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 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 4 [1975)

Ah, the great Nordic beauty Candice Bergen.

The first female host in SNL history (four episodes in).

This is quite a good episode.

But we start off with the first wholehearted attempt at Gerald Ford klutz (clumsy) humor with Chevy Chase.

Yes, before there was the fumbling, bumbling, broken banjo known as George W. Bush, there was Gerald Ford.

The humor had been leaning this way since the start of the season.

And finally Chevy got to do a proper piece (the start to the show, no less).

We also get the Landshark skit in this era of Spielberg-induced panic.

We must remember that Jaws had come out that summer (a few months prior to this show).

But the overwhelming star of this episode was undoubtedly Andy Kaufman (again).

It is the Foreign Man character (which was parlayed into his Taxi success as Latka).

Andy is a revelation here.  Yes, you need to be a little sick in the head to do comedy like Andy Kaufman.

The whole point, I think, was in how much he could get away with.

It was the game.

How far could he push it.

And so Foreign Man almost starts crying.  It is a miracle moment in television.

All great practical jokers (foremost among them Orson Welles) had this ability to suspend disbelief, but Kaufman was doing it live…out on a limb.

An excursion on a wobbly rail (to quote Cecil Taylor).

And so Candice  was right when she introduced Andy as a genius.

Goddamn…

What could follow that?!?

Well, sadly Esther Phillips starts off with a fast number.

Esther was the musical guest.

A fine singing voice, but the most annoying, lingering vibrato I’ve ever heard…like a WWI fighter plane…a machine-gun at the end of every phrase.

She was, no doubt, imitating the Billie Holiday of Lady in Satin (that last, great album of drugged-out soul).

But the problem is that the Billie Holiday vibrato doesn’t work on fast songs.

Yet, Esther uses it anyway.

And so Esther’s first number comes off as a head-tilting performance art oddity equal to Andy Kaufman (only I don’t think she knew it).

But all sins are forgiven later when Esther does a ballad.

Ahh…that’s the right repertoire.

Albert Brooks regresses to the mean with his film in this episode (a mashup of possible bullpen shows for NBC…including the awful-in-all-ways Black Vet).

All in all, this is a fine show.  Aykroyd is great.  Belushi is great.

In fact, the most touching scene is a talk between Gilda Radner and Candice Bergen about femininity/feminism.

Gilda Radner was such a beautiful person…such soul!

What a show!!!

 

-PD

 

 

SNL Season 1 Episode 3 [1975)

From the musical smörgåsbord of episode 2 to the absolute lack of musical guests in episode 3…SNL was a work in progress.  Even the name, Saturday Night, had yet to add the “Live”.

We do, however, get some music thanks to a few unlikely candidates.  The first is host Rob Reiner.  It’s almost as if Rob were goofing on Tony Clifton (in retrospect).  Yes, a pretty decent lounge act by Reiner gives us a swing version of “Blowin’ in the Wind” with Howard Shore and his band backing up.  [Not exactly Arturo Toscanini, Studio 8H’s famous former inhabitant, but pretty competent stuff from Shore.]

John Belushi tops Reiner with an impersonation of Joe Cocker.  It’s really pretty outstanding!

Also in the musical, or dance, category are The Lockers (as in poppin’ and lockin’).  Formed in part by Toni Basil (who would go on to have a hit with “Mickey” in 1982), The Lockers bring that inimitable breakdancing which one might witness (even to this day) on subway cars in New York City.  It really is an astounding art!

And finally, the musical stand-ins are rounded out by one of my heroes Andy Kaufman doing a lip-sync of a very difficult, dialogue-peppered “Pop Goes the Weasel” recording (Roud Folk Song Index number 5249).

Though she appears only a small amount, Penny Marshall adds to the night’s fun festivities (she was Reiner’s wife).

“The Bees,” a running gag through the first three shows, finally score some points as Belushi gives a soliloquy while his slinky antennae list to and fro.  Quite a genius juxtaposition!

We must remember that Al Franken was one of the original writers.

“The Land of Gorch” Muppet sketches continue (a bit I quite like).

But the real highlight of this episode is Albert Brooks’ film on heart surgery (as much as I hate to admit it).  Brooks’ first two contributions to this series were painfully lackluster, but then he pulls the rabbit out of the hat with quite a jaw-dropping bit of humor.

All in all, these episodes are a joy to watch.  What an American treasure!

 

-PD