Monday, May 27, 2013

No Host/Thompson Twins (10.6.1984)

As I’m sure you all know by now, this was highly regarded as one of the better seasons of SNL and was often referred to as the “all-star” season. After Murphy and Piscopo left and Duke, Hall and Kazurinsky were let go Dick Ebersol went after people who were already established comedians to join the cast. Billy Crystal was a stand up and had been famous for playing TV’s first openly gay character on Soap. Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer had just starred in “This Is Spinal Tap” that summer and were old and dear friends of Crystal’s (he had went to college with Guest). Martin Short had already done SCTV the year before and Rich Hall had already been on “Fridays” and “Not Necessarily the News.” The Lovely New Zealand comic Pamela Stephenson had been in films like “Superman III” and “History of the World Pt. 1.” The “Lost and Found” 80s special touches on how this sort of created a separate camp between the veterans and the new kids (Dreyfus, Kroeger et al). The cast obviously gelled pretty well since they had all already known each other a while and they were all excited to be working together. The performances were still something of a mixed bag…some things worked and some didn’t…some things aged well and some didn’t…like pretty much every season, there were some great moments and some pretty bad ones and this season made that pretty obvious…still, this was pretty much the high point of Ebersol’s tenure as an executive producer and didn’t rely as heavily on tacky gimmicks as much as the previous two years. Some remember how heavily this season relied on short films and pre taped pieces. Now, a lot of those are still remembered as classics today, but it kind of took away from the “live” aspect of the show. If Ebersol had his way at the end of the season, the show would consist entirely of these and it wouldn’t be Saturday Night “Live” at all anymore. Anyway, we’ll get to that later. For now, let’s just look at how this season started.

Lifestyles of the Relatives of the Rich and Famous – This taped cold open is a parody of the show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”. Shearer plays Robin Leach narrating this episode which profiles Nelson Hepburn (Short), third cousin of famous actress Katherine Hepburn who sells hotdogs for a living. This was basically Short doing his Kate Hepburn imitation dressed as some spiky haired punk schlub in a half shirt (which looked odd)as Shearer just nodded and narrated from one location. He also mentions that he and Kate haven’t ever talked. Short’s bits were hit and miss with me. He had some funny lines about selling hot dogs to Dom Deluise and Cher, but it kind of dragged and it just seemed like a haphazardly thrown together showcase for impressions. I guess this parodied the show well by juxtaposing the extravagant life of a celebrity with that of your average Joe (like when Nelson’s car is shown as being $475 and hotdogs as $2 per wholesale)who happens to be related to someone famous (and the only way you can tell is by their voice). At the end, next week’s episode is previewed as a profile of Anthony Haden-Callas (Guest) who is the nephew of Charlie Callas. He is an English professor at Oxford. Guest apparently named this character after his real life half brother Anthony Haden-Guest. This bit was funny as Guest would sneak some Callas-esque sound effects into his interview and do a silly walk. Only Guest does a good enough deadpan to make this work. B-

Montage – Evidently, there was a massive radiation leak at Nine Mile Point Unit 1 in the weeks leading up to the show. Apparently, I had also forgot to mention that this cast was also famous for being the first and only cast of radioactive giant monster people in the history of the show…or so this bizarre new opening sequence would have us believe. Some have described this as the most bizarre opening credits sequence in the show’s history. Everyone is as tall as a skyscraper here. We open on a huge cricket watching giant flying hot dogs pass through the sky and pan down the Statue of Liberty’s head to see Jim Belushi is running the subway system like a toy train set. Billy Crystal is drinking a large beer and eating out of a giant bowl of chips while watching himself on a giant jumbotron in Times Square. He changes the channel with his giant remote causing his head to show up on screen and beg to be let out as the head on his body is replaced with static (wow, I already feel like I’m on peyote). Mary Gross is ironing a dress on a building as she sprays a helicopter with a huge can of Raid. Chris Guest is bathing himself in Yankee Stadium. Rich Hall lights his cigarette with the Empire State Building. Gary Kroeger is staring at a bunch of ladies through their windows with huge binoculars. Julia Louis-Dreyfus attempts a Marylin Monroe impersonation before being blown into the air by an inhumanly large gust of wind. Harry Shearer tags subway trains with a can of spray paint. Marty Short answers a giant phone attached to the side of a building and Pamela Stephenson tries to grab a hot dog out of the sky and ends up dropping it. To save face, she hits a giant picture jukebox like Fonzie to show a picture of that week’s musical guest. She never quite masters this technique however as sometimes the musical guest is shown an a billboard right next to it. I don’t know what compelled me to describe any of this in such great detail either.

