SNL Season 1 Episode 14 [1976)

I had a bad feeling coming into this one.  The credits listed Desi Arnaz as host and Desi Arnaz, Jr. as (I presumed) musical guest.

The whole idea sounded horrible.  A washed up TV funnyman trying to get some airtime for his son.  But oh how wrong I was.

First off, Desi Arnaz was 59 years old when he did Saturday Night Live.  And he comes off as everything any person of that age should hope to be.  Lucid, warm, funny, wise…a sort of survivor.

I Love Lucy was perhaps the first big sitcom which aged well.  Its initial run was from 1951 through 1957.

And so what had Desi Arnaz been up to for the previous 20 years?  One could say that this episode was a sort of ceremonial “passing of the torch”, but the cynics were probably arguing that the torch had long since been extinguished.

I, for one, love to see older people make good.  I like to see our elders recognized and appreciated.  In general, we underestimate the talents and abilities of our older generation.  This is not a sneaky way of advocating for an extension of the retirement age, but merely a thought to provoke debate about giving older people the opportunity to work and contribute longer.

Older generations shouldn’t be punished for deciding to work more.  They should receive the same social assistance which retired people get.

Ok, back to Desi!

Not only did the estimable elder Arnaz act as the SNL host on this night, but he was also the musical guest.

We forget these things.  Maybe we’ve caught a bit of I Love Lucy in reruns (I certainly saw many as a kid), but it never occurred to me that Mr. Arnaz was a legitimate musician.

Well, he was!  Great singing voice…magnetic onstage charisma…and real talent with the intricate Afro-Cuban rhythms necessary to pull off the music of his homeland.

Yep, the conga drum was not just a prop!  And, yes, Desi was from Cuba.

But let’s talk a bit about the rest of the show.

One senses that Chevy Chase was really coming into his own as a comic actor by this time.

The opening skit as President Ford (visiting a psychologist) is a masterpiece.  Chase deftly pulls off the brainless Ford caricature particularly in the “simple word association” section.

Something like:

I’m going to say a word and you just say whatever word comes to mind, ok?

Ok.

Right.  Here we go.  Apple.

Apple.

House.

House.

////////////////////

Yes, the President (as Chase would portray him) was the most dense man on the planet.

But also, the Weekend Update section (likewise with Chase) kept getting better and better.

This is the portion of the show which really acts as a time capsule for us viewing in 2016.

Also noteworthy is the American Express spoof ad in which Garrett Morris plays Rubin “Hurricane” Carter.

However, the bizarre highlight might just be Chevy Chase as Very White (a cipher for Barry White):  an extremely strange-but-enjoyable bit of oversexed soul/disco performance art.  Truly remarkable!

In general, this is a pretty fantastic episode!!

 

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 13 [1976)

Peter Boyle had an unmistakable face.

The name might have been unfamiliar to most, but run that clip of “Puttin’ On the Ritz” from Young Frankenstein and you have a strange bit of film immortality.

Mr. Boyle was, of course, the tap-dancing Frankenstein monster who so gracefully delivered his one and only (repeated) singing line at sporadic intervals [“puttin’ on the riiiiiiiitttttzzzzzzz…”].

Irving Berlin, the song’s composer, published it barely more than a month after the stock market crash of 1929.  Aw hell…I don’t often do this, but it’s important you see this laugh-out-loud clip if you’re unfamiliar with the “super dooper” Mel Brooks moment:

Now then…

That’s Peter Boyle.  I suppose he had TWO lines in actuality.

Well, he’s here as the host of Saturday Night Live on Valentine’s Day 1976.

Ah, Valentine’s…or as the beautiful, genius Sophie Crumb (30 years later) called it “valentine-wanna-kill-myself-day!”  Yeah…

Sometimes it feels about like that.

So this episode of SNL has an occasionally sappy, lazy, wrist-slitting sentimentality to it.  Ok, I admit:  the Gary Weis film is cute.  But God…that Simon & Garfunkel music…  It’s such a tearjerker.

Really, it peeves me when SNL recycles footage.  I mean, hello!  We’re only 13 episodes into this thing.  First season!  Are they really out of material?  Hell, we’d seen ’em do it earlier with an Albert Brooks film.

At least the repeated faux commercials are usually funny.  And they’re tolerable because they’re 30 seconds long (I’m guessing) [give or take].

So, yeah…

This episode has some good parts.  Samurai Divorce Court is pretty good (mainly due to John Belushi and Jane Curtin).

Really, this episode is pretty strong until the back half.

