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