Classic SNL Review: December 4, 1982: The Smothers Brothers / Laura Branigan (S08E08)

RATINGS SYSTEM:
***** - Classic
****  - Great
***   - Good / Average
**    - Meh
*     - Terrible

OPENING: THE TONIGHT SHOW

  • Johnny Carson (Tom Smothers) is joined by Ed McMahon (Joe Piscopo) and Bill Cosby (Eddie Murphy); when Johnny asks Dick Smothers about his "famous brother Tom", Dick starts to criticize Tom's Carson impression.
  • Written by Paul Barrosse
  • Tom Smothers gets a good response on his initial reveal, and the crowd really reacts to Piscopo in heavy prosthetics as McMahon; he nails the laugh, which is 90% of a decent Ed McMahon impression.  The Cosby segment is alright  but felt like charted waters; I've said before that Eddie Murphy 's Cosby isn't his best impression.  I did like the part where he ended his story with "...because children...have ankles!"  The sketch gets going when Dick gets Tom to break character, and the scene turns into more of a Smothers Brothers scene, even though the segue into LFNY ("How live is it?") is a little awkward.
  • Addendum [08/23/14]: Paul Barrosse calls this sketch a highlight of his SNL experience; Murphy and Piscopo were also not in the original version of the sketch.

***

MONOLOGUE

  • Accompanied by the (off-camera) SNL Band, The Smothers Brothers sing "The Impossible Dream" and give examples of courage in the face of adversity; Tom misunderstands the story of Joan Of Arc.


  • A little longer than usual for a monologue, with the joke not revealing itself until a few minutes in, but entertaining throughout: it builds nicely (largely due to the back-and-forth between Tom and Dick, especially some of Tom's non-verbal responses) and has a great payoff.

****

COMMERCIAL: THANK YOU, RON REAGAN (repeat from 10/30/82)

  • This airing has different background music than the original; there's also an extra scene of a man carrying a lot of store boxes for a wealthy woman.

SKETCH: LEDGE

  • Trying to dissuade a jumper (Eddie Murphy) from committing suicide, his wife (Mary Gross), boss Mr. Blunt (Joe Piscopo) and minister (Tim Kazurinsky) end up realizing they have less to live for than he does.
  • Eddie Murphy carries this underwritten sketch and brings life to it; aside from his performance (his reactions to the others' jumps are great) and a few lines related to the wife's racism, the boss' "unnatural act with a pair of bunny slippers", and the minister's despair at having to get a "real job", the whole thing is a little too predicatable and flat.
  • Tom Smothers' segment as another jumper asking if the ledge was taken before sidling away was the funniest part of the sketch.
  • Joe Piscopo brings back Mr. Blunt from last show's Oklahoma sketch; at least one audience member seems to recognize the character.

**1/2

COMMERCIAL: RUBBERS

  • Tom Smothers demonstrates his inability to use a children's toy, which is Dick's example of the importance of proper contraceptive use.
  • This was well done, with special praise reserved for Gary Kroeger, whose electronically-altered voice is used as the Color Quiz toy reacting to Tom's wrong answers and abuse ("Not the SCREDRIVER!").

****

MISCELLANEOUS: WHO DO YOU PREFER

  • New Yorkers are asked "If you were a homosexual, who would you find attractive?"
  • Again, I don't rate "man on the street" segments, but a lot of responses are for Rock Hudson and Tom Selleck; there are a few funny responses, such as a woman's incredulous "...Why?!" to her friend who mentioned Sally Field, and the guy who chose Elvis "...because he's dead".
  • This appears to have been taped at the same time as the responses "What's The Worst Thing You've Ever Done", because a number of the same participants appear in both, most notably the balding, bespectacled Englishman. 

COMMERCIAL: TRUCKSTOP TEASES

  • A trio of Truck Driving Women (Robin Duke, Mary Gross, Julia Louis-Dreyfus) find romance in the Tony Award-winning musical.
  • Written by Margaret Oberman, Robin Duke, Brad Hall and Mary Gross.
  • This one's a bit of a guilty pleasure; while it doesn't look like much on the page, the performances make the sketch and the songs are catchy.  
  • Tim Kazurinsky's rigid movements (especially while snapping during Eddie Murphy's James Brown pastiche number) make me laugh every time.  I'm not sure if the young bearded extra at the counter in the back behind Gary Kroeger is Andrew Kurtzman, but he really seems to be enjoying Murphy's performance. 

