SNL Season 1 Episode 24 [1976)

Good God…I made it to the end!

Of Season 1…

Why?

Why do we have this completist urge?

I could proffer myself as a communications historian.

A sociologist.

The anthropology of television.

But really the truth is that I needed something to watch…to take my mind off things.

And so it’s been a good ride.  Season 1 in the bag.

And it ends on a high note.

Kris Kristofferson.

I had seen him in a dismal picture called Chelsea Walls.

Good God…Ethan Hawke really bungled that offering.

And so for the longest time I thought Kristofferson was merely a hack “character actor”.

I knew his history.

Brownsville boy…Rhodes Scholar.

I’d even heard some of his music.

Always struck me as third-rate outlaw country.

But this episode of Saturday Night Lives changes my opinion of him forever.

The show starts with a song/skit.

Kristofferson sings “Help Me Make It Through the Night”.

As Chevy Chase fumbles with the ribbon in the hair of his lover, Kris just keeps on singing right through.

I’ve rarely heard a more soulful rendition of a song.

Later, Kristofferson sings “I’ve Got a Life of My Own”.

It is a revelation!

Looking for a way to lose these lonesome blues now that Neil Young quit Spotify?

Well, look no further than ol’ Kris.

The band…(not The Band, but close)…  Kris’ band here.  So good!!!

“I’ve Got a Life of My Own” is a glory cry.  I may not have a great life, but I have a life.

I have a beard and long hair.  Or I have a mustache and a buzz cut.

Life ain’t glamorous down on the Rio Grande border.  Nor in San Antonio.

Doug Sahm is dead.

But Kris lives on.

What a great injection of American music here.  You think you don’t like country music?

Give this chap a try.  And when I say he was a Rhodes Scholar, I am dead serious.

This, of course, gives him an intellect to pair with his easiness at being on stage (from his performing career).

What I mean to say is that Kris Kristofferson is a better host than just about anybody on the first season of Saturday Night Live.

You need him to be a gynecologist opposite Jane Curtin?  No problem.

Need him to be John Belushi’s foil in “Samurai General Practitioner”?  Done!

[That skit, by the way, is the comedic highlight of the show.  Belushi was beginning to approach godlike stature with his samurai character.]

Rita Coolidge is generally stiff on her one solo number (“Hula Hoop”), but having Kristofferson’s band makes the song persuasive.  And the closing surprise is indescribably cute (thanks to Gilda Radner and Laraine Newman).

Chevy Chase is great as always as Gerald Ford.

And Dan Aykroyd was starting to come along by this point as Jimmy Carter.

Though Garrett Morris only gets a few spots, he’s awesome as Jesse Owens and Andrew Young.

Don Pardo (the announcer of the show) gets a more “visible” role in this episode by way of the Samuel Beckett spoof “Waiting for Pardo”.  It is a masterpiece!  [And it makes me wonder whether Kristofferson was allowed to do some writing…perhaps this skit?]

Immanuel Kant, watchmaker.  Spinoza luggage.  All of the Price Is Right interjections by Pardo are for products ostensibly produced by famous philosophers.  Pretty witty stuff!

So there you have it…

I highly recommend this episode!

 

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 23 [1976)

This is a very smart installment, but also a very strange one.

The host is Louise Lasser.

It is hard to know what this was all about 40 years after the fact.

The crux is the show Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman…a parody soap opera which ran for a mere two seasons (1976-1977), yet included an astounding 325 episodes in that timespan.

No wonder Louise was so tired.

The airing schedule for Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was five nights a week.

Wow…

In addition, Lasser was the wife of Woody Allen from 1966-1970.

Her contribution to Allen films includes Take the Money and Run, Bananas, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex *(*But Were Afraid to Ask), and voiceover work on What’s Up, Tiger Lily? 

So it’s no surprise that this episode of SNL has an artful (if disjointed) feeling to it.

Particularly funny is the Ingmar Bergman spoof (in Swedish) starring Lasser and Chevy Chase.

But yes:  most of this episode involves the psychodrama of Ms. Lasser.

Actually, I quite enjoyed her film (in place of Gary Weis, as it were) shot in a NY diner.

One thing is apparent:  Lasser has immense talent.

The opening monologue hints at the brilliant cruelty of Andy Kaufman.

It is fairly disorienting in general.

For those needing a reason to live (I’m right there with you), we will be revisiting Lasser as Alex’s ex-wife on Taxi (God willing).

Yes, Lasser has a nice skit with a dog (her dog?) named Maggie.  It is a cute piece making fun of those tense talks between couples at the kitchen table (though this one is rather surreal).

Lasser would later feature in Todd Solondz’ Happiness.

Likewise, Lasser would appear in two episodes of Lena Dunham’s Girls (3rd season).

So what else is shakin’ in this tense SNL installment?

Well, Garrett Morris is pretty fantastic as Idi “VD” Amin.

