Before Will Ferrell made it big in movies like Talladega Nights and Old School he spent seven years on the stage of NBC's long running Saturday Night Live where he helped create a few memorable characters before going Hollywood. Hollywood Video, in conjunction with Lionsgate, gives Farrell's Saturday Night Live years its due with the aptly titled Saturday Night Live - The Best Of Will Ferrell. Like any 'greatest hits' package, not everyone is going to agree with the selection of material included on this disc, but the good does outweigh the bad. Here's a look at the sketches included on this DVD, which runs over two hours in length:
Bobbi & Marty / Behind The Music - Cowbell / Dissing Your Dog / Cheerleaders / Robert Goulet / Montage 1 / Jeopardy / Inside The Actors Studio / Devil Music / Montage 2 / Harry Carey: Space / Love's Hot Tub / Roxbury / Montage 3 / Sculpture Class / Family Dinner / Jacob Silk / Credits
If you're familiar with Ferrell's Saturday Night Live work, then it's a given that some of those sketches are going to sound familiar to you. The introductory sketch introduces us to the two awkward cheerleaders who would go on to make multiple appearances on Saturday Night Live over Ferrell's tenture on the show. While not personal favorites of this reviewer, they struck a chord with the audience. More amusing, particularly for music fans, is when Ferrell finds himself playing cowbell in the studio while Blue Oyster Cult records their classic 'Don't Fear The Reaper' for a producer named Bruce Dickinson played by none other than Christopher Walken. Farrell's portrayal of the frustrated cowbell player is great, and he's complimented by some great supporting players who all do just as well with the material. Of course, the Roxbury sketch, which pairs him with Chris Katan and none other than Jim Carey as a trio of bumping and grinding dance club lechers, is one of the best on the disc. Not only did it give birth to the feature film A Night At The Roxbury (with Carey replaced by Jim Brewer), but it became a part of American pop culture for far longer than it probably should have.
The best part of this set, however, is when Ferrell gets to do impressions. The Jeopardy sketch included on this disc isn't the best of the selections from that long running poke at Celebrity Jeopardy but anytime Ferrell's Trebeck matched wits with a hilarious Sean Connery or Burt Reynolds impersonation, laughs were pretty much guaranteed. Equally funny are Farrell's impersonations of Robert Goulet (here pimping an album of rap covers that he's recently record in his own inimitable style) and his spot-on-piss-your-pants-hilarious take on James Lipton, host of Inside The Actor's Studio, as he interviews Alec Baldwin impersonating Charles Nelson Reilly. Rarely has a Saturday Night Live impersonation been done with such side splittingly funny accuracy as it is in this bit.
Not every sketch is a winner, and as is always the case with comedy, your enjoyment will vary depending on what you think is funny. The Lovers sketch, which was quite well received and lead to a few follow ups, falls flat here and isn't really as funny as it is just annoying while a fake informercial in which Farrell's character, fresh out of state mandated anger management classes, teaches us to train our dogs by dissing them only half works. The bit in which Ferrell, as the devil, tries to teach Garth Brooks how to write a hit song is half-assed and predictable while a sketch in which he has a family dinner with Sarah Michelle Gellar as his daughter isn't really anything to write home about either.
The good does, however, outweigh the bad. There's enough genuinely funny material here to make it worth a watch. Granted, you'll probably have to be a Ferrell fan already to enjoy it, and God knows there are plenty of people out there who just don't find the man funny at all, but if you can appreciate his style and his sense of humor and haven't already checked out his early stuff, this is a good way to do it.
The material in here is shot on video though everything comes through looking pretty good. There's some video noise in a few spots but that's part and parcel with the format and the way that this series has been shot - sometimes the stage lighting can creep into the picture quality and mess with the colors a bit too. Overall there aren't any serious issues with the transfer in terms of mpeg compression artifacts, edge enhancement, or damage to the elements used for the presentation. It doesn't look perfect, nor will it ever, but it is definitely watchable.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is on par, in terms of presentation quality, it's all fine. Most importantly, the dialogue comes through clean and clear and the added background music and effects used in some sketches never really drowns anything out or hurts anything much at all. There aren't any problems in terms of hiss or distortion and while there are some fluctuations with the levels, for the most part this track is fine.
Lionsgate and Broadway Video have ponied up some decent extras for this release, starting with some Audition footage (7:40) in which a young Will Ferrell does a few impressions and tries out a few characters on the recognizable SNL stage without any sort of audience response at all. It's interesting to see him work through the material here, and while it isn't as funny as some of what he'd go on to do, you can see the seeds starting to sprout.
Also included are a pair of Dress Sketches (these are basically sketches that are done during the rehearsal version of SNL, in front of a live audience, that wind up getting cut before the live broadcast version is done). There are two here, one in which Ferrell plays an old prospector enlisting in the army and another where he plays a 'cool' teacher educating a class on a first name basis. This second sketch is actually pretty funny and could very well have been included in the live version. The TV Appearances segment contains two of Ferrell's appearances on Late Night With Conan O'Brien (the first done in character as Robert Goulet and the second done in a bizarre skimpy outfit that seems to upset Conan). These are both well worth watching, as Conan and Will have a good rap going. In the More Sketches section there are a few other SNL bits - Lovers - Birthday, Harry Caray - Update, Yoga Class, John Rocker - Update, Bill Braskey, and last but not least, Britney - Update, the best of the bonus sketches in which Will returns to SNL after having left to announce that he and Britney Spears (who plays herself here) are living together.
Rounding out the extras are 7:03 worth of outtakes from different sketches, a still gallery, menus, and chapter selection.
If you're not already a fan of Will Ferrell, this disc certainly won't convince you but his fan base will certainly appreciate having some of his more memorable sketches compiled on one handy-dandy DVD. The quality is about average for a collection of TV spots, but there is some good (and lesser seen) extra material included. If you're a Ferrell fan, consider this disc recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.