Monday, January 18, 2010

When SNL Stars Go Bad

Saturday Night Live has the unique distinction of being both the funniest and the most tragically un-funny television show in the history of entertainment.  During the show's first five seasons, it became a main-stream classic that has remained a pop-cultural icon ever since.  Everyone of my generation remembers the phrases "Cheeseburgie, Cheeseburgie, two chip, two Pepsi", "It's always something," and "Jane, you ignorant slut."  Comic geniuses with names like Belushi, Aykroyd, Murray and Chase launched careers that would make them legends.

The show has been on for over thirty years now, and it's never re-captured the level of outright hilarity of the early years.  Oh, there have been some great casts along the way.  The Eddie Murphy-Joe Piscopo years had their moments, with running sketches that included Murphy's "Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood" and Piscopo's spot-on Sinatra impressions.  The cast that featured Phil Hartman, Mike Myers and Dana Carvey was probably the second-best ever, and the Sandler-Spade-Farley group was hilarious as well.  But the last several line-ups have been, more often than not, painful to watch.  For better or worse, though, Saturday Night Live will always be the standard by which all sketch comedy is judged.

As great as the show was, the actors have proven time and again that what works as a ten-minute skit does not necessarily translate into a good movie.  Many have tried, but only two films with SNL roots, the Myers-Carvey film Wayne's World and the original Blues Brothers, would be considered good movies by reasonable viewers . The failures, which far outweigh the successes, include:

The Coneheads:  The Coneheads were among the most popular and beloved characters ever to appear on Saturday Night Live.  Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, and Laraine Newman starred as Beldar, Prymatt, and Connie Conehead, immigrants from "France".  The sketches were hilarious.  But the characters' quirks and personalities wore thin over the course of a 90-minute movie, and the result was an embarrassing bastardization of one of the best SNL ideas ever. 

It's Pat:  Even on SNL, Julia Sweeney's androgynous character was a one-joke wonder.  "Pat" would be surrounded by friends, co-workers, and acquaintances who would try to figure out (but never ask) whether Pat was a man or a woman.  The sketches were reasonably funny, especially considering that Sweeney made no attempt to make Pat remotely likable.  He/She drooled, hacked up mucus, and whined his/her way through each situation.  Why anyone thought that the public would pay money to watch over an hour of this is one of the entertainment industry's great mysteries. 

Superstar: To her credit, Molly Shannon made a valiant effort to create a character even more repulsive than the aforementioned Pat.  Mary Catherine Gallagher, an outcast Catholic school girl, had two defining characteristics: unbelievable clumsiness and the habit of jamming her hands in her armpits and then smelling them.  This was painful to watch as a five-minute skit, let alone a full-length movie.  I, of course, didn't actually watch the movie, but I did watch the Oscars and since no mention was made of this film, I'll just assume that it sucked monkey ass. 

A Night at the Roxbury:  This is an entire movie based on head-bobbing.  Granted, other movies have succeeded with this formula, but they're all pornos, not main-stream comedy.  Besides, this flick can be summed up in six words:  "Starring Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan".  It was destined for floptitude.

Curiously, the stars of Saturday Night Live themselves only had marginal success in the film industry, and almost NEVER when asked to carry a film on their own.  This is disappointing to me because everyone I'm going to list here was absolutely brilliant in the context of SNL.  I'm not going to bother with those who were worthless even on the show (I'm looking at YOU, Chris Kattan).

Let's hand out some report card grades, shall we? 


Bill Murray: He carried Groundhog Day, and was outstanding as part of a larger cast in Caddyshack and Ghostbusters.  He's made a few clunkers (Scrooged and What About Bob? come to mind), but overall his body of work is solid.  Grade: B 

Adam Sandler: While I'm not a particular fan of his early work (Little Nicky and Billy Madison, in my opinion, stunk), his recent efforts are terrific.  The Wedding Singer is probably his best, but Happy Gilmore and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry are pretty good also.  Grade: A 

Mike Myers: Other than So I Married an Axe Murderer, Myers's resume is probably the most impressive of any former SNL'er.  The Austin Powers series, Wayne's World, and his voice work in Shrek are all top-notch.  He also seems like a decent enough guy, which helps.  Grade: A 

