Jan 182011
 
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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.


Candice Bergen, 8 November 1975

Candice Bergen :: 8 November 1975

Cold Open: President Ford (Chevy Chase) gives a series of rambling and highly confused announcements before tripping over some chairs. “Live from New York…”

This is Chevy’s first Ford impression, and would also go on to become a staple of the show. Chevy’s Ford is pure kick-to-the-balls mockery; in the absence of any attempt at mimicking appearance, speech or mannerisms, Chevy focuses our attention wholly on Ford’s clumsiness and presentation as an addle-brained doddering old fool. Of all the impressions ever on the show, it’s probably the most brutal, even beating out Aykroyd’s Nixon. What’s more, it’s funny as hell, and all on the strength of Chevy’s delivery.

Monologue: Candice Bergen says how happy she is to be hosting the show, unaware that Bee John Belushi is steadily approaching. Chevy steps onstage to warn Candice that there’s a bee next to her, and Candice freaks a little, saying she’s allergic. Chevy tells her to go on with her monologue and he’ll take care of it. She does, nervously, while Chevy swats Belushi with a rolled-up script, much to Candice’s protestations.

1x04: Bergen and the Bee

This show is immediately different from all preceding weeks.

Candice Bergen is Saturday Night‘s first female host and handily proves that the show need be no less forceful for having a woman at its center. Candice’s monologue is an interesting thing, one that tells us immediately that this is going to be a show unlike any we’ve seen them do so far. There’s none of the isolation of George Carlin, the single-focus of Paul Simon, or the narcissism of Rob Reiner. Once the applause stops, Candice isn’t on stage more than 20 seconds before Belushi starts creeping in, and from that moment on she’s rarely on-screen without at least one of the other Players up there with her. She’s totally secure with herself, and more than willing to let the show sweep her up into its chaos.
 
I also find it very interesting that a Bee was Candice’s first on-screen interaction with the cast. I don’t know if this was by deliberate design (though it would not surprise me) that the Belushi Bee – who at the close of last week’s show dressed down Rob Reiner – is this week is sitting contentedly next to Candice Bergen. Candice Bergen who, despite her fear, wants nothing but the best for him and even goes so far as to defend him. Whereas Belushi Bee could only scream in Reiner’s face with disgust, with Candice he’s positively snuggly, and Candice in return is full of smiles.

Fake Ad: The Ambassador Training Institute will teach you how to embark on an exciting new career of doing nothing but attending dinner parties in palaces and getting paid a lot.

Not a great commercial; it goes on way beyond the point and never quite delivers on the laughs. It would be totally forgettable, were it not for the fact that a local New York affiliate mistook it for the real thing and overwrote it with their own spot. It was a breaking point for Lorne Michaels, and would further speed he and Dick Ebersol toward their dramatic split which would have repercussions echoing throughout Saturday Night‘s history for the next ten years.

Skit: A desk clerk at the CIA’s Department of Records (Dan Akroyd) is unable to locate Garrett Morris’s file, no matter how much bad stuff Garrett confesses to.

This skit is one that’s easily forgotten just within the depths of this show, let alone in the history of Saturday Night. But it’s extremely sly, and I always appreciate it when I see it. It starts out with a direct hit as Danny answers the phone and learns that there’s a new CIA director. “Why are we always the last to know?” he exclaims with frustration. From there on, the skit relentlessly tears apart the Central Intelligence Agency, from its duplicitous nature (“having the right to see [the file we have on you] and seeing it are two different things”) to its rampant and incessant need to spy bringing about mass inefficiency (“down the hall in a dimly lit vault I have six pounds of material on radical organizations”). Then at the end the whole thing does a 180 as Danny goes from overwhelmed desk jockey to crack agent, proving that the mere desire to know what the CIA knows about you flags you as someone the CIA should know more about. Not outrageously funny, but a great example of the kind of cuthroat satire I love best about Saturday Night.

Skit: The police try desperately to get to the bottom of a string of brutal killings caused by the cleverest species of them all: the land shark.

1x04: The Land Shark

'Caaaandygram.'

