Classic SNL Review: February 5, 1983: Sid Caesar / Joe Cocker & Jennifer Warnes (S08E12)

RATINGS SYSTEM:

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

OPENING: THE SCHEME

  • The cast argues over a scheme to demonstrate on air that the show is done live; Sid Caesar gives them a lesson on how it relates to now, was, and gonna-be.
  • The first minute has some moments (Eddie Murphy looking into the camera and saying "it's crap and it's live, more picking on Gary Kroeger), but its main purpose is to set up Caesar's entrance, which gets a standing ovation from the audience (prompted by the cast: Eddie Murphy commands "everybody up!" and Julia Louis-Dreyfus can be heard saying "Up, up, up, up!"),  After Caesar launches into his routine, the cast hangs on his every word (Louis-Dreyfus seems especially into it).  This is more notable for the reverence shown towards Caesar, but he keeps it entertaining.
  • The topic of "now, was, and gonna-be" is taken from Caesar's personal philosophy, and he's written about the subject in his books Where Have I Been?  (which came out a few months before the SNL appearance) and Caesar's Hours.
  • Tons of SNL-related graphics and signs on the wall: there are signs for Saveco (11/11/79) and Looks At Books (05/15/82), a few framed promo photos, and the "Lincoln, Reagan, and Kennedy" graphic for If Reagan Had Survived The Assassination (12/05/81) among the show-related memorabilia.

*** 1 /2

MONOLOGUE

  • Sid Caesar reminisces about how the hardest part of Your Show Of Shows was when he had to appear as himself.
  • A fairly short and very earnest monologue; Caesar seems to indirectly reference his past struggles with addiction ("This is a new era of my life" and referring to his difficulty being himself because he "didn't know who 'me' was"), but peppers it with enough humor to keep it from getting mawkish ("now I gotta know a new one").

***

COMMERCIAL: FUNERAL IN A CAB

  • Crazy Lenny (Eddie Murphy) pitches the low-cost way to dispose of your dead loved ones.
  • This was hilarious, particularly the video footage (directed by Claude Kerven) of a sample funeral; I particularly like how disposing of the dead father seemed more like an inconvenience than an actual tragedy for the family, but there were some other funny visuals, including the body going into the garbage truck.  Murphy does well in a role that normally would go to Joe Piscopo, and the narration has some good lines.
  • The pre-taped segment uses outside actors; if anyone can ID them, let me know.  The widow looks familiar.

****

SKETCH: HOSPITAL WHINERS

  • Wendy Whiner (Robin Duke) dotes on husband Doug (Joe Piscopo) as recovers from gunshot wounds sustained in last week's bank robbery; his roommate (Sid Caesar) on life-support is forced to listen.
  • The obligatory sequel teased in last week's Whiners sketch; no disrespect to Piscopo or Duke, but they almost seem like a parody of a bad SNL recurring sketch.  The main variable that has any impact on how the sketch goes is who is forced to play foil to the Whiners, and this sketch at least gave Sid Caesar a chance to use his strength in non-verbal reactions to the other actors in the scene.  It was a little obvious where this was going to go, but there's something satisfying in seeing Caesar trying to kill the Whiners.
  • Piscopo breaks character at one point as he says "You walk funny, Wendy!"  I guess he ad-libbed that.

** 

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "UP WHERE WE BELONG"

  • A good, if understated performance; the 38-year-old Cocker looks a bit older than his age (he looks better in his montage photo, though); Warnes is less than three years younger than him.  His famous body spasms are in full effect during the chorus. 
  • The single was a Grammy nominee at the time (it won) and would shortly be nominated for an Academy Award (which it also won).
  • That's Cliff Goodwin on lead guitar and Mitch Chakour on piano, both were in Cocker's touring band at the time.  I'm not entirely sure if the bass and drums were Howard Hersh and B.J. Wilson, respectively, but it would make sense.  It looks like SNL band member David Spinozza on the other guitar; no clue who the percussionist or the bald organ player are.

