Jan 132011
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All the SNL reviews have been listed together in a burst of fine over-organization, which you can see here if that’s your thing.

Paul Simon :: 18 October 1975

Cold Open: Paul Simon sings “Still Crazy After All These Years”. After the song, Chevy walks on stage with an acoustic guitar, trips over some chairs, and says “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”

1x02: Paul Simon in the Cold Open

Paul Simon sings to open the show.

The Cold Open sets the tone for the show, not so much greeting the audience as coming out of nowhere and punching them in the face. So when your Cold Open consists of 3+ minutes of Paul Simon in a darkened studio, sitting casually on stool with his microphone and singing a slow ballad? Less a punch and more a baby fist passively swinging through the air several meters away. Chevy takes his first fall in what was clearly supposed to be a moment of zany madcap humour to undercut the seriousness that’s happened since the moment the show began, but it fails to do more than be awkward and sophomoric. Yes, the Cold Open undeniably sets the tone for the show.

Musical Performance: Paul Simon and the Jesse Dixon Singers perform “Loves Me Like a Rock”.

It’s an upbeat gospel number which is fine and all, but when we’re this far into the show and haven’t seen a single skit yet, you know it’s gonna be a long one.

Skit: Jerry Rubin pitches graffiti activism wallpaper.

1x02: Jerry Rubin pitching graffiti wallpaper.

Jerry Rubin: Activist. Pitchman.

Jerry Rubin was a big name in activism in the 60s and 70s, which you’d think would lend the sketch some extra zing. Instead, Rubin comes off flat and manages to be even less interesting than the wallpaper he’s pitching. What’s more, his constant use of slang comes across strange and stilted, making him look like a poseur. Rather than Rubin’s inclusion lending integrity to the sketch, it cheapens it, with Rubin sounding every bit like the establishment he battles. If that was supposed to be the joke it fails miserably; there is no trace of irony in the delivery. I believe Saturday Night was trying to enhance its underground credibility by including Rubin, but sacrificed comedy to do it.

Musical Performance: Paul Simon sings a bit of “Marie” before passing over to Randy Newman who performs “Sail Away”.

Here we are now, almost eleven minutes into the show, we’re on our third musical bit, and haven’t yet seen a single cast member besides Chevy for a few seconds at the open. Randy Newman does a decent job, although I can’t say that in the assorted performances I’ve seen from him I’ve ever noticed him do more than pretty much just sing the song the exact same way every time. There’s something to be said for consistency, sure, but there’s also a lot to be said for showmanship in a live performance, too.

Skit: Paul Simon gets ready to throw to commercial only to realize that he’s surrounded by the cast, all dressed in the same bee outfits from last week’s “Bee Hospital”. He sheepishly informs them that this skit has been cut, and they all slink offstage.

And this, dear readers, is the only time you will see the Not Ready For Prime Time Players at all this week. (Well, all those who aren’t Chevy Chase of course.) After the exhausting and hectic show the week before they packed this one light … a little too light. Humiliating for the repertory cast, to appear only for a few seconds in the entire show in a bit where they’re basically told to shove off so that Paul Simon could sing some more.

1x02: The Bees, moments before being sent offstage.

'Yeah. No. Bye.'

Weekend Update: Yet another string of pokes at President Ford’s clumsiness, including several of the always funny “secret service agents wrestled ____ to the ground” bits.

I mentioned in last week’s show that Chevy’s comfort with and command of the camera led to him being the first to stand out among the cast. That’s still very true, but then you also have instances such as this week. Chevy not only got to give the “Live from New York” bit at the beginning of the show, but with Update he’s literally the only member of the cast that gets to do anything this week. When everybody else is told there isn’t time for them but Chevy gets a couple of minutes all to himself, the audience is all but told outright that it is The Chevy Chase Show. I can’t help but wonder just how differently the history of the show would’ve been had Chevy not been so singled out in these first crucial episodes.

Film: Paul Simon vs. NBA pro-baller Connie Hawkins.

1x02: Connie Hawkins vs. Paul Simon

He's that close to the camera and still looks tiny in comparison.

Surprisingly, this is actually one of the funniest segments on the show this week, between the ludicrousness of tiny white folk singer Paul Simon taking on the gigantic Connie Hawkins and the utter seriousness of the pre-game interview segments. When discussing Paul Simon’s jersey number of “.02”, he says – completely deadpan – that as it’s different from Connie’s number, there shouldn’t be any confusion between the two of them. “I’m not gonna change anything,” Simon says, “I gotta stay with my strengths … Basically singing and songwriting.” Extra fun is when they get down to the game and you see that Paul Simon is actually pretty good! Although there can be no doubt that Hawkins is dialing it way the hell back, Simon still scores again and again (all filmed at long shot, so you can see the whole thing, no editing tricks). The audience gets pretty into it as well, cheering for Simon (particularly on his first goal .. hoop? I don’t know from basketball) and “aww”ing in sympathy when Hawkins misses. It’s easily the most engaging part of the show, and what’s even more interesting is that it’s engaging on its own merits, not simply by comparison to the rest of a slow week.