This is the first appearance of the land shark, a skit and concept that I’ve heard people quote who have no idea what it is or where it comes from – it’s just that funny. This is the flipside of the show, the direct opposite from the preceding sketch. There’s no deeper meaning to this skit, no agenda, no message. It’s just meant to be straight funny, no more and no less. And funny it is. Chevy’s mumbled attempts to get his victims to open the door are fantastic, from his random string of syllables in hopes of it somewhat sounding like the victim’s last name (“Mrs. Ahrlsbergehr?” “Who?” “Mrs. Fahrlllfevh?”) all the way up to his insistence that he’s just a dolphin. The best part though is that they always work. Although the shark and the ladies take the focus of this sketch, a shout-out to Belushi’s dramatically overwrought Matt Hooper.

Musical Performance: Esther Phillips performs “What a Difference a Day Makes”.

The song’s alright, but I just can’t get over how Phillips sings this; every line sounds like I’m under attack from a WWI biplane.

Skit: Chevy does Hamlet’s “Alas poor Yorick” bit, reading it from the patently obvious crib notes written all over the skull he’s holding. It works out well until he drops the skull and it breaks into several pieces, then it becomes refrigerator magnet Shakespeare. All this leads into a real commercial (not fake!) between Chevy and Candice (as a bee) for the Polaroid SX-70 instant camera.

1x04: The first Polaroid plug

Wow, technology!

This is the first of the Polaroid live commercials, but won’t be the last; over the next few weeks, all of the cast members will get their chance to shill for Polaroid. During this time, Saturday Night was far from the advertising powerhouse it would become, and NBC was struggling to fill the spots. Candice was a spokesperson for Polaroid though, and they liked Chevy Chase, so they agreed to do a series of spots. It didn’t go over that well – as evidenced here, it’s all pretty stiff and artificial. Also despite being an “instant” camera, the pictures couldn’t develop in enough time. Then of course there’s the whole part where the audience was confused enough with the show and its fake ads that they weren’t sure when they were seeing the real thing. For historical purposes however it’s great that they’re still part of the show, and proof that it’s difficult to shoehorn in any extended, focused, obvious bit of product placement … as today’s shows continue to learn.

Fake Ad: A boy is seen wearing a dress as his mother hems it. The narrator speaks of this time with great nostalgia. Years later, the boy has become a gay man and calls his mother. “The next best thing to being her,” the narrator says.

I’m not sure if this fake ad for long distance service was ever considered all that funny, but it splatastically falls on its face now. Pure homophobia, nothing else to see here, move along.

Weekend Update: “I’m Chevy Chase and you’re not,” Chevy tells us. From there we have the omnipresent pokes at Ford, art vandals reattaching arms to the Venus de Milo, an editorial reply by Jane Curtin, and the top story repeated for the hard of hearing.

1x04: Jane Curtin's editorial reply

Weekend Update, as ever, treats opposing viewpoints with the utmost respect.

There’s a lot of famous firsts going on in this episode, but “I’m Chevy Chase and you’re not” was possibly the biggest. Chevy continues to nail every single moment of Update. This is particularly hitting home with me as Mike and I are watching in the third season right now and as I go back to these in the first it punctuates how wholly and effortlessly Chevy owned Update while everyone after him seems to be struggling to one degree or another. I don’t know that anybody is able to make Update really, truly, consistently work again until Dennis Miller.

Fake Ad: [Repeat] Triopenin, the arthritis medicine.

Originally aired in the first episode. It’s actually kind of odd that this appears in the DVD set, as it was only (relatively) recently edited into this episode to replace the “Long Distance” ad above. As unfunny as that ad is, I’m glad the original ad was put back into the episode, but wonder why it wasn’t put into its original place and why the Triopenin edit was left in.

Skit: Catherine Deneuve (Candice Bergen) talks about how hard it is to be Catherine Deneuve, but Chanel No. 5 helps.

An average sketch, but interesting to note that this is the first time a host has done an impression, effectively opening the door to celebrities poking fun at “their own kind”. Also this is the first time a host has demonstratively identified as and played somebody besides just appearing as themselves.

Stand-Up: Andy Kaufman performs his routine as The Foreign Man (a character that would later be the basis for Latka on Taxi), telling unfunny jokes and doing the single worst impressions known to man, until he forgets the rest of his routine, starts to cry and plays the bongo drum.

