Jan 142011
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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.

Rob Reiner :: 25 October 1975

Cold Open: Nurse Jane Curtin brings wheelchair-bound Chevy Chase into a room and departs. He drops his lighter and walks across the room to pick it up then returns to the chair. A few moments later he realizes what he did and blinks in surprise. He intentionally tosses the lighter away and stands up to get it, only to discover that his legs don’t work at all and he plunges face first into the floor. “Live from New York…”

With this sketch, The Fall is in full-swing and will open most shows from here on out in the first season.

Monologue: Rob Reiner delivers his entire monologue in the style of a Las Vegas lounge singer. This goes on for a five minute “set” before he removes his wig to greet the audience.

Just a painfully unfunny routine that Reiner insisted that he do, despite every plea and protestation from the creative team. Needless to say, it’s wholly egocentric. Reiner states it best himself: “I’ve always wanted to be one of those guys.” It’s not about working with the show. Hell, it’s not even about appealing to the audience. It’s all about Rob Reiner getting to play out his adolescent fantasies while we watch. (I find it not so coincidental that this is a similar theme revisited to equally unfunny heights with the film later in the show by Reiner’s best friend, Albert Brooks.) This monologue is so bad that although we’re only a few minutes into the show, there’s a lady in the front row whose boredom you can feel as she sits there, absently picking her fingers while Reiner oozes about the stage in a cheap suit. Beautiful.
1x03: Bored lady during Rob Reiner's monologue

Poor bored lady. At least we can fast forward.

Fake Ad: The National Pancreas Association urges you to take care of your pancreas.

This is pretty funny spoof of ridiculous doctors notices, but as decent as Danny is as the doctor, for me he’s totally overshadowed by Chevy’s rendition as the uvula specialist (same basic joke) in the second Elliot Gould show this season. Danny plays it pretty seriously, which has its own merits, but Chevy’s take is so over the top that it just can’t be beat.

Skit: Rob Reiner and Penny Marshall emcee a fashion show, explaining the fashion faux pas each cast member is making (such as, “don’t wear your underwear outside your clothes” and “don’t wear a hamster head”).

1x03: Fashion Faux Pas

'Don't wear hamster heads. You have a face, let's see it.'

At first it seems like the skit is going to bomb hard. It opens with Reiner telling the audience “No I’m not really married to Sally Struthers, my wife is Penny Marshall”, and then announcer Don Pardo says they’ve flown Penny out from California as a surprise. She does come out, he really lamely acts like he had no idea, and she blatantly says “Yeah you did. Fashion show.” and then the skit proceeds as though none of the preceding ever happened. Totally pointless in every possible way.
But once it gets going, it’s actually funny. One by one the Not Ready for Prime Time Players (sans Chevy, plus Michael O’Donoghue) come out in varying levels of dress with patently ridiculous problems. This is probably the funniest Reiner is all evening, with such lines as (to the fact that Garrett Morris’s suit has a chair duct taped to it): “Don’t wear furniture. Have faith that a chair will be provided should you be required to sit.” Also worth noting is that this is the first time the non-Chevy cast have been visually and individually identified to the audience.

Fake Ad: Golden Needle Voodoo Acupuncture, combining the ancient art of Chinese acupuncture with the modern convenience of Haitian voodoo: for busy people who don’t have time to visit the doctor.

Mildly amusing but forgettable ad, which doesn’t attack alternative medicine with quite the gusto that was probably intended. I have to chuckle at the show for poking at both traditional and new age medicine in the same show though. Certainly can’t say Saturday Night isn’t an equal opportunity cynic.

Stand-Up: Andy Kaufman does another record routine, this time lip syncing as the father in an extended version of “Pop Goes the Weasel”.

1x03: Andy Kaufman's 'Pop Goes the Weasel' routine

T'was all in fun.

