Classic SNL Review: April 16, 1983: Susan Saint James / Michael McDonald (S08E18)

RATINGS SYSTEM:

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

OPENING: TAKIN' CARE OF BUSINESS

  • James Watt (Joe Piscopo) endorses an album of pop songs with reworked pro-industry lyrics.  As a bonus offer: "Congressional House Party" by The Beach Boys.
  • Only coming two shows after "Heil Hits", SNL does another record ad spoof; despite the work put into recording the parodies ("Ruined River", "California Drillin') it's too one-note to justify its length, and there was no need to do four Beach Boys parodies for the "bonus offer". Thankfully Watt's spiel wasn't quite as cringeworthy as all the forced Nazi puns in "Heil Hits" (I laughed at the mention of "songs I had to learn to enjoy" when discussing the Beach Boys album).
  • This was originally the cold opening in the original live show, but was moved after Steven Wright's stand-up routine in the rerun.

* 1/2

MONTAGE

  • Because there is no "Live from New York" in tonight's show, Don Pardo begins his voiceover with "From New York, it's Saturday Night Live!". He only does this on tonight's show and the season finale with Ed Koch.

MONOLOGUE

  • Susan Saint James tells how her life's changed since her last SNL appearance, how husband Dick Ebersol understands their personal life in TV terms, and what it's like to breastfeed in a room of comedy writers.
  • Nothing memorable; like last year, Saint James is likable (particularly the scream and the "turn the sign off!" in response to the applause), but the jokes about the TV terms for their sex life were weak.

**

COMMERCIAL: TEXXON (rerun from 02/26/83)

SHOW: SIT ON IT!

  • Celebrity panelists Susan Saint James, Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo try to identify statues with their butts.
  • Not great but this has a few laughs, mainly coming from the inferred insertions; Saint James' shoulder-wiggle and "ooh, this is hard!", Piscopo's grunt, and Murphy recognizing Louis Armstrong through the trumpet on the bust. Saint James' eagerness to return next week to identify the Iwo Jima statue was probably the funniest moment.
  • Robin Duke plays her contestant character a little to big for my taste; funny enough, on a recent podcast interview with Danko Jones, Duke mentions that she's more comfortable playing on stage than on camera because she tends to play big in front of a camera.
  • Note that Murphy and Piscopo are playing themselves, Hall and Duke are in character while Mary Gross and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are stuck in dialogue-free prize model roles. That seems to sum up the cast hierarchy that season.
  • There's a small but noticeable edit to the rerun: the picture zooms in on Piscopo as he sits on the Venus de Milo (the picture quality is noticeably affected). In the live show, Piscopo doesn't do a very good job of hiding that he wasn't actually sitting on the statue and grabs it a little early.

** 1/2

SKETCH: THE LADIES ROOM

  • Wondering why their wives (Mary Gross and Robin Duke) take forever in the washroom, two men (Joe Piscopo and Tim Kazurinsky) disguise themselves and investigate.
  • Fairly ambitious production-wise (multiple sets and quite a few extras, including the return of Butch and Pepe, Ebersol's regular little people), the idea wasn't the strongest, although this had its moments and a particularly dark ending. Saint James was a weak link: she stumbles on some of her lines, blows a cue and her delivery as also off, but she seemed to be having fun. The audience was pretty silent in places.
  • Eddie Murphy shows up as Dion (without his usual red wig) and gets a laugh from his reaction to Kazurinsky and Piscopo's wigs coming off ("AAH! Men in the ladies' room!"). Since Dion was originally Robin Duke and Margaret Oberman's character, I wonder if they worked on this sketch.
  • Extras watch: aside from the aforementioned Butch and Pepe, there are also a handful of extras who have speaking roles that I don't have IDs for: the skiiers ("Primo!"), the man offering sex, and the scuba diver. I'm sure at least the latter two have been in other sketches.

***

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "IF THAT'S WHAT IT TAKES"

  • Saint James introduces McDonald as "a great friend". This version of the title track from McDonald's 1982 LP is more propulsive and energetic than the album cut (which is a little funkier), with lively guitar and saxophone solos.
  • Joining McDonald is Edgar Winter on keyboard and sax, Late Night band members Hiram Bullock (guitar, visibly recovering from a broken leg) and Steve Jordan (drums), and Willie Weeks on bass. No ID for the other keyboard player or the backing vocalist (who has some interesting dance moves toward the end of the song).

COMMERCIAL: THE EXERCISES OF LOVE

  • Velvet Jones (Eddie Murphy) has a new exercise video that gets viewers in shape to make love.
  • This was short and a bit of a whimper for Velvet Jones to go out with, but Murphy still carries it with his usual aplomb.
  • This was moved to the cold opening for the rerun; the 60-minute version of the show in the old syndication package was also sourced from the rerun airing.

