comedy, tv

Farewell to a great SNL group

Once upon a time, Saturday Night Live went through waves of wholesale changes, allowing us to divide the show into several eras.


1975-80: The original Not Ready for Prime Time Players dwindled from their 1975 debut to the end of their fifth season in 1980. Chevy Chase left after one season and change, later replaced by Bill Murray. Next out were John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, leaving the core of Murray, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman and Gilda Radner to be supplemented by the quirky duo of Al Franken and Tom Davis, later joined by Harry Shearer and some cast appearances by band member Paul Shaffer and an array of bit players.

(Coincidentally, as chronicled last week in a marvelous WaPo oral history, Radner, Shaffer, future SNL cast member Martin Short and Short’s SCTV castmates Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin had all appeared together in a 1972 production of Godspell.)


1980-84: Lorne Michaels, the man now synonymous with his show, departed after that 1979-80 season along with the entire cast. Enter a new group that couldn’t carry the torch aside from a young featured player named Eddie Murphy, though Gilbert Gottfried went on to an entertaining career. Only Murphy and Joe Piscopo survived the 1981 clearout. The cast overhauls were a little less drastic the next couple of years, and four 1982 and 1983 arrivals — including Jim Belushi and a very young Julia Louis-Dreyfuss — carried over to the next season …

1984-85: Producer Dick Ebersol, best known for his distinguished career in sports, swung for the fences in this unique season packed with established talents such as Short, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, Rich Hall, Pamela Stephenson and the prodigal Harry Shearer.

Carvey/Hartman to Sandler/Farley (via Myers)

1985-86: Michaels returned in 1985 and started from scratch, building around the hot-at-the-time Anthony Michael Hall and some people who would eventually be huge — Robert Downey Jr., Randy Quaid, Damon Wayans and Dennis Miller. It sucked.

1986-95: So on top of the complete overhauls in 1980, 1981 and 1985, SNL had a near-total clean slate, keeping only Miller, Jon Lovitz and Nora Dunn. Then, just as Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski saw the benefits of his job-saving class in 1986, Michaels brought in a show-saving class — Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, Kevin Nealon and Victoria Jackson. Add Mike Myers (and briefly Ben Stiller) in 1989, and you have a strong case for the show’s all-time best cast.

That group evolved slowly over the next few years. Departing (in order, more or less, though some cast members returned for occasional appearances): Dunn, Lovitz, Miller, Hooks, Jackson, Carvey, Hartman. But the cast kept swelling with the additions of (among others) Chris Rock, Chris Farley, Julia Sweeney, Tim Meadows, David Spade and Adam Sandler. (Most of the others were women, and unfortunately, this was not a time in which women were developed into stars on the show.)

The loss of Hartman in 1994 nearly destroyed the show. Myers stuck around for increasingly infrequent appearances, and Michaels once again reached out to get some veterans who were, to some extent or another, already recognizable — Michael McKean, Mark McKinney, Chris Elliott, Norm Macdonald and Janeane Garofalo. Unfortunately, no one told Sandler, Spade and Farley that they weren’t in charge of the show, and they ran it into the ground. Garofalo fled after a few months of being underused, citing a sexist atmosphere.

Time for another clearout. McKinney and Macdonald stuck around along with lower-profile castmates Tim Meadows and the recently added Molly Shannon.

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No signs of intelligent life out there (and don’t mention ours)

So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth;
And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere out in space,
‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth!
— Monty Python

A recent post making the rounds: “NASA spokeswoman Trish Chamberson has publicly acknowledged the existence of alien civilizations, noting that the state agency is currently in contact with four alien races.”

A few problems with that, as illuminated by USA TODAY’s awesome fact-checking staff:

  1. NASA has no spokeswoman named Trish Chamberson.
  2. The site that carried the article is clearly identified as satire.
  3. NASA has, in fact, found no credible evidence of extraterrestrial life.