Again it’s incredibly difficult to know where to start when talking about Andy Kaufman. Being a relative unknown at the time, with this being the only exposure most of the audience has had to Kaufman, this is the first time they’ve actually heard him speak. (His previous two appearances being lip sync routines.) Finally he gets around to saying something … and this is the voice that greets them. A lot of what’s funny with this routine stems, I think, from nervous energy. His impression of Archie Bunker is terrible … but is it supposed to be terrible? We don’t know. So we laugh. Then he forgets what he’s supposed to do. Is that real? As he gets increasingly upset, even questioning through tears why we’re laughing at him, the laughter just mounts. It shouldn’t be funny. He appears to be in real distress. But we can’t help ourselves. Then the whole thing turns into a short but intense tribal-style song, and the laughter becomes that of relief because we weren’t laughing at a poor immigrant man’s pain and embarrassment. Fucking with our mind is what Andy Kaufman did always and did best.

Skit: Gilda sits on stage with Candice, trying to find something wrong with her. The chat turns instead to their (and general female) insecurities, as well as the recent failing of the ERA vote.

1x04: Candice & Gilda

'Part of me just wants to look at your face and find something wrong with it.'

I hesitate to call this a skit, but it doesn’t really fit any other classification. By its naure this is extremely low-key, but is perhaps the most genuine bit on the show. There are some true laughs here, and the chemistry between Gilda and Candice is tangible. It occurs to me that, much as Chevy did from the outset, Gilda is rapidly standing out from the cast as an individual. Between this week’s one-on-one with Candice and last week’s “What Gilda Ate”, she’s cultivating a personality that makes her identifiable and relatable outside of whatever parts she plays. Despite names being used with some frequency by this point and despite Belushi becoming the face of The Bees (themselves a symbol of the entire repertory cast), Gilda is currently the only non-Chevy Player harnessing the power of direct connection with the audience.

Film: Albert Brooks’ film looks at three mid-season replacement series for NBC: Medical Season, The Three of Us and Black Vet.

I just don’t find Albert Brooks funny I guess. I get why these are supposed to be amusing: every cliche of every medial drama; what probably should be going on with Three’s Company; and a ridiculous blaxploitation bit. But apart from Black Vet there’s really nothing here of actual amusement for me, and far too much a feeling of being so pleased with its own cleverness. But I think maybe I just really don’t like Albert Brooks’ films. I had a lot of trouble with Broadcast News too.

Skit: The host of talk show “Midnight Probe” (Candice Bergen) speaks with two American ex-pats (Belushi and Akroyd) about their work in New Zealand as kiwi trappers. They give a demonstration of their technique by cornering and capturing Candice.

This is a weird sketch, pretty long for what it is and not one that I’m able to get that into. Perhaps it reminds me a bit too much of the mosquito hunters sketch from Monty Python, I don’t know exactly. Danny and Belushi do well enough with it and both seem to be enjoying it; their comfort with each other as partners is pretty clear even this early on. The end is easily the most bizarre part of the whole thing, with Candice stuffed in a large sack and hoisted over John and Danny’s heads as they run around the set whooping and hollering. Again, a stark difference of interaction with this host versus those previous.

Skit: A man (Michael O’Donoghue) calls Trans America Airlines and tells their agent (Laraine Newman) what he’d like to do to her. It isn’t pleasant.

1x04: Trans America Airlines

'I'd like to hit you in the lungs with a shovel.'

This right here is a pitch-black burst of forever-unexplained violence. At 60-seconds long, 32 of those seconds are a stream of uninterrupted grave bodily harm that this otherwise polite man wishes upon the nice lady at the other end of the phone line. We don’t know why. Is it her specifically? Did she cheat on him, take his parking space, kill his dog? Or is it the the Airline, and the “you” that the man wants to park a truck of scrap metal on really Trans America Airlines? Or maybe this is all incidental. Maybe he just picked the number at random out of the phone book. The fact that we don’t know and that the woman never asks is perhaps the point. The root of this much anger and hatred is unknowable to the average person. Or maybe we should all be justifiably this angry at the airlines. Perhaps all of this, perhaps none of it. Such are the depths of the frightful and indecipherable brain of the Evil Mr. Mike.