***

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWS

  • Best jokes: Gerald Ford, Liz Taylor
  • An improvement over last week, with the Ford joke coming off as particularly Chevy-like.
  • The SNN set has a miniature King Kong added to the Empire State Building this week; this is in reference to an inflatable King Kong being tethered to the top of the building that week in honor of the original film's 50th anniversary.
  • Tim Kazurinsky returns with another Salute To Journalism, again shaking up the formula by reading small, mundane police reports from the Ocean Springs Record (hometown of writer David Sheffield); unlike the last one experiment with the headlines, this didn't work, but it was a nice change of pace.
  • Dr. Ruth Westheimer (Mary Gross) plugs her Guide to Good Sex book and takes questions from the SNL technical crew: the audience liked the "why is pubic hair curly" (purportedly from lighting director Phil Hymes), but this was just average. She does the dirty figure gestures at the end yet again.
  • Eddie Murphy comments on the election of Harold Washington as Mayor of Chicago that week. Murphy seems earnestly happy about the city electing their first black mayor but includes enough jokes to keep it from getting too serious, with a good punchline ("That jackass raised the damn taxes!") at the end.

** 1/2

SKETCH: OUR GENERATION

  • Young slacker Eugene (Gary Kroeger) isn't motivated in the least by the possibility of work, fun, sex or fortune.
  • Written by Kroeger, this one comes off as a little mechanical and rushed. The rule of three comes into play here (the others make three offers, Kroeger declines them all with a "nah!" the person tells him off). Despite the predictablity, Kroeger makes the most of it with his timing.  Susan Saint James' delivery on her rant was off again.
  • According to Kroeger, the punchline ("Thought I'd go upstairs...diddle with my fiddle.") was censored a few times (he was originally supposed to say "masturbate" point blank; the censor also vetoed "jerk off" and "doodle my noodle"). The neutered ending was decent, but one has to wonder how much better it would have worked with the intended language, especially since Joe Montana got away with "I'll be in my room masturbating" four years later in the "Honest Man" sketch.
  • In the original airing, at the very end of the sketch, a network ID slide with a picture of the 1980-81 cast with Jamie Lee Curtis appears before the network commercials begin.

** 1/2

GUEST PERFORMANCE: STEVEN WRIGHT

  • Steven Wright does stand-up about a recent camping trip and his friend George.
  • First SNL appearance for Wright, who I've always enjoyed. Best jokes were declaring war, radio announcer, and the last one about the ski lift ride with someone who just got out of jail for pushing a total stranger off the ferris wheel (*a beat* "I remember you!")

*** 1/2

COMMERCIAL: TOOTSIE COSMETICS

  • Dorothy Michaels (Gary Kroeger) demonstrates Merl Norman's new line of cosmetics on a reluctant Eddie Murphy.
  • Another Kroeger-penned piece, with a lot of the humor coming from Murphy sitting stone-faced as Kroeger talks about improving his career and references his "feminine features". Eddie embracing the suggestion of pearls after being told how much Tootsie grossed at the box office was a little obvious but still funny (Murphy's effeminate "Why these are lovely pearls!" makes me laugh).

*** 1/2

SKETCH: MAGIC FISH

  • Susan Saint James tells baby son Charlie a story about a peasant (Eddie Murphy) who catches a magic fish (Mary Gross), and the negotiations with his lawyer (Tim Kazurinsky) to close loopholes in the wishes it grants.
  • Again, nothing amazing, but probably the best idea of the night, with some interesting set design for the fairy tale segments. As usual, Murphy runs with this, and it's funny to hear him say lines about his wife hitting him with a spoon; Gross makes the most of her role (despite looking like she's breaking character when she is first "fished out of the water"). There's also a funny visual with the lawyers and fish all smoking smoking during the negotiations. Saint James does alright until the very end (she notably flubs "legal...uhhh, representation").
  • The name of the law firm, Flang, Rubell and Laboeuf, seems to reference character names from other sketches this season: Flang is from Dern's Jerry Lewis School, while Laboeuf is from Bridges' Pimple sketch.
  • In the live show, Kazurinsky's character threatens "I'll haul your ass into appellate court"; the word "ass" is muted in the West Coast airing, while the rerun edits the footage slightly so the line becomes "I'll haul you into appellate court".

