• Fridays: The Best Of



    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: August 6, 2013.
    Director: Various
    Cast: Larry David, Michael Richards, Melanie Chartoff, Andy Kaufman
    Year: 1980 - 1982
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:

    It was pretty obvious when Fridays debuted on ABC in 1980 that it was meant to ride the coattails of the success of Saturday Night Live. They even played up on this here and there, making references to SNL and more or less aping that show’s format. The series was off the air less than three years later and it has, more or less, languished in obscurity ever since but some of those involved with the show – Michael Richards and Larry David being the two most obvious examples, would go on to become pretty famous in their own rights.

    So yeah, the series works much the same way that Saturday Night Live does – a few skits, some fake commercials, its own Weekend Update style news cast segment and some (at the time at least) fairly hip musical guests (sorry Kenny Loggins, you’re past your prime). It was filmed in front of a live, and sometimes fairly rowdy, studio audience in Los Angeles and it was obviously meant to cater to the type of younger demographic that would be up late enough at night to watch it and who would appreciate the pop culture references and drug humor that make up much of the show’s comedic content.

    The series isn’t at its strongest when it starts out. We get a lot of Michael Richards aping for the camera, doing the slapstick thing and more or less just acting loud and we get a lot of skits that take that similar obnoxious concept and base their entire premise around it. Case in point? Women Who Spit. It’s a skit where women spit. That’s more or less it. It’s not particularly funny nor is it all that clever but it’s gross and kind of obnoxious. That’s not to say that there aren’t funny bits in the earlier episodes, Diner Of The Living Dead is pretty amusing in how it makes fun of Romero style zombie movies long before zombie parodies were a dime a dozen as they seem to be at the time of this writing. But then we get something like Roid Cop, where a cop with hemorrhoids tries to deal with his uncomfortable problem while still fighting crime like a good cop should. It’s amusing enough in a childish sort of way but as the series evolves it becomes increasingly political and it’s then that the show starts to find a bit of a voice.

    Reagan and Carter are both easy targets and the writers and cast members alike take some well-deserved and surprisingly effective pot shots. Reagan in particular shows up in one sketch (obviously not the actual Regan) showing off his Presidential casual ware and snacking on Jelly Beans. It may be an easy caricature to paint of the man but this early in his presidency the writers obviously saw in him someone ripe for parody. The series also takes on the religious right in a sketch series called The Moral Majority Comedy-Variety Hour which is, as you could probably guess, a skewering of televangelists and the people who love them. Reagan even appears as a Frankenfurter style character in The Ronnie Horror Picture Show parody bit in which everyone’s favorite right winger plays a lingerie clad transvestite mad scientist.

    Also noteworthy are the musical performances. There are some great appearances here, The Clash performing four songs with an impressive and almost violent energy are a stand out as is a great rendition of Whip It from Devo. Kiss shows up and are enjoyably goofy and The Stray Cats appear here and do their rockabilly revivalist schtick well to a very enthusiastic crowd. In a lot of ways, the musical performances here are as important, if not more so, than the actual comedic elements.

    Unfortunately some of the musical bits are missing. While a good chunk of the performances did make it into the respective episodes included in this set, here are the omissions:

    -September 19, 1980: The Cars - Shoo Be Doo, Gimme Some Slack
    -November 7, 1980: Devo - Uncontrollable Urge
    -November 14, 1980: The Bus Boys – KKKay, Johnny Soul'd Out, Minimum Wage
    -December 5, 1980: Pat Benatar - Hell Is For Children
    -December 12, 1980: Steve Forbert - Romeo's Tune, Lonely Girl, Get Well Soon
    -February 20, 1981: Sir Douglas Quintet - You're Gonna Miss Me, Mendocino, It Was Fun While It Lasted
    -September 25, 1981: Kim Carnes - Bette Davis Eyes, Under My Thumb
    -October 16, 1981: Stray Cats - Runaway Boys
    -January 8, 1982: The Cars - Think it Over
    -January 15, 1982: Kiss - The Oath

    And that’s just from the episodes included in the set. Some will understandably lament the absence of any Plastmatics footage but what’s here is good, even if some of the episodes are incomplete in this regard.

    The series is probably best remembered for Andy Kaufman’s infamous appearance – and that is included here in its complete form. Andy comes out, starts his bit and then it all falls apart, at which point a fight breaks out and the show cuts to commercial. Though the audience is laughing hysterically as this happens, seeing it on live TV might have made it more convincing than it seems now – though in all fairness to the show, Kaufman’s style is far better known than it was then and the scene was essentially recreated for the feature made about his life, Man On The Moon.

