Good evening. I’m Troy Yeary, and you’re not.
I’m a morning person, rather than a night owl, so I rarely watch NBC’s Saturday Night Live, now in its 43rd season.
Over the years, I have most often consumed the show in the form of clips on what must be a dozen or more specials over the years and, of course, YouTube.
I do remember the first time I saw Saturday Night Live, though. I was up late while I was in elementary school in the early 1980s and changed the channel to a show that appeared to be called Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood.
It was much like an old favorite of mine, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, but not quite the same. The sketch starred Eddie Murphy, and this was not only the first time I encountered Saturday Night Live, but Murphy as well.
Many of the jokes went way, way over my head, but I loved it, and would look for it on odd weekends after that, often disappointed because Mr. Robinson did not feature every week.
Other than that, I remember taping Saturday Night Live a couple of times in the early 1990s, but I was never very consistent in my VCR habits. I also loved Amy Poehler’s Weekend Update segments about 10 years ago, when I went through a DVR phase with the show (which involved much fast forwarding).
When I noticed Saturday Night Live on the Hulu streaming service, I initially paid it little mind. The most recent episodes are always touted, but for the most part, they do not interest me. One day, it finally occurred to me to wonder, how many seasons did Hulu go back for the show?
I was shocked to find that the catalog went all the way back to Season 1, Episode 1 (George Carlin). That’s right, 43 years worth of topical humor, stars, and music. I later learned that seasons 6-29 are only clips on Hulu, rather than full episodes like the other seasons, though.
In any event, I spent the last few months enjoying the first season, which made its debut the same year I did – 1975. To see all of the year one sketches in their entirety and in context is really something.
Highlights for me are host Richard Pryor (December 13, 1975) and regulars Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase, and John Belushi.
While I of course knew of his Saturday Night Live roots, my main exposure to Belushi prior to this was the wretched Animal House (1978), so I was pleasantly surprised at how funny he is on Saturday Night. His take on Captain James T. Kirk in a Star Trek parody features a subtle imitation of William Shatner, rather than the over-the-top approach that many comedians use in similar circumstances.
Radner steals the season for me, though. For instance, I find her character of Emily Litella endearing. Emily appears on Weekend Update numerous times in order to respond to editorials that it always turns out she misheard. “Oh, that’s very different,” she says, once Chevy (or “Cheddar” as she calls him) explains. “Never mind,” she sheepishly concludes.
My dog, a music snob who only enjoys classical, makes me fast forward many of the musical guests. I am not kidding, by the way. When someone not to her liking comes on (Gordon Lightfoot comes to mind), she literally perks her head up and stares me down until I make the horrible noise stop. While she may not fully understand how music and television equipment work, she has picked up enough to know that I have the power to end the annoyance.
There are a number of experiments on the first season, some of which work better than others. Short films by Albert Brooks and others are almost always a chore to sit through.
At one point, the show opens up to audience submissions – more than a decade before America’s Funniest Home Videos. From one such Super 8 submission in season 1, the legendary “Mr. Bill” begins.
Less successful, unfortunately, are Jim Henson’s Muppets. I had no idea they were involved on Saturday Night Live at all, yet here they are on multiple episodes, just a year prior to The Muppet Show. Unfortunately, these Land of Gorch segments often feel out of place and tired. To hear the voice work of Jim Henson and Frank Oz, though, make the segments worthwhile for me.
Comedian Andy Kaufman makes a number of appearances, including on the debut episode. My favorite Kaufman appearance on this season, though, is February 28, 1976 (Jill Clayburgh), when he pulls audience members to help him perform “Old MacDonald’s Farm.” It seems like a stupid concept at first, but as the segment keeps going, the hilarity of it sets in. Kaufman was a genius, simple as that.
Overall, I loved the season, and I’m looking forward to season 2. What classic shows have you recently rediscovered?