Classic SNL Review: February 19, 1983: Howard Hesseman / Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (S08E13)

RATINGS SYSTEM:

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

OPENING: DRESSING ROOM

  • A disclaimer advises home viewers to get their cameras ready; Tim Kazurinsky, Joe Piscopo, Eddie Murphy, Mary Gross and, by phone call, Dick Ebersol try to convince Howard Hesseman not to go through with his plans for an anti-Reagan monologue.
  • This isn't really played for laughs and serves more as a lead-in to Hesseman's monologue; it serves its purpose, doesn't outstay its welcome, but is ultimately meaningless without the context of the other segment. I appreciated that they don't actually specify what Hesseman intends to do during the monologue aside from the adjectives (tasteless, insulting, hostile).
  • The first real laugh from the audience is Hesseman's rebuttal to Eddie Murphy's comment about the piece being too hostile ("Advice from Mr. 'Kill The White Man'").
  • Milan Melvin, who appeared with Hesseman in the October 23 show, is seen at the beginning of the scene and in the background.

**

MONOLOGUE

  • Howard Hesseman reveals his plan: he is going to moon a picture of President Reagan, and wants home viewers to take a picture of themselves doing the same to the image on the TV screen.
  • This comes dangerously close to what Seth Meyers would later call "clapter", where the audience response to political humor is more a reflection of their agreement with the sentiments expressed than whether they found it funny; however, it succeeds because Howard Hesseman knows how to work the SNL audience.  There's still a palpable (and understandable) anger towards Reagan, particularly in Hesseman describing the president's litany of "F-words" (fetuses, food stamps and first-strike capability...wonder what Bill Clotworthy thought of Hesseman using that term), but the whole mooning angle keeps the whole thing light enough.
  • For obvious reasons, the mooning isn't on camera; I'm curious whether Hesseman actually mooned the picture of Reagan in studio. the audience response makes it sound like he did, and Hesseman was putting his belt on when the camera zoomed out.

****

COMMERCIAL: SLEEPY BOY 2000

  • An electronic kit gives (Tim Kazurinsky) a remedy for the car alarm that wakes him up in the middle of the night.
  • Directed by John Fox and written by Tim Kazurinsky
  • A companion piece of sorts to Hitchhiker: both have the same director and writer, similar structures (no spoken dialogue, the reveal of the product/joke doesn't come until the very end), and both involve footage of a car being destroyed.

*** 1/2

SKETCH: GAS STATION

  • When a pair of Graceland visitors (Robin Duke and Mary Gross) swipe a pedestrian (Eddie Murphy) with their car, he wakes up with the King's spirit in his body. 
  • This is mainly an excuse for Eddie Murphy to do his Elvis impression, and once he starts singing the songs it doesn't really go anywhere from there. It has a few funny moments, particularly the exchange between Brad Hall's slow-witted character and Hesseman, and Mary Gross pointing out "here's your little grave" on a Graceland souvenir.  The ending, with "Elvis" seeing his reflection in the mirror, was predictable.
  • Speaking of Brad Hall's character, the characterization seemed to drop as soon as Murphy was brought in. 

** 1/2

SHOW: MAD MAGAZINE THEATRE

  • An oddly familiar Alfred E. Newman (Joe Piscopo) introduces "The Windbags Of War", where Victor "Pug" Henry (Gary Kroeger), various actors and historical figures take jabs at the ABC miniseries.
  • The reveal of Piscopo in the Alfred E. Newman makeup was well done and topped quickly as soon as he opened his mouth and revealed himself to be Tom Snyder.  This whole sketch was fun; they nailed the MAD parody style.
  • Favorite bits: Eddie Murphy appearing randomly as Kunta Kinte (he also appears later as Hideki Tojo), Ali MacGraw (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) quoting her "Love Story" line after Henry says "I'm sorry" to Polly Bergen (Robin Duke).

****

FILM: "WEST HEAVEN" - JUDITH JACKLIN BELUSHI

  • Rhonda Coullet performs the titular song (accompanied by members over a montage of candid and personal photos of the late John Belushi.
  • Like with the remembrance at the end of last season's Robert Urich show, this is exempt from a star rating; there are a few moments of 80s cheese coming from the video effects, but the private photos of Belushi with friends and loved ones were an effective tribute.
  • The coda over the starfield has a brief bit of harmonica (for the Blues Brothers) and then fades into a punkish sound at the end as the star goes nova.  For some reason that part gets to me the most.