Musical Performance: Simon & Garfunkel reunite and perform “The Boxer”, “Scarborough Fair”, and “My Little Town”.

An extended montage of Simon & Garfunkel images set to “Mrs. Robinson” leads into this performance, the first time the two have played together live since 1972. It’s cool that the reunion is happening and they sound wonderful together, but it’s sadly overshadowed by a show stuffed too full of musical performances. This would’ve made a great centerpiece for the show, surrounded by skits or other entertainment, but by the time you get to the half-hour mark, it’s just another bit of flotsam in a crowded lake. Pity.

Musical Performance: Art Garfunkel performs “I Only Have Eyes For You”.

Paul Simon introduces this saying pretty much that Garfunkel demanded a solo performance. True? Probably. It’s okay, but I can’t help but think that for a show Lorne Michaels wanted to be the rock and roll of comedy, we’ve got a hell of a lot of sleepy adult contemporary going on here.

Muppets: With the bills mounting, Ploobis and Scred ask the Mighty Favog for advice.

More Muppets, and a sketch that’s even worse than last week’s (although does benefit from being shorter). The jokes are painfully predictable and not even remotely funny. Still, the stage is at least filled with colour for a while, rather than the dark-except-for-one-spotlight look we’ve been rocking for most of the show.

1x02: The Muppets

The Muppets, a welcome splash of colour this week.

Film: Albert Brooks introduces himself to the audience via home movies and failed candid camera segments.

Not too bad overall, with Brooks’ daughter bothering the hell out of him probably being my favourite part. It does its job well as an introduction to Albert Brooks and his style of humour, being a series of wryly amusing (often self-effacing) moments rather than anything raucously hilarious.

Musical Performance: Phoebe Snow performs “No Regrets”, followed by Snow, Simon and the Jesse Dixon Singers doing “Gone At Last”.

Phoebe Snow is a pretty awesome jazz vocalist, but neither of these songs were much my preferred style. Plus, you know, I’m really pretty bloody sick of All Music, All The Time at this point.

Fake Ad: The Pacemakers of five geriatrics has been left on all night to demonstrate the power of the Try-Hard 1-11 battery.

A weak ad, though it might’ve been funnier had the geriatrics actually keeled over rather than just looked sluggish on their feet. (And that’s a sentence you never expect to write out in your life: “Kill the old people, it’s funny!”) It’s like a bit of black humour that’s too scared to go all the way, coming out as just slightly gray instead. It’s a pity that in the few minutes of airtime the comedians on the show get this week, they run something so feeble.

Musical Performance: Paul Simon performs “American Tune”.

Another slow acoustic folk song by Paul Simon, performed well as he has for every number tonight. Not much more to say about it at this point.

Goodnight: Paul thanks his guests, when Bill Bradley of the New York Knicks arrives and gives Paul a trophy for his earlier one-on-one win.

1x02: Paul Simon accepts his one-on-one trophy.

Seriously, the thing is huge.

That trophy is literally only a few inches shorter than Paul Simon, nice. As with George Carlin before him, Paul stands alone at Home Base giving his thank-yous. Of note, he specifically singles out Chevy and thanks him by name – just another twist of the knife for the other Not Ready for Prime Time Players who collectively felt, and with good reason, bitter about and dissatisfied with the show this week.

Overall Thoughts: If it wasn’t obvious from my comments throughout, this is a painfully dull and utterly forgettable episode of Saturday Night – particularly in light of the tone it was trying to set and the statement it worked so hard to make in the premier. It’s a slump episode, and in today’s TV climate, to have such a slump so early would’ve meant the show’s death.

But this is 1975, and things are quite different. SNL survives such a dismal show so early in its life because nobody’s watching yet. It won’t actually be until the 4th show where Saturday Night will find its voice and things start to really click.

Stand-out performers? Your only real option is Chevy Chase. In the crowd of bees, Belushi probably stood out the most, but it’s like zeroing in on one cotton ball in a bag of cotton balls; maybe it caught your eye, but it’s still just a cotton ball. Chevy however, with the opening line and Update (probably the shortest update ever at maybe two minutes), shines through. However incorrect and unfair, the appearance out of the gate is as though the rest of the repertory cast are second to him. Chevy gets a huge headstart, and everybody else will spend the rest of the season playing catchup.

The best bit of the show I’d have to give to the Connie Hawkins vs. Paul Simon basketball short. Although it’ll never be remembered as a classic, it was genuinely funny in places and provided some of the painfully few laughs of the night.

I did also want to say that while I very much dislike this show and find it a chore to slog through, all of that wasn’t Paul Simon’s fault. He’s really quite charming and humble, and even shows a surprisingly comedic side when given the chance. In fact all of the performers in this episode do very well, they simply aren’t Saturday Night … at least not Saturday Night enough to carry the show on their own.

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