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There's no escaping 'Saturday Night Live'

Way back when, I grew up in lovely Calabasas, California, alongside such notables as Ricky Schroeder and Erik Menendez. (Thankfully, I got out before the Kardashians arrived.) If, by chance, you happen upon a copy of Calabasas High School’s 1986 yearbook, you’ll see a picture of my friend Aaron Priceman in a trenchcoat and sunglasses standing alongside yours truly dressed up as Ed Grimley.

What? Did you really just say, “Who’s Ed Grimley?”

If you did, you weren’t watching “Saturday Night Live” during the '84-'85 season, when Martin Short’s depiction of a triangle-playing "Wheel of Fortune" enthusiast with ridiculously pointy hair made “I must say” a national catchphrase.

Ed Grimley was only one of the bizarre characters Short had in his arsenal. There was also Irving Cohen, the 87-year-old songwriter who would make up stupid ditties on the spot after shouting “Give me a C! A bouncy C!” And then there was Nathan Thurm, the sweaty defensive lawyer who interrupted all of his questioners by saying, “I know that! Why would you think I don’t know that?” Or perhaps you recall Lawrence, the Olympic synchronized swimming hopeful who wore a lifejacket in the pool because he was “not that strong a swimmer.”

If none of that rings a bell, don’t feel too bad. None of it seemed to register with the “Saturday Night Live” people, either. As I watched the much-ballyhooed three-and-a-half-hour SNL 40th Anniversary Special, I kept looking for some kind of recognition of the season that had struck such a chord with me during my adolescence. Sadly, that year was all but flushed down the memory hole.

Martin Short himself hosted a segment devoted to SNL’s music over the years, but his characters were largely absent. Wayne and Garth got to reunite for a new “Wayne’s World” sketch, and Dan Aykroyd came out of retirement to hawk the Bass-O-Matic one more time. But, much to my chagrin, Ed Grimley and his skyline hairline were nowhere to be seen.

I’m not complaining. Not really. After all, Martin Short was only an SNL cast member for one season out of 40, and the tribute appropriately focused on the moments and people that had a far broader reach. The show has spawned more comedy stars, more imitations and more catchphrases than any other entertainment institution in living memory.

That’s both a good thing and a bad thing — much like the anniversary special and, indeed, “Saturday Night Live” as a whole.

The special, like any SNL episode, had moments of pure genius surrounded by a lot of stuff that fell flat. (Dan, you probably shouldn’t have pulled that ol’ Bass-O-Matic out of mothballs.) And there were also too many sketches that confused crudity with humor. It’s almost impossible to fill an hour and a half of television airtime every week with comedy gold, so the easiest way to get a laugh when inspiration is absent is to do something gross. That’s why moral watchdogs have taken issue with SNL over the years, and it’s hard to argue that their complaints aren’t justified. So perhaps I shouldn’t have as much affection for the show as I do.

But I can’t escape “Saturday Night Live,” and, really, neither can anyone else.

Even if you don’t watch the show, it’s almost impossible to not be affected by the impact “Saturday Night Live” has had on the culture at large these past four decades.

At least now you’ll understand me when I dress up as Ed Grimley for Halloween, which annoys my children to no end. Maybe they’re just upset that I have to use a whole bottle of gel to get the hair right.

Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.