COMMERCIAL: THE A-TEAM

  • Mr. T (Eddie Murphy) promotes his new NBC series, which elicits catty comments from Rex Reed (Joe Piscopo).
  • This works mainly because of Murphy and Piscopo's chemistry; Piscopo gets the funnier lines here ("He looks like Tina Turner on steroids!").
  • This aired right before the midnight network ID and station break; SNL usually didn't have content in this slot until about season 11 (these slots were usually the show bumper, a network promo, local ads and station ID); even more interestingly, the original broadcast had this fake promo (which uses a graphic in the style of the 82-83 network promos) lead into a real promo for The A-Team.  I wonder if that was planned.

***

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWS

  • Best jokes: nothing stood out.
  • This week seemed lighter on jokes, aside from Hall's lenghty John Hinckley bit.  While that had an alright payoff, the whole thing seemed to stretch a little too long. Other than that, more photo-based humor (a picture of giant paper rolls on a story about a diarrhea research grant, Jerry Lewis "inflating" his bride). The "Ed Koch's long lost Chinese children" joke had promise but was marred by a cheap punchline ("an hour after the wedding, he felt like getting married again")
  • Fortunately, Tim Kazurinsky's two segments made up for the jokes tonight. Kaz's first segment was a return engagement from Havnagootiim Vishnuuerheer, answering more Unanswered Questions of the Universe. The audience loves it as usual; this one also stands out a bit more than the others in my mind thanks to a few of the jokes (dictators favoring sunglasses and thin mustaches).
  • Kazurinsky's other segment, as George Washington enthusiast Seymour P. Huggins, is the real highlight. Right away, Kazurinsky realizes he still has his mustache on, which he rips off almost immediately while he enters as Huggins. Through much of this segment, Kazurinsky's tri-corrner hat keeps sliding off his head, and Brad Hall repeatedly reaches in to fix it.  Eventually, Kazurinsky gives up and takes the hat off (to applause), but then Hall seems to start yanking on the wig's pony tail, until eventually Kazurinsky rips that off (revealing he's still wearing his Havnagootiim Vishnuuerheer bald cap). Throughout all this chaos, Kazurinsky is delivering lines about Washington sleeping around, Martha Washington having splinters in her hickeys, and the Washington Monument being a true representation of what the first President really looked like.  It may veer a little close to the territory Jimmy Fallon and Horatio Sanz went into during their time on the show, but here it's just fun.
  • Brad Hall seems to debut a new sign-off tonight "Goodnight, right on."

*** 1/2 

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "CHANGE OF HEART"

  • Solid performance of the band's second single from Long After Dark, with some nice closeups of Benmont Tench's hand on the piano keys during the chorus.
  • This is the late Howie Epstein's first SNL gig with the band (Ron Blair was on bass in 1979 and 2010). The band is also augmented by an extra percussionist tonight, Phil Jones.

SKETCH: HOLIDAY INN

  • Storm-stayed Marvin (Tim Kazurinsky) and Celeste (Mary Gross) splurge on room service's Fiesta Cheese Platter, served dramatically by a matador (Howard Hesseman).
  • This is a little thin writing-wise, but the performances and energy make this better than it has any right to be, and it's become a bit of a guilty pleasure. Hesseman's commitment gives the piece weight, but it's also nice to see the other players (Hall, Louis-Dreyfus, Kroeger, Kazurinsky and Gross) get some airtime.  Kroeger in particular gets another hapless character.  
  • The ending where the Bavarian Pork Surprise arrives carried by Nazis singing "Deutschland Uber Alles" felt a little obvious (and maybe a little tasteless as well) but it worked.
  • Marvin and Celeste's nerdy frisky touching while each is on the phone was a nice detail. I also got a laugh out of Celeste's sheepish "Excuse me, Mexicans".  
  • I recognized David Spinozza and Alan P. Rubin as the Mexican guitar and trumpet player.  I'm pretty sure that's Tom "Bones" Malone as the trombone player with the Bavarian Pork Surprise; not sure who else was in that group.