Muppets: As Ploobis and his people have killed, skinned and eaten all but two of the Gligs, he and Scred visit the Mighty Favog for help.

It’s just not funny. A thick silence of not-funny hangs over its every word.

Skit: Candice Bergen interviews the ruler of an unidentified third world country (Belushi) with an ever-escalating series of insulting and physically painful jokes.

This skit – in which Candice Bergen does a pretty impressive job of being a right bitch – serves well as a different kind of mouthpiece of the show’s blatant mistrust of television and the media: nothing is as important as the all-mighty rating. Belushi’s king is a sweet guy, very accommodating and eager to show his country to the world. But unfortunately sweet guys and peaceful countries make for bad television, and Bergen incites violence from him to increase her viewership. I think it says as much about the state of today as it does about the quality of the show’s writing that some sketches could easily slip into the show next Saturday and be just as relevant.

Skit: Garrett Morris hosts “Black Perspective”, interviewing “soul sister” black novelist Jane Curtin.

1x04: Black Perspective

Jane prefers 'jungle bunny'.

This is the first “Black Perspective”, one of Garrett’s only recurring roles. Personally I’m always amused by these, as much for the brazenness of the racism as the sketches themselves. I’ve brought this up before, but I continue to feel a pang of regret and sympathy for Garrett Morris – this is a piece that he might’ve been able to make work for him, but instead more often than not he himself becomes the butt or the punchline.

Skit: Franken and Davis play Pong while Al talks about bringing his girlfriend home for Thanksgiving.

I quite like Al Franken and Tom Davis bits, including their Pong segments. The entire scene is just the Pong screen, so we never actually see Franken or Davis; I don’t know if they’re actually playing as they perform, but they deliver their lines with just the right amount of distraction. These pieces are a great snapshot of that time, managing to tap into the college spirit that leaves the piece with – much like Gilda’s bit earlier – real sincerity. And the punchline to the whole thing is pretty awesome too.

Musical Performance: Esther Phillips performs “I Can Stand a Little Rain”.

I have the same problem with the vocals on this song as the previous, although I did like the instrumentation quite a bit more due in no small part to the very Floydian guitar.

Goodnight: Candice stands at Home Base surrounded by the Not Ready for Prime Time Players, each of whom present her with a rose.

1x04: Candice and her roses

Everybody Loves Candice

This is the first time we’ve seen the cast stand with the host at the end, and this is a trend we’ll see every show from here on out. The roses they give to Candice are an obvious surprise, as is her delight with them. A sweet way to end the best show we’ve had thus far.

Overall Thoughts: When Lorne was pitching the show to NBC, he told them that it would have to find itself on the air. The right blend of skits and music and host segments – the whole show was an evolving work in progress. This week Saturday Night got it a little bit more right, with the host working right alongside the cast, appearing in sketches and interacting with them directly. The next few weeks are going to shift it up again, but this is where we’ll return.

This is a very strong show with most sketches being well written and performed. Despite this, the best sketch is easy to pick: “The Land Shark” (or “Jaws II” as it bills itself). It’s random, hilarious, and the first to integrate every cast member as well as the host. All that and a great punchline too; it’s very near a perfect skit.

The stand-out performer would again have to go to Chevy Chase. His first Ford, the Land Shark, Weekend Update, his “Yorick” monologue – Chevy had a lot to do this week and he did it all well. Next would have to be Gilda, whos appearances may have been relatively minimal but were all memorable.

  • Stephanie Jane

    I think Candace’s success at the SNL formula is partly related to her celebrity child upbringing, her naturalness in front of a live audience doing sketches is believable, compared to the stand-up comedians (like Carlin/Reiner) or musicians (Simon) who try and be interactive with the players with less success.

    • Jet Wolf

      I can’t disagree with that. I think too it’s a lot going on behind the scenes. Bergen is the first performer we’ve seen so far who is open and willingly to let Saturday Night do whatever it wants with her. She let them try stuff that nobody else had up to that point, which served to not only help the show find out what works but also to break through the idea that they have to keep their guests at arm’s length. I think having Candice as the host so early has a lot to do with the show getting its footing as quickly and relatively effortlessly as it did.