Eddie Murphy: I wish this guy had just quit while he was ahead.  Trading Places, 48 Hours, and Beverly Hills Cop were classics.  But it's been downhill ever since.  Coming to America, Bowfinger, Daddy Day Care, any movie where he plays fourteen different roles, they're all pure horseshit.  Axel Foley, we miss you.  Grade: Pre-1990, A+; Post 1990: D-

Chevy Chase: Other than Vacation, depending on your opinion of The Three Amigos, most of Chevy's work has been pretty awful.  Fletch is marginal, and movies like Funny Farm and Cops and Robbersons are simply abysmal.  Grade: C (because I loved Vacation)

John Belushi: Belushi was a genius who, predictably, died far too soon.  I would've loved to have seen him in the Murray role in Ghostbusters with Murray taking Aykroyd's part and Aykroyd taking Harold Ramis's.  I'm going to pretend that Animal House was the only film Belushi ever appeared in and give him a solid A.


David Spade: Spade is pretty much a one-trick pony, but that one-trick can be pretty funny.  He's at his best as the cynical and sarcastic buddy, as fans of Tommy Boy and Black Sheep will be quick to point out.  Even his lead role in Dickie Roberts, Child Star was surprisingly enjoyable.  He's never risen to greatness, but I'm hard-pressed to think of a movie that he was terrible in.  Grade: C+

Chris Farley: See "David Spade", except Farley was the lovable buffoon.  Still, Beverly Hills Ninja was an abomination.  But whenever I think of Chris Farley, I think of Matt Foley living in a van down by the river, and it makes me laugh.  Grade: C 


Will Ferrell: If I had my way, Ferrell would be banned from ever appearing in another movie.  I'm convinced that he's on a mission to make every one of his movies even worse than the one that preceded it.  After watching the first fifteen minutes of Step Brothers, I promised myself that I'll never watch anything else this guy appears in.  Talladega Nights, Anchorman, that basketball one, it's just one pile of shit after another.  I'd rather spend two hours French kissing Mary Catherine Gallagher.  Grade: F- and a kick in the balls.

Rob Schneider: At least Schneider is reasonably funny as a minor player in Adam Sandler movies.  But come on, anyone who starred in a movie entitled Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo (and a sequel, for God's sake), can't be taken seriously.  Grade: F

Dana Carvey: I love Carvey, I really do.  The Church Lady, Wayne's pal Garth, his SNL work is terrific.  But his foray into movies, and I can only think of Master of Disguise and Opportunity Knocks, has been woeful.  Never has a nicer guy been so unwatchable.  Grade: D


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Jeff said...

I don't think I've ever seen a good movie derived from an SNL sketch or characters. It seems as though they both are designed for short-form humor and anything longer than 3 or 4 minutes just doesn't work. In fact, sometimes they run long sketches that don't work.

I like most of Chevy Chase's film work (even though he seems like a bitter asshole in interviews and talk shows). Fletch came from a great series of novels and I really liked the movie adaptations. Great movies? No. But fun to watch, in my opinion

One of my favorite current cast members is Kristen Wiig. She's about the only good thing left, other than the news, which Seth Meyers seems to be handling fairly well. I think Tina Fey was one of the best writers they had on the show.

This concludes my rambling, seemingly directionless comment on SNL.

Nomad said...

i agree almost 100% except for anchorman... i kinda liked that one...

The Good Cook said...

sorry - after the first five years SNL just was hot worth watching

Jenn Thorson said...

Okay, I'm going to say it out loud-- I liked Funny Farm and What About Bob?

Now, before the villagers with torches come after me, I'd like to say I do not mistake these as Great Movies.

I'm just saying, these are acceptable sick day from work films.

Chevy Chase's Nothing But Trouble, however, was one of the worst films I've ever seen. If you don't know it, you'll want to look it up for the horror.

Eva Gallant said...

I loved the early days of Saturday night live! Gilda Radner, "Ernestine," John Belushi, ...They were hilarious!
Jane Curtain and Chevy Chase doing the news could be pretty funny, too.
I can't stand the show now. I try watching it every now and then if I'm up that late, but you're right; most of the time it's painful to watch.

