Feb 262011
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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.

1x08: Candice Bergen, 20 December 1975

Candice Bergen :: 20 December 1975

Cold Open: Christmas Eve at the White House. President Ford (Chevy Chase) plays music from a wrong season, doesn’t remember his personal staff, tries to trim the tree with a comb and scissors, starts his address to the nation too early, hangs stockings upside down, and rides the Christmas tree to the ground as he fails to put the star on top. Live from New York …

1x08: Ford decorates the Christmas tree.

'No problem.'

It’s a classic cold open that once again is unflinchingly brutal to Ford. Chevy’s bumbling is an art form; him attempting to put the candy back in the upside-down stocking then just kind of wandering away from the failed task gets me every time. It’s nothing new by this point, but it’s brutality is honed to a fine edge.

Monologue: None to speak of. Candice says that she doesn’t have anything snappy or witty to say. Her doing the show again is her Christmas gift to herself. She simply thanks Lorne Michaels for creating such a wonderful show in the first place, then throws it to Howard Shore and musical guest Martha Reeves.

With this appearance, Candice Bergen becomes the first repeat host. As expected, there’s nothing especially remarkable about this monologue … save perhaps for the fact that it’s not actually a monologue at all. Instead Candice’s sincerity comes through, and it’s part of what makes the show so charming. She’s so genuinely thrilled to be there and clearly loves Saturday Night. Her lack of monologue is as much a testament to her comfort in the role of guest host. She’s not a comedienne, she’s an actress, and she doesn’t need to have the show be All About Her. Compare her monologue to that of Rob Reiner just five shows ago, and the difference is amazing.

Musical Performance: Martha Reeves performs “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher”, backed by Howard Shore and his Band of Angels.

This is a pretty good disco/gospel rendition of the Jackie Wilson staple. Very upbeat and full of energy, a great way to kick off the show.

Skit: Mel’s Char Palace, where you stun it, you cut it, you charbroil it, from over 200 head of cattle, as big and thick as you like it.

1x08: Mel's Char Palace

I want to go to there. (wait no I don't)

I. Love. This. Bit. It clocks it at just under 40 seconds, but they are glorious, glorious seconds. One of Dan Akyroyd’s greatest strengths is the manic energy he can unleash at any moment, and Mel is nothing but manic energy from moment one. Once you add in the absurdity of the idea, along with Gilda’s gum-smacking chainsaw-wielding Mrs. Mel, and you’ve got a concentrated spoonful of hilarity. This is one of those moments that Mike and I will just randomly quote to each other (particularly when there is meat involved). Just a perfect skit.

Skit: A very southern mother and father (Jane Curtin and Dan Akyroyd) worry about their son (Chevy Chase) being out so late. They finally get a phone call from him at the police station, where he’s being held for 26 admitted accounts of murder. But at least it’s not marijuana.

The performances are mostly what make this skit, particularly Chevy’s very matter-of-fact admission to these horrible crimes (while still somehow remaining fresh-faced and innocent) and Jane’s nagging housewife. The show’s creators were, of course, very heavily into drugs and drug culture, although at this time in the show’s relative obscurity mostly just pot (they couldn’t yet afford anything harder). That’s at the root of the punchline: there can be no worse or more troubling “crime” than marijuana, not even the murder of 26 boys. A great bit of counter-culture satire.

Home Movie: Candice, with the help of Don Pardo, tells the audience about Saturday Night wanting to see their home movies. They receive no compensation, have no guarantees, and no rights. What a great deal! Chevy comes out and introduces an example: “Beecapades”, where the cast as Bees skate around 30 Rock’s skating rink with Candice. Candice helpfully points out to us every time she appears.

1x08: Christmas ice skating with the Bees

What the hell is Belushi looking at?

The home movies will be an upcoming recurring feature on the show, which I personally love, even when they’re not that great. Wonderful little time capsules, and a perfect way that Saturday Night is reaching out and forging a connection with its audience. Again remember that at this time, Saturday Night is the only show out there even attempting to be a voice for this new generation. The Home Movies are, I feel, the show saying, “Hey, are you out there? Join us.” It’s a gesture (and response) wholly unique to this time and place. In today’s plugged-in world of Twitter and YouTube, it’s impossible to have anything like this anymore.
Also cute and worth a mention is Chevy’s ad-libbing cracking Candice up. Additionally, this is the beginning of the Christmas tradition where during the holiday season the host will go ice skating with the cast.

Skit: Santa and Reindeer (Belushi and Bergen) for Polaroid’s SX-70 camera.

As mentioned on Candice’s last show, she was a spokesperson for Polaroid at the time, and this is them grabbing some cheap advertising. It’s also a great opportunity for the cast to pick up some extra (and quite lucrative) advertising money. As with the previous, this doesn’t feel great. Candice is smooth (she is their spokesperson after all), but watching Belushi do this feels particularly uncomfortable. Probably for him too, as he’s unable (or probably unwilling) to roll with it quite as well as Chevy did last time.

