Classic SNL Review: May 7, 1983: Stevie Wonder (S08E19)

RATINGS SYSTEM: 

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

OPENING: V.D.

  • Coming to NBC: a miniseries about an invasion of unwanted visitors.
  • Referencing the two-part miniseries that aired on NBC that week (May 1 and 2), this is a very short (15-second) promo featuring a pan over still artwork and a Joe Piscopo voiceover.  Not the funniest idea, but the decision to make this a blackout gag helped.
  • This is taken out of all network and repeats of tonight's show; for some reason, the copy of tonight's show that Broadway Video provided the Comedy Network in 1999 was the original airing (they normally gave them the encore presentations of post-1981 shows).

** 1/2

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "FINGERTIPS"

  • Introduced by Don Pardo as the "12 year old genius", Stevie Wonder (with the pitch of his voice electronically altered) performs a lively version of his first hit from 20 years before with his backing band and the SNL Band horn section.
  • Wonder's having a great time here, and the audience claps along and participates in the call-and-response portion of the song. Toward the end of the song, he's dancing, led around the stage by his tambourine player.
  • Aside from the SNL Band horns (Tom Malone, Lou Marini, Alan P. Rubin, Lawrence Feldman and Ronnie Cuber), does anyone have IDs for the members of Wonder's backing band?

COMMERCIAL: KANNON AE-1

  • Even Stevie Wonder can use the camera's new simplified controls.
  • This is hilarious and very tight; Wonder was a good sport for doing this commercial (directed by Claude Kerven), and the scenes of his "photography" escalate nicely to  the scenes where he's "playing" tennis, and there's a funny joke at the very end with him removing the lens cap from the camera when John Newcombe (Joe Piscopo) has it.

*****

SKETCH: STEVIE EXPERIENCE

  • Bernie (Joe Piscopo) has the solution to Richie's (Eddie Murphy) problems booking the Miss Black Teenage America pageant: Alan, The Stevie Wonder Experience (Stevie Wonder), whose impression of the singer leaves much to be desired.
  • An early example of the now-cliched SNL trope of "cast member who impersonates host plays along the impersonated party playing a different person"; fortunately, this is also one of the very best examples. Stevie Wonder's nerdy voice as Alan is hilarious, especially during his rendition of Superstition. 
  • A huge reason this works so well is that everyone seems to be having fun here: watch Eddie Murphy in particular, especially when Stevie gets him to break with "What's the matter with it?" and his visible enjoyment of Wonder finally breaking into a good "My Cherie Amour".
  • My only complaint is that Piscopo's nasal character voice comes off too broad for my tastes.

**** 1/2

SKETCH: HITLER: THE SECRET DIARIES

  • Adolf Hitler (Tim Kazurinsky) imbues typical teenage angst into his first meeting with Eva Braun (Robin Duke) and other World War II events.
  • Nothing great, but I have to admit I laughed at the flashback sequence with the others mocking Hitler's "janitor's outfit", the "Ride of the Valkyries" cue upon first seeing Braun, and "Someday all of you will be doing my dance!". The whole thing was a little overlong to the point where it exhausts the "Hitler as a teenager" tropes; If this would have just focused on the flashback without all the other diary entries afterward, it would have worked better. 

** 1/2

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "OVERJOYED"

  • A beautiful solo piano performance of a song originally written for (but not included in) 1979's Journey To The Secret Life of Plants, and not released commercially until In Square Circle came out two years later. 

SKETCH: THE STORY OF STEVIE

  • Stevie Wonder laments that his career has never let him truly express his love for and influence by white music. 
  • A little long for essentially one joke, this is redeemed by its ambition, featuring an uncredited child actor, Eddie Murphy (who also plays the child Stevie's father) and Stevie Wonder playing himself, and some funny individual moments, such as Ed Sullivan's (Joe Piscopo) incorrect description of "Fingerprints"/"Filtertips".
  • The Spike Jones-style "Superstition" was fun, but stretched the joke a little too thin; the "reveal" that Stevie Wonder is really an Englishman who hates R&B fared a little better and closed on a decent note ("You Are The Sunshine Of My Life" to the tune of "You Are My Sunshine" worked).
  • Once again, Mary Gross plays a black character (Stevie's mother).

***  

SKETCH: DION'S

  • Dion (Eddie Murphy) and Blair (Joe Piscopo) can't contain their excitement when Stevie Wonder comes to have his braids done.
  • Mostly an excuse for Murphy and Piscopo to demonstrate their chemistry while playing swishy gay stereotypes (this sketch is the first appearance of the Blair character), but even though there's not really a whole lot more to it than that, they're both having a contagious amount of fun. Stevie Wonder is basically the straight man (no pun intended), but Gary Kroeger actually managed to impress me the most here by disappearing into his small role as Wonder's assistant.
  • Both Murphy and Piscopo seem to break character on the "ooh child!" line.