The only movie I ever could stand Will Farrell in was The Wedding Crashers--because he had a minor part in it, and you didn't have time to get sick of thim!

CatLadyLarew said...

Like Jenn, I'm a fan of What About Bob. But of the movies you mentioned, I like the Beverly Hills Cop series the best. I had just graduated from college when SNL debuted and it was amazing. I started to lose interest after the original cast moved on. Later cast members had some good sketches, but not the consistent genius of the originals.

Surfie said...

Aw, I like Will Ferrell and Rob Schneider. :( I haven't seen all of their movies, but I've basically like the ones I've seen. Then again, I'm not real picky.

Quirkyloon said...

I love What About Bob?

And I liked Eddie Murphy in The Golden Child.

In the present cast, I think Kirsten Wiig is the most talented and funny lady ever.

She's cute too.

Ice Queen said...

I can't believe you put Will Ferrell on the bad list. I'm a huge fan. Anchorman was one of our "college classics" (meaning we would skip class to watch it for the 16th time).

I guess we'll have to agree to disagree.

Candice said...

Saturday Night Live is almost painful to watch these days. To say that it's lame would be the understatement of the year.

Kathy said...

I'm with Candice. I don't know why I record it anymore. I wind up watching about five minutes of it and Weekend Update. That's all I can stomach.

Will you think less of me if I tell you I quite enjoyed Stuart Saves His Family?

Nooter said...

whats all this about a saturday night wive? a wife should make herself available throughout the entire week, not just one night. and whats so special about saturday anyway? why not friday or tuesday? who decides these things? and what about ....

It's 'Saturday Night Live'.


It's not Saturday Night Wive, it's Saturday Night Live, the television show.

oh. nevermind...

Mariann Simms said...

I actually tell people, "You're allowed to just NOT watch SNL." It's like some law of physics - people keep doing it altho they have no clue why. I haven't watched it in years and years. I turn it on now and again - but if you can't handle making the first five minutes funny...not gonna happen the rest of the I promptly turn it off.

I have no clue what the Ferrell enigma is. I can't stand this guy - altho he was rather good in the one film he really wasn't supposed to be funny in, which I liked, "Stranger Than Fiction".

As far as the others go, I liked a couple you left out... Spade's "Joe Dirt" was okay and I love watching a whole lot of what Sandler does...which is odd, because I really didn't like him that much in SNL. I downright love "Click".

I did like "The Kids in the Hall" - why Lorne Michaels never gave them the attention I thought they deserved (put them on instead of SNL when SNL was tanking) - I'll never know.

Mike said...

I always liked Billy Crystal as the security gaurd. He would be talking to the other gaurd about how certain things hurt. ---- "You know what hurts? When you take pin and stick it in your eye. Man that hurts."

Beth said...

Scrooged is one of my favorite Christmas movies! You are pretty much on target with the rest - except I do like Will Ferrell.

brookeamanda said...

How could you give Will Ferrell an F?!!! Old School, Anchorman, Blades of Glory & Talladaga Nights are hilarious! I own and watch Elf every Christmas, too.

He has made some bombs (Kicking & Screaming, Land of the Lost), but overall I he's really funny and he was great as a cast member on SNL. Who could forget the Spartan cheerleaders?

brookeamanda said...

How could you give Will Ferrell an F?!!! Old School, Anchorman, Blades of Glory & Talladaga Nights are hilarious! I own and watch Elf every Christmas, too.

He has made some bombs (Kicking & Screaming, Land of the Lost), but overall I he's really funny and he was great as a cast member on SNL. Who could forget the Spartan cheerleaders?

brookeamanda said...

How could you give Will Ferrell an F?!!! Old School, Anchorman, Blades of Glory & Talladaga Nights are hilarious! I own and watch Elf every Christmas, too.

He has made some bombs (Kicking & Screaming, Land of the Lost), but overall I he's really funny and he was great as a cast member on SNL. Who could forget the Spartan cheerleaders?

brookeamanda said...

How could you give Will Ferrell an F?!!! Old School, Anchorman, Blades of Glory & Talladaga Nights are hilarious! I own and watch Elf every Christmas, too.

