Sunday, January 28, 2007

When Every Night Is Saturday Night

I am valiantly making my way through the first season of "Saturday Night Live". This I am doing partly aided by "Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live" by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller, which provides enough of a glimpse backstage to account for (and more importantly, explain) whatever odd or incongruous thing might be happening in front of the cameras.

Normally valiant is not an adverb I would use to describe anything I do, let alone watch television, but here I think it's apt. As much as the purists would disagree, it's been pretty hard going. For all the accolades that would eventually accrue to the Not Ready For Prime Time Players they're not quite ready for them yet. Still, it's nice to see people who would later come to feel entitled to their fans - more specifically Chase and Belushi - here still working so hard to earn them.

Ahead lay four more seasons of considerably better material. Chevy Chase, of course, left after the first season and took his ego with him, leaving a spot just big enough to hold Bill Murray's talent. But for the most part, leaving SNL was a mixed bag for the cast: for some it led to a peculiar kind of famous obscurity (Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman), for others lousier and lousier movies (Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase), and even early death (John Belushi, Gilda Radner).

It took a decade and a half for Jane Curtin to dispel the curse and finally be ready for prime time with a star turn in "Third Rock From The Sun", probably because she alone refused to believe her own hype. She has mostly refused to speak about (and thus capitalise on) the cultural moment that was SNL, and hasn't participated in any televised reunions. By all accounts she alone didn't attend the bacchanalian round of parties which surrounded the show and so didn't suffer like the rest from having smoke blown up her ass. When it came time for her to step back into another ensemble she was able to without hesitation. To this day Mary Albright remains one of the best drawn sitcom characters, and a personal favourite of mine.

I just finished watching the episode starring Ron Nessen. Who is Ron Nessen, you ask? Why, none other than press secretary to President Gerald Ford. Now, imagine any of the stooges who've held the same position within the current Administration doing a thing like that. If the show has one failing now it's in how slick it's gotten; in Season One it's still raw.

Still, there's the ethical dilemna: how can one watch a show meant for 11:30 Saturday night be watched at two in the afternoon on a Tuesday without causing serious damage to the viewer? I mean, I'm afraid of opening a rift in the time-space continuum, or at least I'm afraid I won't be able to close it if I do.
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