***

SKETCH: DUNG IN THE OVAL OFFICE

  • Deng Xiaoping (Tim Kazurinsky) pays Ronald Reagan (Joe Piscopo) a visit following Hu Na's (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) defection; the two leaders have trouble communicating when Deng's translator (Brad Hall) has to use the bathroom.
  • Kazurinsky's Deng Xiaoping was something he performed at the Second City before joining SNL, but this was just embarrassing, mainly due to the cartoonish stereotypical Chinese characters ("poriticar asyrum"). Even if Reagan does come off as an ignorant dolt (offering Premier Deng a "jerry bean", telling a racist joke, and offending the Premier by comparing him to Bonanza's Hop Sing), this is very uncomfortable to watch. The topicality only served to date and obscure whatever satire was supposed to be in here.
  • This sketch actually aired on the real Hu Na's 20th birthday.

*

MISCELLANEOUS: KILLING TIME

  • The show ran 40 seconds short, so Eddie Murphy kills time by announcing the next few weeks' shows and plugging his movies.
  • Not a rateable segment, but Murphy does his thing here, and introduces Michael McDonald's second number as Stevie.
  • There's a visible edit in the rerun to remove the mentions of the upcoming Moranis/Thomas and Tomlin repeats; the videotape is zoomed and recropped to make it look like a camera switch.

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "I CAN LET GO NOW"

  • Another slow piano ballad (with the unidentified keyboard player from the first number doing some synth washes); again, shot with a single camera panning from one side of the piano to the other.
  • The bumper comes up a little too early in the live airing; the slide with the 1980-81 cast pic also shows up. This is fixed in reruns.

GOODNIGHTS

  • Saint James says goodnight to her two older children Sunshine and Harmony; Brad Hall and Gary Kroeger both say "Happy birthday, Paul!" (Barrosse?) before Kroeger adds "Happy birthday, Gary!". Saint James and several of the cast form a kickline; Hiram Bullock is seen on crutches. [Addendum (05/02/15): It was Paul Barrosse's birthday that night].
  • Don Pardo announces the Rick Moranis/Dave Thomas, Lily Tomlin and Stevie Wonder shows, before concluding with a message for Mrs. Pardo: "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life".

FINAL THOUGHTS:

A forgettable show; Saint James wasn't particularly great as a host, but she had a likability and relaxed demeanour that carried her through tonight.  Once again, Eddie Murphy dominates tonight, but Brad Hall has a particularly busy week, and Gary Kroeger manages to make the most of his limited appearances by appearing front-and-centre in both his sketches. Despite some smaller highlights here and there and a fairly pleasant atmosphere (this doesn't have the "bad show" aura at all), there really isn't a whole lot that's memorable tonight, aside from Dung In The Oval Office, which is possibly the nadir of political writing on the Ebersol SNL.

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Steven Wright
  • Tootsie Cosmetics

SHOW LOWLIGHTS:

  • Dung In The Oval Office
  • Taking Care of Business
  • Monologue

MVP:

  • Eddie Murphy

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN:

cast

  • Robin Duke: 2 appearances [Sit On It!, The Ladies Room]; 1 voice-over [Dung In The Oval Office]
  • Mary Gross: 4 appearances [Sit On It!, The Ladies Room, Saturday Night News, Magic Fish]
  • Brad Hall: 6 appearances [Sit On It!, The Ladies Room, Saturday Night News, Our Generation, Magic Fish, Dung In The Oval Office]
  • Tim Kazurinsky: 5 appearances [The Ladies Room, Saturday Night News, Our Generation, Magic Fish, Dung In The Oval Office]
  • Gary Kroeger: 2 appearances [Our Generation, Tootsie Cosmetics]
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus: 5 appearances [Sit On It!, The Ladies Room, Our Generation, Magic Fish, Dung In The Oval Office]
  • Eddie Murphy: 7 appearances [Sit On It!, The Ladies Room, The Exercises Of Love, Saturday Night News, Tootsie Cosmetics, Magic Fish, Killing Time]
  • Joe Piscopo: 5 appearances [Taking Care Of Business, Sit On It!, The Ladies Room, Our Generation, Dung In The White House]

crew & extras

  • Butch: 1 appearance [The Ladies Room]
  • Pepe: 1 appearance [The Ladies Room]

guests

  • Susan Saint James: 5 appearances [Monologue, Sit On It!, The Ladies Room, Our Generation, Magic Fish]
  • Michael McDonald: 2 appearances ["If That's What It Takes", "I Can Let Go Now"]
  • Steven Wright: 1 appearance [Guest Performance]
  • Hiram Bullock: 1 appearance ["If That's What It Takes"]
  • Steve Jordan: 1 appearance ["If That's What It Takes"]
  • Willie Weeks: 1 appearance ["If That's What It Takes"]
  • Edgar Winter: 1 appearance ["If That's What It Takes"]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • August 27, 1983

Known alterations:

  • Significant segment shuffling: The Exercises of Love is the cold opening in the rerun version.
  • Sit On It, Magic Fish and Killing Time are edited.
  • The Web is added

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.