Meanwhile, Arizona astronomy professor Chris Impey has reiterated the academic stance that we might not want to connect with our intergalactic neighbors. Or so NASA and Impey would like you to believe … 

But just for fun, should we tell Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that aliens are coming in from space? I’m sure his response to fortify an atmospheric border would cost Texas taxpayers a lot of money, but it would be less destructive to the rest of us than the extra layer of border security he added before realizing, “Oh, right! Food comes across the border!” Total cost to Texas: roughly $4,000,000,000. And the rest of us need to pay a bit more for produce, thanks to this self-inflicted knot in the supply chain. The word for that is “inflation.” Or, as some people might say, “Damn, these avocados are expensive.”


Appeals court lets travesty stand, leaving soccer trainer in prison

Maybe their hands were tied. Maybe they couldn’t hold the overzealous prosecutors, prodded by influential snowplow parents (snowplows are indeed useful in upstate New York), responsible for soccer trainer Shelby Garigen’s plea deal.

In any case, an appellate court snuck a decision past me in late January, deciding they didn’t need to take a real look at the shenanigans that landed Garigen in jail because she was planning to have sex with someone of legal age in New York but made the mistake of getting him to send nude pics to her.

Here’s the decision:

A few points:

Specific assertions the appellate judges addressed

The judges first say these points don’t fall “within the ‘very circumscribed’ exceptions to the validity of an appellate waiver,” so they’re already setting a high bar to clear.

Point 1: Because the meetup (which proved to be a setup to arrest Garigen) and the sentencing took place after the person in question turned 18, Garigen’s appellate lawyer argues that the person in question should’ve been the one speaking, if he so chose, at Garigen’s sentencing. Instead, his parents spoke. Rephrased in the appellate ruling: “(Garigen asserts that) the parents of a victim (“Victim 1”) made false and biased statements against Garigen and should not have been allowed to speak at her sentencing.” The father’s theme continued when he offered his apparent expert opinion on appellant’s psychiatric diagnosis.” Garigen’s lawyer: “First, Victim 1’s father is not a psychiatrist.”

The appellate court says the lower court was within its rights to hear the parents of the “victim” (again, a legally consenting young man who wanted to have sex with an older woman) as long as Garigen was able to respond at the sentencing. They do NOT address, as far as I can see, the question of whether the father of the “victim” should have been allowed to offer expert opinions on Garigen’s mental health. Nor do they address the topic of whether a more competent lawyer would have offered a more robust response.

Point 2: Re-phrased by the appellate court as “(Garigen asserts that) Victim 1’s father had improper control over the prosecution of Garigen’s case.” The father is a former prosecutor who has worked on cases of sex crimes. (The mother works for the Erie County DA’s office.) Garigen’s appeals lawyer: “The father advised the court that he ‘helped the U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecute this case.’”

The appellate judges say the record doesn’t support Garigen’s claims. They do not support their assertion.

Point 3: Garigen’s lawyer further argues that the father’s words imply that he had read the Presentence Report, and that document is supposed to be read only by the court and respective counsel.

The appellate judges wave this accusation away, not convincingly, taking a statement out of context from the 28th paragraph of Garigen’s appeal.

What the appellate judges didn’t address

Given their insistence that there’s nothing to review here because Garigen should’ve known the risks of accepting her plea deal, it’s not surprising the appellate judges didn’t address the fact that the parents of the “victim” presented several arguments that are, in fact, hogwash.

From what I’ve written before: The parents claim their son has fallen out with a friend who was also 17 when he sent pictures to Garigen, and they say that’s Garigen’s fault. Garigen’s lawyer retorts: “(The mother) fails to note the real possibility that her 17-year-old son may have withdrawn from friends and family because the FBI became involved by interviewing both him and his friend, Victim 2. Notably, Victim 2 declined to provide a Victim Impact Statement and requested no further law enforcement contact.”

And: The parents, in the characterization of Garigen’s lawyer, focused on Garigen “luring” their son — again, a consenting adult — to have sex. They don’t harp on the fact that the only charge she faces, “child pornography,” is the direct result of their son sending her dirty pictures.

Again, perhaps those aren’t questions for the appellate court to address.

