Leftridge: TV Time: Here Comes Saturday Night Live, for the 37th Time

Each fall, the same things inevitably happen.

The Chiefs begin a noxious, predictably sorrowful descent into mediocrity (or worse) within the first few weeks of the football season.

The Royals close out their otherwise miserable campaign with a deluge of victories that are viewed by virtually no one.

My ridiculous allergies render me unable to taste a bowl of my favorite Halloween mash-up monster cereal “Count BooFrankula.” (Also: the name of the inner-city child I haven’t yet adopted)

And somebody, somewhere—or, realistically speaking, millions of armchair executive TV producers everywhere—make the tired proclamation that, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE IS DEAD.” (get it? See what they did there? GENIUS). “THE SHOW IS WORTHLESS. IT AIN’T BEEN RELEVANT SINCE CHEVY CHASE HUNG UP HIS GERALD FORD PANTS.”

But here’s the rub: despite all of the negative declarations of irrelevance, and notwithstanding aggressive, pork-tongued online reviews from the Hartford Herald’s super-entertainment critic Rod McCormick (Tinsel Talk with the “Lightning” Rod—Hartford’s Most Viewed Online Entertainment Column!!!), the show marches on.

For 37 seasons.

THIRTY. SEVEN. SEASONS.

When SNL debuted, I was negative six years old. I wasn’t born yet because my father was busy tooling around town, smoking pot in a bright orange van that he and his pals dubbed “The Pumpkin Wagon.”

In April of 1975—the year in which the “Not Ready for Primetime Players” burst triumphantly onto the scene—new albums were released by Bad Company, Aerosmith, ZZ Top, The Doobie Brothers, Black Oak Arkansas, Bob Seger and Nazareth.

WHITEY HERZOG REPLACED JACK MCKEON AS ROYALS MANAGER, AND THE ROYALS WOULD GO ON TO WIN THREE CONSECUTIVE DIVISION CHAMPIONSHIPS.

(I apologize for the big letters, but I’m trying to illustrate what a bizarrely “alternate-universe” kind of time this was)

Everyone everywhere was discovering the magic of cocaine, the free-swinging promiscuity of the 60’s carried on mostly unabated, people wore ridiculous shoes and everyone’s brother AND sister had their hair feathered.

 

Irwin Mainway

SNL embodied a cutting edge recklessness previously not accessible to Iowa corn-farmers and teenagers of Duluth, MN. The world howled with laughter while Bill Murray crooned about Star Wars and Irwin Mainway failed to see the harm in giving your child a “Bag-o-Glass.”

But eventually, as surely as the aforementioned fall foliage begins to wither and die, the decadence and unparalleled excess began to take its toll.

Some of the greedier cast members took their wigs and left, eager to seek bigger riches, more fame and even cocainier piles of cocaine. Some found the success they sought on movie screens or their own shows. Others? Well, they just flat-out died.

By 1982’s Season 7, the same corn-farming-teenagers from Anywhere, USA, who once convulsed in hilarity at the naïvely perverse antics of the Festrunk Brothers were being subjected to skits featuring Robin Duke, Tim Kazurinsky, and history’s greatest punching bag, Joe Piscopo. Undoubtedly, television critics everywhere for the first time ever began bemoaning the end of this young, groundbreaking show before it had even grown old enough to potty-train.

But like zombies, Glazer’s braggadocio and Betty White’s marketability, some things refuse to die.

And hark! Resurgence. By the 1987/88 season, Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, Jon Lovitz, Dennis Miller and Kevin Nealon were featured players. Greg Daniels, Conan O’Brien and Bob Odenkirk all joined the writing staff. Infused with a new, talented pool of comics and some equally talented writers, the show once again began ascending to water-cooler material. Well, you know… until they all of THOSE guys began departing.

The thing is, Saturday Night Live is an ever-evolving rotational door for improve actors and comedians. They come, they get a few characters and catchphrases, maybe get enough laughs to warrant a movie based off of a skit (though it can be argued that this has never actually been “warranted” in the history of SNL-based films) and they move on.

If they’re lucky, they make a few million and last about 5 or 6 seasons. If they’re REALLY lucky, they turn into Eddie Murphy, someone whose unequivocal talent transcended the show like no other, and they go on to make $80 grillion (not a number) voicing cartoon donkeys and playing zany people in fat-suits. They become SO remarkably bankable that not even the murder of a transsexual prostitute can besmirch their hallowed name. But I digress.

As with any team—be it an athletic organization or an office of nerdy accountants—there are cycles of success.  Despite what you think, the Yankees don’t make the playoffs EVERY year, just most of them. Similarly, there are funky periods of SNL.

 

Jay Pharoah does an excellent Will Smith

Even at its best, there were severely un-hilarious periods in any golden-era episode. Trust me. And if you don’t, go back and look. For every Belushi as the samurai skit, there were abysmal, weird vignettes that dragged on endlessly with an awkward Charles Rocket playing Charles Rocket.

