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 16 [1976)

I started writing about TV ostensibly as reportage on this medium relative to cinema.

With this particular episode of Saturday Night Live, the two converge in a unique way.

The host is Anthony Perkins.

Cinephiles will probably know him as Norman Bates from Hitchcock’s indispensable Psycho (1960).

Really, this is a remarkable installment of SNL.

Perkins actually delivers a sort of anti-monologue.

In another unnamed scene, he acts as a psychologist who relies on the power of show tunes (specifically “Hello, Dolly!”) to cure a hopeless case (Jane Curtin).

Perkins is magnificent throughout this odd marriage of the disposable and the timeless.

But we must also mention Chevy Chase.

By this time, Chase was becoming the star of the show.

I almost feel bad for John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd (not to mention all the other talented players), but Chase lived up to the opportunity.

What is apparent in this particular show is that Chevy Chase was/is as talented an actor as Anthony Perkins.

I know that statement reeks of provocateuring, but I believe it to be true in several ways.

Namely, Chase was able to keep a straight face during some hilarious bits.  Put another way, it’s hard to be serious while evoking laughter.

We see Perkins have more trouble with it.  It’s not easy.  And so Chevy Chase has probably been unjustly maligned as a mediocre actor when the opposite is true.

Witness, for instance, the opening sequence of this March 13th airing.  It is highly-intelligent humor.  I could see Samuel Beckett getting a kick out of it.

And so the writers would get credit.  Yes, it is a brilliant concept.  The show had been toying with more-and-more self-referential humor.  Not to give too much away, but the first skit is the equivalent of writing music ABOUT MUSIC!

I’ve done it.  Truly, it takes a damaged soul to end up at such a twisted place.

And so thank God for Saturday Night Live…these outcasts and miscreants who gave the world a laugh starting in 1975.

They were always surprising.  That’s the key.  Even with the trademark “fall” at the beginning of the show.  Something in each episode is astounding.  Cutting-edge.  Leading-edge.  Bleeding-edge.

This show is no different.  What a masterstroke to pair Anthony Perkins with Betty Carter.

At first, I was thinking Betty Davis.  I mean, come on:  this was 1976!

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Betty Carter is magical here (particularly on her first number).

I’ve never been into jazz vocalists.  I know the big names.  Ella Fitzgerald.  Sarah Vaughan.

They never did anything for me.

I hate to admit that.

I can listen to instrumental jazz all day.  It is divine!

Indeed, the only jazz vocalist who mattered to me was Billie Holiday.  Particularly her last album Lady in Satin.

But Betty Carter is something different.

It’s real.  Bebop VOCALS.  Not a bunch of showoff scat singing.

Betty Carter sang like a horn player.

Saxophone…Coltrane.

When she locked down on a note she held it…like it was keyed in her blood.

What breath control!

It’s real stuff.

If you want to hear a little bit of New York in the 70s, here’s a bit of jazz to do any place proud.

Carter was from Flint, Michigan, but she sounds right at home broadcasting from the biggest stage in the world.

There’s TV, and then there’s SNL.

 

-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 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