I find it hard to believe, though, that this argument should be ignored:

Garigen’s lawyer draws a distinction between pictures a young man posts to Snapchat and what we would normally call child pornography: “Sending a self-picture of an ‘unidentified’ penis (i.e., Victim 1’s face was not in the picture) to a self-deleting application would not in any way ‘create a market’ for child pornography and contribute to the victimization of minors.”

In other words … the entire basis for the prosecution of this case may have been built on a misapplication of the law.

If that’s not in the appellate court’s jurisdiction, it should be. If the appellate court can’t do more to right wrongs that were done because Garigen’s original lawyer failed to object in time, that needs to change. Time to rewrite some laws in New York.

We all know what happened …

  • A teenager of consenting age started flirting with his trainer, and things progressed to where they started talking about having sex and eventually agreed to meet up for that purpose.
  • The teenager’s well-connected parents got wind of it and refused to assign any responsibility to their kid. All her fault, they decided.
  • A terrified, ill-informed woman took a plea deal but hoped for a reasonable sentence.
  • Those well-connected parents took advantage of their connections to bulldoze her lawyer.
  • An 80-year-old judge barely took the time to consider the motion by her replacement lawyer.

Maybe the appellate court can’t address it. It’s a pity we don’t have more watchdogs in the media who can get to that courthouse, the FBI’s Buffalo office and the U.S. Attorney’s office to ask if it’s really necessary to take up prison space for this. Probation? Sure. A ban from working in soccer? Already happened. But prison? I’m sure taxpayers are thrilled.

I’ve asked before if anyone wants to comment on this case. I’ll do a follow-up post if so.

Previous posts:

And meanwhile …

More than five and a half years after his arrest, Juan Ramos might finally be forced to go to court to answer the allegations that he began a sexual relationship with a player when she was 13. Maybe the court date is set for April 11 at 9:30 a.m. in Room 4810 of the Broward County Courthouse.

I say “might” because Ramos already managed to skate by when he and his counsel, Kevin Kulik, were no-shows at a calendar call in October. A capias warrant was issued, but Kulik won the day with the “we didn’t know” defense.

So this document doesn’t instill confidence:

If you have a sharp eye, you may notice that the 500 S. whatever in Fort Lauderdale is not the address Kulik listed on his “my client and I didn’t know” brief. That was 1293 North University Drive #204, Coral Springs, FL.

That’s the address of a UPS Store. I’ve verified that his office is in that store.

One thing Ramos and Garigen have in common is that they’re listed as “ineligible” in the SafeSport registry. They may never work in soccer again — assuming people do the most basic of background checks. And that’s fine.

But there’s no question which crime is less serious and which crime has been more seriously prosecuted. And they’re not the same one. Juan Ramos has been walking around free since the Obama administration, and Shelby Garigen is in prison.

New in the SafeSport registry …

As long as I’m checking, here are the latest names added to the database. Maybe I’ll end up investigating some of these as well.

March 28: Martin Pantoja, San Mateo, Calif. — Criminal Disposition – Sexual Misconduct; Criminal Disposition – involving a minor. Ineligible (subject to appeal). Pantoja was arrested in February. I found one Martin Pantoja in San Mateo but I’m not linking here just in case there are two Martin Pantojas of roughly the same age in the area.

March 25: Jonathan Ledesma, Highland, Calif. — Allegations of Misconduct. Temporary Suspension. Arrested March 17; charged with numerous counts of sexual assault on a minor. Police say he started coaching her at age 9 in AYSO.

March 24: Kristen Wessel, Colorado Springs, Colo. — Allegations of Misconduct. Temporary Suspension. Court date April 28. Charge is listed as a felony count of “failure to comply.”

March 24: Allan Hilsinger, Cincinnati, Ohio — Allegations of Misconduct. Temporary Suspension. Arrested in March on two counts of gross sexual imposition involving a 10-year-old girl.

