Tagged: Saturday Night Live

Martha Thomases: Lampooning The Lumpen

Like many old farts, I think it’s been a long time since Saturday Night Live was reliably funny. A lot of this is nostalgia for my youth, when I was cool and cutting-edge. More, alas, is that I think Lorne Michaels tends to stick to what he thinks works and not to take chances and rock the boat. Too many sketches rely on catch-phrases or stock characters, or the surprise visit of a guest star.

For me, the last straw was letting Trump host the show when he was running for president. I thought it was antithetical to humor to suck up to power that way, and Trump’s racism, sexism, xenophobia and general lack of class are pretty much what good comedy is supposed to attack. It’s much funnier to point out that the Emperor has no clothes than to laugh at the naked peasants.

So you can imagine my surprise when I find myself, in general, liking at least the first half-hour or so of SNL lately. I mean, I’ve liked Alec Baldwin since at least Beetlejuice, and Kate McKinnon might be my spirit animal, so I liked a lot of the campaign. Since the election, the humor seems sharper, going after Trump’s ego and narcissism and ignorance rather than just his appearance, or the size of his hands.

And then, this.

Melissa McCarthy does angry better than anyone. My favorite parts of Spy are her manic rants against Rose Byrne. Even in a mediocre film like The Boss, her angry outbursts make me laugh. Therefore, I was going to laugh at her impression of Sean Spicer even if she didn’t actually copy his mannerisms.

In his response to the skit, Spicer showed that he has as little understanding of how comedy works as his boss. From the link, “Extra asked Spicer for his thoughts on the sketch, and his reaction was that McCarthy “could dial back” with her impression and she “needs to slow down on the gum chewing; way too many pieces in there.”

Because it’s only funny if it is factually accurate? I mean, I know this administration has trouble understanding the difference between fake news and satire, but this is something a kindergartner would get.

I confess I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the fact that McCarthy is a woman and Spicer is a man. She nailed the confrontational tone of the administration’s attitudes towards the press because that is her jam, not her gender. However, SNL might have accomplished more than that, for a change. According to this, Spicer’s job might be threatened. To quote, “More than being lampooned as a press secretary who makes up facts, it was Spicer’s portrayal by a woman that was most problematic in the president’s eyes, according to sources close to him.”

Politico was not the only media source suggesting that Spicer’s days might be numbered. CNN also had the story.

If all it takes is some cross-dressing on television to rein in Hell Presidente (thanks to Steve Grant for the nickname!), then I’m all in. Rosie O’Donnell has already agreed to play Steve Bannon, an easier way to get rid of him than calling all my elected representatives every week. Let’s use Trump’s misogyny to our advantage.

NBC has noticed that SNL is getting buzzier, and they’re looking for ways to monetize this trend. I get that. Given that SNL has such a spotty record, and that “Weekend Update” is among the spottiest, I’m not sure how this would work. Could a network show be as opinionated as The Daily Show or The Colbert Report?

I don’t know if they can pull it off, but I’d love to see them try.

John Ostrander: Siddown and Shut Up!


There has been a bit of tension since the surprise victory of Donald Trump on election night. There are many on the Left who are vociferous in not liking or accepting the outcome, and there are plenty (not all) on the Right whose attitude appears to be “We won, you lost, get over it.”

A couple of incidents stand out. Vice-President Elect Pence attended a performance of the musical Hamilton on Broadway. Some of the audience booed him and, during curtain call, the cast read a (I thought) polite letter explaining their concerns about the upcoming Trump/Pence Administration. I’ve seen objections that doing so was rude, out of place, and (in the opinion of the President–Elect) it needed an apology. There are those on the Internetverse who evidently believe that politics have no place at a Broadway musical; Pence was there to be entertained, not lectured, and the cast should just sing their little ditties and behave themselves.

Some Trump supporters declared they were going to boycott Hamilton, a feeble threat in that a) it’s theater and they wouldn’t be caught dead in a live show, b) it’s sold-out for the next two years, and c) Hamilton is already a political statement, using a variety of musical styles (including hip-hop) and color-blind casting.

