Classic SNL Review: November 14, 1981: Bernadette Peters / The Go-Gos, Billy Joel (S07E06)

RATING SYSTEM:

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

OPENING: TEXXON

  • The new SNL sponsor's motto is "Where Life Is Second Only To Money"

 

  • Another brief opening segment; not as biting a one-liner as the better ones before.

**

MUSICAL SKETCH: JOHNNY KEEP YOUR GUN CLEAN

  • Betty Boop (Bernadette Peters) stars in a U.S. War Department hygiene film reminding soldiers to be on the lookout for venereal disease.
  • A funny way to start the show, especially with all the innuendos and references to disease.  It felt like it was building towards a payoff that never came, though.
  • I have seen a number of pictures of the show's dress rehearsal, and they reveal that this was done on the home base stage, which was covered in ChromaKey backdrops to achieve the cartoon-like effect with the background.

***

COMMERCIAL: ESCAPE FROM ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK 

  • A preview for a movie chronicling an audience's attempt to flee an assault on their intelligence.
  • An oddity, with no castmembers and comprised entirely of stills from the movies and stock footage of movie theatre audiences.  The "Adrienne Bimbo is the director's wife!" line was funny, though.
  • The twist with the escaped audience members being trapped in a screening of "New York, New York" was amusing but unnecessary.

**

SKETCH: I MARRIED A MONKEY

  • Tim Kazurinsky's marital issues with his pill-popping chimpanzee wife Madge come to a head as baby Ronnie hops around obliviously.
  • According to Live From New York, Tim Kazurinsky's main reason for doing these sketches was to demonstrate the unpredictability of live television, and he does appear to ad-lib a couple of times.  The idea itself sounds cheesy and there are a few groan-worthy lines, but Kazurinsky's performance is the key to the success of these sketches.
  • There were a few funny parts, like Madge repeatedly trying to kiss Tim, but the sketch really took off once the baby chimp entered the scene: it kept hopping around the set from the bed to a chair, onto a nightstand and diving onto the bed.  The activity actually shakes a picture off one of the walls, and Tim has a great ad-lib ("We gotta get some Ritalin") in response.

**** 

MISCELLANEOUS: A MESSAGE FROM EDDIE MURPHY

  • Eddie Murphy advises the youth of today to follow his example and drop out of college; luck is more important than education.
  • A brief bit.  Murphy has a few good lines, especially "Get each other pregnant and play Space Invaders!"
  • Sammy, Eddie's limo driver ("Sammy went to Harvard"), is played by writer Eliot Wald.

***1/2

SHOW: HIDDEN PHOTO

  • An Allen Funt-like host (Joe Piscopo) introduces clips of sadistic pranks: giving diner patrons red-hot forks for their cheesecake, messing with a blind man's seeing-eye dog, and telling elementary school students their parents are giving them up for adoption.
  • They never actually mention Funt's name, but several episode guides list Piscopo's impression and it is clear who he is supposed to be parodying; I guess they avoided doing a straight parody to avoid legal issues resulting from this because it is a VERY nasty spoof of the potential cruelty of these shows.
  • Christine Ebersole's exaggerated southern accent as the Fannie Flagg-esque waitress in the cheesecake segment cracked me up.
  • The segment with the blind man wasn't quite as entertaining as the diner segment, but the last segment with the kids all being reduced to tears while the host says things like "Your mommy and daddy have decided they don't love you anymore" and "It's time to go to the orphanage!" has to be the cruelest thing ever shown on SNL, even if it is obviously just a sketch.
  • That first little girl in the film clip (the one with the curly hair) appeared on the show a lot around that time when they needed a child actor.  They would use Frederick Kohler from Kate & Allie when they needed a kid a few years later in 1984-85, but can anyone confirm who the girl is?
  • In the last audience shot, some of the audience members can clearly be heard saying "Candid Camera" instead of "Hidden Photo".

****1/2

SKETCH: BEDTIME STORY 

  • A father (Tony Rosato) tells his little girls (Mary Gross and Robin Duke) a bedtime story about camels that learned to upholster furniture.
  • This is almost as random as Nick The Knock (which aired later in the live show), but just because there's really nothing more to the sketch or story than what I list in my description.  It seems like an anti-sketch to be honest, something that's so odd and trivial that's where the humor comes from.  I'll give it a rating just for that...its not a particular highlight of tonight's show, but just something different and weird enough to be amusing in itself.

**

MISCELLANEOUS: BILLY JOEL TEASER

  • Going to commercial, Billy Joel and his band are seen rehearsing live from their recording studio.

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "OUR LIPS ARE SEALED"

  • An underwhelming performance with nothing in the way of intensity or expressiveness to offset the flimsy, amateurish musicianship and singing.  It came off as a bad talent show spot.

FILM: "MAN RAY AND MIC" - BILL WEGMAN 

  • A dog drops something out of its mouth to be amplified by a microphone.
  • Kind of a short interlude piece; as TV Tropes would say, "exactly what it says in the tin".

**

SKETCH: SKETCH IN THE DARK

  • The lights go out as Christine Ebersole and Tony Rosato prepare to do a sketch, but the lack of visual reference makes their dialogue unacceptable to the censor (Tim Kazurinsky).
  • An interesting idea with a good execution, and some funny lines, such as Rosato suggesting the audience imagine the sketch was about a man helping a woman hang curtains in the bottom of a coal mine.
  • Al Siegal, the name of Kazurinsky's censor character, is actually the name of SNL's original cue card man.
  • The funniest part was Ebersole getting fed up and calling out for the producer, and the censor throwing a fit because she's screaming "Dick! Dick! Dick! Get me DICK!"

***1/2 

MISCELLANEOUS: COMING UP

  • Joe Piscopo tells viewers to stay tuned for Billy Joel as Eddie Murphy challenges him for the right to introduce him later in the show.
  • This is more a time-filler segment (akin to the usual "next week's host" bits they would often do for the live broadcast) so I won't rate it, but it was an amusing bit with Piscopo and Murphy displaying their on-screen chemistry.

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "MAKING LOVE ALONE"

  • Bernadette Peters performs an ode to the wonder of self-gratification.
  • A classic, with an impressive performance by Peters.  The song was co-written by SNL writer Marilyn Suzanne Miller and once and future SNL band member Cheryl Hardwick (who would also marry Michael O'Donoghue in 1986) and actually has been incorporated into Peters' repertoire.

***** 

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "MIAMI 2017"

  • Cheesy police light intro aside, this was a very good performance dominated by Liberty DeVitto's intense drumming.
  • Joel's performances for this show weren't done in Studio 8H as normal, but from the recording studio where he and his band were recording a new album; it gives an interesting feeling to both performances.
  • The segments were actually produced and directed by Don Ohlmeyer, the man responsible for the firing of Norm MacDonald from Weekend Update some 16 years later.

SKETCH: 42ND STREET 

  • Ruby Sawyer (Bernadette Peters), a 1930s-style innocent wannabe starlet, hopes for her big break in a grindhouse theatre on "the 42nd Street of today".
  • This had a very interesting concept, mixing the plot of the 1933 film and subsequent musical (the names of Peters and Doyle-Murray's characters are clear homages) with the then-current depravity that the block had descended into at the time.  With the cleaning up of the area in the 90s, that element's been obscured a bit now.
  • Also worth noting is that Christine Ebersole actually won a Tony for her role in a revival of the musical about 20 years after performing in this sketch.
  • The sketch itself was very long, and there was a running joke ("Feed the bear") that never worked as well as it wanted to; the audience was pretty quiet throughout as well.
  • Despite this, there were some good performances throughout, particularly from Tony Rosato as the sleazy producer and Brian Doyle-Murray as the drag queen director.  Peters was also good in this despite tripping on the delivery of a few of her lines.
  • According to the dress rehearsal pictures, Doyle-Murray originally played the role wearing a long, blonde wig.  The decision to go with his own thinning hair worked in the sketch's favor.
  • Favorite lines: when Peters demonstrates her act and Rosato asks her "You're not on speed, are you, kid?", Doyle-Murray lamenting that he's out the $300 he invested when the headliner fatally overdoses.
  • The actual set design was actually quite depressing looking, complete with tattered fire hose and neon light bleeding in through the window.
  • Overall, I would say it's one of the most noble failures the show has done.  It's a sketch where you can admire and appreciate the effort everyone put into despite a less-than-stellar final result.

**1/2 

SNL NEWSBREAK WITH BRIAN DOYLE-MURRAY

  • They do the "letters falling" gag yet again; the audience is as sick of it as I am.
  • Brian Doyle-Murray seemed to have trouble getting some of his words out in the Khomeini joke, and stumbled in other places as well.
  • Most of this Update was pretty wretched and I can see why they decided to bury the segment after the second station break (after about 12:30); the break in the bad jokes was a silly bit where David Stockman (Kazurinsky) defends supply-side economics.  It was predictable once his nose started growing with every camera switch, but it was pretty well executed and Kazurinsky had a good delivery.

*1/2

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "WE GOT THE BEAT" 

  • A better performance than the previous Go-Gos song, although still not that great.

