DVD: The Best of Fridays

STUDIO: Shout! Factory | DIRECTOR: John Moffitt | STARS: Mark Blankfield, Maryedith Burrell, Melanie Chartoff, Larry David, Darrow Igus, Brandis Kemp, Bruce Mahler, Michael Richards, John Roarke
RELEASE DATE: 9/6/13 | PRICE: DVD $34.99
BONUSES: Cast and writer reunions, “The Andy Kaufman Incident — what really happened?” photo gallery
SPECS: NR | 1050 min. | Television comedy | 1:33 fullscreen

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall

 

Most histories of late-night network TV sum up Fridays as a knock-off of Saturday Night Live that is remembered for three things: 1.) being the spawning ground for Larry David (TV’s Curb Your Enthusiasm) and Michael Richards (TV’s Seinfeld); 2.) for airing a live “restaurant” sketch in which Andy Kaufman caused a (planned) fist fight by not reciting his lines; and 3.) having memorable live performances from bands like The Clash, Stray Cats, and The Plasmatics (the first two are included in this set).

This five-disc Best of Fridays set demonstrates that, in addition to the above, the show boasted some sharp experimental sketches and a number of indelibly weird (and still very funny) comic creations.

When it first aired in April of 1980, the show was indeed a West Coast SNL clone that often depended on gross-out humor for quick laughs. The first and third episodes are included here (16 of the 58 episodes are in the set), and they are only funny when Larry David is at the helm of a sketch. From the start, David liked alienating his audience while amusing them. Thus his sketches ranged from edgy to abrasive to flat-out bizarre — including his signature piece, in which he repeatedly kowtows to a man dressed as Howdy Doody.

The Best of Fridays scene

Larry David and Melanie Chartoff on Fridays.

However, the show got its sea legs a few weeks in when the writers ditched the gross humor in favor of oddly surreal, experimental sketches (the show was considered a favorite among stoner viewers). They also began to fashion characters for each cast member, with Richards and Mark Blankfield getting the lion’s share of attention.

Thus, while the show was never as cohesive and consistent as SCTV, it was certainly funnier and more adventurous than the Eighties version of SNL, which had one golden season (the “Spinal Tap”/Crystal/Short year) and one superstar (Eddie Murphy, Tower Heist) but was otherwise pretty dreadful. Since it was “No. 2,” Fridays did indeed have to try harder; it also didn’t play it safe, and so sketches that smashed the fourth wall were a common occurrence.

The height of this was the Andy Kaufman-hosted episode that sees its first home-entertainment release in this box. The episode was a perfect fusion of show and host (one can’t imagine SNL ever having allowed Kaufman to run amok as he did here). The result was a piece of kinetic, bizarre TV, as Kaufman continually burst out in laughter during his segments and intentionally flubbed his lines, resulting in a fracas during the final sketch, set in a restaurant, in which the other cast members and the show’s co-producer/announcer Jack Burns threw food at him and tried to hit him.

The episode made the news the following day, leading to an on-air “explanation” the following week by Kaufman and producer/director John Moffitt, in which Andy’s outbursts were revealed to be entirely staged — the beautiful thing about this segment (included here) being that it further obscured matters, because Kaufman again refused to read the lines written for him and appeared sulky and wounded.

The Best of Fridays scene

The chaos resulting from the infamous Andy Kaufman restaurant sketch on Fridays.

Much has been written about Kaufman’s concept humor, but watching it played out in “real time” here is an absolute joy — and something that seems conceivable in today’s utterly pre-programmed world of TV comedy.

The series gained popularity as it moved on, thanks to its musical guests — this set includes the historic American debut of the Clash, who performed four songs in an hour-length show — and its recurring characters. (The show was eventually cancelled because of the decision to move Nightline to five nights a week.)

The later episodes in this box illustrate the show’s wildly idiosyncratic approach to live TV comedy. The results were mixed, with some episodes landing with a thud (as with a nearly laugh-less show hosted by William Shatner), while others are incredibly ambitious. Most notable of these is an episode that features a sixteen-minute bravura takeoff of/tribute to The Rocky Horror Picture Show with cast member John Roarke playing Ronald Reagan as Frank-N-Furter.

The cast and writer reunion supplements (each last an hour) convey the message that, while they were constantly competing for air time on the show, the performers and scripters got along famously. The cast share gossipy stories about the guest hosts — from the crushes each male crew member had on Karen Allen to a particularly nasty remark made by Shelley Winters (Lolita) to Michael Richards.

A final supplement focuses on who was “in” on the Kaufman restaurant sketch. Producer John Moffitt and the cast agree that everyone involved (except the stagehands and camera people) were aware that “something” would go on with Andy at the show’s end — making their surprised reactions on-air all the more impressive.

One hopes that there is a second Fridays release in the works (although it is admittedly a dim prospect), as a few noteworthy items from the series aren’t here — these include several musical guests who gave memorable performances (among them The Plasmatics, The Jam, and The Jim Carroll Band). And there was a second full episode hosted by Kaufman in which he announced his conversion to evangelical Christianity with the help of a very wholesome “fiancée.” (Again, Andy was allowed to run with a fake concept for an entire episode.)

What this box does prove decisively is that this “SNL clone” took more risks in its two and a half season run than SNL itself has taken in the last 25 years.

 

 

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About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”