We—and I’m grouping myself into this, as well—are selectively inclined to only remember the funny parts when in reality, a good SNL show is somewhere about 25-30% funny and worthwhile viewing, 10% is moderately okay, and the rest ranges from boring to downright awful.

And again—trust me on this one, too—it’s like this every single year. We’re predisposed to thinking that “our” era was the best. I grew up LOVING THE SHIT out of Wayne and Garth and became a stupid teenage wasteoid watching Will Ferrell play eerily sadistic weirdoes (seriously—he built a legacy off of portraying caustically unbalanced characters… go back and watch. In hindsight it’s a little unnerving how many of his characters were homicidal buffoons). In essence, it seems to me that the first 10 or 12 years YOU watched the show were the best. You might have been 30 when it premiered, so you remember it most fondly from about 75-85. If you started watching in 1995 at 10 years old, you think Jimmy Fallon is tits. The beautiful thing is, everybody’s right.

And so the venerable institution rolls forever onward.

The newest cast—despite some seasoned vets like Seth Meyers (12 years), Fred Armisen (11) and Kenan Thompson (10)—are young and green, but good.

Taran Killam does a really great Taran Killam

Jay Pharoah, who will be taking over Obama-aping duties from Armisen, is an AMAZING impressionist, who executes absolutely perfect versions of Jay-Z, Will Smith and Denzel Washington. Were it not for Pharoah, sophomore Taran Killam would be SNL’s runaway best impressionist. Since joining the cast last year, he’s done everyone from Tim Tebow to Michael Cera, Adolf Hitler to Tom Hanks. Nasim Pedrad is versatile and seems poised for a long-awaited breakout (she’s been with the show since ’05), but then again, so does Vanessa Bayer, whose Miley Cyrus is nothing short of outstanding.

Mix in returning MVP Bill Hader (his recurring Weekend Update character “Stefan” is the highlight of any given episode), and… well, who knows?

Sure it’s not the glory days, and there are no breakout stars like Ferrell or Farley, but this season (and the one that follows, and the one that follows) will assuredly have moments of brilliance. Since they haven’t cancelled it yet—nor does it ever seem very likely—we might as well all watch to see what happens.

Season 37 of Saturday Night Live premiers this Saturday on NBC, featuring host Seth MacFarlane and musical guest Frank Ocean.

http://www.mb-kc.com/
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13 Responses to Leftridge: TV Time: Here Comes Saturday Night Live, for the 37th Time

  1. Craig Glazer says:

    Its like with almost everything today….if you do well for too long…then people start hating on you….The Yankee’s, The Pat’s, Clint, so on…just the way human nature is..yes I know their ratings slipped years ago…so did they all.

    • Craig Glazer says:

      What murder? I thought Eddie only banged her?

      • Lance the Intern says:

        Glazer — Here’s a hint — if you see something underlined and in a font color different from the rest of the text, it’s generally what’s called a link, which, when clicked on will take you to another webpage. It works like this: click here

        • Lance the Intern says:

          Damn — I meant click here

          • Brandon Leftridge says:

            Yeah, the link I provided was pretty weak, but you can find more with a little digging. Just a conspiracy theory, if you’re into that kind of thing. I guess the *ahem* lady who he was with ended up killing herself under fairly unusual circumstances.

  2. mark smith says:

    SNL always had a tradition of being brutal when doing a parody of a president or political figure. That said, they totally pussied out on Obama. It was like they were afraid of offending or being disrespectful , which was never an issue in the past. Hell they even made fun of Patterson the blind former NY gov. I think they’ve lost their edge or are embracing their liberal side like Letterman. Either way, when a show starts promoting politics, one sided, then Im done. Their parodies of Obama were tantamount to the reach around Eddie gave that chick with a kickstand. PC pussification aside, the short videos with Samberg and Timberlake were the funniest thing to come out of SNL since the original cast.
    http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/7cd2e1d8f0/dick-in-a-box-uncensored

    • Brandon Leftridge says:

      No doubt on the Digital Short stuff… that really brought a new, younger legion of fans into the fold, I’m sure.

      And I think you’re right about the Obama thing, too, but part of me wonders if there just isn’t enough to make fun of, reglardless of political leanings. Traditionally, their politicians are made into a caricatures, with certain features being greatly amplified– Little Dubya’s speech and stupidity, Clinton’s overt perversions, Ford’s clumsiness. Obama– other than his weird, clipped speaing patterns– is fairly boring.

  3. the dude says:

    So this crapfest is still on the air. **sigh**

  4. Super Dave says:

    Hey Lefty was your Dad in Vans Am by chance? Man I wanna say I remember the Pumpkin Wagon.

  5. Super Dave says:

    When SNL hit the air that first year I remember many an event, party or what not hinged around that show. You just didn’ miss an episode. I had a rather large Christmas party in 75 with all my racing friends and so forth and come 10:30 those famous words was heard through more than one beer fog “Live from New York It’s Saturday Night.” Sorry I don’t remember the show all that much in fact a fare amount of that night I don’t remember. Say what you will about the show it has entertained many people for a long time. Great hosts and musical guests over the years and some not so great but thats life sometimes as well.