March 18: Timothy Harrison, Babylon, N.Y. — Allegations of Misconduct. Temporary Suspension. A Timothy Harrison of Babylon was arrested in March over an alleged sexual relationship with a minor in 2013, but the stories list him as a special ed teacher who coached lacrosse and basketball, which raises the question of why U.S. Soccer and not the other sports federations are listed with that name in the SafeSport database. If it’s the same guy, then he should also be suspended from the other sports. If he’s not — wow, what a coincidence.

March 16: Dennis Doyle, Beaverton, Ore. — Allegations of Misconduct. Temporary Suspension. Doyle founded a club called Westside Metros and was still vice president of the since-renamed Westside Timbers until he was arrested on child pornography charges. He was also mayor of Beaverton for 12 years.

March 10: Eric Eskelsen, Blackfoot, Idaho — Criminal Disposition. Permanent Ineligibility. I didn’t find anything about him.

March 7: Evan Thornton, Mount Pleasant, S.C. — Criminal Disposition – Sexual Misconduct; Criminal Disposition – involving a minor. Ineligible. Substitute teacher and soccer coach was arrested in December on charges of unlawful sexual activity with a 16-year-old student. He was a varsity high school coach before age 23 for some reason.

Feb. 28: Walter Jones III, Roseville, Calif. — Criminal Disposition – Sexual Misconduct; Criminal Disposition – involving a minor. Ineligible. I didn’t find any details. There’s a Walter Jones arrest listed in the Placer County inmate records, but if it’s the same guy, the only thing the records add is that he’ll have a May 11 court date.

Feb. 28: Ian Ebert, Irvine, Calif. — Criminal Disposition – Sexual Misconduct; Criminal Disposition – involving a minor. Ineligible. An Irvine coach by that name was arrested in 2013, so that’s either a belated addition to the database or an astounding coincidence in which someone with the same name in the same town was charged with the same crime.

Feb. 14: Rory Dames, Oak Brook, Ill. — Allegations of Misconduct. Temporary Restrictions: Coaching / Training Restriction(s), Contact / Communication Limitation(s), No Contact Directive(s). You may have heard of this one.

Feb. 9: Eduardo Pinuelas, El Paso, Texas — Allegations of Misconduct. Temporary Suspension. No Contact Directive(s). I’m checking to try to match up a name I found.

Jan. 20: Amilcar Velasquez, no city listed — Criminal Disposition – involving a minor. Permanent Ineligibility. I found a soccer coach by that name, and I found someone by that name who was arrested, but they’re thousands of miles apart.

Jan. 10: Dylan Cline, no city listed — Allegations of Misconduct. Temporary Restrictions: No Unsupervised Coaching / Training, Contact / Communication Limitation(s), Travel / Lodging Restriction(s), No Contact Directive(s). There are several Dylan Clines out there.

Jan. 7: Brian Kohler, Warsaw, Ind. — Allegations of Misconduct. Temporary Suspension. No Contact Directive(s). Didn’t find details.

I hope people take an interest in this. The pro coaches understandably get the publicity. But while the names above represent a tiny percentage of the people involved in youth soccer, these cases deserve scrutiny. Of all parties.

Cross-posting at Medium


Video classics: Mötley Crüe


DIRECTOR: So here’s the idea. We have the guys go into this low-rent place in Chinatown. One wants to eat some of the food on the table, but he’s called in to go with the guys to confront some dude. Then a bunch of dudes with swords pop out to surround them, but it turns out all the guys in the band are martial arts experts, so they win a fight.

PRODUCER: Sounds cool. So do they get what they came in for?

DIRECTOR: Yes. They give the guy a dismissive wave and leave.

PRODUCER: So … why were they doing this? Did they bust up a sex trafficking ring or a mob operation or something?

DIRECTOR: Nah. It just looks cool.

PRODUCER: Got it. Hey guys, what do you think?

(Band snorts cocaine)

PRODUCER: OK, never mind. Anyway, can we work in a short snippet of the band playing?

DIRECTOR: Well, it doesn’t fit the story, but OK. How do we make it interesting?

PRODUCER: Tommy does a lot of cool tricks with his sticks and then looks like he’s putting himself in an armlock.

DIRECTOR: That works.

PRODUCER: Tommy? You cool with that?

