Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Saturday Night Live, Season 1

Score Technician: Arrison Kirby

The iconic Saturday Night Live is now in it’s 40th year. As a full grown adult, this technician has come to the magical realization that he has never lived in a world in which Saturday Night Live did not exist. Chevy Chase was falling off stages just slightly before my father’s balls ever made the sperm version of me. So Saturday Night Live is, for me, a catalog of the zeitgeist for each year of my life. A lot of your lives, too, readers.

So long story short: we decided to dive in and watch every episode of Saturday Night Live ever made, from beginning to end. We are going to be scoring each season, in order, as we go.

We know at the PCS we try to inject humor into the scorings, but we have kind of run into an issue here. How do you make funny on something that is already meant to be funny? You can’t. It's just like trying to explain something funny you saw on television to another person (actually, it is precisely this). They may find it interesting, but there is no way they are going to get the same emotional reaction that you did when watching the original. Timing and aesthetic are both lost in the transfer. So our approach here is to basically pick through each and every episode, pulling out the good, the bad and the interesting. Did it work well or did it not work at all? If it went off, but did not significantly change the tone of the moment, then it probably will not be mentioned here.

All the big factoids that you can read on Wikipedia or wherever will be here, of course. Here also will be a closer look at the larger artistry of Saturday Night Live, as well as it’s relationship to the times. Take note on the scoring that just because a seemingly “negative” thing occurs (such a fight between cast members, for example), it does not necessarily mean that the event would lose points. Some of the best and most revealing content is when things don’t quite work as planned.

Let’s get started. Season one is rough around the edges. It looks old and wobbly, despite being a completely new take on an old concept, at the time. The humor falls flat in places but everyone is trying really hard to do a good job. They really want you to like what you see and, as their audience, you really want to like them – and ultimately you do. Look at this cast: John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Dan Akroyd, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtain, Garret Morris and Lorraine Newman. These people are practically saints to us now, and here is this glimpse into their essential beginnings.

BEST HOST: Elliot Gould
WORST HOST: Louise Lasser

  • Chevy Chase’s pratfalls beginning each and every episode. = +20pts 
  • The bald guy with the hot dog in the opening credits seeming a bit on the creepy side and that girl next to him looking uncomfortable. = -5pts 
  • Jim Henson Muppet sketches with adult material on every episode. = +10pts 

