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 22 [1976)

Elliott Gould improved.

I dished it out pretty severely concerning his first go at hosting this show, but he was much better here.

I suppose part of the lesson was to stay out of the way of The Not Ready For Prime Time Players.

But also, there’s just something unique about the format of this show (especially when it is/was done live).

First things first, however.  I forgot to mention a very important part of the preceding episode.  Gilda Radner’s turn as Baba Wawa (Barbara Walters) in conversation with Lina Wertmüller was high humor indeed.  So, yes:  a reason to back up one to episode 21.

Pushing ahead…

The highlights here are mostly thanks to John Belushi.

His performance as William Shatner in a Star Trek parody is pretty remarkable (though Chevy Chase as Spock really cracks me up).

Second, the employment of The Bees (a long-running gag on SNL) to populate a parody of The Honeymooners television show is also rather stellar.  Belushi takes the part of Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason’s old role) and does quite well.

But the singular aspect of this episode is the skit involving U.S. diplomacy in Ghana.  In particular, it stars Laraine Newman as Shirley Temple (aka Shirley Temple Black [aka U.S. Ambassador {to Ghana} Black]).  She was ambassador from 1974-1976.  The skit pokes fun at the idea that a former child star (Temple) could make a substantive difference in such a conflicted country.

Shirley Temple Black would go on to be the U.S. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia from 1989-1992.

What is less-clear is the role which the supporting cast plays in the aforementioned skit.

Acheampong?  I don’t know.  My ears were not quick enough.

But I know one thing…

Like the Lina Wertmüller skit from the previous episode, this was an attempt at far-reaching humor.  In retrospect, it is very valuable indeed.  I wish I could give a more cogent breakdown on the Ghana feature.

But at least I can tell you that musical guest Leon Redbone (himself also returning to the show for a second time in this Season #1) is excellent as one might expect.  He is, incidentally, joined on the tuba (as he was the first appearance) by Jonathan Dorn.  The combination is quite nice…just a parlor guitar and that New Orleans low end.

Less convincing is the supplementary musical act (in addition to Redbone’s two songs) Harlan Collins and Joyce Everson.  To be fair, Mr. Collins gets off to a bit of a shaky start with some of his acrobatic falsetto jumps.  Ms. Everson, on the other hand, is both poised with pristine singing and exquisite beauty.  My main complaint is the song.  It’s just not very good.  It only exacerbates the situation when Howard Shore is wanking on soprano sax for a large chunk of the song (and he is).

On the other hand, the extra musical act means less of Elliott Gould.  That’s a good thing (even though he had tweaked his game since attempt #1 [Episode 9]).  All in all, not a bad showing.

 

-PD

 

SNL Season 1 Episode 15 [1976)

Starring Jill Clayburgh!!!  Who???

Yeah, kinda like the Jimmy Hoffa Memorial (?) High School.

This is one of those episodes which reminds me that I know a lot more about music than I do about anything else.

Leon Redbone I knew.  Had a record of his as a kid.  The one with “Sheik of Araby” on it.

But back to Jill Clayburgh.

Twice nominated for the Best Actress Oscar.  Ok, see…this brings up my claim to be a film critic.

It’s kinda, “Fake it till you make it.”  I know I’m not a realll film critic, but I take pride in what I do.  I’m an amateur.  It’s a passion.  I’m always seeking to learn.

Well, here’s a great opportunity.

The two films for which she got an Oscar nod?  An Unmarried Woman (this goes back to the play on words I was discussing in an earlier piece…the French word for woman [femme] being the same as the French word for wife [femme]…hence the wordplay of Godard’s Une Femme est une femme [not to mention Une Femme mariée]) and Starting Over.

Please excuse the momentous interpolation.

That is, An Unmarried Woman and Starting Over.  Those career highlights were ahead of Ms. Clayburgh when she hosted Saturday Night Live in 1976.

The auteurs in question were, respectively, Paul Mazursky and Alan J. Pakula (the latter having a surname which is, perhaps, the only conceivable rhyme with Dracula [not counting Blacula]).

Ok, so…apparently this is going to take a lot of parentheses and brackets.

For all of you conspiracy theorists (I usually fall into that category), Clayburgh starred in a 1970 Broadway musical about the Rothschilds (!) called, appropriately, The Rothschilds.  The libretto was by Sherman Yellen.  No easibly-identified relation to Janet.

The end of 1976 would see her in Silver Streak with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor.

One further C.V. note:  Clayburgh won (in a tie with Isabelle Huppert) Best Actress at Cannes for An Unmarried Woman.

Ok, so that’s who she is.  A charming lady.  I had no idea who she was.  I’m an idiot 🙂

Sadly, Ms. Clayburgh passed away in 2010 after a 20-year battle with leukemia.

Well, she was pretty great in this episode!  And I must say…SNL once again reached a new height in intelligent writing with this installment.

One really senses that the writers were toying with the censors.  It was dangerous.  It’s impressively counterculture.

One of the funniest skits is Clayburgh as guidance counselor Jill Carson (a fictional personage).  She is the overly-optimistic crusader for social justice.  It is quite a complex, multi-staged piece.  John Belushi plays a delinquent whom Carson (Clayburgh) is attempting to rescue from “squalor”.

The opening sequence of the show, however, really sets the tone for what’s to follow.  Chevy Chase shows up in Lorne Michaels’ office insistent that the pratfalls and “newsman” stuff should be retired.  Chase’s subsequent weave through the studio audience is really priceless.  The comedy is just so damned smart!

Speaking of which, we finally get my hero Andy Kaufman back.  [On the hero worship scale he’s nowhere approaching Jean-Luc Godard (for me), but he’s definitely the comedic actor who (along with Peter Sellers) most got into my head.]

Well, Kaufman here does another lip-sync piece with immaculately-memorized dialogue.  The song is “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” and the special part is Andy in a cowboy hat directing the traffic of four audience participants.  It is a sweet piece, and yet it still shows off Andy’s genius as resplendent and unique.

Leon Redbone is really fantastic in his two songs…particularly the first (“Ain’t Misbehavin'”) where he conjures the “me and the radio” loneliness at the heart of a usually-raucous song.

One of the weirdest sequences is a visit by The Idlers (a singing group of the United States Coast Guard Academy).  The show’s producer (Michaels) and writers take the opportunity to remind the viewing audience that dolphins are definitely smarter than The Warren Commission.  No doubt!

It’s a strange, bold sequence.  Chase’s Weekend Update is similarly racy (particularly the bit about the Mattel anatomically-correct male dolls…in white and black…the former $6 and the latter $26.95 or something).  Good god…

Most necessary was the political prodding.  Michaels begins the show with a photo of Nixon on his desk.  By Weekend Update, it is the People’s Republic of China which is pardoning Nixon for Watergate (and Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead, of course).

But I must admit my ignorance once again.  I had no idea Gary Weis’ (sp?) film featured William Wegman (!)…  The dog should have given it away.  Duh!

Well, anyway…thanks to Wikipedia for a generally informative blurb about this episode (though I have expanded upon that information quite a bit).

The running series Great Moments In Herstory punctuate this episode at various intervals.  Particularly risqué is the Sigmund Freud (Dan Aykroyd) and daughter Anna (Laraine Newman) dream interpretation featuring a titillating banana.  A later episode highlights Indira Gandhi and father Jawaharlal Nehru.  It is a bit of a clunker…

Walter Williams’ famous Mr. Bill debuted on this episode as part of the solicited home movies from viewers.  Williams and Mr. Bill would become a significant part of the show in the coming years.

Once again, this episode is not to be missed.  It was an essential step for a show on the rise.

 

-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

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