***

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWS

  • Best joke: Reagan inspects results of checkup.
  • Less jokes here, with another instance of Brad Hall screwing up a line (and doing his usual gibberish save). He at least does something different by involving the audience in the "saying Iaccocca's name" bit.
  • Dr. Jack Badofsky (Tim Kazurinsky) is back with a bunch of puns based around impotence; there are still a few groaners (which again seem to be Kazurinsky trolling the audience), but I liked the "impotence of being earnest" (caused by trying too hard); he also ends this one similarly to the orgasms segment in Blake by shamelessly seeking volunteers to help the sufferer of "Timpotence", which causes Hall to cut him off, calling it "a new low" and telling him to "never return".
  • Nastassja Kinski (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) appears to discuss why she's considered a star while lying on the newsdesk "nude" (actually in a visible body stocking) with a snake coiled around her, a clear reference to the 1981 Richard Avedon photo of Kinski with a python. This mainly mocks Kinski herself, with her unable to pronounce her own name, and commenting that the snake (named Charlie) that covers her 24 hours a day is why she doesn't do much in movies but stand there with a vacant expression.  The funniest part is Hall's facial expression as the camera pans back to him.
  • British music critic Roderick Rhythm (Stevie Wonder) discusses his pleasure that R&B is moving away from "message music", citing "Atomic Dog", "Your Booty Makes Me Moody" and recent hits by the Isley Brothers and Marvin Gaye. This is mostly an excuse for Wonder to poke fun at himself and the seriousness of his music; despite a few delivery problems and a little too much overlap from the Story of Stevie, this has its moments, particularly the hypothetical title of a Stevie Wonder-penned "Your Booty Makes Me Moody" ("Your Booty Makes Me Think About The State Of American Civilization").

***

MISCELLANEOUS: DJ'S

  • Leemo (Stevie Wonder) and Cha Cha (Brad Hall) introduce Michael Davis.
  • Not rateable, but an interesting way to shake up the guest introduction format.

GUEST PERFORMANCE: MICHAEL DAVIS

  • The juggler does a few oral tricks with balls and grapes before getting into a slapstick battle with Greg Dean.
  • I'd put this one a step below his appearances from the previous season, but there are some particularly well-executed moments, including the "blindfolded" oral juggle (with the reveal that the side away from the camera had an eye hole cut out) and the slapstick battle sequence (to "Je cherche après Titine").

****

COMMERCIAL: COTTON LAND

  • Work off hundreds of years of white guilt by experiencing the oppression of slavery first hand.
  • Not great, but it gets a boost from Eddie Murphy and Stevie Wonder (who gives his character a different voice); Murphy's still having a blast and is starting to break character at the end when they sing "Dixie". There's a reference to the previous month's Chicago mayoral election.
  • Late Night band member Hiram Bullock plays banjo (still sitting down on account of his leg injury).

** 1/2

SKETCH: BUSBOY

  • At a fancy restaurant, monstrous busboy René (Joe Piscopo) ruins a couple's (Tim Kazurinsky and Julia Louis-Dreyfus) date.
  • This is very dumb and broad, not really a whole lot to it besides the main joke, but the silliness of it all ensures this isn't too bad. 

** 1/2

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "GO HOME"

  • Stevie Wonder plugs the Motown 25 special that will air on May 16 before performing another unreleased track that would be recorded for In Square Circle two years later. This version is a little funkier, with a prominent guitar and bass line.

GOODNIGHTS

  • Stevie Wonder talks about how the show helps us see the absurdities in life, before jokingly admonishing Eddie Murphy not to do him on TV anymore.
  • Piscopo appears quite sweaty; I guess the hunchback prosthetics took a lot of work to remove.
  • Don Pardo announces Greg Dean appeared with Michael Davis, Ed Koch and Dexy's Midnight Runners will appear next week, before signing off with "How'm I doin'?"

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Another fun show, with Stevie Wonder demonstrating a willingness to poke fun at himself. Combined with the musical performance at the beginning, this show starts off especially strong.  It's not a perfect night, with a few overlong sketches, but, as with a number of the shows from this part of the season, the fun atmosphere helps things along. What's great, though, is really great, and the music is also a highlight.

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Kannon AE-1
  • Stevie Experience
  • Michael Davis

SHOW LOWLIGHTS:

  • parts of Hitler: The Secret Diaries
  • V.D.

MVP:

  • Stevie Wonder

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN

cast

  • Robin Duke: 3 appearances [Hitler: The Secret Diaries, Dion's, Cotton Land]
  • Mary Gross: 2 appearances [The Story of Stevie, Cotton Land]
  • Brad Hall: 6 appearances [Hitler: The Secret Diaries (2 roles), The Story of Stevie, Saturday Night News, DJs, Cotton Land, Busboy]
  • Tim Kazurinsky: 4 appearances [Hitler: The Secret Diaries, Saturday Night News, Cotton Land, Busboy]
  • Gary Kroeger: 3 appearances [Hitler: The Secret Diaries, Dion's, Busboy] 
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus: 3 appearances [Hitler: The Secret Diaries, Saturday Night News, Busboy]
  • Eddie Murphy: 4 appearances [Stevie Experience, The Story of Stevie (2 roles), Dion's, Cotton Land]
  • Joe Piscopo: 5 appearances [Kannon AE-1, Stevie Experience, The Story of Stevie, Dion's, Busboy]; 2 voice-overs [V.D., Kannon AE-1]

crew and extras

  • Hiram Bullock: 1 appearance [Cotton Land]
  • Ronnie Cuber: 1 appearance ["Fingertips"]
  • Lawrence Feldman: 1 appearance ["Fingertips"]
  • Tom "Bones" Malone: 1 appearance ["Fingertips"]
  • Lou Marini: 1 appearance ["Fingertips"]
  • Andy Murphy: 1 appearance [Hitler: The Secret Diaries]
  • Alan P. Rubin: 1 appearance ["Fingertips"]

guests

  • Stevie Wonder: 10 appearances ["Fingertips", Kannon AE-1, Stevie Experience, "Overjoyed", The Story of Stevie, Dion's, Saturday Night News, DJs, Cotton Land, "Go Home"]
  • Michael Davis: 2 appearances [The Story of Stevie, Guest Performance]
  • Greg Dean: 1 appearance [Guest Performance]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • October 1, 1983
  • May 19, 1984

Known alterations

  • V.D. is removed.

Sketches included in the 03/24/84 Best Of special:

  • Stevie Experience

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.