Al Jarreau is surprisingly good as the musical guest.  I wasn’t really familiar with his stuff (just his name), but he really is a musical freak!  The guy really nails it on both of his performances…going from a simmering Valentine’s romantic tone to savant bebop scatting.

Wikipedia has a very sparse sketch of the events in this episode.

Some, admittedly, aren’t really worth mentioning.

The wrestling skit with The Bees and The W.A.S.P.s (white Anglo-Saxon Protestants) is pretty underwhelming.

Really, the most-improved (and continually improving) portion of the show was the Weekend Update with Chevy Chase.  The writing was pretty free and wild.  And think of all the great cultural references we get.

The description of Dorothy Hamill’s Olympic routine is frankly hilarious.  Also, by this time George H.W. Bush was director of the CIA.  One particularly funny question posed by the show’s writers was, “Is America a front for the CIA?”

Such humor evinces politically-aware writers.  We must remember that the Church Committee had just met the previous year (1975).  It was one of the few times (perhaps the only time) that the American intelligence community came under any sort of actual scrutiny by Congress (and, by extension, the American people).

CIA, NSA, FBI…no one was completely spared from this investigation occasioned by Watergate.

Which reminds me.  Perhaps the most classic bit in this episode is Dan Aykroyd doing a Nixon impersonation in a rubber monkey mask.  The surreal act of breathing (which causes the entire mask to be sucked in and, alternately, blown back out) perfectly sums up the bizarre nature of American politics at that time.

It was a time when Reagan was but a former “fascist” governor (and yet to be President).  Yes, Weekend Update uses the word “fascist”.  (!)  How far SNL has sunk now.

But, to be fair, SNL was projecting the humor of the American liberal movement.  At least that’s the impression I get.

One final note.  The trial of Patricia (Patty) Hearst was also big news about this time.  Obviously, her case captured national attention for quite a while.  [An earlier episode with Lily Tomlin involved a fictional sorority sister [Tomlin] writing a letter to the imprisoned Hearst while, in an aside, asking another sister to return her Carpenters records.  Ahh, the 70s…]

Perhaps the greatest coup of the episode under consideration is the montage of art photos which purport to be an “Artist Rendering” of the Hearst trial.  From Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights to  Dalí’s La persistencia de la memoria, the effect is both highbrow and ridiculous.

And it is for nuggets just such as these that we continue to be enthralled with America’s most storied variety show.

 

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 12 [1976)

Wikipedia generally gives a nice overview of some of these early Saturday Night Live episodes, but not in this case.

Even so, that’s alright.

We’ll make do.

It might be enough to focus on the divide between droll host Dick Cavett (his pitch for “his” Nebraska Pimp book as part of “Looks on Books” kinda sums it up) and impassioned musical guest Jimmy Cliff.

Cavett is that sort of personality that everyone likes.  Always a warm smile.  A wry smile, perhaps.  A smart guy, but not too smart.  Cavett was, in some ways, in the exact middle of the cultural road.

He was just hip enough to be marginally “with it” in a revolutionary era (witness the Weekend Update attempts to cover “war-torn” Luanda, Angola) steaming with frustration.

And so the natural way to play off his image is to have him do risqué things.  For example, the skit “Our Town” substitutes New York City for the Grover’s Corners of playwright Thornton Wilder.

Cavett describes the more prurient details of NYC.  At one point, it is fairly obvious that he is describing the old Times Square full of sex shops and massage parlors.  As always, the exercise of watching this show gives us an opportunity to reflect on days gone by.  For example, this must have been around the time of a sanitation workers strike in the Big Apple.

[Speaking of Big Apple, the home movie sent in by someone (whose name I have forgotten) makes nice use of apples (and plums) as actors in a stop-motion Super-8 experiment.]

But yes…Dick Cavett is kind of like a bathroom sanitizer.  You’re glad he’s there (when the place is sullied), but he is generally harmless and flavorless.

What is staggering about this episode is that I remember a friend from college who (on second thought) reminds me quite a bit of Cavett.  The craziest part is that Jimmy Cliff does a song in this episode which played a part in my college days (funny enough, in relation to the aforementioned gentleman).

It’s funny how the mundane can make us sentimental.  However, Jimmy Cliff is not at all himself mundane on the song in question:  “Many Rivers to Cross”.

Jimmy Cliff couldn’t be more different in persona from Dick Cavett.  Cliff delivers the first great, desperate performance in SNL history.  Sure, Simon & Garfunkel were great in the early season, but they were pretty…composed…easily poised.

