The SNL Collections (NBC Studios, 2003): Best Of Dana Carvey Rating: NNNNN ; Best Of Chris Farley Rating: NNN ; Best Of Will Ferrell Rating: NNNN ; Best Of Adam Sandler Rating: NNN ; Best Of Molly Shannon Rating: NNNN
Imagine american comedy without Saturday Night Live alumni and you'll get an idea of just how influential the variety show has been. True, there've been duds in the cast who either found their footing later (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Christopher Guest) or never did (Gail Matthius, Terry Sweeney). And bad SNL spinoff movies aside, the show has a solid record, as these five discs, just out and available separately, show.
These best-of collections usually air when the star has a feature film opening - Will Ferrell's ran at the time of Elf. All the best characters are here, from Dana Carvey's Church Lady and Adam Sandler's Opera Man to Ferrell's cheerleader and Molly Shannon's Catholic schoolgirl.
Watching them back to back proves fascinating. You get to see the yin and yang of successful sketch collaboration. Sandler and Chris Farley pair up a lot, as do Ferrell and Shannon. (Ferrell is arguably the most versatile SNL performer ever, able to nail impressions, be the straight guy and flip out when necessary.)
Sandler perfects his man-boy act in these sketches. It's fascinating to see how many gay and/or cross-dressing characters he plays. His Opera Man bits on Weekend Update provide an efficient and visually compelling chronology of past current events.
Shannon is an original wacko, and her physicality is always an extension of her characters' personalities.
Alec Baldwin must have been one hell of a guest. He crops up throughout in classic sketches.
The desert island DVD is Carvey's. His characters, from Church Lady and Ross Perot to pumped-up Hans (a character that takes on added significance now that Arnold is governor) succeed because a patronizing superiority comes through his little-guy body. His Carsenio - Johnny Carson trying to hip up his image by imitating Arsenio Hall - is the smartest sketch in the bunch. A close second would be his Tom Brokaw pre-recording obituaries so he can take a vacation. Carvey also gets the best presentation, featuring quick hits of impressions and various glimpses at his ever-evolving take on George Bush.
The series is skimpy on extras, which range from a mere photo gallery for Sandler to some outtakes and audition footage for Ferrell and Carvey. Commentary tracks probably wouldn't have helped - explaining comedy can be deadly. But you'd think there'd be some input from creator Lorne Michaels or the SNL writers.
Guest TV spots are worth watching for Carvey doing Leno on Leno and the late Farley self-destructing on Conan. Farley's disc is the saddest. You see how much of his shtick and self-image were tied up with his bulk. The seeds of his downfall are right there. You can't help cringing when he mimics a heart attack, falling on his face and sweating profusely. Extras: photo galleries, outtakes, TV appearances, audition footage.