Classic SNL Review: December 11, 1982: Eddie Murphy / Lionel Richie (S08E09)

RATINGS SYSTEM:

***** - Classic
****  - Great
***   - Good / Average
**    - Meh
*     - Terrible

OPENING: SUBSTITUTE HOST

  • Eddie Murphy explains why tonight's scheduled host Nick Nolte will not be doing the show, but a star of 48 Hours is still going to host tonight.
  • Written by Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield.
  • This is quick and basically just serves as an explanation as to why Eddie Murphy is hosting tonight's show; it's done well, with Murphy's serious tone and referring to Nolte in the past tense setting up the line about Nolte vomiting on his shirt nicely.   Murphy's variation of LFNY ("Live from New York, it's the Eddie Murphy show!") seems to sum up not only this episode, but this period of SNL history.
  • Hill and Weingrad's Saturday Night has some background information on the week:  Nolte pulled out on Tuesday citing burnout brought on by constant work (though Hill and Weingrad also note he had been partying while in New York).  Gary Kroeger confirms the show had been written by the time Nolte backed out, with his parts in sketches being recast.  
  • Hill and Weingrad also explore the impact this decision had on the cast, specifically Joe Piscopo, who had wanted to do the show as Frank Sinatra, and was most upset by the "Eddie Murphy show" ending.  Mary Gross's quote in the book sums it up: "It was a little hard to swallow. We always knew he was a little more important, but this really said it" (p. 466).

***

MONTAGE

  • The photo of Nolte has Eddie Murphy's face crudely pasted over top of his own; the bumpers in tonight's show are done in a similar way.

MONOLOGUE

  • After a boilerplate monologue introduction, Eddie Murphy does stand-up about Jewish ghosts, black people in horror movies and Stevie Wonder.
  • The audience is really into this, and Murphy's natural ease doing stand-up carries the whole thing; the strongest part was the Stevie Wonder material, which ends with a great visual gag that demonstrates what would happen if he and Stevie Wonder got into a fistfight.

****

COMMERCIAL: RUBIK'S GRENADE

  • The latest colored-square puzzle has a 10 second time limit and considerably higher stakes.
  • Directed by Phil Marco; there's really not that much to this aside from the main joke, although the visual of a pair of hands frantically trying to rearrange the colored squares was funny.
  • The "just in time for Christmas" line is changed to "absolutely no refunds" when the commercial is repeated in other shows.

**

SHOW: MERRY CHRISTMAS, DAMMIT!

  • Gumby (Eddie Murphy) remains surly on his Christmas special featuring Donny (Gary Kroeger) & Marie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), the King Family Singers, and Frank Sinatra (Joe Piscopo).
  • The best Gumby sketch, and possibly the most famous sketch in the whole show.  It's been used as the "token Ebersol clip" so often in SNL compilations that it's a little too familiar to feel fresh, but there's a lot to like here, including Donny and Marie's incestuous make-out session, Gumby banishing a little girl who compares him unfavorably to Andy Williams, and Sinatra's medley of cartoon theme songs.  The end credit scroll with a list of Jewish names felt a little like overkill, especially considering the last line, but all in all, it's one of the highlights of the season.
  • Cultural reference: Gumby asking Donny and Marie "Is this how you kids go Hawaiian?" refers to the Hawaiian Punch commercials they did in the early 80's; SCTV did their own spoof by having Donny and Marie shill Kwallada.
  • The little girl that Gumby exiles during the Christmas story was used regularly this season whenever they needed child actors; she's also in last season's Hidden Photo sketch and Joy Of Christmas pre-tape (which repeats tonight); I don't have an ID for her, but her expression when Gumby kicks her out was great; the shot of her looking through the window from outside was a good close for this sketch.

*****

GUEST PERFORMANCE: HARRY ANDERSON

  • Harry Anderson has an audience member follow his lead while performing tricks with a beer bottle and a tube.
  • Entertaining, but not my favorite Anderson routine, which has some alright twists but is mainly about the interaction with the audience member.
  • I have a feeling the audience member is a plant, because Getty Images has some promotional photos from the dress rehearsal, and they show the same guy doing the trick with Anderson as in the live show.

***

COMMERCIAL: CLYSLER-PRYMOUTH

  • Lee Iaccoca (Joe Piscopo) tries to brand his company's Japanese import Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Colt models as "made in America".
  • Directed by John Fox.
  • The background for this commercial comes from Chrysler's then rebadging of several Mitsubishi models as the Dodge Colt and Plymouth Challenger.
  • This hasn't dated well; I found the Japanese employee's accent/voice a little too cartoonish (the whispery quality).  The end shot with the upside-down Chrysler emblem banged as a gong as the "Clysler-Prymouth" super appears is downright cringe-worthy.
  • Who is the actor playing the Japanese employee?  He looks and sounds very familiar.

