Everyone knows a few particular things about certain things. Pluto is not a planet. Lincoln and Kennedy had many similarities. And Fridays was that Saturday Night Live clone that ABC put on in the early ’80s, and Kramer was on it.
Yes. And no.
By 1980, SNL had been dominating late night TV, and American sketch comedy, for five years. But by 1980, SNL’s original, legendary cast was gone, and replaced with new people. Ratings and respect dropped as it settled into the first of its periodic “building years,” by which I mean it was terrible. It was good business and good art for ABC to try to put something else on the air. And they did it on Friday nights, which meant they weren’t just challenging SNL (because really, you could watch both), they were challenging Johnny Carson.
It was a scrappy upstart, a hungry show full of hungry, young performers who would be part of the ’80s comedy revolution not content to rest on their laurels, like the competition.
Fridays has taken on legendary if dubious status. The former because it launched the careers of some pretty important comedy folks—Michael Richards of Seinfeld and Larry David, also of Seinfeld, as well as the zeitgeist defining Curb Your Enthusiasm. It’s fitting that David lasted just a few weeks as a writer on Saturday Night Live, and had free creative reign at Fridays.
It’s taken on dubious status because it was only on for two years (1980-82) and disappeared from the nostalgic cultural landscape, partially because of its unavailability in syndication and home video (Larry David reportedly blocked its release for years). By basically not existing, Fridays was unable to defend itself against its detractors, nor did it invest heavily in autohagiography like the competition. But now you can see for yourself. The Best of Fridays, a four-disc “best of” collection, comes out this week, from Shout! Factory, a common savior of lost pop culture deserving of reconsideration, or as the case may be, consideration.
Also in the cast, while not as famous as Richards and David, but gifted nonetheless: Mark Blankfield (he starred in the sequel to The Jerk, and was genuinely funny as a struggling actor/waiter on an episode of Saved By the Bell); Melanie Chartoff (she was the evil principal on Parker Lewis Can’t Lose), Stuart Pankin (from Not Necessarily the News), and Rich Hall (an innovative stand-up, performance artist, and inventor of Sniglets).
The loose, often improvised structure of Fridays was gleeful, refreshing, and unheard of on network TV, and harkened back to Ernie Kovacs and early SNL. Some magic moments, (some of which are forgivably dated) included on the set, which packages 16 representative, and full, episodes:
• An update on Howdy Doody—like everyone in the ’80s, he’s addicted to cocaine.
• “Diner of the Living Dead,” which was so ridiculously gory that six ABC affiliates stopped showing Fridays.
• A short film by Michael Nesmith!
• “Nat E. Dred: Rastafarian Chef”
• The very silly tale of a man who overly reacts to minor pain.
• As immortalized in Man on the Moon, the entire Andy Kaufman episode. Kaufman breaks character in a sketch about people in a restaurant sneaking off to smoke pot, refusing to go any further. He and Richards get in a fight, throwing cue cards and glasses of water and each other. As was his way, the whole thing was actually staged.
• Kaufman’s apology from the following episode.
Fridays was a variety show, and offers up a nice little time capsule of some great early ’80s rock bands that didn’t show up on TV much at the time. Come for the comedy, stay for the performances from Devo, Graham Parker, and the Cars.