Monologue – Since this episode has not official host, Billy Crystal is forced to come out (on a new set based on a subway station with a fake newsstand as the center piece)and fill time with some of his stand up. He briefly mentions that Raymond Donovan was originally scheduled to host this episode, but cancelled. He then reflects on the past ten years by doing a routine on moving to New York, Gerry Ferraro’s ex boyfriends, his daughter, birth and “getting old.” Most of this was just his middle of the road stand up act. He also did a bit about black people yelling at the screen in theaters that really made me cringe. The Ferraro bit was good even if it was a little dated and I liked him saying “when this show started, Gerald Ford was out stunt president.” My favorite part was when he was explained the Woodstock and the history of rock n’ roll to his then 12 year old daughter after she asks if Paul McCartney was in another group before Wings. B-

Wheel of Fortune interview – Short’s evergreen character Ed Grimley makes his SNL debut in this sketch where a suicidal Guest is interviewing him to be a “Wheel” contestant. Grimley states his obsessive devotion to the show and its host Pat Sajak and presents Guest with his personal scores. Guest leaves the room and Grimley prances around the office fantasizing about what it would be like to be a contestant and meet Sajak. Guest comes back with an application for Grimley to fill out. The ending to this sketch is pre-taped as we see Grimley exit the building. Guest really made this sketch for me. I especially liked his taping a note to his chest before attempting to jump out the window and then landing on Grimley at the end of the sketch, taking him out for coffee saying “let’s not talk for a while.” He can also be seen bumping his head on the boom mic at the beginning and he plays it off well. As for Short, I don’t quite know what to make of him or this character yet. Some have said he wrecked SCTV just by being broad and playing it too big sometimes. I can certainly see that, but I won’t deny that he can be a talented performer. He can pull off more subtle performances as well. He turned in his fair share of good and bad performances over the course of the season. As for Ed Grimley, I can see how those who hate over the top acting would hate this character. However, at least they put him in different situations each time even if he did sort of go through the motions. Besides, this character has a sort of endearing quality that makes you almost pity him on some level. B+

Synchronized Swimming – This is another all time classic and a staple of every “Sports Extra” or other type of compilation special SNL has ever put out. Without a doubt, it is definitely Shearer’s best remembered work from his short time on the show. I know I’ve seen this dozens of times and I didn’t quite get the dry humor in it when I was younger, but it has grown on me a bit. This satirical filmed piece points out the ridiculousness of including synchronized swimming as a sport in the ’84 Olympics. Shearer and Short as the only guys gleefully splashing around in the pool made this for me. This may even be the only time I’ve seen Shearer do physical comedy or even smiling for that matter. We also saw another example of Short turning in a great subtle performance. I liked his lines about not being a swimmer and choosing music that expresses “happy” and “underwater” as moods. His dancing on the deck while Shearer was still was also great. Guest as the gay choreographer was great and I liked his line about not wanting to direct theater ever again or he’ll kill himself with a vegematic. His interview is typically not seen in the compilation versions of this and neither is the bit with Stephenson as Shearer’s wife. I liked her going door to door and the home owner in the window clearly hiding from her. B-

The Bulge – Belushi is trying to pick up girls in a bar and getting turned down left and right. He walks into the bathroom and sees Kroeger stuffing his pants with paper towels. Belushi decides to try a similar approach, but he ends up using all the paper towels, a plunger and all the cleaning items in the bathroom supply closet. He walks back out with a gargantuan bulge caused by the absurd amount of items he stuffed into his pants which turns some female heads. This had its moments. It wasn’t as consistently funny as the previous segments and it kind of dragged a little, but it was good if you were willing to get on board with the sheer silliness of it. Otherwise, it would’ve benefitted from being a little shorter (even considering the fact that this is the third taped piece in a row on what is supposed to be a live comedy program). The funny bits were Belushi stuffing his crotch and him hailing a taxi at the end having to shove part of his bulge out of the window. He seems to remember this fondly in the “Lost and Found” special and talks about how Ebersol basically fought with the censors to get this on. C+

Mondale and Ferarro – Walter Mondale (Kroeger) starts to talk about his debate with Reagan tomorrow night before his running mate Geraldine Ferarro (Gross) says “Walter, shut up” and introduces the Thompson Twins. This wasn’t that bad. They both did decent impressions as far as I could tell. It’s obviously too short to really critique. C+

Saturday Night News w/Fernando – Starting this season, the opening sequence to SNN features a clip of a satellite orbiting earth and the theme music used is the faux Nightline from the “Who Shot Buckwheat” sketch. Also, this Update is done on an entirely new set but they would switch back to the old one the very next week. Crystal trots out his evergreen impersonation again to advise celebrities to make a visit to the Betty Ford center and plays it up as the new celebrity hot spot. He also implies that when they come out, it does wonders for their careers and they…well, I’m sure you can guess how they look. He also shows us a few pictures of celebrities he took coming out of there and named some washed up celebrities who should check in because their careers could certainly use a boost. This was obviously one of the weaker Fernando bits as he barely had any material to work with and I didn’t know who most of the celebrities were that he mentioned. Why did they waste money on a new set if they were only going to use it three times this whole season in this episode alone? It doesn’t even look like it was used in any previous sketches either. D+

