Created by Walter Becker and Michael LeSieur, and set in the fall of 1986 at the fictional Hayes University in Indiana, Glory Daze follows a cluster of freshmen who confront the freedom that has been suddenly bestowed upon them. Officially premiering on November 16, the series stars a cast of unknowns as the students and Saturday Night Live veteran Tim Meadows as Professor Haines.
There were college comedies before Animal House, but none had the impact of National Lampoon's first contribution to cinematic anarchy. In addition to influencing film and television of the 1980s, when comedy reigned with greater supremacy than before (or since), Animal House shaped the creative sensibilities of the next generation of laugh-focused directors. The works of Judd Apatow, Todd Phillips, the Farrelly brothers, and untold numbers of writers and performers of the last 20 years would have been unthinkable had this film never existed.
Going back to Animal House itself, what's most impressive is all of careers that were launched for the cast of unknowns who made up the hard-partying and barely studious (grade point average: 0.0) members of the Delta House fraternity, on the campus of likewise fictional Faber College in 1962 Pennsylvania.
By the time he joined the onscreen fraternity, John Belushi had already made a name for himself as the most unhinged and openly, shamelessly drugged member of the original cast of Saturday Night Live. His performance as Delta's mascot for inebriation and vandalism, Bluto, was the best cinematic culmination of his ability to make audiences laugh with limited dialogue and unlimited physical comic ability (no one maneuvered their eyebrows more deftly).
Kevin Bacon, who made his screen debut as a member of Delta's chief rival fraternity, the Omegas, would go on to appear in so many movies as a lead or supporting player that four students at Albright College created a disturbingly popular game (Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon) based on his having worked with virtually every major actor of the last three decades.
Tom Hulce, who portrayed one of the two new pledges to Delta House, would be granted the role of a lifetime as Mozart in the film version of Amadeus. Peter Reigert and Bruce McGill, whose Delta House members were the most levelheaded (if still sufficiently perverse) of the bunch, would go on to lend supporting acting efforts to scores of movies, usually involving politics and the judicial system, and, like all great character actors, would become known more for their faces than their names.
Tim Matheson, the closest thing to a leading man in this ensemble, would continue to work steadily in film and television, primarily in vehicles that have been far beneath his talent and were often lame rehashes of Animal House (i.e, Up the Creek, Van Wilder). He is perhaps the member of the 1978 film cast most likely to make an appearance in Glory Daze which, considering the writing and directing talent behind it, will be a much-needed boost to his resume.
Then again, Matheson's fortunes have been far better than those of John Belushi and writer Doug Kenney (who also played an apparently mentally challenged member of the Delta brotherhood who utters only one very memorable line in the film) both of whom would die under drug-related circumstances a few years after the film's meteoric box office success in 1978. Director John Landis would experience an equally meteoric rise as one of the 1980's most successful comedy directors, a success that would be shrouded by the accidental, and entirely avoidable, killing of actor Vic Morrow and two children on the set of his segment of the 1982 Twilight Zone movie.
Hopefully fates such as these do not await the talent involved in Glory Daze, which explores a setting -- higher education -- that has been strangely absent from comedy for the last several years. In addition to regular castmember Meadows, a few more veterans of comedy past -- Fred Willard, Kevin Nealon, and Andy Richter -- will lend their reliable skills to the show as guest players (presumably not playing students). This might be the greatest homage of all to Animal House, which gave a boost to the careers of one-time stars whose forturnes had slumped by the late '70s: Donald Sutherland, who portrayed the hip, much-loved (in more ways than one) professor Dave Jennings; Verna Bloom, cast as the bored, drunken dean's wife, who has an affair with one of the Deltas; and John Vernon, who played her husband, Dean Wormer, whose only consolation in life is to torment the Deltas with expulsion and military service.
The double-screening takes place this Thursday, November 11 at Rosedale Theater. A pre-screening party begins at 7 p.m. and will include a buffet and drink specials. Tickets are free and available on a first come, first served basis. For more information, visit the event's website. Anyone engaging in food fights, public drunkenness and toga-clad renditions of "Shout" will be immediately ejected from the premises, even if those activities are intended as tributes to the new cable show and the revolutionary 1978 movie that inspired it.