***

SKETCH: MY DATE WITH DION

  • Dion Dion (Eddie Murphy) and customer Marjorie (Mary Gross) open up about their recent unsettling dreams.
  • A lower-key character-based sketch. Despite the obvious gay stereotype, I thought Murphy does well at making Dion more likable than he was in "Hairem Scarem"; Gross does a completely different character voice than what we've heard from her before.  I give Murphy the edge here.

***

COMMERCIAL: THE LAUGHING BUDDHA

  • The one-stop organic novelty shop for laughs at the expense of nature freaks, granola-lovers and meditation buffs.
  • Hesseman does his best to sell this, but this was weak.  Kroeger works well as his victim, though, and gets an extra laugh squirting his mouth with the fake carrot after sampling the jalapeno-infused granola.

**

COMMERCIAL: THE KHADDAFFI LOOK (repeat of 10/03/81)

  • Paul Barrosse informed me that he, Brad Hall, Gary Kroeger and Hesseman collaborated on a sketch called "Jazz Bombers", where American airmen drop jazz records over Europe in World War II. It was intended for the previous Hesseman show but cut; Barrosse recalls they did it in this show, but it's not in the copy I have (original air with commercials). It may have been cut due to SNL News running long; replaying an old commercial late in the show often meant they had to fill time from a longer piece being cut.

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "THE WAITING"

  • I always thought this was superior to the album version (from 1981's Hard Promises): it's Petty solo (aside from the call-and-response "Yeah Yeah") on a darkened stage for the first half of the song, then the full band kicks in after the bridge.  

GOODNIGHTS

  • Hesseman announces Randy Newman is appearing as the musical guest next week, and tells President Reagan it all comes down to "your face or mine".
  • Hall jumps around hyperactively again  before he and Julia Louis-Dreyfus kiss.
  • Pardo announces Jeff and Beau Bridges will host next week's show; he also says Marvin Gaye was supposed to be tonight's host ("he got healed, so he decided to stay home and have sex"). Was Gaye really booked? Hesseman does seem like a last-minute replacement (he's the last person to host twice in one season).

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Despite not being as consistently strong as Hesseman's October show, this ended up being one of the better shows this season. By this point in the season, Eddie Murphy's star has been cemented, so this show isn't as balanced among the cast as the October show (Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Robin Duke are especially underutilized), but Hesseman manages another solid show, blends well with the cast without taking over (a common issue with a few of these hosts) and gives the weaker material a boost.

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • West Heaven
  • Mad Magazine Theatre
  • Seymour P. Huggins commentary on Saturday Night News
  • Sleepy Boy 2000

SHOW LOWLIGHTS:

  • The Laughing Buddha
  • Dressing Room

MVP:

  • Howard Hesseman

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN

cast

  • Robin Duke: 2 appearances [Gas Station, Mad Magazine Theatre]
  • Mary Gross: 4 appearances [Dressing Room, Gas Station, Holiday Inn, My Date with Dion]
  • Brad Hall: 4 appearances [Gas Station, Mad Magazine Theatre, Saturday Night News, Holiday Inn]
  • Tim Kazurinsky: 6 appearances [Dressing Room, Sleepy Boy 2000, Gas Station, Mad Magazine Theatre, Saturday Night News, Holiday Inn]
  • Gary Kroeger: 3 appearances [Mad Magazine Theatre, Holiday Inn, The Laughing Buddha]
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus: 2 appearances [Mad Magazine Theatre, Holiday Inn]
  • Eddie Murphy: 5 appearances [Dressing Room, Gas Station, Mad Magazine Theatre, The A-Team, My Date With Dion]
  • Joe Piscopo: 3 appearances [Dressing Room, Mad Magazine Theatre, The A-Team]; 1 voice-over [Sleepy Boy 2000]

crew & extras

  • Tom Malone: 1 appearance [Holiday Inn]
  • Alan P. Rubin: 1 appearance [Holiday Inn]
  • David Spinozza: 1 appearance [Holiday Inn]

guests

  • Howard Hesseman: 6 appearances [Dressing Room, Monologue, Gas Station, Mad Magazine Theatre, Holiday Inn, The Laughing Buddha]
  • Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: 2 appearances ["Change Of Heart", "The Waiting"]
  • Judith Jacklin Belushi: 1 appearance [West Heaven]
  • Rhonda Coullet: 1 appearance [West Heaven]
  • Milan Melvin: 2 appearances [Dressing Room, Monologue]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • June 4, 1983

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.