Live from New York (circa 1979-1980), it’s Saturday Night Live: The Complete Fifth Season (Universal), the final season with The Not Ready For Prime Time Players. By now it was already down a few original members, with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd the latest to leave, but Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Larraine Newman, Jane Curtin and Garret Morris held on, with help from new cast member Harry Shearer and writers Al Franken and Brian Doyle-Murray jumping into skits as needed and Father Guido Sarducci dropping by.
The creative loss of Belushi and Aykroyd is apparent in the writing and the performance chemistry but this cast has its own chemistry, much of powered by Bill Murray and Gilda Radner, plus Jane Curtin pushing the barriers of good tasted with a deadpan delivery that often slip into a smile on her “Weekend Update” bits. This is the end of the original glory days of the show, when guest hosts were like recurring cast members: Steve Martin and Buck Henry are on board to host two episodes apiece and Eric Idle (who performs his opening monologue strapped to a stretcher), Elliot Gould and Chevy Chase each headline an episode. Musical guests include Blondie, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, David Bowie, The B-52’s, Sam & Dave and the Grateful Dead, and for the 100th show, old friends Paul Simon and James Taylor drop on by.
The complete, uncut shows have not been seen in their entirety in decades and these shows, from the videotape masters of the live broadcasts (tape delayed for the West Coast), already look better than the first season discs. 20 complete, uncut episodes on seven discs in a fold-out digipak. Buck Henry and Elliot Gould offer commentary on their episodes, but they don’t have much to say.
Law and Order: Criminal Intent – The Fourth Year (Universal) – The second spin-off from the Law and Order franchise was developed for Vincent D’Onofrio. His Robert Goren is a genius with a keen mind for mysteries, details, and the vagaries of human nature, a kind of modern day Sherlock Holmes who, like his predecessor, is most energized when the game is afoot but unlike him thrives in the psychological games of interrogation. Kathryn Erbe plays his partner, a sharp investigator who keeps him grounded and plays counterbalance in social situations. It turned out to be a strain for D’Onofrio and this was the last season that they starred in every episode. Chris Noth joined the cast as Law and Order veteran Detective Mike Logan and alternated episodes starting in the fifth season, but first he made a guest appearance in the episode Stress Position. Olivia d’Abo returns as Gormes’ arch-nemesis, the coldly brilliant Nicole Wallace, in the early season episode Great Barrier (it also includes an alternate ending with a much more final conclusion to the Wallace story). Jamey Sheridan is their politically-minded Captain and Courtney B. Vance the District Attorney. 23 episodes on five discs in a box set of three thinpak cases.
Also new this week: The Donna Reed Show: Season Three (Virgil), another season with America’s favorite fifties homemaker housewife, and Pale Force (New Video), a collection of animated superhero spoofs originally shown on Late Night with Conan O’Brien.