Saturday Night Undead

17 December 2010, 19:36

Dennis Perrin (Michael O’Donoghue’s biographer) has reviewed the 1980-1981 season of Saturday Night Live, which is currently available for streaming on Netflix.

This was the sixth season, the year when the infamous Jean Doumanian took control and almost everything about the show failed spectacularly. Being only a few years younger than Perrin, I remember some of the baffling disappointment with the premiere and the eventual train wreck ending when Charles Rocket ad libbed “fuck” on a live broadcast (and it still wasn’t funny). It’s amazing that Gilbert Gottfried managed to recover from that year.

If anything, the failure of Saturday Night Live ’80 only strengthened the notion that the original cast were untouchably funny legends instead of an inconsistent group of people who were in the right place at the right time. Every time Dana Carvey was seen to utter the phrase “they were the Beatles of comedy” he should have been punched in the face. The original cast paled in comparison to SCTV and Monty Python. But at the time, I was sipping the Kool-Aid as much as anyone, a drink made easy to swallow considering how barren network television and popular culture in North America was from the mid-1970s to a decade later.

The calibre of many of the people who were castmembers or writers is not debatable (O’Donoghue, Phil Hartman, Tom Davis, Norm Macdonald) but over the years Lorne Michaels and/or NBC ultimately squandered them as well as members of The Credibility Gap and SCTV (in 1981, Dick Ebersol wanted to poach four SCTV members and settled for two). If anything Saturday Night Live should be the entertainment industry’s cautionary fable for the stupidity of coveting movies over a consistent presence on TV. When everything save The Blues Brothers and Wayne’s World becomes an abject failure, you’d think they’d stop sending chariots up to the sun.

Today, the show is basically a 90-minute wraparound for TV Funhouse and The Lonely Island, both of which, thanks to DVD and YouTube, no longer require the patience and the stamina to stay awake until 1AM.

Rodney Eric Griffith



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