For all those who think Saturday Night Live became less funny over the years (in general, it probably did) this episode is proof that the OG crew was capable of some titanic clunkers.
I didn’t know much of Robert Klein coming into this episode (he is the host), but I was initially impressed with his multi-dimensional wit. His first monologue is quite good, but gradually his presence on the show wears quite thin indeed. [Thin as the bathrobe in his goodnight signoff.]
It may not all have been Klein’s fault. Take for instance ABBA’s “performance” on the show.
I must first preface by saying that ABBA is absolutely the highlight of this episode. Klein is actually involved in both ABBA numbers. His presence is really disrespectful towards the musical performers. Again, maybe it wasn’t his idea to ham up their chance to shine, but it’s an unfortunate bit of fat which should have been trimmed.
To their credit, ABBA are good-natured about the whole thing. Their first number “S.O.S.” is really a revelation! Agnetha Fältskog is such a star on the camera (and a great voice). We learn later (from subtitles) that ABBA was lipsyncing because their vocalless backing tracks failed to arrive from Sweden. Even so, Benny Andersson is great on the piano and Björn Ulvaeus has a great rocking vibe on the guitar. After all that, we can’t leave out the dancing contribution of Frida Lyngstad.
It may seem cheesy, but ABBA’s positive music really brought a smile for me. Seeing them perform made me understand them a bit more. Also, we must remember that lipsyncing was not unusual on Top of the Pops-style shows of this period (so we shouldn’t judge them too harshly).
That (ABBA), unfortunately, is the best part of this episode.
Laraine Newman is beautiful and hilarious as always, but she doesn’t get a lot of backup this time out. Her opening skit with Chevy Chase spoofing the Miss America pageant is really quite funny. [Which reminds me that I forgot to mention an earlier classic bit she did a couple of episodes back as Squeaky Fromme. That was genius!]
Loudon Wainwright III is really underwhelming in his two short numbers. I hate to say that. I wish it wasn’t true. It’s obvious he has talent. Maybe it was the repertoire? Neither of his songs really spoke to me. It was as bad as a one-man Ween cover band.
Robert Klein proved he didn’t have a tin ear in his musical number “I Can’t Stop My Leg,” but that’s about all he proved. His presence on the show (to extend the earlier metaphor) was threadbare by that point.
Perhaps SNL just wasn’t the right setting for Klein. He has a ton of talent… Maybe it was the whole “live” thing? Klein really is the first person on this show (five episodes in) to mention that the whole thing is live. As a performer myself, I know that that makes a BIG difference!
It’s like, “Prepare to be funny in: 5, 4, 3, 2, and commence funniness.” It’s really not conducive to eased nerves.
Anyway, I don’t know what the problem was with this dud episode.
All of that said, see it (if for no other reason than) for ABBA!