    A few other amusing guest starts pop up in the episodes contained here. Billy Crystal plays, shockingly, an old Jewish guy. It’s nothing that we haven’t seen him do time and time before and after. William Shatner and Karen Allen also show up as guest hosts and not surprisingly we get Star Trek jokes and a Raiders Of The Lost Ark spoof in their specific episodes. Valerie Harper and Tab Hunter also appear. Some of the episodes are noticeably longer than others and while the missing music numbers explain part of it, it’s possible that some of the skits might have been excised as well (nothing in the included booklet explains any of this). Overall the series is funny enough and interesting in that it seemed more content to experiment than to rely on a tried and true formula. When it works, it works remarkably well, and when it fails, well, at least it’s something different. That counts for something.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    It’s hard to imagine the fullframe transfers in this set looking much better than they do. Of course the limitations inherent in the tape sources are obvious in some spots so we do get some softness throughout but the pictures quality is generally quite good, all things considered. Colors are nice, black levels look okay and detail is about as strong as can realistically be expected. Compression issues are not really a problem at all and there are no issues with edge enhancement to report.

    Likewise, the English language Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks that accompany each episode also sound fine. Dialogue is clean and clear and crisp and the levels are properly balanced. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion and really, there’s no room for complaint in this department.

    All of the extras in the set are contained on the fifth disc starting with a fifty nine minute long Actors’ Conversation which is introduced by producer/co-creator/director John Moffitt who joins writer Steve Adams, and actors Michael Richards, John Roarke, Mark Blankfield, Darrow Igus, Melanie Chartoff, Bruce Mahler, and Brandis Kem to talk about what went into bringing this series to life. It’s a pretty enjoyable ‘stroll down memory lane’ type of talk and all involved speak fondly of their time on the show. Also enjoyable is the Writers’ Conversation in which Moffit, Adams and Mahler join staff writers Joe Shulkin, Larry Charles, Tom Kramer, Bruce Kirschbaum, and Elaine Pope for another fifty nine minute talk. It follows a very similar path to that of the earlier conversation in that it’s a nice, warm and affectionate talk about the work they created together, where some of the inspiration for various bits and pieces came from and what they were trying to accomplish with some of the skits. Both are quite lengthy, information and fun and a really good way to get a crash course in the history of the series.

    Considerably shorter but fairly essential is the ten minute featurette The Andy Kaufman Incident: What Really Happened. Here John Moffitt, Michael Richards, Melanie Chartoff, Steve Adams, Bruce Mahler, Mark Blankfield, Maryedith Burrell and John Roarke give their accounts of what exactly happened with Kaufman’s infamous appearance on the show and dish some dirt on who knew what and when. It’s quite interesting, as is the separate Maryedith Burrell Interview in which she talks for thirteen minutes about the origin of the series before sharing some personal stories about her work on the show.

    Rounding out the extras is the eight minute Fridays On the News segment that shows us some vintage behind the scenes clips, a still gallery, menus and episode/skit selection. Inside the keepcase is a full color booklet that includes a two page written introduction to the series as well as skit and musical number listings for all of the episodes included in this set.

    The Final Word:

    This missing musical performances are a strike against the set and it would seem doubtless that most fans would have rather had a complete series release over a compilation release, but this is definitely better than what fans had before – which was a whole lot of nothing. The series itself is a bit uneven, but the good outweighs the bad and a lot of this material is still pretty funny, if sometimes a little less clever than the high points of the series. The quality of the set itself is very strong in both the audio and video departments as well as in the selection of extra features.

    Check out some clips past the screen caps!


























































    Comments 5 Comments
    1. Toyboy's Avatar
      Toyboy -
      Whoa. Had no idea this was happening. Some of this show is painfully bad - anyone who thinks SNL was wretched during this same era needs to see what really rough sketch comedy is - but I have a soft spot for Fridays regardless. Musical guests make this worth it fer sher. Now, Shout Factory: please put out the rest of the SCTV episodes .I know Eugene Levy and others have said they don't think the early and later stuff is strong enough to release, but come on...
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      No Jim Carroll Band? That makes me sad.
    1. Andrew Monroe's Avatar
      Andrew Monroe -
      I haven't seen the show since it ran so I have to wonder what I'd think now but back then there were some very funny bits among the dreck. Richards really stood out even then, and his guy playing with army men bit was sooo bizarre and pretty funny. Melanie Chartoff was hot back then, haha. Totally agree about the rest of the SCTV stuff, Toyboy. There's some good stuff in there yet to be released. I still have tapes of the Nick episodes that contain unreleased sketches.
    1. Roderick's Avatar
      Roderick -
      Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Monroe View Post
      Richards really stood out even then, and his guy playing with army men bit was sooo bizarre and pretty funny. Melanie Chartoff was hot back then, haha.
      Those are the main things I remember about the show. That plus The Rasta Gourmet and the Andy Kaufman stuff. I need to check this set out.
    1. Marshall Crist's Avatar
      Marshall Crist -
      Many of the episodes on this set are cut. Would not have bought it had I known. The packaging lies by omission.