Olympics Report – Shearer narrates this segment (the fourth taped piece of the night, ladies and gentleman) chronicling the journey of the Olympic torch as it makes its way back to Greece. Short runs across the street with it as a bum (Belushi) takes it from him and uses it to light a cigarette. Short lets him keep it, so he drops it in a mailbox where Gross eventually receives it. Then, it gets on a bus. Kroeger somehow gets a hold of it as he is hitchhiking to Greece. It then gets to Hall who tries to get it on a plane which later catches fire. He finally drops it off at the Olympic torch redemption center in Greece where the flame is finally blown out. This was pretty unmemorable, yet decent. My question is how did that torch stay lit all through filming? C-

Grandpa Howard – Famed ABC sportscaster Howard Cosell (Crystal) is called in to babysit his grandchildren while their parents (Kroeger and Dreyfus) go to an Italian restaurant. He mainly criticizes other sportscasters. Crystal certainly sounded like Cosell, but didn’t really look like him at all. This just seemed like another lame excuse for Crystal to bring out one of his impressions, but I did like when he told the kids about his feud with Mike Wallace and the boy ripping off Cosell’s toupee. I also liked the line “It’s Monday Night. Where the hell am I going?” B-

First Draft Theater – This is the first draft of Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep” and is presented in a clichéd film noir style. It’s pretty obvious that Shearer wrote this. It reeks of his dry style and he does narrate this. Stephenson is Claire Larue and Guest is Phillip Marlowe. They both turned in great performances. I particularly liked the lame attempts at similes throughout. I also liked the line “She had they type of figure that made you wanna have sex with her” and “You’ve two timed me the last two times.” I also liked the bit where Guest exclaimed “AIEEEE! He’s got a gun!” The ending was pretty funny as the author couldn’t quite work out an ending and instead wrote a letter to a relative about how poorly this novel was going which Guest ended up reading aloud. B+

Rich Hall’s Election Report – Hall goes chasing after Walter Mondale hopping from fundraising dinner to fundraising dinner. The bit with him sitting at the kids table and the real Mondale subtly giving him the finger were funny. I also liked Hall implying that Mondale was trying to eat away the national debt. Whoever said Hall had a voice like a real life Muppet was right. He also looked like one, too a bit. I think I hear somewhere that Moe the Bartender from the Simpsons was based loosely on him and I definitely see a physical and vocal resemblance. Also, did anyone else ever notice how his hands always seemed to be bigger than his head? That creeps me out a bit. C+

Saturday Night News II – This is a second standalone news segment where Julia Louis Dreyfus interviews Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione (Belushi) on his decision to publish nude photos of former Miss America Vanessa Williams that Playboy turned down. He also shows us some unearthed pornographic paintings by Norman Rockwell he plans to publish in the next issue (as to defile yet another American institution). Drefys closes the interview by stating her disgust for Guccione.This was just okay. It was pretty short and Belushi played the part of the sleaze well. I did like him saying he “smelled a fortune” seeing the Vanessa Williams photos and stating the Penthouse philosophy as “if it smells, it sells.” I’m not really sure why they didn’t just tack this on to the first News segment and just have Fernando interview him, but I guess it wouldn’t make sense as I can’t imagine Bob Guccione being told how “mahvelous” he is. C+

Book Beat – Guest continues with this talk show even though a cast iron pipe fell 40 stories from a building and had fallen through his head. We can all see this, as the doctors can’t remove it. His guest (Hall) has written a book on “risk free investments” and gets increasingly uncomfortable and walks out as Guest becomes more and more disoriented and gets further away from the interview. He even occasionally sings, hallucinates and has some mood swings. This was one of the better sketches of the night and Guest was really funny in it. I especially liked him telling Hall his book gave him a headache, answering an imaginary phone and singing Viva Las Vegas. A-

Running Late – Martin Short comes out on the home base set to tell the audience that the show is running late and they were a bit short on material. He then states that they are going to commercial and coming back with the Thompson Twins second song. He also says that “Regan is phoning” and starts to jokingly deliver a monologue after being asked to stall more that is cut off by applause. I can’t really rate or comment on this, but I thought it was worth mentioning since this and the Guccione sketch are not seen in the ioffer/myspleen versions, but are included in the Netflix edit of this episode which just consists of those plus the Fernando segment, Crystal’s monologue and the Ed Grimley sketch. Also, every sketch shown after the Olympic Report is taken from an NBC Classic SNL airing while the first half of the show seems to be taken from a one hour Comedy Central edit.

Even though this episode has some weak spots, it was a strong season premiere and a great debut for the new cast. I’m sure they all made a strong impression on loyal SNL viewers in 1984. The next episode is hosted by legendary baseball announcer Bob Uecker with musical guest Peter Wolf.

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