Saturday, September 22, 2012

94-95 Season

This blog entry is incomplete in terms of research and polish but I wanted to put it up anyway to gague reactions
The 94-95 Season of SNL is by many accounts considered among the worst in show history. It was in this year that a well-known hit piece on the show was published in New Yorker by a writer with exclusive access to the show backstage. His piece painted a rather dreary and depressing picture of both the show and critical reception to it.

Three of the four cast members of the show who's tenure fell entirely within that season-Laura Kightlinger (in her own book), Chris Elliot (in Tom Shales' noted oral history of snl book) and Janeane Garofalo (in the press at the time and everywhere else)-remembered their experiences of being on the show negatively. The tension was so bad between Janeane Garofalo and some of the writers she had alienated that Fred Wolff and others didn't miss out on the opportunity to trash her eight years later when Tom Shales' book was published. For all I know, the fourth cast member Morwenna Banks, also had negative experiences.

It was clear there was tension on the set of the show but did that translate to a noticable drop in quality for the viewer? Other than Phil Hartman, the other departing cast members from the year before were Melanie Hutsell, Rob Schneider, Sara Silverman and Julia Sweeney which weren't tremendous losses.
If anything, the new cast was an improvement in the women's department: Janeane Garofalo might have hated her time there and been berated by the hosts but she was thrown into practically every white female role and was never less than decent in all of them. Featured player Laura Kightlinger was awkwardly tall and gangly and didn't put up much competition while Ellen Cleghorne was limited by being...um...black. That's called range, folks, and a lot of women and men on the show did not have her versatility: She played everything that season from a Japanese housewife on the Japanese game show sketch to a groupie of David Spade's Kato Kaelin to Hillary Clinton to a 19th century school girl in Little Women. Additionally, Laura Kightlinger showed promise as a featured player as someone with a unique personality. Her subtly depressing monologues on Weekend Update were bizarre in an entrancing way. Elsewhere, Morwenna Banks and Molly Shannon were added on midseason after a frustrated Garofalo successfully won out of her contract and took off. Banks (somewhat of a bigger deal in her native Britain) was added as a full cast member and Molly Shannon was initially featured but it did not look that way on screen. While Banks got a weekend update bit on, Shannon racked up far more air time. As for the men, the loss of Phil Hartman was clearly irreplacable and created a vaccum that got filled by Sandler and Farley. The most cited complaint about the season was that SNL was a boy's club and while one wouldn't get that sense about the show if they watched it out of order, placing it in the context of a tv viewer in 1995 would be different: in other words viewers must have been getting sick of Adam Sandler and Chris Farley. Very much like SNL started to become too Kristen Wiig-centric in the last couple of seasons. An inordinate number of sketches centered around Farley and Sandler and their frat boy humor and one can even see a sort of degredation of Sandler. Some of his better sketches like Canteen Boy and Opera Man didn't appear and Alec Baldwin's monologue even went so far as to apologize for canteen boy. The Hartman vaccum was also filled in by Michael McKean in terms of impressions. McKean took over Clinton but because he didn't do as much with it, Clinton was used less frequently. McKean who had joined the cast midseason one year prior, was in his mid-40's when he joined the show and having already boasted a part in his own tv series two decades prior (Laverne and Shirley), McKean was from a different generation. Although a capable actor, he never seemed like a guy who could steal a scene or make a sketch memorable solely through his performance. Kevin Nealon, in his ninth and final season, might have been a better choice to fill in some of McKean's airtime as he had just relinquished the Weekend Update desk to Norm McDonald. Another cast member who joined this season (and one of the five who lasted to the 1995-1996 season) , Mark McKinney, made his name on another show and became better remembered for his work outside of SNL. A memorable sketch, in which McKinney was being punked by Chris Elliott in a cyber chat room (hard to believe they existed in 1994) , had a definite Kids in the Hall sensibility.
The season also took what was one of the first events to spark 24-7 news coverage, the OJ Simpson trial, and ran with it. Nine different sketches parodying the OJ trial appeared this season and they were more creative, in my opinion, than the average political sketch. The show also used the trial as a springboard for everything from a Jonnny Carson impression from Dana Carvey and a love story between Judge Ito and Mona Lisa Vito from My Cousin Vinny the week Marisa Tomei hosted.
 
At the end of the season, nine of the fourteen cast members would leave under varying circumstances:
  • The decision to let Farley and Sandler go came from above Lorne's head but it was quite possibly better for the show that way.
  • Chris Elliot, a very unhappy camper, begged to get out of his contract (his daughter would join the cast in 2009, survive rocky cast changes in the shadow of Kristen Wiig, and would eventually quit 3 1/2 seasons in).
  • Michael McKean was amnestied
  • Kevin Nealon set a new record for longevity with nine seasons and retired to pursue new projects
  • Jay Mohr got a few more sketches on then the previous season but felt underappreciated and the contract negotiations that summer would wear him out to the point where he decided to walk away. Whether he would have survived is something that has been debated. It probably didn't help that, in a moment of desperation, he stole a sketch idea from a stand-up comedian who sued the show
  • Laura Kightlinger wasn't particularly happy on the show so its fair to assume that negotiations for 95-96 weren't even discussed by her agents
  • Morwenna Banks, as previously mentioned, was almost invisible on the show and didn't have much of a future although I'm not sure if she left or was let go.
  • Similarly, I have no idea what the circumstances of Ellen Cleghorne's departure were.

1 comment:

Raheem Hamilton said...

That season of Saturday Night live was worst then the 1985-1986 season I rematch that season and find it good. That season started late and the cast did not get the chance to jell well with the writers and each other. the 94-95 cast was so bad and why did they get Micheal McKean ? I will never understand that casting.