Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The End of Season Three

This is going to be my last post about Saturday Night Live for a while, which, believe me, is as much of a relief to me as it is to you. I have now watched Seasons Two and Three, more or less continuously, which is 42 episodes and, at about 1:05 worth of material on each show, more than 45 hours worth of show in about the past month and a half. That's a lot.

Especially since this is the point when the show started getting really repetitive. For a while there, you could bank on seeing one of the Coneheads or the nerds every week, which is understandable, because the audience roared every time they came out, but watching these all in a row gets rather tedious. What keeps them worth watching though, is the quality of the acting - not necessarily the comedy, but their sheer technique. I could watch Gilda Radner as Lisa Loopner all day long. It would have been so easy for her to present a caricatured nerd, but she puts forth a real character with real emotions. (To see this dynamic in action, watch Wayne's World the movie, where Mike Myers creates a fully rounded character in Wayne, and Dana Carvey does a cheap sketch impression as Garth.) It's too bad they weren't making movies out of every recurring character back then, because a nerds movie would have been pretty good.

Or just watch the Olympia Diner sketches, the cheezborgie cheezborgie ones. They're all character driven, with twentysomething drug addict John Belushi from Wheaton, Illinois, turning himself into a 48-year-old Greek immigrant, Dan Aykroyd studiously refusing to call attention to himself except for the cigarette ash dangling over his grilling cheeseburgers (that was a real working grill, by the way), and Bill Murray, never saying anything but "Pepsi" and "chips" (and occasionally "cheeseburger"). In each installment, there comes a time when a customer starts talking to Murray's Nico, and his performance is always quietly stunning: He is eager to please, scared to death, and utterly uncomprehending, and he manages to convey all that without a word (except for "cheeseburger?").

A less idiosyncratic observer than I would probably call Steve Martin's show on April 22, 1978 (his third hosting duties of that season), the best episode of SNL ever, rather than that silly Chuck Grodin show I was talking about a while back. Just look at the lineup of skits:

* Opening: The Blues Brothers doing "Hey Bartender"
* Martin's monologue (a great bit with a "magic trick" for which he pulled Bill Murray out of the audience)
* The Festrunk Brothers
* Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber
*Dancing in the Dark (the wordless sketch with Martin and Gilda Radner, which was what he chose to air in a tribute to her on the show he hosted just after her death)
* Weekend Update
* "King Tut" (the debut of that soon-to-be-hit song)
* A sketch with Belushi and Jane Curtin as an old married couple in bed
* Troff 'n' Brew, the restaurant serving chili in troughs
* The nerds at the science fair, with Martin as Chas the Spas
* The Blues Brothers again
*"Next Week in Review," with Martin predicting that the cover of the following week's Time magazine will read "Send More Chuck Berry"

That's some show, isn't it? Except for the Belushi/Curtin skit, I remember each and every one of those sketches from when this show first aired. "Next Week in Review" is fantastic, and it got pushed back to the 12:50 a.m. Sun Ra slot. By the end of this third season - the Richard Dreyfuss and Micahel Palin shows were also great - this was probably the best comedy show in the history of American television.

Even though I've had a lot of fun watching these, I'm glad it's over. I've been meaning to re-watch Grease for a long time, and I didn't feel like I could do it until I got through all these shows. And now I get to take a break: I don't think they've announced the release of the fourth season yet.

On the other hand, I'd really like to go back and see that Willie Nelson/Mary Kay Place number again....


Joe said...

What about moving forward and obsessively watching whatever was on Sunday night in 1978?

Isabel said...

I added this blog to my Google Reader awhile ago. I really enjoy reading it! This makes me want to watch more old school SNL, especially shows with Gilda Radner. All before my time but still way funnier than anything now.

T. Nawrocki said...

What was in that NBC Sunday mystery movie wheel: Columbo, McCloud, McMillan and Wife... some of those are probably on DVD now.

Welcome aboard, Isabel. We're glad you're here.

Joe said...

McMillan and Wife would be perfect. Painfully slow, but the progression of Rock Hudson's wardrobe/mustache and marriage to Susan St. James would be fascinating.

Gilda Radner on "It's Garry Shandling's Show" is one of the funniest, saddest things ever on TV.