  • The writers hating The Muppets. = -5pts 
  • Albert Brooks short films. = +10pts 
  • The fuckin’ Bees. = +8pts 
  • Lots of jokes about Patty Hearst. = +3pts 
  • Disparaging jokes about Ronald Reagan considering a run for president. = +10pts 
  • Watergate jokes. = +5pts 
  • Chevy Chase as Gerald Ford. = +10pts
  • The schtick where Al Franken and that other guy have a discussion over a game of pong. = -3pts 
  • Young Paul Shaffer. = +3pts 
  • Lots of filler. = -10pts 
  • Everyone is smoking cigarettes…inside a television studio…all the time. = +5pts 
  • George Carlin standup. [E01] = +8pts 
  • New Dad commercial just seeming like it was confusing to the audience. [E01] = -2pts 
  • Andy Kaufman’s Mighty Mouse bit. [E01] = +10pts 
  • Albert Brooks short film piece about the age of consent being lowered to seven is way disturbing. [E01] & [E05] = +2pts 
  • Valerie Brownfield doing “comedy” about being a teacher [E01] = -5pts
  • "Show Us Your Guns” short film seeming like today. [E01] = +2pts 
  • A “funny” commercial for a fictional razor that has (get this) three blades. The announcer saying: “because you’ll believe anything!” [E01] & [E10] = +10pts 
  • Paul Simon playing basketball. [E02] = +5pts 
  • Simon and Garfunkle reunion equating to Art Garfunkle singing along with Paul Simon. [E02] = +1pts 
  • Rob Reiner’s “real me” monologue. [E03] = +8pts 
  • Andy Kaufman’s “Pop Goes the Weasel” bit. [E03] = +10pts 
  • The Lockers dance routine being off the chain. [E03] = +8pts 
  • Belushi’s first Joe Cocker bit…the one that hurt Joe Cocker’s feelings. [E03] = +20pts 
  • Andy Kaufman’s cannon joke. [E04] = +10pts 
  • Screen graphics apologizing that ABBA is lip-synching their performance because “the tracks didn’t arrive from Sweden.” [E05] = +6pts 
  • Louden Wainwright III doing what he does. [E05] = +6pts 
  • Belushi as Beethoven. [E06] = +8pts 
  • Landshark beginning as a “JAWS 2” parody. [E06] = +10pts 
  • Lily Tomlin’s “I Got You Babe” duet with Skred, the Muppet, touching something soft. [E06] = +5pts 
  • Richard Pryor owning an episode. [E07] = +15pts 
  • Samurai Futaba debuts with Samurai Hotel. [E07] = +10pts 
  • The Richard Pryor / Chevy Chase job interview skit. [E07] = +15pts 
  • Shelley Pryor’s storytelling bit. [E07] = -8pts 
  • A completely nonverbal sketch with Belushi and Radner falling in love while doing laundry. [E08] = +5pts 
  • A live interview with an old lady about why we should be nice to old people. [E08] = -2pts 
  • Filler video of people greeting each other in transport terminals, set to Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound.” [E08] & [E13] = -4pts 
  • The Dead String Quartet. [E09] & [E17] = +5pts 
  • Elliot Gould owning the show from the moment he takes the stage…smoking a cigarette, of course. [E09] = +15pts 
  • Anne Murray: horrible hair, horrible dress and nipples present. [E09] = -8pts 
  • Bee sketch breaking the fourth wall as Lorne Michaels fires the director for drinking on the job. [E09] = +10pts 
  • Muppets using sex toys. [E10] = +5pts 
  • The opening sketch not going as planned. Chevy Chase is supposed to be hit with a pie but it misses his face. [E11] = -3pts 
  • Dudley Moore accusing American humor of being unsophisticated. True or not, do you really want to alienate your audience 30 seconds into your monologue? [E11] = -10pts 
  • Neil Sedaka just will not stop smiling. [E11] = -2pts 
  • Al Alan Peterson’s gender swapping musical number. [E12] = +8pts 
  • Little girls lip synching “This Will Be.” Creepy. Not cute. [E13] = -5pts 
  • Floundering the logistics of Garrett Morris’s segment on Weekend Update when they can’t get the blue screen to display his fictional location background. [E13] = +3pts 
  • Richard Nixon in a monkey mask also coming across rather creepy...but in a better way than those little girls. [E13] = +3pts 
  • Belushi and Peter Boyle as Dueling Brandos. [E13] = +8pts 
  • Al Jarreau really feeling it on his second song. [E13] = +8pts 
  • Peter Boyle’s introduction to the “traveling people” filler video (see E08]) is short, simple, sincere and sweet. [E13] = +5pts 
  • Desi Arnaz being a decent host. [E14] = +8pts 
  • Desi Arnaz being an excellent musical guest...thanks in no small part to his band. [E14] = +12 
  • Additional points for Desi Arnaz Jr. coming along. [E14] = +5pts 
  • Ohhhh shit. What is up with Desi Arnaz’s teeth? [E14] = -3pts 
  • Gary Weiss’s film about Taylor Mead and his cat is endearing and irreverent. [E14] = +3pts 
  • Okay. One more Arnaz thing that must be set apart from the other four. Desi Arnaz absolutely bringing down the house at the end of the episode. Pure joy on film. [E14] +10pts 
  • Young and precise Leon Redbone making magic. [E15] [E22] = +10pts 
  • Four words: White Guilt Relief Fund. [E15] = +5pts 
  • A Coast Guard academy choir singing a somber song with an insult to celebrities scrolling over them. [E15] = -5pts 
  • Chevy Chase taking on the Muppet’s usual duties. [E15] = +3pts 
  • Andy Kaufman doing an “Old McDonald” bit using volunteers from the audience. [E15] = +12pts 
  • The debut of Mr. Bill, originally submitted by an audience member. [E15] = +5pts 
  • Ending and episode with a lesbian wedding. [E15] = +5pts 
  • ...but not the kiss. [E15] = -3pts 
  • Chevy Chase addressing an audience letter about the abundance of filler used on the show. [E16] = +3pts 
  • The “Butt County Highway Patrol TV Dance Party” sketch being something like an early version of the “One Party at a Time” sketch on Portlandia. [E16] = +8pts 
  • Gerald Ford delivering the “Live from New York” line. [E17] = +5pts 
  • It’s pre-recorded. [E17] = -2pts 
  • Press secretary Ron Nesson hosting the same episode in which Patti Smith is the musical guest. [E17] = +10pts 
  • Dan Akroyd’s Bass-O-Matic sketch being completely revolutionary and unique humor for the time. [E17] = +15pts 
  • Gilda Radner advertises Autumn Fizz, a carbonated douche. [E17] = +8pts 
  • The Supreme Court (all males at the time) watching Jane Curtain and Chevy Chase have sex to determine if they are breaking any laws. More creepy foreshadowing. [E17] = +5pts 
  • Young Billy Crystal doing an impersonation of a jazzman. At least he isn’t in blackface. [E17] = -2pts 
  • John Belushi as Joe Cocker, singing the Carpenters in a duet with Raquel Welch. [E18] = +8pts 
  • John Sebastian totally flubbing the Welcome Back Kotter theme song, right out of the gate. [E18] = +5pts 
  • Lorne Michaels offering The Beatles $3000 to reunite on the show. [E18] = +5pts 
  • Raquel Welch immediately following musical guest, Phoebe Snow, with a song of her own. [E18] = -8pts 
  • Akroyd as Nixon, talking to his paintings. [E19] = +8pts 
  • Leon and Mary Russell. [E20] = +7pts 
  • Chevy Chase on a white horse. [E20] = +5pts 
  • Young Gordon Lightfoot looking exactly like Chris Pratt. [E21] = +8pts 
  • Garrett Morris sings Shubert. [E21] = +5pts 
  • Closing the show with Michael O’Donohue and two women writhing around on the floor and screaming. [E21] = +5pts 
  • Closing the show with Elliot Gould and the cast, all in women’s western wear and singing “Happy Trails.” [E22] = +5pts 
  • Louise Lasser proclaiming during her monologue that she is tired. [E23] = -5pts 
  • Louise Lasser proclaiming during the closing that she is exhausted. [E23] = -3pts 
  • Louise Lasser’s stupid haircut. [E23] = -2pts 
  • Kris Kristofferson, in general, because We don’t want to end with Louise Lasser. [E24] = +8pts
Total Score = +424pts
Available in full on DVD and the torrent sites, also in bits and pieces all over the internet.

Saturday Night Live Season 1 is a rare and wonderful thing. Everyone still a fledgling. Everything uncertain and in flux. The kinks still working out. It’s a wonder that NBC even let something like this happen at all. “Here are the keys to the studio, Lorne. Do whatever you want to do. Just clean up when you leave.”

Being the first season, We have no basis of comparison for the scoring, but there were not too many negatives (until the end, Louise Lasser). Only the stuffiest of tea party card carrying, hating haters could dismiss these images of such iconic people finding their sea legs in the very foundation of a major American institution that has launched so many careers since. There is a unique vibration in Saturday Night Live and this was it’s big bang.

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