A locus for eccentrics (hopefully)

Friday, June 20, 2008

SNL All-Star Team

Because of how shitty its been over the course of the past decade and a half, its easy to forget that Saturday Night Live was at one point the most consistently amusing and cutting edge show on television. And it wasn't even close.

I got to thinking about some of the sketches that really reverberated with me (especially when the show was at its peak, from 1976-'82, eps that I caught in reruns, and again from '88-'95) and I laid down a challenge to myself.

If someone put a gun to my head and forced me to pick a 5 person SNL cast member All Star Team, who would I select?

Its a hell of a lot tougher than you'd think. Pick 5 individuals, who, based on 1) their signature sketches/characters from SNL and to a lesser extent, 2) their post-SNL career you would select as the best. I wracked my brain trying to narrow down my list. It may have been easier if I just limited the criteria to the cast members' career on the show itself, but so many movie and TV stars were made by that show, I didn't want to limit it.

My top 5:

1. Phil Hartman - You wouldn't think it, but he is easily the MVP of the series. Created consistently hilarious characters, was an incredibly funny supporting player in whatever sketch he was in (and he was in a lot of them), and his impressions of people ranging from Ronald Reagan to Frank Sinatra to Bill Clinton, Johnny Cash and Charlton Heston were sublime.

2. Eddie Murphy - Remember Buckwheat, Gumby, Black Mr. Rogers, his impressions of Stevie Wonder and James Brown? Guy was on fucking fire. And he was only 20 years old. And then he did 48 hrs, Beverly Hills Cop and Coming to America. No matter what shit he's done since then (and he's done a lot), his run in TV and films from 1981 to about 1987 was perfection.

3. Will Ferrell - I doubt I would get any arguments on this one.

4. John Belushi - Granted, he had a slight movie career, but the ones he did (Blues Brothers
, Animal House) were just about perfect. And his skethes. Remember Samurai Futaba? Jake Blues? His impressions of Babe Ruth, Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis and Jack Nicholson?

5. Bill Murray - This was the toughest because I was choosing between him and Chris Farley. Both were pretty consistent, but I have to give Murray the edge because his film career was more interesting (Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, Ed Wood, Rushmore, Royal Tenenbaums, Lost in Translation) and because his character Nick the Lounge Singer was really, really funny.

Honorable mention to: Dana Carvey, Mike Myers, Chris Rock, and Chris Farley.

Who has the balls/interest/time to dispute me on this?


Blogger Booth&Noble said...

I find your selection of the "top five" SNL presenters quite reasonable. I agree with you for the most part. However, I must disagree with you on a couple points.

1) Phil Hartman would also be my first choice, although you did fail to mention his fantastic role in News Radio. It must also be said that his complete lack of movie roles probably helped him, rather than hindered him.

2) Eddie Murphy. I'm not sure I'd put him up here this high on the list. Sure, maybe in 1988 -- and his turn in Bowfinger was sublime. But Norbit? Daddy Day Care? Please. And, to top it off, Donkey in Shrek is second only to Shrek himself for being the most annoying animated character in recent memory (and yes, I include Jar-Jar in that). Suck it world - I'm in the minority, but Shrek is not a good movie. I'd still include Murphy, but I'd put him at 5.

3) Will Ferrell. Yes, agreed. Although, I might even put him at #2. Although he's made some post-SNL stinkers (Night at the Roxbury, Talledega Nights), his appearances on SNL are legendarily funny. Also, he's been a really good online video artist. So there.

4) John Belushi. Sigh. I know that I'm in the minority on this, but I wouldn't put him on this list. I just don't find him that funny. I mean, he's good - and Blues Brothers and Animal House are brilliant. But I find much of his work hinges on being "in-your-face" and I think that gets old. But he was immensely talented and as such he deserves to be on this list much more than Jimmy Fallon does, anyway.

5) Bill Murray - Yes, definitely. I'd even move him up to 3. What a great actor - Lost in Translation is an amazing performance, as is his turn in both Rushmore and the Royal Tenenbaums.

Ok - here's my pick for #4 - Tina Fey

Shame on you, Omar, for forgetting Tina Fey. Lest we forget how good she was on weekend update. How brilliant her satire. And then, her amazing turn into feature films: Mean Girls is a wonderful movie. And 30 Rock is getting rave reviews (I have not seen enough of it to give a decent comment). (This is ignoring the recent Baby Mama, in which I hasten to add, she merely starred and did not write nor direct).

As for your "also-rans"...

Chris Farley, although vaguely talented, does not deserve to be in the same list as Phil Hartman or Bill Murray. I might have thought Mike Myers were he to have stopped making movies after the first Austin Powers. (Although 54 does make up for a lot). Dana Carvey is good at impressions, but what else? Chris Rock is a good choice and might have made my list if he had a more distinguished movie career. I would also add to your "also-rans" Gilda Radner.

Kudos for such an enjoyable challenge!

3:15 PM

Blogger Omar said...

I take your point about Dana Carvey; I think perhaps I am too overly influenced by how good he was at impressions. I don't think he was quite as good as the others in creating distinct and consistently funny characters.

But NO WAY does Tina Fey make the top 5 of all time. Mean Girls was funny and 30 Rock is incredible, but other than her work on Weekend Update, I can't think of a single memorable sketch she was in. She was the head writer during her tenure and deserves a decent amount of credit for that, but I think neither her career on the show nor her post SNL ventures, added together, put her in the top five. I would argue that Chris Rock and Mike Myers would definitely be above her.

Characterizing Chris Farley as "vaguely talented," insults both him and me. Shame on you. Did you ever see the skit where he tries to interview Paul McCartney? Or his Chip n' Dale character?

Finally, you are correct in pointing out my News Radio omission vis a vis Phil Hartman, which is inexcusable. I love him in that show. You know what else he was fucking incredible in? The Simpsons. Someone mentioned to me, and I tend to agree, that you can pretty much trace the decline of The Simpsons (From Must See TV to moderately amusing TV) to when he died.

I appreciate your thoughts. I wish you were here with me and we could rent the Best of Will Ferrell DVD.

One more note: If you were doing a list of the Top 5 SNL hosts of all time, Alec Baldwin, John Goodman and Christopher Walken would all be on my list. I'm just sayin'.

5:33 PM

Blogger Booth&Noble said...

I take your point about Tina Fey. I just think that she deserves a lot of credit for the sorta-decent writing of the early 2000s. But point taken.

Hosts, eh?

Definitely the three you mentioned: Alec Baldwin, John Goodman and Christopher Walken. Might I also add Steve Martin (a veritable member of the cast, almost) and maybe Tom Hanks? I dunno - the trouble is that there are many hosts who very good once, and then many who have hosted decently a lot of times. I see you are going to quantity and quality...

Re: my dig at Chris Farley. I understand he is beloved and I do not mean to besmirch. However, I never found him as funny as other comedians. First of all, his humor generally relied on his fat, with the exception of the awkward interview guy (The Chris Farley Show)...but I think you can chalk the awkwardness up to his bulk. I'm not saying that fat isn't funny, but it seemed to rely on it too much. You don't see really thin people continually referencing their skeletal structure, or Jewish people only telling Jewish jokes. Now, I will admit that he had a decent (only decent) film career after SNL - Tommy Boy and Black Sheep are very funny. But (and please don't stone me), I think that the rest of his ouvere - Beverly Hills Ninja? Almost Heroes? - falls majorly short.

6:58 AM


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