comedy, music

Before and after Spinal Tap — Bad News

I always enjoyed the short mockumentary Bad News Tour, which was actually released shortly before This Is Spinal Tap. It was a Comic Strip production featuring a lot of the regulars — three of the four Young Ones, plus Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French.

I had never seen the follow-up from five years later, reuniting the band for a record contract and appearance at the Monsters of Rock festival. (To film it, the “band” — I use that term loosely because there’s no evidence that Rik Mayall had any idea how to play bass — actually played at the Monsters of Rock festival.)

The result is a rarity: The sequel is better than the original. It’s longer, so there’s more time to develop the personalities. Adrian Edmondson’s Vim Fuego has delusions of grandeur only slightly dimmed by the full knowledge that his band is crap. Mayall’s Colin Grigson is a poseur who tries to hide his upper-middle class upbringing, his university studies, and the fact that he lives at home with his doting mom. Peter Richardson, the Comic Strip producer who did not join The Young Ones cast, is the most stereotypical hard-rock guy in the band, actually living the life of drug and drink excess. I’m a little disappointed in Den Dennis, Nigel Planer’s dim-witted guitarist, but his final monologue is a classic.

They also have some dead-on satire of the music biz. The record contract they sign is patently absurd. Their music video shoot is out of control. The final scene, which I won’t spoil here, has a brilliantly ghoulish take on the band’s future.

You can rent More Bad News at Amazon along with other Comic Strip features. The original Bad News Tour is also there in Season 1.

And if you want a small dose of the band in action, check out their version of Bohemian Rhapsody, which treads the line between hilarious and unlistenable.

Or just watch them lip-sync it with embarrassing results on a British talk show:

comedy, tv

Does a TV series have to last to be successful?

For once, I agree with the critics. The Last Man on Earth was terrific for its first couple of episodes and then quickly went off a cliff.

Just when it became too much for Will Forte to do on his own, they brought in one of my favorite people in entertainment, Kristen Schaal. Their characters’ different approaches to civilization’s collapse brought some great comic moments.

The first half-hour asked and answered the question “How would you make the most of things if everyone else was gone?” Then with Schaal on board, it asked how you would make the most of things if the one other person drove you crazy.

Then … let’s let Salon’s Anna Silman sum it up:

It’s disappointing to see how fast the show has veered away from its adventurous beginnings into predictable sitcom plot-lines and stereotypes. When the cast was still only Phil and Carol, their odd-couple banter felt fresh, and I looked forward to following them on their bizarro Adam and Eve-like quest for repopulation. But with the arrival of January Jones’ Melissa in episode three, and the formation of a plot based purely on the old-school love triangle, much of the show’s early promise seems to have been jettisoned in favor of a far less exciting approach.

AV Club’s Caroline Framke had similar disappointment. She liked the possibility of January Jones being the rational one between Forte and Schaal’s extremes, but the whole “I’d rather be having sex with the other one” plot is as hackneyed and tedious as it gets.

Huffington Post’s Maureen Ryan didn’t even like Schaal’s introduction because her character was such a female stereotype. It’s a valid complaint, but I thought Schaal did such a nice job taking her character beyond stereotypes into lunacy — as she does in her standup comedy and her voice work on Gravity Falls and Bob’s Burgers — that she overcame most of the underlying sexism. She even brought a bit of dignity to the role, demanding and getting respect.

Here’s another way Last Man on Earth could have played out …

Forte and Schaal struggle for another 4-5 episodes, gradually making progress restoring basic comforts (plumbing, for one) and getting along with each other, even falling in love. They even restore power, get on the Internet and find … New Zealand survived the virus. They make contact and prepare to pack for New Zealand, only to find that a bunch of New Zealanders want to come over and live in Tucson. Forte and Schaal look out over their newly populated town with satisfaction.

End of series.

All told, maybe it’s 12 episodes. And that’s OK.

