Exploiting the Archives! the Saturday Night Live My World of Flops trilogy
When you are a longtime pop culture writer like myself, much of your career is devoted to trying to maximize your time and energies in a culture that once does not particularly value pop culture, or writers, or pop culture writers, and also values them too much. This was particularly true back when I was “employed” and had to try to keep pace with the relentless, unforgiving nature of the industry.
Yet I’ve also been a dude who has followed his own muse places that perhaps were not the best for his career or his finances. My World of Flops, for example, is a column that understandably has taken up a fair amount of my time and energy, and something that I prioritize because of its history and importance to my life and career. And also because I just fucking love doing it, to the point where I was not prepared to let it go.
Now I can write a My World of Flops Case File about Robin Thicke’s album or write about two whole seasons of the hour-long I Am Cait, the fascinating yet incredibly maddening reality show that very unsuccessfully attempted to make the white-wine loving Donald Trump supporter at least a tiny bit “woke” on trans issues at least. One will take up a couple of hours and one will take up a couple of days but I’ve regularly chosen the “several days” option because I’m deeply curious and I’m thinking of terms of legacy, and articles that will be able to read and found of substance ten or fifteen years from now, so over the course My World of Flops I have delved into my love/hate relationship with Saturday Night Live through an ongoing exploration of the very worst the frequently terrible sketch comedy institution had to offer.
And when I say “frequently terrible” it’s with the caveat that Saturday Night Live also easily ranks among my favorite TV shows of all time and is something that has informed my career and my sensibility and my sense of humor to a strong degree, particularly the Phill Hartman years, which I was lucky enough to experience as an 11 to whatever year old.
I am obsessed with Saturday Night Live (if you were to make a drinking game out of this site, you could take a shot for every time I say I’m obsessed about something and be at least tipsy by noon every day) so I’ve delved deep into their cyclical nadirs for the Saturday Night Live trilogy over at My World of Flops
We begin, of course, with the Doumanian year, that sorrowful period in the show’s run after Lorne Michaels peaced out so he could give the world The New Show, a sketch comedy program that did not, ultimately, prove as venerable or long-running or influential as Saturday Night Live. 1980 was supposed to be all about that sexy, ironic cool drink of water known as Charles Rocket taking over the world and being the new Chevy Chase (if you can even imagine something so wondrous!).
Instead, a skinny teenager named Eddie Murphy came out of nowhere a little later and breathed life into a show so dire I would actually refer to it as Saturday Night Dead.
Ho ho ho!
Do you get it? It’s a play on Saturday Night Live’ s name. "Live" has a positive connotation, whether applied to a format of television or to just plain "not being dead", so to say that it was “dead” would have quite the negative connotation! And be quite the “diss” to boot!
So, anywho, yeah, that season really did fucking suck, and had a really annoying, faux-naughty, “we know about pot” vibe and wasted a young Gilbert Gottfried. But Murphy was a fucking comet streaking across the sky, exuding so much electricity and potential that he has become one of the most popular entertainers of all time (which is, if you look at it at a certain way, impressive) and somehow fulfilled only a fraction of his talent. I mean, after Dreamgirls I found myself thinking, “Wow, now that Murphy has shown what he can do when not sleepwalking, I cannot wait to see what’s next” only for the answer to be, “Norbit and then pretty much nothing.”
I don’t care how low your standards are. That’s not good. Anyway, here’s the me of 2012 on the 1980-1981 season of Saturday Night Live, which I think you can watch on Hulu now, which I don’t think was an option then: https://www.avclub.com/how-bad-can-it-be-case-file-23-saturday-night-live-s-1798233191
Not sure why this particular article is credited to “AV Club Staff” but I can assure you I wrote it. You’ll just have to take my word on it.
When I returned to the sad years of Saturday Night Dead! (If I may return to that lovable, timeless jest!) it was once again with a sexy young cast about to “shake things up.” Only this time Michaels was returning with a fool-proof plan: what could be more sure-fire than to turn your incredibly demanding, complicated live sketch show over to a bunch of sexy, coked-up teenagers and twenty-somethings like Robert Downey Jr. and Joan Cusack and Anthony Michael Hall and also Academy Award nominee Randy Quaid.
Yes, the 85-86 season was pretty crazy, particularly an episode spoofing Apocalypse Now and starring Francis Ford Coppola but I very much liked it for its craziness and wild ambition but also because it contained the seeds of the wonderful late 1980s shows that were so fucking important to me as a kid and remain pretty fucking brilliant, I say as someone who hasn’t seen them in probably twenty years?
Anywho, here’s me on 1985-1986: https://tv.avclub.com/younger-sexier-inherently-doomed-case-file-25-satur-1798233763
Fuck, my relationship with Saturday Night Live is too intense for me to probably ever watch it again, let alone write about it.
I finished out the trilogy by watching the ill-fated 1994-95 season that had a whole lot of things going for it and an amazing cast but just kind of sucked, and in a pretty obnoxious, frat boy way as well. It was the season of O.J and the frat boy cast and, well, I was not impressed: http://tv.avclub.com/everything-old-is-new-again-case-file-65-the-1994-95-1798249821
So, yeah, that was a fuck-ton of work and also a fuck-ton of watching shitty old episodes of Saturday Night Live. Thankfully, I’m a fan of both, within reason and now, as a sad, defeated old man, I can point back and say, “Hey, look at all that work I did” and be proud, and maybe get a good feature out of it as well.
I’m old as fuck and have been around forever. Might as well get something out of it.
If you’ve enjoyed the work of Nathan Rabin over the past two decades (or maybe just over the couple of years he’s been pretty good) won’t you consider contributing to the future of Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place over at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace