Classic SNL Review: October 10, 1981: Susan Saint James / The Kinks (S07E02)

RATINGS SYSTEM

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

OPENING: EXXICO: YESTERDAY'S TECHNOLOGY

  • SNL sponsor Exxico brings you yesterday's technology at tomorrow's prices.
  • A little weaker than last week's opening; not quite as much sting as the jab at NBC.

**1/2

MONOLOGUE/SKETCH: MACDONALD AND WIFE

  • Susan Saint James clears up a few misconceptions regarding her TV work and gives the audience a chance to vote on the obligatory "host sketch", a spoof of McMillan and Wife.  Ronald McDonald (Joe Piscopo) bests Douglas MacArthur (Tim Kazurinsky) and MacBeth (Tony Rosato); in "McDonald and Wife", Ronald and Sally solve a murder while using McWords in bed.
  • Susan Saint James came across as very cute and likable in the monologue, but it wasn't particularly memorable or funny.  The main point of the monologue was more of a preamble to the McDonald and Wife sketch, which is why I combined the two segments for the purposes of this review.
  • Good lord, was Joe Piscopo's Ronald McDonald makeup garish or what?
  • The actual "host sketch" wasn't particularly funny either (very one-joke) but the sex references (such as the scene at the beginning with Sally under the covers exclaiming "I can't find it!") seem very envelope-pushing, especially for early 80s network TV.
  • I did chuckle at the MacNeil/Lehrer and Wife art card at the end (just the look Saint James seems to be giving to Robert MacNeil).

**

COMMERCIAL: BUH-WEET SINGS

  • Former Little Rascal Buckwheat (Eddie Murphy) is grown up and has a new record to promote, but he still pronounces words the way he always has.
  • Eddie Murphy didn't have to say anything to get a laugh, as the audience reacted well to the visual of him in the wig and suspenders.
  • This is one of those sketches that is so well-known and often used as the representative for Eddie Murphy's SNL career, that it's a little too familiar.
  • Like Little Richard Simmons, it was a very simple premise (actually, pretty much the one joke) but executed very well.  The song titles like "Fee Tines A Mady" and "Barbah Ob Dabill" being put on-screen actually helped the joke a lot.
  • I did like the "????" caption for the Buckwheatized "Bette Davis Eyes".
  • This is a classic, but not quite my favorite Buckwheat sketch: some of the later sketches  were a little better and more creative than this one, particularly the whole assassination storyline from season 8.

****1/2

SKETCH: THE BIZARRO WORLD: THE BLACK HOUSE

  • Michael O'Donoghue introduces us to a parallel world that replicates Earth events and customs backwards.  A visit to the Trapezoid Office in the Black House shows that Bizarro President (Joe Piscopo) does a lot of things the same way as Earth's Ronald Reagan.
  • Written by Pamela Norris, with some assistance from O'Donoghue.
  • A very good sketch, although the best material was when the Bizarro President finally entered the office after the setup.  The "Be Cruel To Animals Week" with Eddie Murphy holding the axe while calling "Here, kitty kitty kitty" was hilarious though.  Very O'Donoghue.
  • Favorite parts from the Trapezoid Office sequence: Last Lady (Christine Ebersole) saying she's off to visit her masculine son, Bizarro President being told to react to the crisis by going to sleep, and the cabinet appointment scene with a very nasty dig at Al Haig ("For Secretary of State, scary man with morals of a styrofoam cup.")
  • I noticed a few errors in the live version, but I can't remember if they were fixed in the rerun (which is the source of the 60-minute episode): in the first example, Mary Gross starts speaking a little too early before pausing and waiting for Robin Duke to finish.  You can also see Mary and Robin start to swap places and put on their Bizarro masks for a second, and the camera switch takes a few seconds before they're visible again when they're finally ready to talk.
  • Nice touch: the aides leave through the window they broke when they dirtied up the office.

****

FILM: BLOWING UP A BUILDING

  • Passersby are given a choice of two buttons to push.  One is for a crosswalk light: the other is to explode a building across the street.  Tom Davis doesn't look at which one he presses.
  • The ending was a little predictable, but it was structured pretty well (rule of three).  I did like Davis' panicked reactions when he realizes what button he pushed.
  • Addendum [05/17/14] Emily Prager, who was credited as a featured player for Ebersol's first show (but did not appear on-screen), is the female pedestrian.

**1/2 

MUSICAL SKETCH: LIFEBOAT 

  • As their ocean liner sinks in the background, a couple finds romance in a lifeboat.
  • Very cheesy and a bit too much like a bad variety show sketch, especially the pose at the end.  There were a few darkly funny details, like the singers beating back the man who keeps trying to climb into the lifeboat, and the line "Not to be rude, but what'll we do for food?"
  • Addendum [05/28/13]: This was written by Mark O'Donnell with music by Tom Malone.

**

SKETCH: SHE'S A PIG

  • Ellen (Mary Gross) runs into ex-boyfriend Peter (Tim Kazurinsky) at a restaurant and meets his new fiancée, Paulette (Robin Duke), a loud, trashy and rude woman.
  • Mary Gross' very meek delivery on her lines actually made them even funnier, especially the ones about her slashing her wrists after the breakup, and where she gives her opinion on Paulette.  The audience really liked her initial "She's a pig!" 
  • Duke was pretty enjoyable as Paulette, especially combined with her character's business such as sticking her nail in the drink and wiping her armpits with a napkin.  Christine Ebersole also did well as Kazurinsky's Pig-like mother.

***1/2

FILM: LET'S SEE WHAT'S BOTHERING BOB

  • In an educational film, the narration tries to find out why a 1950's-style suburban father (Brian McConnachie) is distracted and agitated.
  • The audience was mostly silent; this film wasn't bad, though  As a satire of those 50's educational films, it was pretty well done (particularly the narration), even though the chainsaw ending did seem a little too much like a weaker stab at black humor.
  • I did like the not particularly forceful kick Bob gives his car.
  • This is the second segment in a row where Mary Gross' character is named Ellen. 

**1/2.

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "DESTROYER"

  • The song is basically "All Day and All of The Night 2", but I've always enjoyed this song and performance.
  • There's another technical error in the intro...you can't see Saint James while she's talking until the last second or so.  I remember the 60-minute show switched the order of the two performances and cut the intro so it seems like they just start playing.

SNL NEWSBREAK: BRIAN DOYLE-MURRAY AND MARY GROSS, WEATHER WITH CHRISTINE EBERSOLE, COMMENTARY BY JOE PISCOPO AND EDDIE MURPHY

  • Best joke: John Hinckley
  • This is the second time they did the unnecessary running gag with the letters breaking off and falling on Doyle-Murray, a classic example of diminishing returns.  I can't remember when they finally stopped with that opening gag.
  • The audience really seemed to enjoy the idea of every person in Iran being dead in that one joke.  Kind of an interesting reaction.
  • The Senesia Floods film item wasn't particularly funny, but despite being essentially one joke (film footage of the ocean being used I did like a couple of the throwaway lines (like the country having a Fiat factory).
  • Christine Ebersole's segment wasn't very good either; they've done the whole "come out for something and get distracted to the point where they never get to doing what they intend to" far too many times on the show (basically, the whole point of "What Up With That").  Whether it works or not depends on the execution, but this time it just dragged.
  • The audience seemed to wake up for Joe Piscopo's Saturday Night Sports segment.  I've always thought these were alright and Joe did have a good visual aide with the bobbleheads, especially the few seconds at the end where he's bobbling his own head and Doyle-Murray bobbles his along for a second.
  • Eddie's segment with the Reagan fan mail was pretty funny, especially his facial expression as he realized that the jokes that Reagan included were all racist, as well as Doyle-Murray laughing beside him.
  • Mary Gross' editorial suggesting potential assassins go kill themselves actually worked because of her delivery.  She wasn't a particularly good fit for the news anchor position, but the juxtaposition of the editorial's content with her almost cheerful delivery worked.
  • Stronger guest material at times but most of the jokes were still dreadfully bad.

** 

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "SINGLE WOMEN"

  • Christine Ebersole sings Michael O'Donoghue's "Single Women", a bittersweet country-tinged ballad about the loneliness and emptiness of the world of singles bars.
  • I still can't believe this song was written by the same man who wrote "Boulevard of Broken Balls".  It's actually a very good song; very melancholy.
  • Christine Ebersole did an excellent job singing here, and the audience reaction at the end shows they were quite impressed.
  • This is the second time they use the same set from "She's A Pig" tonight.

*****

SKETCH: HONEYMOON

  • In their hotel room, newlyweds Billy (Tony Rosato) and Sharon (Susan Saint James) prepare to make love; at the last minute, Sharon surprises Billy by revealing she's still a virgin at 31.
  • A somewhat sweet, low-key sketch, even though it wasn't very memorable or funny.
  • Rosato sounded a lot like Jerry Seinfeld when he told Saint James that her inexperience meant the onus was now on him to be incredible.
  • I did like how the sketch ended with Saint James jumping onto the bed in the same way Rosato was about to before she admitted her virginity to him.

**1/2

SKETCH: CHEAP LAFFS

  • Tim Kazurinsky explains that some pieces don't make it in the show just because they're so incredibly cheap, and shows an example: an ad for Sta-Free Peenie Pads, a product that helps men avoid "trouser tracks".
  • I really enjoyed this.  Cheap material can be funny as long as it's not lazily done, something the current writers often forget when they do sophomoric body-function sketches, and Joe Piscopo had a good, energetic performance as the pitchman. 
  • Third appearance of the "She's A Pig" set.

**** 

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "ART LOVER"

  • A very pretty song with ambiguous lyrics about a man in the park who is obsessed with a young girl: it could either be about a pedophile or a man who has lost his own daughter.  I've always taken it to be the latter.
  • Saint James introduces the song holding guitarist Dave Davies' infant son Daniel, who has followed in his father and uncle's footsteps as a musician in his own right.

FILM: ANDY WARHOL'S TV: DEATH

  • Warhol discusses the glamour of death while having makeup applied; his face becomes more and more pixellated as the film goes on.
  • I found a few of Warhol's random comments somewhat amusing, but it really is more of a "WTF" piece; it just kind of ends randomly.

*1/2

COMMERCIAL: ALAN ALDA'S SENSITIVITY TRAINING FOR MEN

  • A macho pig (Tony Rosato) repulses the women he hits on; the bartender (Tim Kazurinsky) suggests that cultivating an image of sensitivity with Alan Alda's book is the best way to pick up women.
  • Kind of funny, especially Kazurinsky's promise to Rosato that he'll be "drilling pipe like a demon".  A bit of a late-show throwaway.
  • This is the fourth sketch tonight with that same set from "She's A Pig".  They really must have spent a lot of money building that one.

**1/2

FILM: ASSASSINATION AFTERMATH - JOHN FOX

  • An emotional janitor cleans the site of Anwar Sadat's assassination, still littered with bloody newspapers and some of Sadat's personal belongings.
  • Very heavy material for a comedy show.  Was Sadat's assassination really that huge a story back in 1981?  I would assume so, but I don't think SNL has ever commented on any political assassinations besides this one in such a serious manner.  Just imagine Quentin Tarantino introducing a film about Yitzhak Rabin during his 1995 SNL gig.
  • I really could have done without the dove with the bullet hole; it's such a ham-fisted image and it ruined the film for me, which is a shame because the lack of dialogue and the sad middle eastern music did work.
  • This may be my dark streak speaking but when I first saw him look at the glasses, I half expected him to put them on and do a Ray Charles impression.

*1/2.

GOODNIGHTS

  • Susan Saint James declares "Saturday Night is back!"; Mel Brandt announces that the next show will be George Kennedy and Miles Davis.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Some strong material again this week, but there was a lot more mediocre-to-weak material than I remembered.  The first appearance of Buckwheat is the sketch everyone remembers, and The Bizarro World and Cheap Laffs had some funny material, but the true highlight of the show was "Single Women".  This was a more even show than the premiere but overall it wasn't as good, and the mediocre material (such as SNL Newsbreak) weighed down the average.  As a host, Saint James was alright but didn't really do a whole lot of note, aside from marrying SNL executive producer Dick Ebersol the day the show was first rebroadcast.

EPISODE HIGHLIGHTS

  • "Single Women"
  • Buh-Weet Sings
  • Cheap Laffs
  • The Bizarro World

EPISODE LOWLIGHTS

  • Assassination Aftermath
  • Andy Warhol's TV
  • Lifeboat
  • McDonald and Wife
  • the first half or so of SNL Newsbreak

MVP:

  • (tie) Mary Gross/Tim Kazurinsky

CAST / GUEST APPEARANCE BREAKDOWN

cast

  • Robin Duke: 3 appearances [The Bizarro World, She's A Pig, Cheap Laffs]
  • Christine Ebersole: 6 appearances [The Bizarro World, She's A Pig, SNL Newsbreak, "Single Women", Cheap Laffs, Alan Alda's Sensitivity Training For Men]
  • Mary Gross: 5 appearances [The Bizarro World, She's A Pig, Let's See What's Bothering Bob, SNL Newsbreak, Alan Alda's Sensitivity Training For Men]
  • Tim Kazurinsky: 5 appearances [Monologue/McDonald and Wife, The Bizarro World, She's A Pig, Cheap Laffs, Alan Alda's Sensitivity Training For Men]
  • Eddie Murphy: 3 appearances [Buh-Weet Sings, The Bizarro World, SNL Newsbreak]
  • Joe Piscopo: 5 appearances [Monologue/McDonald and Wife, The Bizarro World, Lifeboat, SNL Newsbreak, Cheap Laffs]
  • Tony Rosato: 5 appearances  [Monologue/McArthur and Wife, The Bizarro World, Honeymoon, Cheap Laffs, Alan Alda's Sensitivity Training For Men]

featured players:

  • Brian Doyle-Murray: 2 appearances [The Bizarro World, SNL Newsbreak]

crew and extras:

  • Andy Murphy: 1 appearance [Sensitivity Training For Men] 
  • Michael O'Donoghue [The Bizarro World]

guests:

  • Susan Saint James: 3 appearances [Monologue/McDonald and Wife, Lifeboat, Honeymoon]
  • The Kinks: 2 appearances ["Destroyer", "Art Lover"]
  • Tom Davis: 1 appearance [Blowing Up A Building]
  • Brian McConnachie: 1 appearance [Let's Find Out What's Bothering Bob]
  • Emily Prager: 1 appearance [Blowing Up A Building]
  • Andy Warhol: 1 appearance [Andy Warhol's TV]

REBROADCAST HISTORY

  • November 21, 1981
  • July 17, 1982

Additional screen captures of the show are available here.