He has made some bombs (Kicking & Screaming, Land of the Lost), but overall I he's really funny and he was great as a cast member on SNL. Who could forget the Spartan cheerleaders?

brookeamanda said...

How could you give Will Ferrell an F?!!! Old School, Anchorman, Blades of Glory & Talladaga Nights are hilarious! I own and watch Elf every Christmas, too.

He has made some bombs (Kicking & Screaming, Land of the Lost), but overall I he's really funny and he was great as a cast member on SNL. Who could forget the Spartan cheerleaders?

otin said...

I pretty much have to agree with your list. I think that Bill Murray probably has the best list of credits. I loved Groundhog day and his performance as Dustin Hoffmans roommate in "Tootsie" was classic.

Judge Fudge said...

When it comes to bitching about TV, Saturday Night Live is my favorite topic. It hasn't been funny since the 2000 election

The last time I actually tuned into the show, the skit playing featured Tom Hanks and two of the current no name cast members at a baseball game. They were brothers who spent the whole skit shouting "Ma! Hey, ma! Ma!" Apparently, THAT was the joke.

Oh, and sweet ziggidy, don't get me started on Jimmy Fallon!!!! How could he stay on the show for as long as he did when he giggled like an idiot in nearly EVERY sketch?

Mariann Simms said...

Otin - I have to agree - Groundhog Day was fantastic...and Murray was great in it. I do have to say that the short film "12:01 PM" was a better take on the concept, tho. If you've never seen that - just Youtube it - it's with Kurtwood Smith...fabulous.

Tom Hanks as "Mr. Short Term Memory" - now THAT was funny stuff! But then again, that was a LONG time ago. said...

I do think SNL is all about YOUR AGE. I agree with 95% of your assesment. We did a blog about SNL (ripping them) and younger people ( college kids) said we are old and they love all the digital shorts, Andy Samberg, and worse of all - that story topper girl. I find it funny for 5 seconds.

But I disagree on Will Ferrall. I agree he shouldn't do every movie on his plate where he plays the same characters (a la Sandler). But his 2 hour SNL DVD is freaking hysterical. I also love him in Old School, T-Nights, and Step-brothers. But I think you have to be stoned as well...

Great blog.


Jessica said...

I loved Scrooged!

Apart from that, though - this is dead on.

~jill said...

I think you need to watch "Scrooged" again.

And I think "elf" brings Will Ferrell's grade to at least a D-. it's a charming movie that our entire family loves.

Secretia said...

Do you mind a job at 10pm every weeknite, or would you prefer the 11:30 time slot?

Moooooog35 said...



You're dead to me.

You have a point on the rest of them...but seriously.

Candy's daily Dandy said...

SO TRUE... Oh my what I wouldn't give for "two wild and crazy guy's to open the door to the 'land shark' only to find Lisa Lupner and Todd standing there".

Those were the good old days.

FYI-I just read that Chevy and Beverly D'Angelo as Clark and Ellen Griswold are making a commercial spot to air at the Super Bowl. I will watch for that fact ALONE.

TheHMC said...

Wow. Saw this blog mentioned on another, came to see what the hoopla was about, and maaaaan oh man. I don't think we can be friends.

Okay, some points you made were right on. And I agree that SNL is all about your age. SNL is hilarious to me-but I'm not a college kid, so there goes that idea. It's disappointing to see so many people rip that show. Some of the shows suck more than others, but from the beginning, SNL has been a crapshoot. If the host isn't any good, well, good luck. Charles Barkley this past weekend? Blaaaaah. Taylor Swift a few episodes back? Fabulous. Justin Timberlake kills anytime he's on there.
It's also my theory that some stuff just gets funnier with age. Some skits aren't funny to me until I've seen them a few times.

Oh, and Will Farrel? Either you love him or you hate him. No one should ever be able to do a review or critique on the man because there is no "in-between" and there is no unbiased opinion on the man. Where you give him an F, I would give him an A because he's made me laugh so many times. Old School...good God that was some funniness.
I'll agree with whomever made mention of Jimmy Fallon and his giggling. But you can't deny the hilarity of his song parodies.
Again....I'm no spring chicken, but I think it's a generational thing. and that's ok. But SNL isn't all just John Belushi and Chevy Chase. The show is always changing and adapting and obviously many of you were attached to what it used to be and can't accept what it's become. I mean, how many of you think that if the cast were still the same as when it started, that it would still be any good?

