Jan 202011
 
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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.


1x06: Lily Tomlin, 22 November 1975

Lily Tomlin :: 22 November 1975

Cold Open: President Ford (Chevy Chase) speaks directly to the nation on a few important points. During his speech he never quite manages to get past point #1, sneezes into his tie, answers a glass of water, and falls over his desk. “Live from New York…”

1x06: Ford answering a glass of water.

'Nessen? Hello? Are you in the pool?'

Just a savage rip into President Ford, probably the most frontal attack on him yet. And hilarious. Saturday Night continues to undercut Ford at every single turn. It’s theorized that the show’s weekly portrayal of Ford played a not insignificant role in costing him a second term, and when you see skits like this, it’s easy to see why.

Monologue: Lily Tomlin talks about how happy she is to be back in New York, reading a list of several thoughts she’s had this week and concluding in a cheer for the city.

In form, Lily Tomlin’s monologue is more like the Carlin and Klein shows, best described as stand-up than skit (ala Bergen’s monologue). Unlike Carlin and Klein however, Tomlin’s routine has some rough edges. The impression is that unlike the other two, this is all fresh, never-before-performed material. That gives it a sense of intimacy, as though these are all thoughts she had just for us. And all the while Tomlin delivers her monologue with joy, genuinely happy to be sharing it and thoroughly enjoying the response. While at this point in the show there’s nothing to say how she will interact with the cast, there’s a definite change from the previous shows in how she relates to the crowd. Rather than seeming to perform at the audience, Tomlin is performing for them.

Skit: Beethoven (John Belushi) sits at his piano, intent on composing. His wife (Gilda Radner) and their house keeper (Laraine Newman) look on, concerned. When they leave, Beethoven begins his next masterpiece: “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree”. He looks dubious.

The first of three skits in this vein, each one better than the last. There’s no undercurrent or hidden intent here, it’s pure comedy, which I feel is where Belushi shines (he wasn’t the most subtle of human beings). His expressions as he plays “Yellow Ribbon” are priceless. These skits are just about perfect.

Musical Performance: Howard Shore and his All-Nurse Orchestra perform “St. James Infirmary” with Lily on vocals.

1x06: Lily and Howard Shore's All Nurse Band

Lily and the All Nurse Band. Note a very young and en-haired Paul Shaffer on piano.

Despite the intro making a big deal out of this being the “first time anywhere” that they appeared, in truth Howard Shore and the band have been on every episode of Saturday Night thus far. This was an attempt to more fully involve the house band in the show, hence the nurse shtick. In truth it adds very little. Still the band play this old jazz staple wonderfully, and Lily does just as well singing with them.

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

A familiar ad by now, making its third appearance (previous: George Carlin and Candice Bergen.)

Skit: “Jaws III”, return of the Land Shark.

1x06: Sheriff Brady and the Land Shark

'Maybe carry some harpoons...'

We’re really beginning to see the show capitalize on its bits that play well (versus, say, The Bees which were repeated by design rather than reception). I had thought at first that there was audience recognition too when I heard preemptive laughter, but I don’t think it was directed. That’ll change soon enough. This skit is just as funny as the previous, including the terminally stupid women (“Candygram? Oh boy!”). It expands a bit this time however, with the shark going after Sheriff Brady (Aykroyd) too; I love Chevy’s tiny little shark voice saying “Get a posse?” The ending is similarly brilliant, twisting the entire premise on its ear. The shark breaks the fourth wall and tells Tomlin and Belushi that the sketch has run long and needs to end now. Then when Lily walks out the door, he eats her. The sketches where Saturday Night plays fast and loose with the reality of their own show are always among my favourites.

Skit: An inter-racial couple (Garrett Morris and Jane Curtin) are making out on the couch in a room at the Atlanta House hotel. They’re interrupted by a bell boy (Chevy) bringing in a newspaper. He’s incredibly flustered and the newspaper goes flying everywhere. He spends the next several minutes trying to gather it all together and leave.

This is a funny enough sketch, partially due to the fact that it goes on a bit long. Chevy is as much a master of uncomfortable comedy as he is physical, and both are in play here. Oddly enough, the impression I get from this sketch is mostly to give Garrett and Jane something to do this week. But the sketch is totally not about them, it’s 100% Chevy. The result is a sense of unbalance; you spend it waiting for Garrett and Jane to do something, anything, yet they never do. For as well as Chevy does it, it just never feels quite right.

Film: A pre-recorded bit where Edith Ann (Lily Tomlin) goes ice skating with her dog Buster.

1x06: Edith Ann goes ice skating

Edith Ann goes ice skating.

Edith Ann is one of Lily Tomlin’s characters developed on Laugh-In. She’s a five-year old little girl who would talk about assorted things from the seat of an over-sized chair. I love this segment especially; in fact my mother and I will still sometimes randomly say “I pasted his paws to the floor”. Short and not especially relevant to Saturday Night, but funny all the same.

