Sears catalog. Shore is now an Oscar winning composer.
Four Postcards featuring Steve Martin as King Tut, The Nerds, Gilda Radner as a Brownie and The Blues Brothers. They’re more like large trading cards since they don’t have a “put stamp here” outline.
Saturday Night Live: The Complete Third Season restores the glory days of the series. There wasn’t a weak link in the cast. You might have to brush up on your ‘70s history to get a joke or two on Weekend Update. For those with hazy memories of the show, this boxset will bring it all back.
Universal Home Video presents Saturday Night Live: The Complete Third Season. Directed by: Dave Wilson. Starring: John Belushi, Jane Curtain, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Laraine Newman & Garrett Morris. Running time: 20 episodes on 7 discs. Rating: Not Rated. Originally Broadcasted: Sept 24, 1977 to May 20, 1978. Released on DVD: May 13, 2008. Available at Amazon.com