**

SKETCH: I CAME, I SAW, I CAME AGAIN

  • The questionable choreography in a production of The Nutcracker has an audience member (Joe Piscopo) take issue with The Kensington Dance Theatre For The Blind.
  • Pretty slight concept, but the physical comedy from the cast playing the awful Kensington dancers is great, with Robin Duke and Gary Kroeger getting some nice falls in there.  The reveal that the audience was blind was a little underwhelming, but the audience laughed, and this didn't outlive its welcome.

***

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWS

  • Best jokes: Tony Orlando lookalike contest, Pat Nixon relapse.
  • An underwhelming installment.  Brad Hall gets absolutely no response from the audience at the beginning, and while a few of the photo-based jokes land, there are a few jokes that get only a few chuckles or groans, including a few that seemed to be clapter bait (as Seth Meyers calls jokes that go for more earnest applause than laughs).
  • Dr. Jack Badofsky (Tim Kazurinsky) has a weaker outing this time around, with a list of Christmas-related illnesses that labor towards their puns a bit harder than usual; the only ones that really stuck out were "Richard Pryorreah" and "Carolingus"; his "Three Faces of New Years Eve" gets a few hisses from the audience, which signals the start of a period where the audience would turn on Kazurinsky after a really bad pun.
  • Robin Duke appears as "golden age editor" May Bradley, who has tips for older people spending the holidays alone, mostly involving drinking "smart egg nog".  Bradley is essentially a more together version of Duke's Molly Earl character; the segment starts off a little slow, but the audience is more into it as she mentions she was hammered, caroling by herself, making angels in the snow, and hooking up with a waiter from a Chinese restraurant.  Duke has more to work with than she did with last week's Officer Merman character, and she's the main reason this worked as well as it did.
  • Right after the May Bradley commentary, there's a joke that's removed from the encore presentation version about Raquel Welch's pregnancy; research indicates that she miscarried in March 1983, so the joke was likely removed out of sensitivity to Welch and her family.
  • Mary Gross has another "spittin' mad" commentary where she gets riled up about the annoyances of the Holiday season; again, not her strongest outing (she messes up a few lines and it just doesn't have the energy of the better installments), but there are some good jabs as usual, and the crowd likes it.

**

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "YOU ARE"

  • Murphy promises Richie makes up for all the times the musical guest sucked before the former Commodores member launches into a spirited rendition of his forthcoming single, which would be released the next month.  Richie and his band seem to be having fun, and their joy is infectious.
  • One of Richie's backup singers tugs his ear Carol Burnett-style in the background of one shot.
  • Can anybody ID who was playing/singing with Richie that night?

SHOW: HAIREM SCAREM

  • Talk show guests (Mary Gross and Robin Duke) recount their horror stories of how they came to be separated from their hair; hairdresser Dion Dion (Eddie Murphy) suspiciously tries to drum up business for the Chateau De Toupee.
  • Eddie Murphy is the highlight in this forgettable sketch, but there are a few smaller exchanges that were funny, particularly the show's host (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) asking Duke if she was part Chinese during the discussion of the Chinese Wig Scam ("No, I don't think so.")
  • Hill and Weingrad credit Margaret Oberman for the creation of Dion, who makes his first appearance in this sketch; they also mention a number of the staff did not care for the character, who they considered homophobic.  Murphy would apologize for much of his homophobic material in the 1990s, but while the character is obviously a stereotype, it doesn't really strike me as much worse than the characterizations that appear in one of James Anderson's sketches over the last 14 years.  This does raise the issue of whether these portrayals are more acceptable coming from an openly gay writer such as Anderson.
  • Fun moment during the close: Murphy takes off his wig and throws it at Duke.

**

SKETCH: HERPES GONE BANANAS

  • Back home from the front lines, Herpes Simplex II (Eddie Murphy) tells his wife (Mary Gross) and son (Tim Kazurinsky) about defending the ranks.
  • This definitely seems like a sketch that was originally written for Nolte, and while Murphy does a nice job creating a new character voice, this was another weaker sketch that's a little too reliant on puns ("Tough day at the oriface?"), though the subtext about the encounter with Herpes Simplex I was nicely done, and the whole thing was brief.