MISCELLANEOUS: WHO DO YOU HATE? (rerun of 02/20/82)

SKETCH: HOTEL

  • A door in a hotel room shows how changing times affect an advertiser's (Sid Caesar) hotel room liasons with co-workers in 1953 and 1983.
  • This was the best concept of the night; the reveal of the premise was well done, and there's nice escalation and detail in this one (Caesar and Gross address each other by first name in 1983, Caesar and Duke are more formal in 1953).  Caesar carries this, but Eddie Murphy manages to steal a bit of his thunder a few times (the sotto voce "chow, chow, chow" comment in the 1983 scenario, his Eddie "Rochester" Anderson-esque voice for the bellhop in 1953). 

****

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWS

  • Best joke: Caspar Weinberger points to his eye.
  • Underwhelming (and comparitively long) news segment this week; Hall's best joke didn't get much response (a photo-based gag, yes, but I liked the twist that he failed the test), and most of his other jokes were forgettable, aside from him dismissing Reagan's speech about how the economy was better as a fairy tale.
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus debuts her complaining teenager character Patti-Lynn Hunnsacker to comment on the new "squeal law" (where Title X-supported family planning clinics would be required to notify parents of minors who seek their services; this was withdrawn after two federal courts struck it down).  Aside from the cheers she got from declaring she was sexually active, the character is mostly a vehicle for weak jokes (and one about Roman Polanski), and it seems like an example of the writers not knowing what to do with Louis-Dreyfus.
  • Mary Gross is spittin' mad again, this time about the federal budget, and thinks a lot of cuts need to be made to federal departments; this was weaker than usual.  Her list actually sounds like something that austerity-happy Tea Partiers would try to implement.
  • Dr. Jack Badofsky (Tim Kazurinsky) explains different types of suicide; he seems to embrace the awfulness of some of the puns, and starting to break character as the audience groans at one line.  Best one: Cock-a-doodle-doo-icide (when impotent roosters kill themselves).  The little anti-suicide bit at the beginning felt tacked on.

**

GUEST PERFORMANCE: HARRY ANDERSON

  • The comedy magician has an audience member help with a trick involving red rubber balls and a pair of handcuffs.


  • This one seemed shorter than normal, or just went by really fast; a little better than the last one.
  • I'm guessing this one was another audience plant, because the same woman appears in the promotional pictures on Getty Images (which come from dress rehearsal). 

*** 

SKETCH: CRIME AND SELF-PUNISHMENT

  • A silent film tells the story of tortured genius & inventor Julius Swell (Sid Caesar).
  • It's a little difficult to decide what I ultimately think of the sketch; I have to give the show credit for doing a fourteen-minute sketch in flickery black-and-white without any spoken dialogue (it's all on title cards), but on a show with SNL's pacing, it stands out like a sore thumb.  Still, this seemed tailor-made for Caesar, with a lot of fun visual gags; it felt more like the writers paying homage to something that would have been done on Your Show Of Shows or Caesar's Hour, so I'll give it leeway based on that.
  • The silent movie music was played by virtuoso pianist Earl Wild, who worked on Caesar's Hour.
  • Writer Paul Barrosse has a small cameo as Swell's servant at the beginning of the wedding party.  No ID for the woman who plays Brad Hall's wife in the scene, but Gary Kroeger recalls she was frequently used as an extra.
  • In the original broadcast, an audience member yells out "Sid Caesar!" during the scene where Caesar tries to drink poison out of a cup with a lid on it; the scene is trimmed slightly in reruns to remove the outburst.  It really stands out because the audience is fairly quiet throughout this.

***

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWS EXTRA

  • Professor Helmut (Sid Caesar) proposes the United States start exporting soap operas to fix the trade imbalance.
  • Caesar brings back his old character, which is an exercise for his double-talk routine; he goes from the "foreign languages" (he didn't actually speak anything besides English and Yiddish) to the randomly inserted English line without a beat. the audience loves it. 