While not as immediately hilarious as the Mighty Mouse routine, “Pop Goes the Weasel” is perhaps all the more genius for being that much more subtle. A lot of Andy Kaufman’s humour is so left of field that it’s difficult to pin down exactly why it’s funny. Part is, I think, in the devotion Andy has to his routines. Whatever he’s doing, he’s committed to it with every fiber of his being. Watching him here, he’s pitch perfect, hitting every moment with a precision usually reserved for fighter jets. However seemingly stupid or ridiculous or unfunny something probably should be, Andy’s dedication is absolute, and contagious.

Skit: Jane Curtin interviews Squeaky Fromme (Laraine Newman) on the talk show “Dangerous But Inept”. Squeaky tries repeatedly throughout the interview to shoot Jane point blank but constantly fails.

1x03: Dangerous But Inept

'Meet your maker.' *click* :(

As the name has long faded from the public eye, a touch of history: Squeaky Fromme, a disciple of Charles Manson, had attempted to assassinate then-President Ford about six weeks previous. The gun failed to go off, which was really the only reason the assassination was thwarted. As for the skit, it’s funny stuff. Laraine plays the quietly crazed type quite well, and Jane is of course the queen of unflappable. Laraine’s repeated hate-filled rhetoric coupled with her utter uselessness is great. And of course, the sketch itself does a wonderful job in turning something frightening – a fanatically devoted murderous cult led by a man who still wields absolute power over his army from the depths of prison – and makes it the incompetent object of ridicule. This is comedy’s greatest weapon at work.

Fake Ad: Felina Kitchens, the cat food so good you won’t know it’s cat food, proves just that by doing a taste test between a tuna casserole and a cat food casserole.

“Meh” pretty much sums this one up. I was thinking how it would’ve been much funnier with some overt reaction from the housewife duped into eating the cat food, but then maybe it being toned down was the point. I know that Lorne was aiming to have these commercials mistaken for the real things, so that was probably driving it. Either way, this is one of the weaker commercial efforts.

Musical Performance: The Lockers dance all around studio 8H.

1x03: The Lockers

I hurt just watching him do that.

The Lockers were a unique sort of group to have on the show, as there was no singing, no instruments, just dancing. It’s a fantastic thing to see though. The Lockers would go on to be extremely important in the history of modern dance, and it’s awesome to see them here in the first few years of starting out. They’re the progenitors of street dance, and one of their founders the creator of “locking” – a dance move and style at the heart of today’s modern hip-hop. Added bonus: the group we see here includes Fred Berry, who would go on to fame as Rerun in What’s Happening!, and Toni Basil who would later release the seminal 80s pop song “Mickey”.

Weekend Update: Chevy opens Update talking sexy to his girlfriend on the phone – another bit that will make its way into most every Update going forward. Included this week are more relentless jabs at President Ford’s unerring grace, Governor Ronald Regan’s speaking tour and a return to the beleaguered Blaine Hotel.

Another solid entry into the Update pantheon. Chevy talking dirty on the phone is a bit that never really got old (or had the chance to, I suppose). The Blaine Hotel bit also hasn’t worn out its welcome yet, and this one makes great use of Don Pardo by having him read the list of kidnapper demands in the grand game show prize tradition. Finally, this is the appearance of the top story being repeated for the hard of hearing (if you don’t know the joke, this is done by simply having Garrett Morris yell the headline), which is one of those bits that never fails to make me laugh. Chevy and the other writers have already struck gold with Update, now it’s just refining.

Fake Ad: Middle American Van Lines will move your family across country. Not your furniture, just the people.

A silly ad, but one that is amusing anyway. Something about the movers tossing furniture blankets over people and the old man leaned carefully against the side of the van manage to hit a funny for no particularly good reason.

Musical Performance: Joe Cocker (John Belushi) performs “With A Little Help From My Friends”.

1x03: John Belushi debuts his killer Joe Cocker impression.

Belushi kills it as Joe Cocker.