***

SKETCH: TV

  • When TV reception goes down, a family struggles to come to terms with the real world.
  • This is a little slow-moving, and it doesn't really land: the references to events in their life and being tied into TV terms (grandma's death/Barney Miller ending, references to reruns the 1980 actors' strike as the impetus for the father's affair) seem stretched a little too thin.  The ending, with the feuding family lulled back into peace by the theme from Happy Days, worked well, though.
  • Mary Gross flubs a line about Julia Louis-Dreyfus' "tight swards...sweaters"; Julia gets a good ad-lib in character ("Shut up! You can't even talk!:")

**

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWS

  • Best jokes: Reagan shopping for countries, Artificial Head
  • The repeat version has a few jokes edited out, specifically the first few jokes related to the Jarvik 7 artificial heart and Reagan's South American tour; another joke related to the tour before Lawrence Grossman's commentary is also cut.  This may be because Barney Clark, the first patient to receive the Jarvik heart, died the same week the show was first repeated.  Most of what remains are the typical photo-based jokes.
  • Gary Kroeger does an understated Ted Kennedy in an interview to explain why he will not be seeking the Presidency in 1984.  The best line is a a Chappaquiddick reference ("water under the bridge"); the joke about Reagan's age and Rose Kennedy was made a little too obvious by the set-up.  Addendum [08/23/14]: Gary Kroeger recalls this piece: "I was particularly pleased with my Ted Kennedy, but at the last moment someone decided I needed a prosthetic in my mouth to be more “Kennedy” and for some reason it raised the pitch of my voice."
  • Lawrence K. Grossman, president and CEO of PBS, rebuts the commercial parody that aired a few weeks ago by declaring the public television network is as stuffy as it has ever been, and demands an apology and retraction (and money) from NBC, where programming is a "big joke".  It's a little repetitive and one-note, and Grossman is a little stiff at first, but he seems to enjoy playing along.  Ironically, Grossman left PBS two years later to head NBC's news division.
  • Robin Duke debuts a new one-time character, Officer Merman, who warns the public of common holiday scams.  This was nothing special, as much as the "there is no Santa Claus" ending tried to end it on a wham line.
  • Tim Kazurinsky fares better with the debut of Havnagootiim Vishnuerheer, a "close, personal friend of Gandhi" who ponders the unanswered questions of the universe; the audience is clearly into it, and ends the segment on a stronger note.

** 1/2

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "GLORIA"

  • Branigan and her band do her big hit from the Branigan album, a re-working of an Italo-disco hit by Umberto Tozzi.  The band is energetic, starting to play even before the Smothers finish their introduction, but Branigan's voice is in rough shape: she tries to compensate by speak-singing instead of tackling the chorus' escalating vocal line, but at one point her voice squeaks.
  • Tim Fleming, bass player in Branigan's band, posted a comment on one of my previous posts: he explains she began to get laryngitis from a combination of travelling between extreme climate variations and overexertion; apparently, dress rehearsal went better.

SKETCH: PUDGE & SOLOMON

  • Solomon (Eddie Murphy) just got laid off from the plant, but is too proud to accept charity from Pudge (Joe Piscopo).
  • Probably the best Pudge & Solomon sketch: fairly quick-moving but still loose and not rushed, and the blend of comedy and pathos is a little more seamless this time than it was in the first sketch.  

****

MISCELLANEOUS: RULES & NOODLES

  • Dick Smothers does a few magic tricks with a handkerchief; Tom scoffs before they both sing "It Just Doesn't Matter To Me"
  • There's a nice callback to the cold opening with this one, which is more of a light-hearted interlude than a full segment.
  • The song Dick hums during his magic act, "Fine and Dandy", is the same one Art Metrano hummed during his routines (which were parodied on Family Guy with Jesus doing a Metrano bit). 