Skit: Beethoven continues to work and not eat while his wife and housekeeper fret. Beethoven’s latest masterpiece: “My Girl” (or, as he sings it, “Mein Frauelein”).

The same premise from earlier, still beautifully delivered. Particularly after last week’s show with Belushi knocking Gilda about, it’s nice to see her get a couple of smacks in herself. The heavy German accent Belushi uses when singing makes it all the more ridiculous, and helps set up the punchline for the next bit. I also just noticed the traditional bust Beethoven has on his piano which is, of course, of Beethoven. Nice one.

Next Week: Gilda tells the audience that the show will be on break for two weeks. It will return on 13 December with host Richard Pryor, and then on the 20th Candy Bergen will return for the Christmas show.

It’s more informative rather than funny so there’s not too much to discuss here. Gilda is, again, front and center, making a run at being as much the face of the show as Chevy. In that role, in fact, they’re a pretty stark and interesting contrast. With Chevy, he’s always “on”; it’s tough to feel you’re getting a sense of anything but Chevy The Comedian. With Gilda though, even when she’s joking and making you laugh, she feels genuine. Two very different qualities, but both integral to making the show – particularly this cast – endure. Saturday Night is as much as about what the repertory cast do as who the repertory cast are.

Weekend Update: Ford and his alert secret service men open the segment. Also included: Ronald Reagan running for the republican candidacy and a fake assassination attack on him with a toy gun, the announcement of the death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, and a new character coming to Peanuts: Altamont, who will replace Woodstock and beat the other birds to death with a pool cue.

1x06: Altamont, the new Peanuts character

Altamont, the new Peanuts character to replace Woodstock.

This is a fantastic Update segment, with nearly every joke being laugh-out-loud funny. In addition this is the birth of the ‘death of Franco’ recurring bit, as well as the first time Chevy will chant “toy boat, toy boat” when he flubs a line. The Altamont joke is particularly genius. But what I think I love best about this Update is how it becomes prescient. The joke is that after the fake assassination attempt, Reagan changes his position and becomes harsher on toy gun legislation. Six years later, John Hinckley Jr. will indeed attempt to assassinate Reagan, and this will ultimately lead to Reagan changing his stance on hand guns and speaking out in favour of the Brady Bill.

Fake Ad: Spud Beer, the beer brewed from potatoes, for people who can’t taste the difference.

I love this ad, one of my favourites. Alan Zweibel’s Cuckoo’s Nest patient looking on with the mildest of mild pleasure coupled with the upbeat ragtime piano is hilarious.

Skit: Susie (Lily Tomlin) writes a letter to her sorority sister Patty Hearst. After discussing it briefly with another of her sisters (Laraine Newman), Susie reads the letter in the style of a Carpenters song.

This sketch – functionally a Tomlin solo piece – further showcases Tomlin’s amazing breadth of talent. She has a phenomenal gift for characters, somehow making them three-dimensional within seconds. What’s more, a skit that might otherwise seem too long and drab in lesser hands becomes thoroughly charming and poignant.

Muppets: Scred goes missing from the Muppet set. He’s found with Lily Tomlin, and the two sing “I Got You Babe”.

1x06: Lily and Scred

Babe.

Of all the Muppet skits, this one is easily my favourite; perhaps it’s no surprise that it occurs almost entirely outside the realm of the Muppets. On first glance it seems nothing more than a silly duet, but there’s in fact quite a lot going on under the surface. I don’t think it’s exaggeration to say that what we have here is truly the first Muppet Show sketch. As Lily and Scred react to each other as equals, the line between reality and fiction becomes hazy and indistinct. It’s especially notable because the sketch itself so deliberately puts that line out there. The skit transitions from the self-contained world of the Muppets to the rest of Saturday Night. Then when we get there, Tomlin herself makes a point of saying that Scred is only a puppet – a point which Scred acknowledges. That established, once the song begins, the skill with which Jerry Nelson performs Scred makes all that stuff about puppets and felt slip into the background. Scred comes alive, and there’s genuine chemistry between he and Lily. Then the whole thing is blown again when, after the song, we go to a long shot where Nelson is clearly visible, kneeling on-stage next to Tomlin’s stool. It’s twist after twist which hints at the genius Henson will develop on his own once he and Saturday Night are free of each other.

Film: A replay of Albert Brooks’ “The Impossible Truth” from the first show.

The film itself is a repeat from George Carlin; it’s still probably the best of all the Brooks films. Much more interesting than that is Tomlin’s intro. She just talks to the audience for a bit, very loose and clearly speaking off the cuff. Personal favourite: as she talks about how “we’re going on hiatus for two weeks” she immediately says “I don’t know why I’ve suddenly become collective with the group.”

Skit: Beethoven still ignores all attempts to get him to eat. He slips on a pair of sunglasses and continues work on his latest hit: “What’d I Say”, where he’s quickly joined by his wife and housekeeper.

1x06: Beethoven as Ray Charles

'Hey now what'd I say?' 'What'd you say?'