*** 1/2

SHOW: A FEW MINUTES WITH ANDY ROONEY

  • While discussing the lack of literary merit of today's best-sellers, Andy Rooney (Joe Piscopo) takes issue with Helen Gurley Brown's "apartment".
  • A little better than the usual Andy Rooney segment, thanks to some surprisingly dirty double-entendres based on a comparison Brown makes in the book between a woman's apartment and her vagina.  The ending (Rooney plugging his own books) felt rushed, though.

***

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "SEVEN DAYS"

  • A cover of a Bob Dylan song he had yet to record himself (Dylan wrote the song around the time Desire came out), which appeared on Cocker's 1982 Sheffield Steel album.  This has a more rock/R&B edge than the album version, which has a more synthesized feel.
  • In the original live broadcast, the show ran late and the song was cut off partway through the instrumental break.  The repeat version edits out the instrumental break and abruptly goes to the end of the song.

GOODNIGHTS

  • Mary Gross and the cast present Sid Caesar with a plaque declaring him to be an honorary cast member of Saturday Night Live; Gross tells him "you'll always have a home here!".  Various cast members including Robin Duke and Eddie Murphy hug Caesar; Murphy (either earnestly or facetiously) is in tears afterward.  Jennifer Warnes can be seen jumping up and down in the back.
  • The original broadcast cuts the credits off; the repeat ends with a nice closeup of Caesar.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Probably Saturday Night Live's biggest display of reverence towards a host until Betty White's 2010 appearance, it's hard to dislike this show.  Sure, there was a Whiners sketch and Saturday Night News was underwhelming as usual, but Caesar really carried a lot of the show, and the cast and writers seemed more than willing to step aside and watch the man work.  Having the focus on Caesar also meant the cast was fairly balanced in terms of airtime (the exception was Gary Kroeger, who only appears in the cold opening and Crime and Self-Punishment).  The big centerpiece sketch (Crime and Self-Punishment) may not have been a home run, but was a nice way to let Caesar shine and was an interesting break in format.   It's too deferential to the host to truly be considered the best of the season, but any week where are more highs than lows are welcome, and this was one of them. 

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Hotel
  • Funeral In A Cab
  • Saturday Night News Extra
  • The Scheme

SHOW LOWLIGHTS:

  • Hospital Whiners
  • Saturday Night News

MVP:

  • Sid Caesar

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN

cast

  • Robin Duke: 4 appearances [The Scheme, Hospital Whiners, Hotel, Crime and Self-Punishment]
  • Mary Gross: 4 appearances [The Scheme, Hotel, Saturday Night News, Crime and Self-Punishment]
  • Brad Hall: 4 appearances [The Scheme, Saturday Night News, Crime and Self-Punishment, Saturday Night News Extra]
  • Tim Kazurinsky: 4 appearances [The Scheme, Hospital Whiners, Saturday Night News, Crime and Self-Punishment]
  • Gary Kroeger: 2 appearances [The Scheme, Crime and Self-Punishment]
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus: 4 appearances [The Scheme, Hospital Whiners, Saturday Night News, Crime and Self-Punishment]
  • Eddie Murphy: 3 appearances [The Scheme, Funeral In A Cab, Hotel]
  • Joe Piscopo: 3 appearances [The Scheme, Hospital Whiners, A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney]

crew & extras

  • Paul Barrosse: 1 appearance [Crime and Self-Punishment]
  • David Spinozza: 2 appearances ["Up Where We Belong", "Seven Days"]

guests

  • Sid Caesar: 6 appearances [The Scheme, Monologue, Hospital Whiners, Hotel, Crime and Self-Punishment, Saturday Night News Extra]
  • Joe Cocker: 2 appearances ["Up Where We Belong", "Seven Days"]
  • Jennifer Warnes: 1 appearance ["Up Where We Belong"]
  • Harry Anderson: 1 appearance [Guest Performance]

PERSONNEL CHANGE:

  • Tracy Torme is no longer listed as a writer; Pamela Norris returns after a 10-month break.

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • July 2, 1983

Known alterations: 

  • Who Do You Hate removed
  • Crime & Self-Punishment and "Seven Days" edited
  • Rubik's Grenade (from 12/11/82) added

Additional screen captures from this episode can be seen here.