The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Wednesday, September 25, 2002
FUNNY SUBURB: Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller have just published an oral history of Saturday Night Live, titled
Live from New York. I haven't seen it yet, and I wonder whether it could possibly be as good as Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad's Saturday Night, which is occasionally inaccurate and certainly out of date but is nonetheless one of the most interesting and well-written books about television I've ever read. To judge from Entertainment Weekly's review, the new tome has at least one thing going for it: It makes Chevy Chase look really bad.

Now, there's a lot of SNL veterans who went on to disappointing careers. A few random cameos aside, Dan Aykroyd hasn't made a good comedy in nearly two decades. Eddie Murphy has found a nice niche doing voiceovers for cartoons -- but man, it sure took him a long time to get there. Of the show's stars in its first four years, the only one who can really look with pride on his post-SNL career is the great Bill Murray, who's starred in several terrific movies and managed to elevate a lot of lousier ones along the way. In later years, the show launched Phil Hartman and Chris Rock -- the latter being one of the few comedians whose work improved after he left the program -- but stories like theirs are rare. The artistically wretched fate of Al Franken and Adam Sandler is far more common.

But Chase! His one great contribution to pop culture was his SNL impression of Gerald Ford. After that, it was all downhill. It would be tragic if he weren't a jerk, and so, if the book is correct and Chase is a jerk, then the world has been spared a tragedy. Q.E.D.

But is it fair to write off the man's career altogether? Or does it contain nuances that we haven't fully appreciated? On close examination, the films of Chevy Chase are not cut from the same uniformly crappy cloth. Indeed, they fall into four distinct categories:

1. The genuinely good movies. The smallest category -- indeed, you can make a strong case that it's actually empty. But Fletch is good frivolous fun, though the book is better. And Foul Play is a guilty pleasure of mine, and then there's ... um ... well, he had a cameo in Follow That Bird, Big Bird's first major big-screen vehicle, which I must admit I kinda liked.

Like I said, you can make a strong case that this category is actually empty.

2. The tolerable movies. Vacation and Memoirs of an Invisible Man go here, along with Funny Farm and Seems Like Old Times and maybe one or two others.

3. The lousy movies that occasionally show flashes of tolerability. Here we find Vegas Vacation, Spies Like Us, Three Amigos, and, of course, Oh, Heavenly Dog!, co-starring Benji. (If I ever seem too big for my britches, you need only remind me that when I was 10, I owned a novelization of Oh, Heavenly Dog!) I'm going to break with convention and put the cult favorite Caddyshack here, too -- I never cared for it, despite the presence of Murray. And I saw it around age 13, which I'm told is the ideal time to appreciate it.

4. The completely lousy movies. So many bad films, so little time: Modern Problems, Man of the House, Deal of the Century, European Vacation, Nothing But Trouble...


1. It's late. I must have insomnia.

2. I have seen way too many Chevy Chase movies.

Could these two phenomena be linked? Further study may be warranted.

posted by Jesse 1:07 AM
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