The final of the Beethoven sketches brings it all together. By now we’re expecting the song to be something clearly not of Beethoven’s design, but when Belushi whips out a Ray Charles impression just as amazing as his previous Joe Cocker, what might otherwise be a predictable joke becomes thoroughly entertaining. Even better is when Gilda and Laraine come rushing back in for the call-and-response, up to and including a spontaneous bit of synchronized hand gestures. An instant classic.

Skit: A construction instructor (Lily Tomlin) teaches her all-female class (including Jane, Laraine and Gilda) the finer points of working in the field: harassment and cat-calls of passers-by. They practice on exchange student Dan Akyroyd, who becomes increasingly upset by their treatment.

1x06: Construction worker training

Gilda practices her trade on poor Danny.

This is just a brilliant sketch, and one of the few that the women writers were able to push through this week (getting a voice on the overwhelmingly male-dominated show was a constant battle). It’s a fantastic look at gender reversal, simultaneously piercing and hilarious. The fact that none of the men on the show wanted to be the student says it all, as does Danny’s clear distress and discomfort in the piece. For as progressive as Saturday Night liked to believe it was, in some areas it was just as discriminatory as the “outside” world, which makes moments such as these all the more delicious. Thank you Anne Beatts and Rosie Shuster.

Fake Ad: A ridiculously busy woman (Anne Beatts) talks about everything she does in a day. How does she do it? She takes Speed: the tiny blue diet pill you don’t have to be overweight to need.

Another amusing ad, and evidence of Saturday Night‘s drug humour becoming more and more blatant.

Skit: Lily does a one-woman monologue as a 50s-era teenage girl at a dance with her best friend Margo. She talks shit about other girls and moons over her crush Frankie.

Not really a skit, but it’s the best classification I can think for it. This routine is pretty lengthy at about 5 minutes, but it’s always been fascinating to me. Again Saturday Night is probably not quite the place for it, but Tomlin does such an amazing job. I’ve already talked up her skill at characters, but it’s even more in evidence with this monologue. It’s amazing how she’s able to make not just the character alive, but the entire scene. She stands on stage alone, but manages to somehow convey an entire gym packed with teenagers, who themselves have their own personalities. Pure genius on display here.

Goodnight: Lily and Bees Laraine, Garrett, Gilda and Chevy do a “Bee Scat” to close the show.

1x06: The Bee Scat

Bee Scat (in b-minor)

This is a different sort of goodnight than we usually get, but it’s a really cute and loose way to close the show. Everyone’s so wrapped up in what’s going on that Gilda totally misses her cue to start the sketch, and Tomlin nearly misses hers to say goodnight. The scat itself also plays quite well; this is probably the most relaxed and fluid we’ve seen Garrett yet. I think my favourite bit though has to be when Chevy is pretending to play Gilda like an upright bass and he keeps tickling her under the arm, causing her to laugh and squirm. A snapshot of fun and joy at just being entertainers, which probably sums up Lily’s show best.

Overall Thoughts: In terms of balance, we’re still not quite there yet. This week leans a bit heavily on the side of the host. Lily essentially uses the show at times for her own comedy routines that had nothing at all to do with the rest of Saturday Night, and would’ve been equally at home on her own specials. Still Lily Tomlin is an absolutely amazing and groundbreaking comedienne, and while she may have had pieces that existed on their own, they were never boring or felt out of place. What’s more, she was able to blend those moments perfectly with her other “hostly duties”, appearing often in sketches and playing very well with the cast. Her appearance lacks the spark of Candice Bergen, but doesn’t especially suffer for that; it’s different, but still good.

For stand-out sketch I think I’ll have to tie the Beethoven trilogy with the Construction Workers. Beethoven culminates in a classic image, but the Construction Workers bring huge laughs and make a statement.

Performance-wise, since I can’t chose Lily Tomlin, I’ll go with Chevy Chase. With Ford, the Land Shark, the newspaper bell-hop, a truly killer Update, and the Bee scat at the end, he’s in the show a hell of a lot and shines bright every time. But a very close second is John Belushi who, for appearing only a fraction of Chevy this week, still lodges firmly in the brain. Belushi won’t really get a chance to shine until Chevy leaves but it’s apparent to see, even this early on, that his moment is rapidly approaching.

  • Nova

    Lily Tomlin’s girl in the gym skit, is that where she keeps saying, “That’s my name…don’t wear it out.” I still use that on occasion when someone is calling for me.

    • Jet Wolf

      She only says it once, but yeah, she does indeed say it. It was a pretty standard 50s-era retort though I think.

      • Jbstorch

        She said both “that’s my name, don’t wear it out” and “why don’t you take a picture? It’ll last longer.”. Both were key lines in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure a decade later.

  • Nova

    Only once, huh? Funny how something so seemingly insignificant can stick in your mind. You could be right about it being the standard retort in the 50s but I imagine that only applied in America. I don’t remember ever saying it myself during my formative pre-teenage years.