John Belushi has a pitiable-yet-funny piece in which he tries to hawk all of his belongings (particularly his clothes…the shirt off his back).

The ladies (Laraine Newman, Jane Curtin, and Gilda Radner) do a strange Phil Spector-esque tribute to the history of television (the apparatus, not the programming).  The doo-wop/girl-group song features lines about Cathode Ray (as if he’s a personage), electron guns, etc.

Laraine Newman also reprises her role as Squeaky Fromme (with excellent help from Jane Curtin).

Finally, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band is fantastic on their one number.

It is a bit wistful for me as I once had the pleasure to write horn charts for them.  I’m not sure that they actually used them, but I did (anyhow) get to perform with the band at a particularly star-studded New Orleans Jazz Fest some years ago.

Really, this performance from 1976 is not to be missed.  The crazy logic of Dixieland counterpoint is an excellent metaphor for the fugue of emotions running through this particular episode of comedy.  And the stretto might just be the Preservation Hall cats themselves.

 

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 21 [1976)

Saturday Night Live was still a small show in 1976.

A growing concern, to be sure, but still a show with an off-the-cuff, communal vibe to it.

We feel this insular aspect most when hosts or musical guests are repeated.

For instance, Candice Bergen hosted episodes 4 and 8.

Phoebe Snow was a musical guest on episodes 2 and 18.

And finally, Buck Henry was the host of episode 10 and (voila!) episode 21.

Buck Henry is a hard guy to get excited about.

He comes out in a cardigan.  A sort of Bob Newhart look.

But the man was brilliant.

The two shows Henry hosted to this point, taken collectively, both show signs of superior comedic writing.

One gets the sense that Buck was allowed to contribute to the writing process (which only makes sense considering who he was).

However, this is still a rather mediocre installment of the show.

The big surprise is that Gordon Lightfoot is not, I repeat, not horrible.

I had heard a bit of Lightfoot previously.

In one sense, he is the prefect pairing for Buck Henry:

unassuming, understated, dullish…

Henry, at least, seems aware of his fatherly image and manages to make the presentation work for him.

Lightfoot, while not apparently a comedian, is a sort of breath of fresh air as far as musicians go.

He just gets on there and sings his songs.  Plain and simple.

And his band…whoa!

I thought the MC5 had cornered the market on denim, but Lightfoot’s group is like a Wrangler gang on the prowl.

Tamely…

Hell, Lightfoot’s young lead guitarist sits down for the performance.

This is some m e l l o w stuff.

But not in a druggy sense.

Lightfoot really has a sort of John Denver purity about him.

But really, nothing can compare to Garrett Morris singing Franz Schubert’s “An die Musik” on this show.

It is breathtaking.

It’s one of those special TV moments which catches one completely off-guard.

They just don’t make TV like this anymore.

 

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 19 [1976)

The show was really rolling by this point.

The sets are more elaborate.

The budget seems to have increased.

And the humor is worth it.

The cold opening (I’ve avoided that term for the first 18 episodes) is a killer.

Chevy Chase (of course) as Ronald Reagan…prefiguring the stilted-hip of Bill Clinton on Arsenio Hall by a decade and change.

What we learn…Chevy can actually play the organ.  Some nice B-3 licks.

But the killer is Garrett Morris’ priceless contribution.

Like a silent film actor, Morris takes each condescending, racist jab from Reagan and grows more and more outraged…in such a believable Miles Davis kind of way (if we ignore the alto sax he’s holding).

What a start to a great episode!

Morris is in another high-art bit of humor later…for the fake donation solicitation Fondue Pots For Namibia.  Yes, it sounds like the title of a Zappa song (or perhaps Captain Beefheart), yet it is Saturday night variety show humor from 1976 at its best.  Bloody genius!

Some of the more elaborate skits are guest host Madeline Kahn as the “bride of Frankenstein” singing Leonard Bernstein’s “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story.  Howard Shore and band are great in this skit (especially pianist/vocalist Paul Schaffer…of future Letterman fame).

Another amazing skit involves Dan Aykroyd as Richard Nixon.  Rounding out this bizarre, vast set piece is John Belushi as Henry Kissinger.

Now for the bad.  Carly Simon is godawful in her first prerecorded number “Half a Chance”.  I mean, really godawful.

What is apparent over the course of the show is that Madeline Kahn was a much better singer than Carly.

At least Simon somewhat redeems herself on the ubiquitous “You’re So Vain”.  It’s obvious Carly had talent.  She has a great, soulful voice.  Not sure what the problem was on “Half a Chance”.  Perhaps it was the cheesy, out-of-tune, canned backing vocals.  Also, the song is a clunker.

Alternately, I could listen to the line “…clouds in my coffee” from now till eternity.  It has that 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle vibe to it which is truly profound…the transcendental moment of spotting a microcosm in the mundane.

As The Mighty Favog said, “Talk to me…”

 

-PD

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 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 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