On “Many Rivers to Cross” Jimmy Cliff sings like his life depends on it.  The guitars are out of tune.  The drummer is barely in control of the song.  A bongo player (who alternates on timbales…with brushes) adds a bit of flavor.  The SNL horns (Howard Shore’s band) add some nice stabs and swells of excitement.

But it is Jimmy Cliff.  Singing right in tune.  Dead serious.  Pinging each note in absolute perfection.

Closing his eyes.  Lifting his head back.  Singing so the veins bulge out in his neck.  …ending the performance out of breath.

Cliff absolutely deserved to perform the three songs he did on this episode.  However, neither of the other two match the intensity of “Many Rivers to Cross”.

And so it takes me back.

These memories I mentioned.  They’re important to me.

If I’d only chosen to have my taxes done by H. & L. Brock…I coulda been a contenda.

How do we become losers?

Is it from the very first hand we’re dealt?

Some things feel like a lost cause.

Life is unkind.  Sometimes.

But what I want to know is…will it pay off?

Jimmy Cliff was ready when the opportunity arose.

How significant was this performance for the acceptance of reggae in America?

It doesn’t matter.

Those questions don’t matter.

What matters is what each one of us feels…in little moments of reflection.

I’d like to think that I’d belt it out just like Jimmy Cliff.

That’s when you give it all you have.

It’s when your passion raises you head and shoulders above the rest.

It’s a passion.  A hunger.  Of going from nothing to something.

I think quite a few of us feel like nothings.

It’s all we ever get to be.

We’re behind.

I can only speak for myself.

No wife.  No kids.

In school for the millionth time.

And my dreams seem light years away…in the rearview mirror.

Will I find them again down the road?

Is this a loop?  A mere episode?

 

-PD

 

SNL Season 1 Episode 11 [1976)

Just as Buck Henry had me stumped in the last episode (Buck Who?), Peter Cook threw me for a loop right off the bat here.

Dudley Moore I knew, but Cook?  No idea.  In terms of firsts, this appears to be the first SNL hosted by more than one person (simultaneously).

Cook met Moore while at Cambridge University as a student (Cook) of Radley and (later) Pembroke Colleges.  Moore, on the other hand, was himself a student at Magdalene College (pronounced “maudlin”) of Oxford University.  They started performing together in these school days.

But the act which Cook and Moore were essentially reviving on this night in 1976 was their comedy duo which powered the BBC’s Not Only…But Also (1965-1970).  We can be fairly confident of this based on their throwback chestnut Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling.

Sir Streeb-Greebling’s featured skit (Table Talk) is one of the highlights of this episode.  In it, we learn of the knighted eccentric’s restaurant Frog & Peach (which serves, unsurprisingly, frog…and peaches [exclusively]).  If I remember correctly, the two dishes on the menu are frog à la pêche and, conversely, pêche à la frog.  This bit of absurd, excellent humor is indicative of the talents which Cook and Moore possessed as both writers and comedians.

Cook and Moore additionally did film work together such as Bedazzled (1967).  For all of you Yo La Tengo fans out there, this gives me an opportunity to wax informative on the song “Tom Courtenay”.  It is one of my favorite YLT songs (from the excellent Electr-O-Pura album).  Perusing the lyric sheet of the above song, not only is English actor Courtenay mentioned in the title (the narrative is likely from his perspective) but Julie Christie makes an appearance (her name being the first words sung by Ira Kaplan).  For our purposes, however, it is simply enough to point out that the real “star” of said lyrics (Eleanor Bron) played Margaret Spencer in Bedazzled.

Moving on…

Now that I have spent an inordinate amount of time on Cook and Moore, I should point out something important.  Saturday Night Live in its inaugural season was attracting what might be called B-list entertainers.  To illustrate this point, I would direct readers to my piece on the previous episode.  To have Bill Withers do but one song and have it be a tune from 1971 (on a 1976 broadcast) illustrates this point which has a parallel in Cook and Moore (who were ostensibly rehashing material from their show which ran 1965-1970).

But credit must be given to the comedic duo in question who persevered and relocated to New York City in 1973.  They did, in fact, win a Tony and Grammy for their production Good Evening.  This success was parlayed (partially) into a more risqué act where they assumed the personalities Derek and Clive.  In total, this new incarnation was featured on three LPs (that would be, for the young’uns, VI-NYL/RE-CORDS).