Continuing indefinitely is generally an American thing. Many of the classic British shows — Fawlty Towers, The Office, The Young Ones — only produced 12 episodes. In those cases, it’s regrettable. Surely The Young Ones could’ve gone on a bit longer. I was still holding out hope for a revival, akin to the periodic Absolutely Fabulous six-episode spurts, until Rik Mayall died. The Old Ones would’ve been terrific.

Not here. Shows continue until the ratings slide or everyone in the cast finally decides to move on after devoting most of their careers to a single role.

That brings me to The Blacklist.

It’s a terrific show. I could watch James Spader’s inspired Raymond Reddington character all day. But it’s wearing thin.

How many times can we have characters reach the brink of learning the mysteries surrounding them, only to back away? How long can Liz continue to deal with Red’s refusal to pull back the curtain and explain, at least partially, what this is all about?

The Blacklist should either run for about 50 episodes total or come up with some sort of extra level of mystery to make it worthwhile. The former might be more palatable.

So it’s a puzzler. Why must open-ended Britcoms leave us so soon while American shows drag out limited premises for so long? Why did Lost continue for so many seasons, only to conclude with, “Uh, yeah, it’s some sort of purgatory”?

comedy

Top 10 overrated and underrated Saturday Night Live stars on Rolling Stone’s list

With the 40th anniversary celebration of Saturday Night Live coming up, we’re seeing a lot of listicles. Rolling Stone went to extremes, ranking nearly everyone who was ever in the cast.

The best part of the list is that it’s relatively snark-free. Some talented people just don’t get to show their best qualities on SNL. Robert Downey Jr., now a proven commodity in comedy, drama and action films, ranks dead last at No. 141. Randy Quaid (134) was caught in a disastrous season, as were Anthony Michael Hall (112), Janeane Garofalo (102) and Chris Elliott (103). They call Mark McKinney (104) a comedy star in his own right, though they forget to mention why. (Kids in the Hall, in case you were wondering.) It’s curious that they don’t mention the eventual success of Nancy Walls, David Koechner and Laura Kightlinger, all lumped together at 105-110. And Aidy Bryant surely deserves better than being tossed in with “the New Kids” at 81-92. (So does Pete Davidson, but at least it’s his first season.)

They also came up with some underrated people. Tim Kazurinsky (32) was a highlight of some otherwise dubious years. Ana Gasteyer (33) is nicely appreciated.

The choices get tough in the top 20. Every time I try to think of my ultimate SNL cast, I’m left with tough choices. I’m glad they gave Maya Rudolph (18) and Rachel Dratch (16) some respect, and it’s hard to argue against Chris Farley (15), Bill Hader (13), Will Ferrell (12), Dana Carvey (11), Gilda Radner (9), Amy Poehler (8), Phil Hartman (7), Bill Murray (6), Dan Aykroyd (5), Mike Myers (4), Eddie Murphy (2) or John Belushi (1). I might re-order them a little — Carvey and Hartman up, Belushi and Myers slightly down — but that’s nit-picking.

But all lists get a few things wrong. So here we go …

10 OVERRATED

3. Tina Fey: If you combine writing and on-stage work, sure. No question she’s one of the most important people in SNL history. She was also very good on Weekend Update and as Sarah Palin. But strictly as a cast member, can she be ranked ahead of Carvey, Radner, Hartman, etc.? Probably not.

She was good as a host, though:

(Incidentally, that bit alone should’ve saved Noel Wells’ job. But I digress.)

10. Chevy Chase: Almost as good as he thought he was.

14. Kristen Wiig: Really talented, but my goodness, her recurring characters were grating.

17. Adam Sandler: No. Sure, he had some good characters, some of them more subtle than you might think (remember the old married couple of him and Chris Farley). But he deserves a lot of blame for the awful 1994-95 season, where he, Farley and David Spade tried and failed to fill the Phil Hartman void while Chris Elliott, Janeane Garofalo and Mark McKinney were criminally underused.

20. Al Franken: Another one whose writing contributions would put him high on a list of important people. But the original Franken-and-Davis sketches weren’t that great. Good for him for doing some fine Weekend Update appearances and Stuart Smalley, but that’s not enough for the Top 20.