I’ve seen different artists have also made statements either on Facebook or Twitter, including Sarah McLaughlin and Bruce Springsteen, and have been verbally pummeled by trolls. I saw one posting regarding Springsteen that said he should just sing his little songs and shut up. Did this person ever listen to Springsteen? There are those who think that the song Born In The U.S.A. was a nationalistic or even jingoistic anthem. They might have listened to the chorus, but they ignored the verses.

Art is not merely there to entertain you. Art is meant to challenge, to show different perspectives, to introduce new ways of thinking and feeling. The best way to open a mind is through the heart and art is the best way to do that. A closed mind comes from a closed heart.

A song, a drawing, a story, a dance, a touch of theater – these can all open heart and mind. It’s why authoritarian regimes always look to control and dictate the arts, to turn it into propaganda; the arts are dangerous. They should be. That’s part of their value to society. They can challenge established notions and perceptions, in small ways as well as large.

Some of the more virulent responses to artists dissent on Trump that I’ve seen are disdainful. They denigrate the artist and the work. “Siddown and shut up!” they seem to say. “Our side won and we don’t want to hear it! We don’t want to put up with whining little babies!” Some even go misogynistic suggesting those that don’t support the manly Trump are bitchy little girls. (Yes, I’ve seen that, too.)

These are all examples of cyber-bullying. They seem to believe they can make others shut up. They’re predictable, they’re pathetic, and it won’t work. The bullies don’t get it; this is what artists do – they speak up, they challenge, they question. It’s in the DNA. Donald Trump will need to grow a thicker skin and not get into Twitter wars with musicals, Saturday Night Live, and stand-up comics. He won’t win and he won’t look good losing.

The next four years are going to be interesting.

The Point Radio: CRISTELA and MARRY ME Make TV Comedy Magic

This season, some of the first cancellation casualties have been situation comedies, but beyond the cast offs there are two shows which have made their marks in ratings. Stand up superstar, Cristela Alonzo, brought much of her charm and her act to CRISTELA and she explains why it was so important for her to keep it old school. Meanwhile, NBC’s MARRY ME has plenty of comedy cred with stars Ken Marino and Casey Wilson who don’t even finch when you call them cute.

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Jen Krueger: Sitcom Love

Pam Halpert

Pam Halpert (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the list of things I originally expected from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, emotional resonance isn’t to be found. With a former Saturday Night Live cast member as the lead, I figured the show would be goofy (in a good way) and peppered with cameos from comedians. While these expectations were met early in the first season, the thing I’ve come to like most about the show is the slowly developing romantic storyline between Jake (Andy Samberg) and Amy (Melissa Fumero). But as much as I’ve enjoyed the pining these characters both think is unrequited, I keep reminding myself not to get my hopes up too much about the future of this storyline since sitcom love rarely flourishes in an enjoyable way.

I’m not sure there’s a single narrative show on TV that doesn’t have at least one romantic storyline, but very few half-hour comedies seem comfortable letting their characters actually get together. The Office was getting so much mileage out of Jim and Pam wanting each other but not being together that even after Jim put his cards on the table in “Casino Night” (sorry, couldn’t resist), the show kept inventing reasons to keep them apart. And though I’m about as big of a fan as you can find of the slow burn approach to the development of relationships in TV, I hate it when the hurdles a couple must leap feel like they’ve been put there just for the sake of adding more hurdles. Jim transferring to Stamford smacked of artificially inserted conflict, and I never bought that he’d bother keeping up a relationship with Karen after returning to Scranton and finding Pam single. And since it was inevitable that Jim and Pam would get together in the end, it drove me nuts that the show was delaying the one thing I so badly wanted to see.

I’m sure the prevailing TV wisdom behind keeping love unrequited (or at the very least, requited but unfulfilled) is that two people pining for each other provides more avenues for conflict than a happy couple does. But to that I say, watch almost any episode of Mad About You. Yes, it’s an older show that’s pretty different from the way sitcoms are today, but it’s also a show that holds up because its characters are solid and the storylines rarely depend on problems between Paul and Jamie. With the exception of the season in which their marriage is on the rocks (which also happens to be the worst season of the show), Mad About You manages to find enough conflict for the Buchmans to face as individuals or as a unit without having to resort to artificially driving a wedge between the two of them.