Ok, so Cook and Moore weren’t totally washed up.  That much is obvious when seeing this episode.  In fact, I find their humor much more effective than most of the hacks which preceded them as hosts.  The “One Legged Tarzan” skit near the top of the show exemplifies their shrewd method of laugh-getting.

It should also be mentioned that stars on one side of the pond aren’t necessarily stars on the other.  And so, dear readers, you must forgive my ignorance regarding Cook.  I have now done my research.

I should mention a further two bits.  Cook himself went on to work with some of my favorite musical acts (Sparks and 10cc).  That Ron Mael, Kevin Godley, and Lol Creme saw something in this chap is good enough for me.

Again, the separation between British and American entertainment really can’t be overemphasized.  I know there is a Doctor Who craze in the States now, but (back to Peter Cook) this bloke had a bleeding planet named after him in 1999 [20468 Petercook].

Furthermore, I am ashamed to say that I needed Wikipedia to tell me that Mr. Cook gave the world “mayorwidge” as the clergyman in The Princess Bride (1987).

Ok, ok…enough about Cook.  [I’ve hardly said a word about Moore, but we must press on.]

This is generally a great episode (with the notable exception of Neil Sedaka).  I really don’t want to hate on this guy, but his repertoire…ugh. And his sartorial choices (burgundy velvet jacket).  The jacket would have been great if he didn’t have Meathead’s haircut (Rob Reiner…Archie Bunker).  [“And now I would like to impersonate the Archie Bunker.  (…)  Tank you veddy much.”]

To be fair, Sedaka had talent.  Singing voice?  Check.  Piano chops?  Check.  But the schmaltz gluing it all together is what made it unpalatable.  Not to mention, what was an MOR guy like this doing on such a counterculture show as SNL?  Look to the corner office, my friend…the corner office.

On the whole, a great episode.  Just bite the bullet when Neil starts crooning 🙂

 

-PD

 

 

SNL Season 1 Episode 10 [1976)

“…I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know…”

Ah, Bill Withers.  A lyrical genius.  And though I kid, I mean it.  This section of “Ain’t No Sunshine” is one of the most tense portions of pop music ever laid down on tape.  In case you’re wondering, there’s 26 “I know”s.

And indeed, the powerful Mr. Withers performed this very song on SNL backed up by Howard Shore’s band to amazing dramatic effect.

Now, if you have been following along with my clinically-insane review of the entire Saturday Night Live oeuvre (or canon, if you will) you will know that the musical guests thus far had been:

Billy Preston, Janis Ian, Simon & Garfunkel, Randy Newman, Phoebe Snow, Esther Philips , ABBA, Loudon Wainwright III, Gil Scott-Heron, and Anne Murray.  [Hopefully I didn’t leave anyone out.]

I mention them again because almost all of them (with the notable exception of Simon & Garfunkel) were pushing product.  To use the terminology which Kurt Cobain so presciently keyed in on, they were attempting to be “radio friendly unit shifters”.  Shift those units.  Move that product.

This is significant when viewing Bill Withers’ performance.  “Ain’t No Sunshine” was from his 1971 album Just As I Am (that’s five years before this broadcast).  He’d had at least four albums come out since 1971.  He would have a fifth released in 1976.  And though he only got to perform one song, he went back to his big hit.

It makes me wonder whose idea that was.  Lorne Michaels?  Perhaps even a wily A&R man trying a counterintuitive tactic.  Kinda like, “Hey…I’m Bill Withers.  Remember me?”

All…that…having…been…said:

this is a fantastic episode!!!

I must admit I had no idea who Buck Henry was upon viewing this.

Pierre Henry?  Of course.  But Buck Henry?  No way.

Sure, I’d seen The Graduate, but paying attention to who the screenwriter was had to be the last thing on my mind as the credits rolled.

I like films without scripts.  Godard.

The only script I can honestly say I’ve ever read out of admiration for the film (and writing) is Ernest Lehman’s fantastic North by Northwest (brought to the screen, of course, by Alfred Hitchcock).

To make a short story long, Buck Henry is an amazing actor.

I don’t know to what extent he was involved in the writing of skits for this episode, but I can confidently say that this show surpasses all the others before it.

What is more, Buck Henry is ten times the actor that is Elliott Gould (the previous week’s host).

So, there.  Buck Henry is great.  From his role in John Belushi’s Samurai Delicatessen to his part as Gerald Ford’s aide in the Oval Office.

Speaking of these two skits, they are certainly among the highlights (if not the outright best two).