24. Laraine Newman: Just didn’t leave that much of an impression.

27. David Spade: No. Just … no.

42. Don Novello: One Weekend Update character vaults you into the top 50?

45. Julia Louis-Dreyfus: Certainly went on to better things.

51. Pamela Stephenson: Seemed talented. What did she do on the show?

(Also: Paul Shaffer (56)??, Tom Davis (63))

10 UNDERRATED

26. Jan Hooks: At the very least, switch her with Newman. I will occasionally say “I am a barfly” for the rest of my life.

28. Seth Meyers: I’d have to say he was the best Weekend Update host. And he had some terrific sketch work.

49. Darrell Hammond: Another of those great utility players like Hartman and Hader.

76. Julia Sweeney: No, she didn’t spend “most of her time playing Pat,” and no, Pat wasn’t an awful character. Better than most of Wiig’s characters.

94. Cheri Oteri: Hell no.

95: Chris Kattan: Such as Mango. And Mr. Peepers, one of the great physical characters on the show.

98. Bobby Moynihan: Not big on recurring characters outside Update, but not the one-note guy they’re implying.

135. Norm Macdonald: Pretty good in sketches and perhaps too fearless on Weekend Update.

138. Victoria Jackson: In real life, she’s practically a socio-religious cult member. On SNL, she was a versatile cast member who didn’t mind making fun of herself.

139. Jim Breuer: Really? Don Novello’s way up there for doing Guido Sarducci, and Breuer gets no respect for the Joe Pesci Show and “Goat Boy”?

OTHER STUFF I’VE NOTICED TODAY

– SNL is also getting an app.

– Loved Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. “I’ve been perusing the Internet and … um … did I die?”

– Franklin Graham … doesn’t … get it.

Good Onion piece today on swimming with the Miami Dolphins.

 

comedy

Strange reads du jour: Feb. 9

This might be a regular feature. Or irregular. It’s all the things I would normally share on Facebook but don’t want to do one post at a time because that would overwhelm everyone’s timelines, like my buddies who live-tweet basketball games. (Seriously, stop.)

– A pro wrestling match gone horribly wrong. One guy decided he didn’t want to play along, so the other guy (the same person who ruined Muhammad Ali’s career) beat him to a real-life pulp.

– You’d think the crew at a World Cup skeleton race wouldn’t leave a broom where a rider can hit it head-first.

– Conspiracy Theory with interesting evidence: Stevie Wonder is not blind.

– Conspiracy Theory with mountains of evidence to the contrary: The Beatles didn’t exist.

– Conspiracy Theory or just a serious error: A goalkeeper on loan from one Dutch club to another made a big whoopsie. We’ll have to see whether Ajax takes him back after the loan.

comedy, movies

Real-life Spinal Tap moments

I recently read one of Rick Wakeman’s books, and he tells the story of Alan White inspiring the “stuck in the pod” moment. In a Yes concert, White was indeed stuck in a pod.

That’s No. 1 on this list of Spinal Tap-related commandments, and it overlaps a bit with this list of 11 real-life Spinal Tap moments. (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers getting lost backstage and wandering onto a tennis court may be the highlight.)

Also, this Rob Reiner video explains why a couple of band members had cold sores. All part of a lost subplot.

 

comedy

No, moving from NBC to Netflix is NOT good news for all of us

Splitsider, my go-to comedy blog, indirectly shows how fragmented our viewing habits are.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a show I’ve been anticipating for a while. It’s from Tina Fey (good), it’s about a women who leaves a cult and tries to make it in the real world (unique, promising) and stars Ellie Kemper (OK, I’m in).

But the show won’t debut on NBC as planned. It’s going to be on Netflix.

Splitsider casts this as good news.

For people who’ve cut the cord from cable and do all their viewing online, I suppose it is. But what about those of us who like comedy and sports? We can’t cut that cord. And we’re getting a little annoyed that we have to subscribe to something ELSE to watch comedy.

In my day, it was all on something called “TV.” And we LIKED it!