So if it’s entirely possible to have a happy couple in a sitcom, why do so many shows draw out storylines about couples getting together? Perhaps the difference lies in where the relationships are in the pilot. Mad About You begins with married protagonists, so the show never has to get the audience to root for the relationship to start. When a sitcom spends time building toward the genesis of a romance, though, maybe there’s a fear of viewers losing interest as soon as the hook up they’ve been waiting for finally happens. This would certainly explain the inevitably ensuing forced relationship conflict in the cases where characters actually do get together, like the “problems” Jim and Pam faced in the final season of The Office. But this way of artificially extending the will-the-won’t-they element always strikes me as undermining the depth of feeling established during the rise of a TV romance.

I have to admit, I was surprised to see Jake confess his feelings to Amy in the first season finale of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I expected the show to draw out his pining for her well into the second season, but I was pleased to see Jake fess up sooner than I anticipated. And since the writers not only bypassed some of the romantic roadblocks I assumed were on the horizon, but bypassed them with a scene so sweet that I was genuinely touched by it, I’m hoping the show will continue to put the quality of Jake and Amy’s relationship arc over empty gambits at delaying them from getting together. And if season two starts with Amy welcoming Jake back only to learn he started dating someone while on his undercover mission, let’s just say Rosa’s disposition will look sunny compared to my reaction.

Marc Alan Fishman: Things Do Not Change; We Change

Thank you, Thoreau. The winds of change are ah-blowin’ kiddos. Turn that dial (and yeah I know kids… that term makes no sense to you) to NBC late night, and suddenly the land of Leno is now the field of Fallon. And where Jimmy once sat, now sits Seth. As internet pundits are quick to judge, I’ve been tickled pink at the complex barrage of arbitration that’s befallen the SNL alum already. Some good, some bad. But in nearly all cases? Passionate. Me personally? I’ll give them both the benefit of time. In his stint on ‘Late Night’, I thought Jimmy Fallon really came into his own. Taking that show to the “big leagues” has drawn itself plenty of criticism, and it brings me to my rant-n-rave this week: the outcries of the old who actively hate the new. (more…)

Mike Gold: You Boob, Tube

Gold Art 131024Evidently it’s teevee week here at ComicMix, with Martha, John and Mindy weighing in on their thoughts regarding the new season. Well, you build a bandwagon and sooner or later, I’ll jump on it.

I’m not much of a broadcast television fan. Most of the shows I enjoy are made-for-cable, with their 12 episode (give or take) seasons that create an environment for better writing. Justified, Doctor Who, Sons Of Anarchy, Boardwalk Empire, Louie… that’s my idea of Must See TeeVee. But I start each fall season checking out a few broadcast shows, and this season I found four that were worthy of my limited attention span.

I, too, share the prevailing opinion that The Blacklist is a wonderfully entertaining show. Of course, it’s really the James Spader Show, and if you don’t like him you most certainly won’t like the show. Or, most likely, the upcoming Avengers 2 movie. In fact, even if you do like Spader you might not care for The Blacklist if you like your lead characters to be rooted in ethical behavior. But if you like evil anti-heroes screwing around with the government – and, let’s face it, a whole lot of us do – then this is probably your go-to show of the season.

I also follow the dominating opinion in these precincts that I’m slightly disappointed in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I was looking for a contemporary version of the first season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and this comes close. But they gave us too many agents and it’s hard to develop any strong feelings for or against any of them. Dropping one or two would help us get to know the others and make for smoother plotting and action sequences. Nonetheless, I find it entertaining enough to maintain on my TiVo season’s pass list.

If I’m not all that interested in broadcast television, I’m even less interested in sit-coms. They are as predictable as a courtroom transcript, and they often star a stand-up comic who is far, far more entertaining doing stand-up. I checked out two: Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Crazy Ones. I checked out Brooklyn Nine-Nine because I’m a huge Terry Crews fan; he’s one of those guys who could he reading the Yellow Pages and I’d probably give it a try.