In lieu of an actual musical act this week, we’re instead treated to Belushi’s Joe Cocker impression. I don’t think I’m speaking in hyperbole when I say it’s brilliant. Belushi is Cocker in this moment, albeit one exaggerated to ridiculous proportions. Watching this, you can’t help but be taken in by how spot-on Belushi sounds, all the while laughing at his spastic twitches and jerks. (It’s great to listen to the audience reaction in this episode too, as they clearly don’t yet know what Belushi is capable of; the chuckles and twitters as he shambles to the mic, then explosion of cheers and applause as he sings the first line with uncanny accuracy.) The number ends with Belushi writhing about on the floor and pouring beer in his mouth. If ever there was a way to truly introduce John Belushi to the world, this was it.

Muppets: King Ploobis discovers that his son Wisss is smoking craters and turns – as ever – to the Mighty Favog for help.

The Muppets in Saturday Night are already running thin. The premise is unerringly boilerplate (Ploobis has problem > Scred suggests Favog > Favog doesn’t actually help) and although this may be the show’s first brazenly open example of drug humour, disguising it in thin felt-wrapped metaphors doesn’t seem as daring as they might’ve hoped. That said, Scred tripping out and struck with the munchies was at least faintly amusing, which puts it ahead of the other Muppet sketches we’ve seen thus far.

Skit: Chevy Chase speaks out in defense of the oppressed minority with Saliva Dispersment Difficulties – also known as “droolers”.

I have a thing about saliva, so I actually can’t watch this sketch once Chevy gets going. Actors breaking is always funny though, so even in the depths of my disgust I have to laugh when Chevy does. Still, even if this grosses me out, the bad taste how-can-they-be-doing-this shock humour is a vital element to the show.

Skit: A hoe-down caller (Dan Aykroyd) presides over his dancers with not a small amount of sadistic pleasure.

1x03: Sadistic Hoe-Down

Most sadistic hoe-down ever.

It’s a clever skit overall, aided not in small part by Danny’s cackle every time he issues a command that’s blindly followed. Even better, I love the helpless, apologetic shrugs whenever someone’s punched or kicked, because clearly there is no option but to do what the caller says. Also a highlight for me: O’Donoghue in a bright blue shirt with white frills.

Stand-Up: Comedy team Mark Hampton and Denny Dillon do a routine as nuns presiding over their parish’s talent show.

Despite the name, Denny Dillon is in fact a woman, and one who would return to Saturday Night Live as a cast member in the embarrassingly terrible 1980-81 season. As for this skit, while not being the funniest thing ever, it is amusing enough to hold interest. Denny Dillon is very relaxed and charismatic, which is just as well as she carries the entire routine; I can only assume Mark Hampton wrote it with her, since he did nothing but wear a habit and play an organ for four minutes.

Skit: Saturday Night introduces a new segment: “What Gilda Ate”. In it, Gilda tells us what she ate today.

1x03: What Gilda Ate

Yeah, she did eat that Milk Dud.

Honestly, I think I probably enjoy this skit more than I technically should – but it’s worth saying now, so early into these reviews, that I adore Gilda Radner, so there’s very little she can do that I don’t think is awesome. Anyway, Gilda rattles off a list of food she ate today, starting overly concerned with calories (“one breaded sweet and sour shrimp but I picked all the breading off”). As her day progresses, her food consumption becomes increasingly manic (“when I got back to the office I told everyone I was going to the bathroom but I really went to a coffee shop and had apple pie a la mode and I ate the whole thing”) until her seemingly endless list is interrupted by Rob Reiner and she says she’s going to go get a snack. Her bright expression turning to one of growing concern and disappointment just makes the skit. In light of Gilda’s problem with bulimia (a fact that won’t emerge for years yet), this sketch probably has not a few roots in truth.

Film: Albert Brooks takes out an ad in the paper and gets someone to let Brooks perform heart surgery on him.