***

SHOW: THE INSIDE STORY

  • Gail Kisley (Robin Duke) may have turned a handsome profit from selling the rights to her killer boyfriend's life story, but that doesn't mean she likes the TV movie or believes he did it.
  • I see what this is going for, with Duke playing the character as heartbroken and kind of white trash-y, yet fully aware of the entertainment industry's world of points and paperback rights.  Unfortunately, the whole thing fails to connect: the only thing that really stands out is the promo slide for the TV movie, with an incongruously pleasant-looking Bert Convy and Suzanne Pleshette as Gordie and Gail.

* 1/2

SHOW: HANDSOME MEN WITH BIG NOSES

  • Brad Hall and Gary Kroeger give each other backhanded compliments on their appearance.
  • This is another Practical Theatre Co. trunk bit; it does have a "buried late in the show" feel, but there's a bit of charm that comes from that, and it gets laughs from the audience. 
  • Addendum [08/23/14]: Gary Kroeger provides more background on this sketch: "[Dick] Ebersol loved Handsome Men With Big Noses, but I thought it was a fail on air.  I know that I pushed the theatrical aspect too far and I’ve always hated the performance. Handsome Men (which I only liked as a theater sketch) was always an improv by me and Brad.  We did, however, script it for SNL."

***

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "LIVING A LIE"

  • Branigan's vocals are a little better this time around, despite the apparent rawness of her voice.  It sounds like the keyboard player hits a bum note at one point during the song; there's also a guitar solo in this one.

GOODNIGHTS

  • Tom Smothers is relieved that the show wasn't fired for having him and Dick on it.
  • The Smothers Brothers, Laura Branigan and the cast jump from the ledge set; her band watches from floor level.
  • Gary Kroeger, Brad Hall and Julia Louis-Dreyfus can be seen going back for a second jump.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Another average show, with a few strong segments and one comparatively weak one.  There's still a good amount to enjoy, but only the Smothers Brothers segments and Pudge & Solomon really stand out; however, this is interesting to see a cast that's still largely on even footing, with Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo present but not the focal point of sketches to the exclusion of the rest of the cast.  The Smothers do integrate into a few sketches, but they appear content to do their humor in their own segments, and let the cast carry the rest of the show.

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Pudge and Solomon
  • Rubbers
  • Monologue

SHOW LOWLIGHTS:

  • The Inside Story
  • TV

MVP:

  • The Smothers Brothers (I give the edge to Tom, though)

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN

cast

  • Robin Duke: 4 appearances [Truckstop Teases, TV, Saturday Night News, The Inside Story]
  • Mary Gross: 3 appearances [Ledge, Truckstop Teases, TV]
  • Brad Hall: 4 appearances [Truckstop Teases, TV, Saturday Night News, Handsome Men with Big Noses]
  • Tim Kazurinsky: 4 appearances [Ledge, Truckstop Teases, TV, Saturday Night News]
  • Gary Kroeger: 4 appearances [Truckstop Teases, TV, Saturday Night News, Handsome Men with Big Noses]; 2 voice-overs [Ledge, Rubbers]
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus: 2 appearances [Truckstop Teases, TV]
  • Eddie Murphy: 4 appearances [The Tonight Show, Ledge, Truckstop Teases, Pudge & Solomon]
  • Joe Piscopo: 3 appearances [The Tonight Show, Ledge, Pudge & Solomon]; 1 voice-over [Truckstop Teases]

crew and extras

  • Andy Murphy: 1 appearance [Truckstop Teases]

guests

  • Tom Smothers: 6 appearances [The Tonight Show, Monologue, Ledge, Rubbers, TV, Rules & Noodles]
  • Dick Smothers: 5 appearances [The Tonight Show, Monologue, Rubbers, TV, Rules & Noodles]
  • Laura Branigan: 2 appearances ["Gloria", "Living A Lie"]
  • Lawrence K. Grossman: 1 appearance [Saturday Night News]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • March 26, 1983
  • September 3, 1983

Known alterations: 

  • Thank You, Ron Reagan removed
  • Saturday Night News edited
  • Hitchhiker (from 10/02/82) added.

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.