I really had no expectations for Andy Samberg: it’s been so long since Saturday Night Live had adequate writing that I can’t get a feel for the quality of the performers. Given the extreme broadness of his character on this show, he’s fine and almost endearing. It was clear to me that Andre Braugher was going to be the tight-ass police captain who could not possibly co-exist with a person as free-spirited as Samberg, and that’s pretty much the case. And, similarly, his nurturing of Samberg is no surprise. But Braugher transcends his own stereotype, aided by an interesting character bit: he’s gay, one of the first gay men to achieve such an exalted position in the NYPD. And he worked hard for it.

The bottom line on Brooklyn Nine-Nine: each episode, I found myself laughing out loud several times. That’s the highest praise one can offer a sit-com, particularly a jaundiced cynic such as me.

I landed on The Crazy Ones for two reasons: I enjoy Robin Williams’ insanity-with-heart act (there’s been no one better at it since Buster Keaton), and I really like David E. Kelley’s work… which gets us back to James Spader. I’ve enjoyed this series thus far and it has a fine supporting cast, although sooner or later I’m probably going to want to see it evolve a bit and its characters grow – including Williams’. But after three or four episodes, it still entertains me and that, for better and worse, is the purpose of broadcast television.

I can’t imagine watching three broadcast sit-coms once Community returns in January, but who knows. This season might be the exception.




Spider-Man: The Short Halloween by Seth Meyers

Comic Book Writer Seth Meyers to Succeed Fallon on ‘Late Night’

Spider-Man: The Short Halloween by Seth MeyersIn yet more proof that Hollywood is looking for comic book properties and talent, Seth Meyers will be the next host of NBC’s “Late Night,” the network announced Sunday. Mr. Meyers will succeed Jimmy Fallon, who is moving up one hour to take over NBC’s “Tonight Show.”

Meyers is best known for writing 2009’s Spider-Man: The Short Halloween, co-written with Neil Gaiman impersonator Bill Hader and Justice League and Worlds Finest artist Kevin Maguire. Meyers also currently has a job as the head writer on “Saturday Night Live” and host of its “Weekend Update” segment.

This is not the first Spider-Man/Saturday Night Live crossover, as Spidey first met the Not Ready For Prime Time Players in Marvel Team-Up #75, featuring a climactic katana battle between the Silver Samurai and John Belushi, and (of course) the inevitable Stan Lee cameo.

Ant Man, who was also considered for the hosting gig, was unavailable for comment.

via Seth Meyers to Succeed Fallon on ‘Late Night’ – NYTimes.com.

Doctor Who wins Peabody Award

doctor_who_season_7b_coming_soonHonoring its fifty-year history, Doctor Who has been awarded a Peabody award “for evolving with technology and the times like nothing else in the known television universe.”

First presented in 1941, the George Foster Peabody Awards recognize distinguished achievement and meritorious service by broadcasters, cable and Webcasters, producing organizations, and individuals. The awards program is administered by the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. Selection is made each spring by the Peabody Board, a 16-member panel of distinguished academics, television critics, industry practitioners and experts in culture and the arts.

The 72nd annual awards also honored such varied recipients as comedian Louis CK, Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels, and SCOTUSBlog.com, reporting on the US Supreme Court. A complete list of winners is available on the Peabody Awards website.

Doctor Who is also up for two BAFTA Television Craft Awards this Spring, one for composer Murray Gold and one for special effects house The Mill.  The awards will be presented on April 28th in London.

Doctor Who’s new season premieres this Saturday on BBC America at 8PM Eastern America time.

REVIEW: “The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley” is as fun as fun can be, I must say.

God bless the deranged maniacs at the Warner Archives and their desire to not let anything be forgotten.  As part of their exponentially-growing manufacture on demand DVD program, they’ve added to their already impressive list of animated releases with a 2-disc release of Hanna-Barbera’s The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley.

Martin Short has had a wide and varied career in comedy, and inamongst appearing on SCTV, Saturday Night Live and his film career, he created a character named Ed Grimley.  Formed from equal parts of sight gags from his SCTV days and a voice he used to do to annoy his wife, Ed caught on with America during Short’s SNL run.  When NBC and Hanna-Barbera looked for a way to compete with CBS’ Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, the hyperkinetic Mr. Grimley was tailor-made.

