DVD Review: Saturday Night Live - The Best of Alec Baldwin
by Rachel Jaffe
Published: February 5, 2006
When the time comes, there's no doubt that Alec Baldwin will have plenty of material for his obituary. He's worked on both the stage and screen, and played roles from the handsome love interest to action adventure hero, from low comedy to classic drama. He was Oscar-nominated for his role in "The Cooler." But what he'll be remembered for might just be for his Saturday Night Live appearances. With 12 host appearances to his credit so far, Baldwin is one of the most frequent guest hosts in SNL history (Steve Martin has had 13 hosting spots, and John Goodman 12), and aptly merits his own "Best of" DVD.
Most famous of all is his turn as Pete Schwetty, creator of Pete's "Schwetty Balls" as showcased on the mock NPR Show "The Delicious Dish," which is of course included in this collection. In the audio commentary, Baldwin himself says, "it's amazing to me how many people come up to me and say, 'Schwetty Balls!' And they call me that, but they don't know my name."
There is plenty of additional ribald humor on this DVD -- the opening "Prince Charles Cold Open," featuring a press conference with multiple euphemisms for homosexual activity; "Greenhilly," Baldwin's first sketch, where he makes out with everyone in sight; and "Canteen Boy and the Scout Master," the sketch that has received the most angry letters of any sketch in SNL history. (Proposition: Sex is to the latter half of SNL history's humor as drugs was to the first half. Discuss amongst yourselves.)
Some of the sketches are basic, competent sketches that any host could have stepped into, such as the insult-a-thon sketch of "Zinger vs. Burns," or that play off of Baldwin's leading-man looks, such as the "Soap Opera Digest" sketch (Baldwin himself received a Soap Opera Digest award for his work in Knots Landing in the mid-80s, and also worked on the series The Doctors early in his career). Others showcase unique Baldwin impersonations -- Charles Nelson Reilly, Tony Bennett, and a dead-on Robert DeNiro.
Of course, it's not Saturday Night Live without some sketch that might have seemed funny at 4 a.m. but which doesn't quite work. In this collection, it's "Francais," which centers around the over-exaggerated French accent that Baldwin forces on everyone around him.
But for me, the DVD ends with two of my favorite sketches -- and how often does that happen at the end of 90 minutes of Saturday Night Live? The penultimate sketch, "The Breakfast," is like a Sam Shepard play gone twisted, with a drifter cowboy, diner waitresses, and Deliverance-style regulars at the counter. The sketch relies more on rhythm than punchlines, and is the type of unusual hybrid that you don't see much on SNL anymore. The capper to the DVD is one of the "Bill Brasky" sketches, where Will Farrell, John Goodman and Baldwin play three drunken businessmen extolling the characteristics of Bill Brasky and interspersing odd personal revelations at the same time. Again, the rhythm is paramount, and Farrell, Goodman and Baldwin are masters of it here.
For Baldwin fans, this is a good chance to see some of his best (and some of his merely okay) work on SNL. For those who aren't already fans, this DVD is a chance to see the commitment and professionalism that has made Baldwin such a popular choice as a guest host.
I had very high hopes for the audio commentary on this DVD. With Baldwin's long tenure at the show, I believed that he could provide some interesting cross-season commentary. Unfortunately, the commentary was, for the most part, unremarkable. Despite the colorful history of the show, there was no great dirt being dished; instead, Baldwin made comments like, "There hasn't been one person that I didn't like working with." Producer Marci Klein was as likely to derail Baldwin as keep him on target.
There are also two "dress sketches" -- sketches that were included in dress rehearsal but not included in the actual show for broadcast. One is "Political Ads," where Baldwin and Ana Gasteyer play voice artists recording increasingly wacky political ads with Rachel Dratch and Horatio Sanz running the soundboard. It's a fairly standard, competent sketch, but no big surprise that it was cut, either. (It's also the most artificial performance from Baldwin.) The other is "Dance Party," where Baldwin played Harvey Fierstein hosting a gay version of "Soul Train." Again, a decent sketch, but not a killer, and Baldwin's Fierstein is pretty unreconizable.
The final bonus feature is a "Photo Gallery," with pictures of Baldwin from various sketches. Photo galleries never do much for me, although this one had the advantage of some nice swooping from shot to shot.
Saturday Night Live - The Best of Alec Baldwin
Sketches (with original air dates)
1. Prince Charles Cold Open (November 15th, 2003)
2. Monologue (February 13th, 1993)
3. Greenhilly (April 21st, 1990)
4. The Tony Bennet Show (April 20th, 2002)
5. Canteen Boy and the Scout Master (February 12th, 1994)
6. Inside the Actors Studio - Charles Nelson Reilly (April 7th, 2001)
7. The Delicious Dish: Schwetty Balls (December 12th, 1998)
8. Public Opinion (Buckwell's Follies) (January 20th, 1996)
9. Soap Opera Digest (February 13th, 1993)
10. Zings (November 15th, 2003)
11. Francais (February 13th, 1993)
12. Honest Planet (February 23rd, 1991)
13. Larry Henderson's Voice Mail (April 20th, 2002)
14. Pyramid of Pain (Februaryy 12th, 1994)
15. The Joe Pesci Show - Robert DeNiro (January 20, 1996)
16. Tough Guy (April 7th, 2001)
17. The Breakfast (April 21st, 1990)
18. Bill Brasky (December 12th, 1998)