**

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "TRULY"

  • Murphy, still dressed as his Herpes character, self-deprecatingly talks about the times when the audience thinks "That last sketch really sucks" before some more glowing words about Richie, who performs the piano ballad that happened to be the number one song in the country that week.  It's a good performance, but what's notable is that it's done with one continuous camera shot, which zooms out and pans around Richie's piano.

MISCELLANEOUS: JOY OF CHRISTMAS (repeat of 12/12/81)

SKETCH: A SPECIAL CHRISTMAS MESSAGE

  • April May June (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) gets worked up while discussing the birth of Jesus.
  • Good work from Julia Louis-Dreyfus here, who does another slow burn as her PTC Club character; there are a few funny lines in this, and worked as a 10-to-1 sketch. 
  • The promo picture from dress rehearsal on Getty Images shows Louis-Dreyfus originally performed the sketch wearing a poofy wig; glad they decided against using it.

***

GOODNIGHTS

  • As Eddie Murphy thanks the audience for tuning in to "The Eddie Murphy Show", Steve Martin comes on stage to express his displeasure that he was not chosen to host.  Aside from Merry Christmas, Dammit!, this is probably the most famous moment of the entire episode, and it ends the show on a strong note.
  • Don Pardo announces upcoming rebroadcasts of the Howard Hesseman and Bill Murray shows before complaining about how lonely it is in his announcer booth.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Probably the most well-known episode of the season, as well as an important turning point for both SNL and Eddie Murphy, this actually comes off as merely an okay episode.  The peaks are above average and the valleys don't seem as low as they normally were, but I found a lot of the show was merely good instead of great, and the second half of the show is significantly weaker than the first.  However, as a host, Eddie Murphy handled himself well; he still feels part of the cast as opposed to being a host, but he rose to the occasion nicely.

This begs the question: how would the show have played out if Ebersol convinced Nolte not to bail, or if Piscopo hosted as Sinatra as he wanted to?  I doubt the show would have been as memorable or as strong with Nolte (especially if he spent the week enjoying the NYC nightlife).  A full show of Piscopo's Sinatra would have been overkill; SNL would have a few shows featuring hosts doing the entire show in character, but those normally don't work because it requires the entire show to be based around the same character.

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Steve Martin's cameo during the goodnights
  • Merry Christmas, Dammit!
  • Monologue

SHOW LOWLIGHTS:

  • Herpes Gone Bananas
  • Clysler-Prymouth
  • Hairem Scarem
  • Rubiks Grenade
  • parts of Saturday Night News

MVP:

  • Eddie Murphy

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN

cast

  • Robin Duke: 3 appearances [I Came, I Saw, I Came Again, Saturday Night News, Hairem Scarem]
  • Mary Gross: 5 appearances [I Came, I Saw, I Came Again, Saturday Night News, Hairem Scarem, Herpes Gone Bananas, Joy Of Christmas (rerun)]
  • Brad Hall: 2 appearances [I Came, I Saw, I Came Again, Saturday Night News]
  • Tim Kazurinsky: 3 appearances [I Came, I Saw, I Came Again, Saturday Night News, Herpes Gone Bananas]
  • Gary Kroeger: 2 appearances [Merry Christmas, Dammit!, I Came, I Saw, I Came Again]
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus: 4 appearances [Merry Christmas, Dammit!, I Came, I Saw, I Came Again, Hairem Scarem, A Special Christmas Message]
  • Eddie Murphy: 6 appearances [Substitute Host, Monologue, Merry Christmas, Dammit!, I Came, I Saw, I Came Again, Hairem Scarem, Herpes Gone Bananas]
  • Joe Piscopo: 3 appearances [Merry Christmas, Dammit!, Clysler-Prymouth, I Came, I Saw, I Came Again]

crew and extras:

  • Seth Green: 1 appearance [Joy Of Christmas]
  • Lee Mayman: 1 appearance [I Came, I Saw, I Came Again]
  • Clint Smith: 1 appearance [Merry Christmas, Dammit!]

guests

  • Lionel Richie: 2 appearances ["You Are", "Truly"]
  • Harry Anderson: 1 appearance [Guest Performance]
  • Steve Martin: 1 appearance [Goodnights]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • April 2, 1983
  • September 24, 1983
  • December 31, 1983
  • December 28, 1985

Known alterations: 

  • Clysler-Prymouth and A Special Christmas Message removed
  • Saturday Night News edited.
  • Reach Out and Touch Someone (from 02/06/82) and Hitchcock Hygiene (from 01/29/83) added

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here