It's still funny for some of us(Jason and Keenan...I love them). And I'll give credit to Tina Fey but Amy Poheler? Funniest woman to ever be on the show. That woman has no fear.

Suldog said...

Two hours kissing Mary Catherine Gallagher would have been masturbatory fantasy material for me at one point in my life. I was a sad, sad teenager at one point...

f8hasit said...

I find it odd that Will Ferrel gets naked (or close to it) in every movie he's ever been in.

Now if he were good to look at naked, that'd be one thing. But he's not. The only way I'd like to view that particular specticle is by having him hold his bank statement. That might be interesting.

And guess who got follower of note? Sans Sandra Bullock?
You did.

The mad woman behind the blog said...

Oh thank you for stepping away from the alter of Will Ferrell. I've seen many of his movies numerous times and I still don't like them. (The things I do to keep the peace!)

While I was never a fan of Chevy Chase movies, I do love his performance on Community. It's a winner.

Uncle Skip, said...

Now I remember why I don't watch movies that are made from books I've read.
Fletch ruined it. Yeah, sure there were other adaptations that were pretty bad, but Fletch absolutely sucked. Until now I had totally blocked it.

Big City Dad said...

Pal, agree with a lot of it except for Will Ferrell. Like brookamanda (although she didn't need to post 4 times) and the HMC, Old School is some funny shit and was the first movie where he got naked. It's an old bit now, but at the time was classic. Anchorman is hilarious as well. Overall, I give him a C. Some pure A's and pure F's mix out to average. You're blog though.

Tatyana Vinogradsky said...

Hey!! What About Bob was hilarious!!

Grumpy, M.D. said...

You left out the late Gilda Radner, and her remarkable ensemble: Emily Littlela and Roseann Roseannadanna.

mr loser said...

100% right on SNL and Ferrell not even even producing a half-hearted guffaw.

Allyson said...

seriously are there no more funny people who want to go on SNL?

your post is pretty spot on, except anchorman is one of the funniest movies ever

Jenn said...

Well I do have to admit that I am a huge Will Ferrel fan but that's pretty much because I'm a fan of stupid boy humor. Old School and Stranger Than Fiction were his best performances. Seriously if you haven't seen STF you should, it might change your mind about him it was a very different role for him.

We still watch SNL every week for the most part but it has gone way downhill since Jimmy Fallon left. In my opinion he was one of the most versatile cast members ever.

Katy said...

While I agree with many of the points you made, there are a few things that I do disagree with.
1. Neither one of the Bill Murray movies you mentioned were, in my opinion, bad at all...Scrooged is considered a classic Christmas movie and bill is hilarious in it, as well with What About Bob...I loved that movie. Come to think of it, I can't think of a bad movie he was in.
2. No mention of Martin Short, but he has his share of hits and misses....but mainly misses.
3. Will Ferrell...some of his movies I like, others I haven't even bothered seeing, but I liked Old School, although I prefer him in supporting roles.
4. I think SNL goes through highs and lows, different generations feel differently about this, but I personally loved the carvey-meyers, sandler-farley-spade, and more recently Tina fey-Amy pohler-Jimmy Fallon. All classics in my opinion. Even now, Seth meyers, Kristin wiig and bill hader and Andy samburg definitely show potential.

rick said...

I can't believe no one has mentioned Bill Murry's incredible preformance in "Lost in Translation". The guy was nominated for an Academy Award for best actor. One of my all time top ten favorite films, he blew me away. Also "Ed Wood" and "The Razors Edge", well worth watching.

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Anonymous said...

First, what about ninety million people here said, What About Bob was an amazingly cute and endearing movie.

Second, Will Ferrell is a dreadful, pathetic, man-child, obnoxious, worthless, loathsome, disgusting, flatulent (I assume), worthless pustule on the ass of Hollywood in every movie he STARS in. That being said, he was amazingly well-suited for Mustafa in the Austin Powers movies, and pretty much every movie he had NO CREATIVE INPUT for. As long as the dude had a small role and no say in the story, plot, or script, he's watchable.

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