“I deserve good things, I am entitled to my share of happiness. I refuse to beat myself up. I am an attractive person. I am fun to be with.”
The biggest strength and weakness of a recurring sketch on Saturday Night Live is its repetitiveness. It’s the catch phrases, running jokes and familiarity that makes the audiences want to see them again, and again, and again. But it’s those same catch phrases, running jokes and familiarity that make them so predictable. They become victims of their own success, needing to stick to a set of rules and tropes that only get more strict the more times the character appears. And it was the assumed adherence to those catch phrases, running jokes and familiarity that had me most worried about the prospect of sitting through all 95 minutes of Stuart Saves His Family.
The host of a low rated cable access self help and affirmation show, Stuart Smalley (Al Franen) spends his days telling his almost non existent his audience to live by a simple mantra of positivity, “I deserve good things, I am entitled to my share of happiness. I refuse to beat myself up. I am an attractive person. I am fun to be with.” But whenever he gets into specifics, telling stories about how he puts his words into practice in everyday life, he betrays a tragic sadness that is the result of years of emotional abuse from his family of addicts.
A family of addicts he’s forced to deal with head on. There’s his father’s drinking, his brother’s drug abuse, his mother’s weight problem, his sister’s relationship issues and a few more thrown in for good measure. All while dealing with the cancellation of his TV show, the only real happiness in his life.
In the mid 90s, the self help industry was booming and made for a pretty easy target for comedians. And Franken really embraces the most obvious and easy characteristics of the stereotype. The pastel wardrobe, the lilting voice, the mumbo jumbo. There’s nothing exactly subtle or unexpected about Stuart Smalley. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t surprise me. Because underneath the pastel wardrobe and lilting voice, there’s a real darkness.
Stuart Saves His Family isn’t afraid to show the real damage that can be done by its characters substance abuse issues and many, many foibles. The jokes are big and broad, the story is obvious and clichéd, but the message is unexpectedly smart and serious.