Belushi was improving with every episode.  From Samurai Hotel came Samurai Delicatessen.  It is an artful role on par with the talent of Peter Sellers.

The extra portion Belushi brought to the table was his singing (yes, singing).  We heard him earlier in the debut season doing a send-up of Joe Cocker.  In the episode under consideration, Belushi and Dan Aykroyd debut a proto version of The Blues Brothers…in bee costumes!

I must say that their performance of “I’m a King Bee” is infused with the punk spirit which was then coursing through the veins of New York City.  Belushi takes his breaks from singing as opportunities to do ridiculous, stumbling cartwheels around the stage.

This is one thing for which you have to give the Not Ready for Prime Time Players credit:  they would do anything for a laugh.

The precedent had been set early on by Chevy Chase.  No one could fall quite like Chevy, and thus it was natural for him to portray the unlucky Gerald Ford.

One of Chevy’s real miracles was a failed attempt (as Ford) to put the star on a 15-foot Christmas tree.  I don’t know if Chase had stunt training, but his falls are impressively wild.

But again, in this episode we see Chase developing his comic timing and humorous subtleties which he would later parlay into a successful movie career.  Chase’s portrayal of Ford is particularly smooth (peppered, of course, with appropriately clunky dementia).

Two more bits bear mentioning.  Michael O’Donoghue’s anti-impression illustrates all that was good about the early days of SNL.  It’s flailing about, but it is such a refreshing flailing.

And finally, I must mention that Toni Basil returned to the show (after making an appearance earlier in the season with the dance troupe The Lockers).  This time Basil does some great scat singing (and, of course, dancing) on the old tune “Wham”…(re bop boom bam).

It’s an impressive performance with a touch of Cyd Charisse in the choreography.

Bravo SNL!

 

-PD

 

 

 

SNL Season 1 Episode 9 [1976)

Oof…Elliott Gould has the acting talent of a wet dishrag.

Sadly, he’s the host of this one.

But somehow the whole thing is watchable.

It seems that the writing took a step forward with this installment.

From the very opening the show has an artful tone (thanks to the Dead String Quartet [exactly what it sounds like]).

The “Killer Bees” sketch is very strong thanks to a massive hole in the fourth wall.  Lorne Michaels even gets into the action for the first time and is pretty fantastic in his control room smack-down.

In his final contractual installment Albert Brooks scores his second timeless triumph (the first being his surgeon-for-a-day masterpiece).  Brooks’ strange self-aware brand of humorless humor is excellent when it works.  It didn’t work often during his SNL run, but when it did it was very special.  His contribution to this night is not to be missed.

That this episode won an Emmy is astounding.  I wouldn’t hire Elliott Gould to shine my shoes.

Ah well…

Also noteworthy is the first SNL onscreen appearance of Al Franken.  His routine (as part of Franken & Davis) is another highlight of the show.  Franken’s unmistakable voice can be heard in previous episodes over the recurring Pong skit (just a shot of a TV screen’s video game display).

Oh, I can’t leave out Anne Murray.  While not great, she is generally enjoyable in this episode.  My main complaint is with her MOR repertoire.

 

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 8 [1975)

I don’t feel much like writing.

Christmas is creeping up.

I have much to be thankful for.

But it’s still sad.

That’s the best way to put it.

Dreams abandoned.

Deferred.

Years ticking by.  And family we have lost.

Time we have lost.

But I try to focus on the positive right now.

Things could be much worse.

I am lucky.  I’m lucky for the family I have.

Yes, this Saturday Night Live episode was the last of 1975 (their inaugural year).

They wouldn’t be back on until 1976 (the year I was born).

I want to say that this is not a very good episode.

That’s probably true, but I don’t want to seem like a scrooge.

I suppose it is wistful…

Candice Bergen is back on the show.

Ah, lovely Nordic Candice.  The tyranny of beauty (as I heard someone say recently)…

It’s wistful because life has passed me by in many ways.

I was out making things happen, but I couldn’t make everything happen.

We dwell on our mistakes.

But what is really sad is being ignored.

Reaching out for help and getting no response whatsoever.

I myself haven’t been perfect.

A friend in Hong Kong.  I owed him a letter.  And we lost touch.

Life gets in the way.

But I’m still waiting at the altar.  I poured my heart out the best I could.  No response.

And another.  (As Martha Reeves sings “Silver Bells”)…I was nice, right?

Not too pushy.  Meek, even.

No response.

Ok, maybe it got lost in the mail.  Try again.  No.

No go.

And then finally another.

An honest message.  Self-deprecating.  Easy to get out of.