And here’s where we hit the point where I lose all kind of connection with Albert Brooks’ films on the show. This thing is unabashedly self-indulgent from the second Brooks opens his mouth, telling us that while he’s a successful actor/comedian/film maker, what he really wants is to be a surgeon. From that moment on it meanders for an excruciating thirteen minutes; this thing is so long they have to put a commercial break in the middle of it. It’s the worst kind of comedy: the kind that’s overlong and underfunny. So why was this in the show if it’s that bad? Two words for you: Rob Reiner. He demanded it go on unedited, and the creative team allowed themselves to be bullied. Downside, we had to sit through this drek. But the upside is that the disgust with this film and Rob Reiner’s attitude would lead to a watershed moment for the show.

Skit: A couple in a restaurant (Rob Reiner and Penny Marshall) discuss their affair. The Bees slowly intrude on the skit, causing Reiner to break character and have a meltdown.

Some of SNL‘s best bits are when they throw open the doors wide, to let you see some of the dark, nasty stuff going on behind the scenes. This skit is the first to do that, and not surprisingly, it is fantastic for it. It starts out with Reiner, in his first and only real role of the night, coming across as a selfish, whiny and thoroughly unlikeable man trying to convince his lover to leave her family for him. “What about my feelings??” he keeps demanding. When Reiner finally notices the repertory cast in Bee outfits, he starts screaming that he was promised he wouldn’t have to work with the Bees. Here’s where it gets brilliant. Belushi also breaks character, and in increasingly passionate speech lays into “Mr. California number-one-show Big Shot” that they’re just actors trying to get their start, like he once was. Belushi’s diatribe comes across so angry and venomous because that was how he felt, how they all felt. In giving voice to their genuine emotions, be they good or bad, Saturday Night as a show was able to develop its own sense of self perhaps faster and better than any number of prat falls and Coneheads and Nixon jokes ever could. However unintentionally, when Belushi put Rob Reiner in his place, he declared independence for Saturday Night Live.
1x03: The Bees vs. Rob Reiner

'Mister ROB REINER! Mister STAR!'

Goodnight: No goodnights, just credits over the title card.

The show ran long, so Reiner didn’t get to give goodnights. Which feels about right, given the show in question.

Overall Thougthts: I have to admit, I wasn’t so much looking forward to reviewing this episode. My memory had turned it into a dismal, dour affair. I was pleasantly surprised then to realize during my rewatch that, a few bumps aside, this is actually a really strong episode. It’s easily the most consistently funny to-date as well as looking most like what the show would become. While Rob Reiner and Albert Brooks are undoubtedly the episode’s low points (and nearly – but not quite – low points of the entire season), their intrusion on the episode is nowhere near what I remembered it to be. There’s a lot here that’s genuinely funny, some bits appearing that would become show staples, and it all culminates in Saturday Night beginning to assert itself as an equal to its guest hosts.

For cast stand-outs, it’s easily John Belushi. Between his incredible turn as Joe Cocker and his rant at Rob Reiner at the end, he quickly begins carving a niche out for himself on the show. Runner-up I’d say is Gilda Radner, also putting herself out in full-charm during her solo segment. But really this week everyone managed to shine to some degree or another, except sadly Garrett Morris whose laughs were really more around him than for him. (This is unfortunately a trend that is never, ever going to get better for poor Garrett.)

Best bit of the night is a tough one. I really enjoyed “Fashion Faux Pas”, “Dangerous But Inept”, and “What Gilda Ate”, along with of course Joe Cocker. But for depth, funny, outright balls and overall importance, I think I’ve got to give it to The Bees.

  • Stephanie Jane

    Love The Bees!

    • Jet Wolf

      They were never a huge favourite of mine, but it does prove early on that there’s an added layer of enjoyment from the familiar. I think my favourite Bees bit though is some time later when Eric Idle hosts. Looking forward to getting to those.