Musical Performance: The Stylistics perform “You Make Me Feel Brand New”.

1x08: The Stylistics

The Stylistics, coordinated hand gestures and all.

The Stylistics were a doo-wop group, of the type you would typically think of. They do a good enough job, though I think they would’ve done better with an upbeat song rather than this slow, tender ballad, which drags down a show that’s been moving along at a brisk clip up to this point.

Fake Ad: [Repeat] The K-Put Price Gun.

Repeat from 1×05: Robert Klein.

Skit: A woman (Bergen) walks in to discover that her brother (Chevy) is a latent elf. When their parents (Akyroyd and Curtin) come over, it’s revealed that Dad is also secretly an elf.

1x08: Latent Elf

Chevy likes going to leafy glades to make merry.

The real subject matter isn’t exactly subtle by any stretch, but it does its job well enough. Given that homosexuality was just as much a hot-button issue then as now, only with less acceptance, perhaps a bit of blatant metaphor can be allowed. Still it comes across as a little backward watching it thirty-something years later, which maybe speaks better of today’s society. Or maybe it’s just Chevy cavorting about, which is certainly something. It’s worth the whole to watch him make Candice break, as it is to watch Akyroyd later on doing what is surely the precursor to Ed Grimley’s dance.

Weekend Update: Hubert Humphrey is ahead in the polls, Franco is still dead, the trial of Squeaky Fromme comes to an end, Laraine Newman’s New Year’s Eve report at ten past midnight on 20 December, Cher’s new child to be named “Publicity”, the situation in Angola, Emily Litella’s editorial reply on firing the handicapped at Christmas, and the top news story repeated for the hard of hearing.

As far as Chevy-helmed Updates go, this one is pretty mediocre overall. The rest of the show has so much energy that perhaps for the first time Update feels quite rote by comparison. Even the Emily Litella segment is below average, since the humour derives from the ridiculous things she thinks she hears that make zero sense in context; “firing” instead of “hiring” is too much an honest mistake to really be funny. For the first time Update slips behind the rest of the show, and for a segment that’s typically a highlight, it’s noticeable.

Skit: Princess Grace (Bergen) speaks for Tarn-Off, the product she uses to shine her many many jewels.

A quick but amusing skit. There’s something innately satisfying about beautiful Candice Bergen dunking her forehead in water and then continuing to pitch as it drips all down her face.

Skit: A silent sketch, in which a man and a woman (Blushi and Radner) share the last washer at a laundrette. They put in their clothing piece by piece, each addition becoming more and more suggestive.

1x08: The Laundrette

Because who doesn't carry a rose with them to do laundry?

I don’t know who wrote this sketch, but I’m going to go with Marilyn Miller. Whoever it was, it’s a good skit, but the performances are what make it great. John and Gilda have wonderful chemistry together. Even though ostensibly about a one-night stand, there’s a sweet charm about this skit.

Skit: Pong. Tom Davis isn’t reacting to the game at all, leading to a familiar guitar chord and “Tommy can you see me?” Al asks. Tom may be a Pinball Wizard but his Pong stinks.

Fun for the Tommy reference, but very little there otherwise. Blink and you’ll miss it.

Muppets: Ploobis throws a Christmas dinner for the entire cast, but everyone’s over at the Bees’ party. Then Candice Bergen shows up and sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”.

Well, it’s the Muppets. They’re trying to integrate them more fully into the show, sending a gigantic wrecking ball through the thin wall that surrounds the Muppets. The attempt to stir up some rivalry between them and the Bees feels like it’s trying too hard though. Again Scred has some great chemistry with the host, demonstrating once more that The Muppet Show will work out well when it arrives.

Skit: Mel’s Char Palace II: Fun for the whole family!

More of the same pretty much, and love Mel’s Char Palace though I do, it doesn’t work as well the second time. The first spot said all it needed to say, and Danny’s not working it as hard nearly an hour later.

Musical Performance” Candice and the Not Ready for Prime Time Players perform “Winter Wonderland” with Howard Shore and his Band of Angels.

1x08: Winter Wonderland

Winter Wonderland

This is wonderful, for the little window into the cast’s personalities. I’ve often mentioned that some of my favourite skits are where they’re just being themselves, and we see that on display here, however unintentionally. Garrett Morris takes lead, and as with the Bee Scat, he’s at his most relaxed and personable when singing. Then the girls come out. Candice looks like she’s just having the time of her life. Gilda is beaming and lighting up the room. Poor Laraine looks like she’s not entirely comfortable with anything she’s doing. And when Howard Shore comes forward for his sax solo and the girls fall into step with him, Jane’s face becomes that impenetrable Ice Queen deadpan that is utterly hilarious given all the gaiety exploding around her. Then we have the boys, and the first thing Chevy does is mess up, but he rolls with it and turns it into a joke. Danny is intensity personified, devoted 100% percent to his backing vocals. Meanwhile Belushi has this “what the fuck am I doing?” look on his face, sandwiched between his bright green elf hat and Christmas scarf. And the best part is that I don’t believe a single solitary thing I picked out there happened intentionally. You know the direction was little more than “just go sing”, and all this emerged on its own.