No response.

A handful of people that really don’t seem to care whether I live or die.

And who do I have?

Almost no one.

Humbled unto death.  Staring at the dry dirt.

Christmas.

Martha Reeves is good.  Great, even.

The Stylistics know what I’m talking about.  Wonderful, soulful singing.

But we’re not having any fun.

Not like Candice and Gilda and Jane and Laraine.

Not like Garrett with his wonderful voice.

Not like Chevy and Dan and John.

The cute choreography.

That’s fun.

I miss that.

Not a lot of humor in this episode.

We need humor.

We need hope.

What does tomorrow bring?

More isolation?

Baby steps to normalcy.

I was in the coal mine for a year.

On the space station.

There wasn’t a blowout.

I came home safely.

I was at home all along.

But not with my thoughts.

No time to think when you’re climbing through ditches.

You might be a little too old to learn Welsh or Basque without an accent.

Yeah…

When you start to doubt your reason for being, you might be beaten.

One more year.

And then what?

A crappy job that you hate?

But there is an answer.

Love.

You can find love in the newspaper.

A clipping.

Something that tells you you’re on the right track.

Right now I’m not thinking too much about me.

I can’t move.  I can’t breathe.

Right now is about love.

No more selfish.

No more head in the clouds while others pay the price.

I tried to be the best artist I could.

And now this is my art.

This is all I have left.

Not exactly Cahiers du Cinéma, but it’s the best I can do.

I pray it’s not meaningless.

That I’m learning.

That I won’t always be a loser.

I work hard.

I’m tired.

 

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 7 [1975)

This is more like it!  Richard Pryor and Gil Scott-Heron!!

Wow!!!  What a combination…

I’ve written about Richard Pryor a bit previously in relation to Brewter’s Millions (in the course of focusing on director Walter Hill).

I knew I liked Pryor, but seeing him do stand-up on SNL convinces me in a whole new way.

What a genius!

Pryor relies heavily on the “drunk man” impression, but the real gem of this episode is his imitation of himself on LSD.

But really, this entire episode is good.

The funniest bit is John Belushi in Samurai Hotel.  It’s really a classic bit!  Belushi knocks it out of the park with his absurdist swordplay.

But the Albert Brooks film…ugh.  Man, this one takes the cake as his worst yet.  Not sure what the point was.  It’s almost like Brooks is going for the high-art humor of Andy Kaufman, but failing miserably at it.  It’s not funny.  It’s not entertaining.  It’s not even sad.  It’s just a compete waste of time and resources.  Well done, Brooks.

But hey…don’t let the Albert Brooks clunker scare you away.  This is one of the finest episodes of Saturday Night Live I’ve yet seen.  We’ll see how it measures up against the rest 🙂

 

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 6 [1975)

This one ain’t very good either.

Yikes.

It’s really a cost-cutting episode.

Sure, we don’t mind a replay of a good commercial (like the one for Triopenin).

But to replay an Albert Brooks film?!?  And not even the “surgeon for a day” one???

Ugh.

But the cost cutting didn’t stop there.

Again, there’s not really a musical guest this time.

But I do have to tell you why this episode is worth watching.

Two words.

Lily Tomlin.

She is amazing as the host!!!  What talent!  What pizazz!

Her contributions are all pretty stellar.

But let’s get back to that cost cutting.

Howard Shore was already the band leader.

So to have Howard Shore & the All-Nurse Band as the musical guest is really cheap.  Frugal.  Kinda lame.

I mean, it’s a funny bit to see the cross-dressing band members, but it wears pretty thin pretty quickly.

And Lily Tomlin.

She’s an awesome host.  A fabulous actress!  But do we really want to hear her sing “St. James Infirmary”?  Not particularly.

It’s not that she’s a bad singer.  She’s quite good.  And so is Garrett Morris.  And Gilda Radner.  And Chevy Chase.  And Laraine Newman.

But we don’t tune in to hear them sing.  We tune in to see them work their comedic magic.  [Actually, Lily’s duet with the Muppet known as Scred is quite sweet and heartwarming.]

There is, however, a bit of dilettantism which does work in this episode.

And that is, namely, John Belushi as Beethoven.

It is a classic bit.

Belushi really did have a grasp on what made silent films fantastic.

Facial expressions.

And so Beethoven experiments with a little boogie-woogie.

The anachronism of it all makes us grin.  And those are the skits which are the cream rising to the top of this whole affair.

 

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 5 [1975)

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!

 

-PD