SKETCH: NICK THE KNOCK

  • A bizarre clown (Joe Piscopo) listens to a fairy (Mary Gross) read a poem about the gift of truth and rewards her by eating her spine.
  • Written by Michael O'Donoghue and Pamela Norris.
  • I really don't know how to rate this particular sketch: this was so bizarre and random, almost nightmarish, not to mention so graphic at the end that the audience was completely silent.  I've also heard that O'Donoghue basically wrote this sketch solely to humiliate Joe Piscopo.
  • I'd give this sketch its main rating based on the uniqueness of the whole thing: I showed my friend this sketch back in university and he commented on how the poem reflects O'Donoghue's more intellectual leanings.  That kind of sensibility mixed with the visual of Piscopo ripping apart a fairy puppet that oozes green blood as Gross is heard screaming is certainly a unique experience, although I can't actually say it's a great one.  I can't say it's exactly a lowlight either, as it is still worth checking out for the experience of seeing once.
  • Side note: that yodeling record Nick plays and breaks at the beginning is the same music that's used at the beginning of "Pumping Up With Hans & Franz"

**1/2

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "SHE'S GOT A WAY" 

  • In contrast to the intensity of the first Billy Joel song, this is a tender solo piano piece, performed while Joel has a lit cigarette still fuming in the ashtray on the piano.

SKETCH: ROCK 'N ROLL HEAVEN, INCORPORATED 

  • A company specializing in exploitative merchandise based on dead rock stars discusses products during their latest meeting.
  • The audience was pretty quiet throughout, but it was a good, if cynical (and particularly prescient) take on the merchandising potential of dead artists.
  • Some of the various products were amusingly tasteless, like the Fix Jimi/Janis dartboard and the Dr. Nick Medical Kit.
  • In the dress rehearsal pictures, Robin Duke's character is wearing a wig, as opposed to Duke's real hair in the actual broadcast.

***1/2 

GOODNIGHTS

  • Bernadette says she was just blessed to work with this group; she asks Tim what it was like to work opposite a monkey.  Tim replies that he works with six of them every week as Eddie exclaims "Hey, that ain't funny!" in mock indignation.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

This seems to be the quintessential Michael O'Donoghue-period 1981-82 show.  Peters was one of the more effective hosts this season, despite not being used a lot (I've started to notice Ebersol's SNL was more about the cast than the host anyway), while Billy Joel's performances were solid.  I can't really say the same about The Go-Gos, though.  Yes, it had some weak moments, such a worse-than-usual Newsbreak, and an overlong and less-than-successful showcase sketch, but there was a relentlessness and daring in the material that they would never match again this season, and the weak stuff was balanced out by the better material.  It also lacks the compromise that marred the Donald Pleasence episode, and remains one of the most intriguing, if potentially alienating, episodes SNL ever did.

EPISODE HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Making Love Alone
  • Hidden Photo
  • I Married A Monkey
  • A Message From Eddie Murphy
  • Rock 'N Roll Heaven, Incorporated
  • Sketch In The Dark

EPISODE LOWLIGHTS:

  • SNL Newsbreak
  • Bedtime Story
  • Texxon
  • Escape From Escape From New York
  • Man Ray & Mic
  • Belinda Carlisle's singing

MVP

  • Tim Kazurinsky

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN:

cast

  • Robin Duke: 3 appearances [Rock 'N Roll Heaven Incorporated, Bedtime Story, 42nd Street]
  • Christine Ebersole: 3 appearances [Hidden Photo, Sketch In The Dark, 42nd Street]
  • Mary Gross: 2 appearances [Nick The Knock, Bedtime Story]
  • Tim Kazurinsky: 4 appearances [I Married A Monkey, Sketch In The Dark, Rock 'N Roll Heaven Incorporated, SNL Newsbreak]
  • Eddie Murphy: 4 appearances [A Message From Eddie Murphy, Coming Up, Rock 'N Roll Heaven Incorporated, 42nd Street]
  • Joe Piscopo: 5 appearances [Hidden Photo, Coming Up, Rock 'N Roll Heaven Incorporated, Nick The Knock, 42nd Street]
  • Tony Rosato: 4 appearances [Sketch In The Dark, Rock 'N Roll Heaven Incorporated, Bedtime Story, 42nd Street]

featured players

  • Brian Doyle-Murray: 3 appearances [Rock 'N Roll Heaven Incorporated, SNL Newsbreak, 42nd Street]

non-cast

  • Barry W. Blaustein: 1 appearance [Hidden Photo]
  • Mark O'Donnell: 1 appearance [Hidden Photo]
  • David Sheffield: 1 appearance [Hidden Photo]
  • Dave Wilson: 1 voiceover [Sketch In The Dark]
  • Eliot Wald: 1 appearance [A Message From Eddie Murphy]

guests

  • Bernadette Peters: 3 appearances [Johnny Keep Your Gun Clean, "Making Love Alone", 42nd Street]
  • Billy Joel: 2 appearances ["Miami 2017", "She's Got A Way"]
  • The Go-Gos: 2 appearances ["Our Lips Are Sealed", "We Got The Beat"]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • January 9, 1982
  • August 14, 1982

Known alterations:

  • The Trouble With Fred is added from Tim Curry (12/05/81)

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.