It's a favorite pastime of Saturday Night Live viewers to complain that the show's current incarnation doesn't measure up to years past. That's pretty much been the rap on the venerable sketch comedy program for, oh, say, the past 20 years -- and rarely has it been true (the exception being some hiccups in the Eighties).
Sure, the show invariably loses steam after the "Weekend Update" segment, and many of the program's sketches are based on thin premises with no discernible way to end. But guess what? That's been the case since SNL's maiden voyage back in 1975.
Naysayers need only check out Saturday Night Live - The Best of '06/'07 to find a not-ready-for-primetime cast that's funny, sharp and supremely likeable. The sketches are uneven in quality, and several are just flat-out dismal, but there is enough worthwhile material in this 90-minute-plus collection.
The highlights include Dane Cook in a skit lampooning the inconsistencies of airport security, Andy Samberg as a mighty urbane rapper and the irrepressible Will Forte as a basketball coach who motivates his players through an interpretive dance to Herb Alpert's "Casino Royale." Jason Sudeikis and Kristen Wiig have an amusing turn as a couple of "A-Holes" at a baby adoption agency, while Maya Rudolph is wonderfully silly doing an overly affected version of the National Anthem.
Perhaps Saturday Night Live's most accomplished bits in recent years have been the SNL Digital Shorts. The Best of '06/'07 boasts two doozies. Chances are you've already seen Samberg and Justin Timberlake in the faux hiphop come-on of "Dick in a Box." While "The Shooting" failed to hit that clip's level of Internet ubiquity, its pitch-perfect spoof of The O.C. is weirdly compelling.
A pastiche of "Weekend Update" features some great material with co-anchors Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers. Highlights include Poehler editorializing on a flurry of crotch flashing from the likes of Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan ("You guys are making Tara Reid look like Audrey Hepburn! What's next? Shots of stars poopin' out a window?") and Fred Armisen as the attention-hungry judge in the Anna Nicole Smith body custody hearing.
A few guest hosts also get a chance to shine. The always-game Alec Baldwin does a solid Tony Bennett impression in "The Tony Bennett Show," which finds Baldwin interviewing a Bennett impersonator played by none other than Mr. Anthony Benedetto himself. Colts quarterback Peyton Manning turns up in two skits, most notably tweaking his nice-guy image in an ersatz PSA. Hugh Laurie is a good sport in a flatulence-fueled takeoff of TV ghost hunters. Other hosts in the DVD collection are Jeremy Piven, Jake Gyllenhaal, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Matthew Fox, Ludacris and Shia LaBeouf.
Alas, the anthology has its quota of crap. Darrell Hammond is perhaps the most talented impressionist in SNL history, but he isn't well-served in a throwaway riff on Donald Trump. Worst of all is the steamy turd of "Deep House Dish," a seemingly interminable lampooning of house music that encapsulates the worst impulses of SNL -- flat characters, a desperate desire to seem hip and a deadly inability to pull the plug. How did this end up in a best-of collection?
The first SNL collection showcased in widescreen, the 1.78:1 picture of The Best of '06/'07 looks terrific, with clean lines, sharp details, proper skin tones and no noticeable digital artefacts.
Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, the sound is strong and clear. No subtitles or foreign-language tracks are available.
SNL fans will enjoy a full-length commentary featuring many of the show's cast members and writers. What the commentators lack in information, they make up for in humor and a breezy rapport.
The disc has two dress sketches that were scratched before they finally made air. The first is the painfully dumb "Virginia," (4:29) which stars Kenan Thompson as a boorish cocktail-party guest. Somewhat better is "Five O'Clock" (3:50), with Justin Timberlake portraying an obnoxious store employee.
Those who demand their satire devoid of FCC-friendly bleeps can opt for the uncensored version of "Dick in a Box" (2:42). A lively collection of "Weekend Update" outtakes comprise "Weekend Update - Dress" (5:45). Other bonus material includes a photo gallery, trailers and credits.
Like most Saturday Night Live best-of anthologies, The Best of '06/'07 has some inspired bits, some head-scratching duds and the inexplicable omission of worthwhile material. Taken on its own terms, however, this single-disc collection has enough laughs to justify its existence, and the commentary track is a hoot for SNL buffs.