(Band snorts cocaine)

PRODUCER: It’ll be fine. Here’s a pile of money.

politics, x marks the pod

Episode 11: Is everything our fault? No. No, it’s not.

Did we ruin everything? 

For a couple of decades now, we’ve been blaming the Boomers. And there’s good reason for it. Their narcissism followed up Woodstock with a bunch of STDs, the persistent treatment of women as sex objects (Love the One You’re With, indeed) and then self-centered approaches to business and politics. They say people grow more conservative as they grow older, but I think the Boomers have been remarkably consistent. They matter, and you don’t.

But what about us? Do we Gen Xers deserve any of the blame for a world in which democracy and reasoned capitalism, the values that the pre-Boomers fought to instill in the modern world, are in decline? 

Let’s talk about it. This is X Marks the Pod. (This one is also available on Spreaker and should go out to Apple and Google.)

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sports, x marks the pod

Episode 10: Sports, ceremonies and stories

On Sunday morning, for the second time in seven months, I took apart my makeshift Olympic viewing station, which consisted of a second computer monitor perched on a TV table next to the sofa from which I could see the big-screen TV. I didn’t do quite as much work for Beijing as I did for Tokyo. I was just working for The Guardian, not NBC.

But there’s a certain melancholy to the end of the Olympics. When I covered the Salt Lake Olympics, they must have had something scheduled for the next day in the convention center that served as the media headquarters, because temporary walls were falling like the end of the Cold War. I was afraid to leave my table for fear that I’d come back with no place to sit.

Closing ceremonies are cool, of course, and you don’t always get to see it all on TV. In Salt Lake, we saw the international feed and NBC feed side by side. Viewers around the world saw a bunch of people painting a circle of ice in real time. NBC saw some commercials and then a circle that had been painted.

But the Olympic flame is extinguished, and we’re jolted back to reality. These days in particular, the reality isn’t particularly pleasant. Thanks, Putin.

Even without global political crises or an irrationally enthusiastic convention center demolition crew, the end of the Olympics can prey on my sentimentality. During the last event of the Games, the men’s ice hockey final, I handed off to someone in Australia. This was an event in China that I covered from my basement in the United States and handed off to Australia for a British newspaper. There’s something beautiful about that.

When I’ve been to the Olympics, I can sense from the staff and volunteers that they’ve come to the abrupt end of something they had been anticipating and doing for months or even years, In 2010, I left the beautiful, happy village of Whistler, wondering if I’d ever get back to someplace so beautiful — and knowing that I would soon be leaving USA TODAY after 10 years.

The best closing ceremony story I have is from Beijing. I was in a bus heading back to the media village while the fireworks were going off. We were going on a freeway offramp, and I could see, just sitting to the side, someplace you’d never be allowed to be in the United States, there was a young mother holding up a young child who must have two, maybe three. The mother was beaming, and the child was just looking on in awe as the fireworks exploded a couple of miles away. We weren’t really that close to the stadium. This child just got a glimpse of the Olympics from afar. I’m guessing this family didn’t have VIP status to go to all the venues. 

I hope that child grew up and volunteered for Beijing 2022 and got to see some of it. I hope that made an impression on him that there’s a much bigger world than the Chinese government is going to otherwise give him. 

Of course, my sentimentality and my optimism were killed the next morning when our flight was canceled and we wound up in a hotel next to the Hard Rock in Beijing, which is why I have a Hard Rock Beijing T-shirt. 

But it’s impossible to see something like that family by the side of the road and not think about the power of sports and the ceremonies around them. They can be absolutely over the top — unless you’re Torino, and the opening ceremony is as half-assed as everything else you did in hosting the Games. (And Italy is getting another chance? Weird.)

These ceremonies mean something. They help bring inspirational stories to life. And there were a lot of inspirational stories. These ceremonies just helped them resonate.

And that brings us back to something else that happened in the past couple of weeks. The Super Bowl. For the first time since X Marks the Pod launched, we have an actual generational brouhaha. So I’m going to talk about that for a bit and then tell some Olympic stories.

This is X Marks the Pod.

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