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SNL Season 1 Episode 17 [1976)

Why do we review films?  Why do we feel the need to write about that which is expressed as sound and vision?

And why, after experiencing the sublime, do we still get enjoyment out of the mundane?

Why, as in a society with classes or castes, do we persist in dividing art into high and low?

The former we call high art, whereas the latter is pop art (if even that).

We are often unforgiving.

After immersion in Godard (an ongoing activity for me), we somehow still need comedy.

Comedy lets us relax.

If we spend all day thinking, we want to have an occasional laugh.

And so today we are able to re-approach a show like Saturday Night Live by starting from the very beginning.

As an aspiring film critic, I seek to bring the same respect and passion to writing about television as I bring to writing about film.

I will be honest:  I am not a big fan of TV.

Somehow television has often brought out the worst in humanity.

It’s a rather sickening feeling to let the constant stream of disposable culture wash over oneself.

And so I don’t subject myself to such.

The important point to make is that this decision doesn’t make me any better than anyone else.

It’s just simply a choice I make.

Now, how can one possibly come down from such a marbled column to discuss SNL?

Well, fortunately this particular episode breaks the fourth wall in a very unique way.

The host of this night’s show was press secretary to the president of the US (I refuse to capitalize that repugnant position) Ron Nessen.

This was the Ford administration.

Now.  If you want to see a UNIQUE name, check out Nessen’s predecessor Jerald terHorst [sic].  What a mind-trip!

But back to that fourth wall…

Yes, the other Gerald (the big one…G-man) delivers Chevy’s line here.  “Live from New York…”

This was an exceptionally bold move by a White House which had been lambasted mercilessly by SNL since the show’s inception.  Particularly, Gerald Ford showed a strange side of himself by consenting to be taped for a couple of one-liners.

Strangest of all, however, is Nessen (as himself) interacting with Chevy Chase (as President Ford) in the Oval Office.  It was the obvious skit to do.  Aside from the rehashing of the “Dead String Quartet” to start the show, the first real piece was this one.

While some bits in this episode fall flat (“Press Secretaries Throughout History” comes to mind), in all this is a very solid episode.

Perhaps Patti Smith’s presence as musical guest had something to do with the fuck-off tone encountered here and there.

Let’s face it:  SNL (though still called merely Saturday Night) had become such a force that the White House was forced to respond.

And their course of action?

If we can’t be ’em, join ’em.  It’s the old Bugs Bunny phrase I heard a million times as a kid growing up.

What’s not good about this episode?  Billy Crystal (still Bill Crystal at the time).

It’s almost good.  It’s almost great (Crystal’s routine).  But ultimately, it sucks.

Contrast this with the performance of The Patti Smith Group.

“Gloria” is powerful, but it’s a strange rip-off cover.  It’s a rewrite.  Almost a détournement worthy of Guy Debord and the Situationists.

“Gloria” works.  The guitars are blaring loud.  Patti Smith is a true persona here.  Magical.  Visceral.  Pissed-off.

But “My Generation” works less well.  And while it is juvenile and lazy, it still has the genuine energy which would inspire groups like Sonic Youth.

The Patti Smith Group is exciting on both tunes because it feels like they could fail at any moment.  “Excursion on a Wobbly Rail” as Cecil Taylor put it.

Yeah.  That was the name of Lou Reed’s radio show when Lou was a student at Syracuse.

No.  Bill Crystal was no Andy Kaufman.  Bill Crystal was just doing blackface here.  Is it Satchmo?  Miles?  An amalgamation named Pops?

Importantly, it is evident that Crystal has talent.  A lot of talent.  It’s just that he’s not channeling it very well here.  The blackface sans burnt cork doesn’t really become him.  It’s lazy.  Like Patti Smith Group’s “My Generation”.  Crystal isn’t risking much.

Today, Crystal’s routine would probably be called racist.  Yeah…  It’s a little odd.

But Patti Smith comes out on top.  “Jesus died for somebody’s sins/but not mine.”  Wow…

On national TV.  Long before Sinéad ripped up a picture of the Pope.

SNL was dangerous.

But it was also a gas.

Super Bass-o-Matic ’76.

Yeah, Dan Aykroyd took a step forward with this particular show.

Who even remembers Tom Snyder?

It’s of a different generation.  Not my generation.

We dig back in the past.

And this show (SNL) is not complete without the REAL commercials.

I wanna see the Marlboro Man, ads for Scotch, plugs for cars that Ralph Nader found out impaled people upon impact.  The good old days…

The FAKE commercials need the REAL commercials for the whole thing to work.

I’m thinking back to my youth.  When Crystal Pepsi was lampooned as Crystal Gravy.

And so it’s a shame that corporate America couldn’t get together and celebrate their grossly dated marketing of the 1970s by being a part of these reruns. Same criticism falls upon NBC.  Why don’t you give us a REAL glimpse of what watching this show in ’76 must have been like?

Some brands don’t even exist anymore.  Who holds the copyrights to commercials for defunct products?  That’s a lot of work just to give people a more realistic stroll down memory lane.

So it is instructive.

What you see on television today (the whole experience…especially the commercials) will be very quickly (QUICKLY) forgotten tomorrow.  The mundane pieces will fade first.  No one bothered to document them.  Too pervasive.

And then the few gems somehow get lost in the digital landfill.

Gary Weis was way ahead of me with his short film set in a dump.  Sanitation workers.  Garbage men.

Don’t mind me.  I’m just sifting through the detritus.

 

-PD

 

2 responses to “SNL Season 1 Episode 17 [1976)

  1. BeeHappee

    Nice review, I was almost able to visualize all the garbage packed in the TV as a garbage can. 🙂
    “cars that Ralph Nader found out impaled people upon impact.” made me laugh. Some of the things there go over my head, as a FAKE american. These sound like good episodes to get some cultural footing for people like me.

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