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James Franco sketches out “Saturday Night.”

James Franco sketches out “Saturday Night.” (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.

James Franco’s student film for NYU’s graduate program was originally intended to be a portrait of “Saturday Night Live” star Bill Hader, but “SNL” creator Lorne Michaels had other ideas. In a short video played before the start of “Saturday Night,” Franco’s full-length look at the venerable NBC variety show through one week of production, the actor-turned-documentarian offered a disarming mea culpa for missing out on his own premiere since he was busy shooting in Salt Lake City (where he pointed out the main Mormon temple from his hotel room — “right next to the car dealership” — and that he couldn’t enjoy porn on the internet since it had been blocked). When he wasn’t mugging for the camera, he explained how he wanted to craft a “Maysles brothers-style observational doc,” despite the fact Michaels had previously nixed a similar treatment from D.A. Pennebaker and Ricky Leacock during the 1970s. “Maybe that incredible cast had more to hide,” Franco said with a wink, before cutting to a shot of himself in the shower and the water rushing directly into his face.

Franco appears occasionally on camera during “Saturday Night,” but the star of the film isn’t him or Hader or any particular “SNL” star, but rather the grueling artistic process that starts anew every week. (As Will Forte says at one point, “You just kind of learn to live in a haze.”) Day by day, Franco breaks down how the show’s sketches are pitched on Mondays, written during an all-nighter on Tuesday, subject to a cast table read on Wednesday, fit for sets and props on Thursday and start to be rehearsed on Friday where only nine of the 50 sketches (on average) will survive. On the particular week Franco was allowed to bring cameras in, John Malkovich was the host, which only makes things more interesting.

03152010_SaturdayNight2.jpgThere’s an added level of intrigue for loyal viewers of the show who can recall Malkovich’s December 2008 turn — fans will greatly enjoy Seth Meyers’ irresistible itch to write a skit about a hot tub-set “Dangerous Liaisons” sequel called “J’acuzzi” and writer/producer Paula Pell and Kristen Wiig evaluating fart sounds to put in a skit about Wiig’s flatulent office bombshell. (Unfortunately, that’s about all there is of Wiig.) Yet Franco’s film also functions as a drama about the tension that exists when creativity is scheduled for a deadline; the laughs that are in “Saturday Night” are mostly incidental from the sketches being prepared.

Forte, Hader, Meyers and Fred Armisen look particularly beaten down by the Tuesday routine, unshaved and unkempt as they head home at 8 in the morning only after a night of brainstorming to return to sell their complete skits an hour or two later at the table read. Casey Wilson, who was unceremoniously dumped in 2009, is another victim of the demanding schedule; perhaps because she was fired, Franco was more willing to include footage of the actress describing how she had “zero confidence” amongst the cast of pros with seven-plus years of experience and after giving her all to a rendition of “All That Jazz” that falls flat at the table read, she says in no uncertain terms that “I wanted to kill myself” when she realized it went off the tracks.

You’ll notice I’m mostly mentioning the performers — Franco rarely strays from them. He goes to the “Scene Shop” where art director Joe Detullio creates all the show’s sets and spends some time in the writers’ room and in the recording studio, where the music department works on a theme song for a Jason Sudeikis-Kenan Thompson sketch called “Horsecops.” But by and large, we get to see the evolution of the sketches from the performers’ perspectives, in particular the nips and tucks that occur to a skit involving Hader’s lecherous Italian talk show host Vinny Vedecci, a Judy Blume-inspired sleepover sketch and a Forte-penned bit where Malkovich plays a voice actor forced to sing the Empire Carpet jingle. (The latter doesn’t make the show, but watching Forte rewatching the ad on a loop is one of the film’s funniest scenes.)

03152010_AndySamberg.jpgFranco includes some other nice touches along the way, including a talk with one of the lead writers who admits he looks down from his office window at the NBC News ticker at Rockefeller Center for ideas for “Weekend Update,” an all-too-brief interview with a man who has sat at the head of the studio audience line for 573 shows, and remnants of what must’ve been Franco’s original doc on Hader, where the actor screws around in his dressing room by imitating Franco’s “Spider-Man” co-star Willem Dafoe and getting heavy with a lip-synced version Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U.” But there’s also plenty that either must not have made the cut or was simply off-access to Franco — we see the end result of the popular digital short “Jizz in My Pants,” but nothing related to its production, and the absence of Wiig, Thompson, Darrell Hammond, and then-freshman Abby Elliott, except for brief glimpses, is notable.

In an exit interview, Franco asks Michaels, “You think we’re not getting the whole thing?” to which Michaels replies, “There’s many surfaces to things.” Michaels is right. There’s a kind of magic that remains elusive about “Saturday Night Live”‘s creative alchemy even after Franco’s film ends, but this rare peek behind the curtain gives the viewer a whole new appreciation for what the “Not Yet Ready for Prime-Time” players do.

“Saturday Night” currently has no U.S. distribution.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.