Skit: Another episode of Minute Mystery. Mike Mendoza (Akyroyd) and Office Lopez (Belushi) try to solve the murder of a professor (Michael O’Donoghue). Seductress Winona (Bergen) stands over the body with a smoking gun, but she’s turned on by men who can’t solve mysteries, so nobody has any idea who did it.

I’m not a fan of the Minute Mysteries, and this one similarly doesn’t work too well for me. But it’s worth it all for Bergen to purr to greasy-haired Mendoza, “You look like you combed your hair with buttered toast.”

Skit: Don Pardo’s Digital Gift Catalogue, featuring digital ashtray, digital mood ring and digital vest.

1x08: Don Pardo's Digital Gift Catalogue

A digital vest! Oh 1975.

Each of these actually appeared in separate segments throughout the show, but were too minor to bear individual comment. They’re amusing enough, with each item simply being branded with a digital clock, but most of their entertainment value now comes from looking back at 1975’s incredulity at digital.

Musical Performance: Martha Reeves performs “Silver Bells”.

Decent rendition of the song. I mean, it’s a Christmas carol, there’s only so far you can stretch your enjoyment unless you seriously love Christmas carols.

Skit: Gilda tells us what she ate last Christmas in an effort to help everyone not overeat.

Gilda sitting and talking to us is never anything but a joy, and this bit follows on from the previous “What Gilda Ate”. Just as charming, even as you know what the joke is this time. My personal favourite? When she talks about the pecan she ate making her mouth dry so she has to wash it down with a piece of pumpkin pie.

Skit: Swedish chef Fritzie Kringle (Laraine Newman) shows us how to make Christmas cookies. But she eats most of the ingredients, so the end result is little more than a couple of sad little cookie smears.

1x08: Fritzie Kringle

Mm, don't those look divine.

I’d actually forgotten about this bit. There was some potential there for a recurring character for Laraine I think, if she’d tried. She does a wonderfully over the top Swedish accent.

Skit: Mel’s Char Palace III: The best steak you’ll ever eat!

The premise now firmly established, you know what’s happening here. Nowhere near as good as the first as a result, but better than the second run, largely thanks to Gilda’s eye-twitching enthusiasm for gunning the chainsaw.

Skit: Not a skit at all, more like a social commentary moment. Candice talks about how the elderly are the fastest growing minority and introduces Maggie Kuhn, the founder of the Grey Panthers. She encourages everyone to not be afraid of getting old, to never stop growing and learning, and for young and old alike to come together.

1x08: Maggie Kuhn and Candice Bergen

'Off your asses!'

Maggie Kuhn was a great human rights activist, championing ageism and civil rights for the elderly, as well as urging the understanding of mental illnesses. It was great to see her here on Saturday Night, reaching out across generations to directly appeal for understanding and acceptance.

Film: “Homeward Bound” by Gary Weis (song of the same name by Simon & Garfunkel), showing families reunited at the airport.

Gary Weis will go on to take over the short film spot previously filled by Albert Brooks. I dramatically prefer Weis’s films, feeling their focus is on the world around us and the people in it, rather than each one being basically about Albert Brooks. Weis will go on to contribute dozens of films to the show, and his first is a great introduction that blends perfectly with the spirit of both the season and the show this week.

Goodnight: The cast and all performers gather at Home Base with Candice, everyone yelling out Merry Christmas.

A wonderful sense of camaraderie at the end, but what I think I love best is how John Belushi and Maggie Kuhn seem to be deeply involved in some conversation or another. Especially considering her message plus Belushi’s bad boy reputation, I find something poignant and uplifting about seeing that.

Overall Thoughts: We’re still not quite there yet; as guest host, Candice really did quite little this week. Still the Players were able to use this opportunity to grab at some more spotlight for themselves, further leveling the playing field between themselves and future hosts.

This is a good show, mostly fast-paced, with little to no moments that are overlong or just straight don’t work. Always a plus. It’s entirely competent, if not particularly stand-out, and carries a few memorable moments along with it.

Stand-out skit: Hands down, the first Mel’s Char Palace. Saturday Night at its insane, random best. Second, the “Winter Wonderland” sing-along, for pretty much every reason I already discussed.

Performance-wise I’m going to give it to Gilda. With Mrs. Mel, What Gilda Ate, and the Laundrette skit, all these years later she still shines brightest.

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