Featuring a mini-reunion of the SCTV gang, the series features Martin in the titular (a word you want to hear more often, and so seldom do) role, with Andrea Martin and Catherine O’Hara, with Joe Flaherty reprising his SCTV creation Count Floyd.  Jonathan Winters rounded out the crew, adding in his comedy genius.

The comparison to Pee-Wee is easy to make on the surface, but at its base, Ed’s show was a surreal take on a sitcom, as opposed to the kids show parody of Mr. Herman.  Ed has no desire to find adventures; he’s more than happy practicing his triangle and enjoying the company of his neighbors at the palatial Freebus Arms.  But adventure seeks him out, and before you can say “Uncle Balfour’s favorite Mantovani record” he’s running n a horse race or getting a new identity after testifying in a robbery trial or being whisked to Kansas via a hurricane.

Ed Grimley was one of the last shows made at Hanna-Barbera before their purchase by Turner, and was one of its last truly original works.  With character work and story direction by Scott Shaw! the show had a unique voice that stood above the sadly dying world of Saturday Morning cartoons.  It’s popped back up on Cartoon Network on occasion, but thanks to Warner Archives, fans can get their triangle on whenever they please.

The 2-disc set is available from The Warner Brothers Shop.

REVIEW: Meatballs

I thought it was funnier. Meatballs looms large in the memory as Bill Murray’s first big film and a laugh riot along the lines of Caddyshack. It certainly has the right pedigree as it came from director Ivan Reitman and was co-written by Harold Ramis. The film was a hit when first released in 1979 and spawned several sequels and now it is making its Blu-ray debut on Tuesday from Lionsgate Home Entertainment.

It has not aged well. The humor is mild, even for 1979, when Animal House rewrote the rules a year earlier. This PG-rated comedy features the counselors and kids at Camp North Star, a ramshackle summer camp. Despite a reporter telling us the camp charges $1000 a week, we have no idea where the money goes given the dilapidated bunks, grounds, and facilities. The kids aren’t required to wear camp uniforms and they don’t seem to be following much of a schedule.

Written by Ramis, Len Blum, Dan Goldberg, and Janis Allen, the characters aren’t well-defined archetypes or satirical portraits of the kind of people you would find at such a place. We have no clue about the kids and their backgrounds, or the counselors and counselors in training (CITs). It doesn’t appear to be a very large camp given each age range is represented by about four people each.

When I went to sleepaway camp in the early 1970s there were plenty of things to ridicule and mock and the film barely touches on any of them making it an empty and disappointing exercise that most certainly does not hold up well on repeat viewing.  Murray stars as the head counselor, Tripper Harrison, who meanders from activity to activity, with glimpses of the character that would grow up to become the star of Stripes, a far better collaboration with Ramis and Reitman a mere three years later.

There’s a sentimental storyline as he befriends Rudy Gerner (Chris Makepeace) the kid who has no friends and self-esteem issues. Of course, he goes jogging with Murray every day so when the big competition with another camp requires a marathon runner, you know who will race and who will win.  The story includes several teen crushes and romances which are more cloyingly sweet than laugh-filled raunch.

Of the No Name cast, Makepeace went on to a short-lived teen heartthrob career while Murray took the money and ran back to Saturday Night Live. The rest never aspired to much with the exception of Matt Craven, who now stars on NCIS.

The film’s grainy low-budget feel is retained in the Blu-ray transfer and doesn’t look much better on high definition. The sound is nice and Elmer Bernstein’s score is a welcome touch. Unlike the most recent DVD release, the 2007 special edition, the only bonus track we get here is the original commentary from Reitman and Goldberg. Now, if you’ve never heard this before, it’s worth a listen to understand that Murray’s participation was never confirmed until he arrived for work and an hour of sub-plots were jettisoned to make room for the Murray/Makepeace sub-plot. It was shot fast and the haphazard feel robs the film of any strength it could have possessed.

Overall, the movie itself and the Blu-ray release are remarkably disappointing.