Classic SNL Review: December 12, 1981: Bill Murray / The Spinners, Yale Whiffenpoofs of 1982 (S07E08)

RATING SYSTEM:

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

OPENING: THE PHONE COMPANY

  • "Pretending to make progress so we can charge you more".
  • Another decent opening segment; this would be the final of the short promo cold opens, as they would go back to starting the show with full sketches, although still not restoring the "Live From New York" line at all this season.  I have to wonder where they would have gone if they kept the sponsor gags running, and whether they would have been able to keep up the quality for the rest of the season.

***

MONOLOGUE: SANTA CLAUS

  • Bill announces tonight's show has some great guests including Santa Claus (Andy Murphy), whom Bill effusively praises.


  • This is the most well-known clip from this episode due to its use in the Christmas specials, although the intro is redubbed with the later theme and a Don Pardo introduction.
  • A good, brief, enjoyable segment carried by Bill's comic personality.

****

SHOW: TALES OF THE UNLIKELY

  • In "Episode 7: The Libyan Menace", three inept Libyans (Bill Murray, Robin Duke, Eddie Murphy) attempt to avenge a military defeat by assassinating Ronald Reagan.
  • This was an above average segment; it's not necessarily a classic, but pretty strong nonetheless thanks to Murray, Duke and Murphy and their flimsy disguises and excuses.
  • I especially liked the Covert Operations agent played by Piscopo casually introducing himself and giving away pamphlets such as "So You Want To Kill The President" and offering more help with covering up.
  • The ending with Richard Allen (Tony Rosato) was a good topical joke, although I think it plays funnier with familiarity of his bribery scandal.
  • There's a small blooper at the end when the crown Robin Duke is wearing in her "three wise men" get-up falls off her head in the scene were they realize Reagan never got their "present".  You can see one of the others grab it off the floor when they leave.  Robin's hair also seems to have a hard time staying under her head covering.

***1/2

SKETCH: NO TOMORROW

  • Following the cancellation of Tomorrow, Tom Snyder (Joe Piscopo), now detached from reality while staying in a seedy hotel room, acts as he is still on-camera and that the visitors to his room are show guests.
  • An interesting use of Piscopo's Snyder impression, especially with him randomly assigning identities to the visitors in his room such as Ted Turner and Rita Jenretty.  I also liked his line when he hallucinated Rona Barrett (Christine Ebersole): "Rona, you're just a small time bitch from Brooklyn!"
  • The ending, with Snyder vowing to the teddy bear (who he thinks is the Lindbergh baby) that he'll return to the air as long as there are freaks and weirdos to be interviewed, actually works as a fairly touching/bittersweet note.

***

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: MEDLEY: "THEN CAME YOU", "I'LL BE AROUND", "WORKING MY WAY BACK TO YOU"

  • The SNL Band is seen on the stage above the legendary R&B vocal group; this was an enjoyable performance that the audience was also very much into.

COMMERCIAL: MX-5 TAMPONS

  • Father Guido Sarducci (Don Novello) touts the superiority of MX-5 Tampons over "Brenda's brand."
  • A silly, brief commercial parody with a few funny lines about how this is the only brand you can wear on a trampoline, and that the tampon company is a division of Baskin and Robbins.

*** 

SNL NEWSBREAK WITH BRIAN DOYLE-MURRAY

  • Best joke: PATCO air traffic controllers in Libya.
  • They finally retire the "falling letters" opening after running it into the ground this season.
  • The Khaddaffi spellings segment is the first time this season that the writers had a chyron crawl on the screen as Doyle-Murray talked, which would be used multiple times this season to varying effects.  This one had some good ones in there, though, and I always tend to remember "Kdfy" the most of the alternate spellings.  The Kadaffy Duck comic book was also well done.
  • The Sports segment was also quite funny, especially with the old clip of a clean-cut and slick-haired Joe Piscopo interviewing the then Cassius Clay (Eddie Murphy).  The segment with Murphy as the now middle-aged Ali (complete with prosthetic makeup) was also funny, if a little in bad taste in light of Ali's subsequent Parkinson's diagnosis, but I did like the "I made you Cosell!" line and him trailing off into "Old MacDonald Had A Farm"
  • Mary Gross' Joy Of Christmas remote with jaded young children complaining about the commercialism and bad television specials was also pretty funny.  A very young Seth Green and the first little girl from Hidden Photo appear in this segment.

*** 

SKETCH: FAIRYTALE 

  • Brooke Shields (Mary Gross) contorts as she reads a fairy tale about a pair of elves (Robin Duke and Tim Kazurinsky) that help Ralph Lauren (Bill Murray) get his new lineup ready in time for a deadline.
  • Bill Murray did a good job carrying this, and I liked the models' line about not knowing what the rope (lasso) was for.  Eddie Murphy had a few funny parts as the really flamboyantly gay model, including the little skip he does when he leaves the scene for the first time.
  • You can see Murphy is holding up his fist in an odd way when he is in the cowboy outfit; in an interview he did for a 1994 Comedy Central marathon he mentioned they hadn't been able to fully remove the Muhammad Ali prosthetics he was wearing in time for the sketch.
  • The "I do believe in fairies!" line was pretty funny as well, as were the ridiculous elf outfits that the models wore after the elves made Ralph's new lineup.

***

GUEST PERFORMANCE: MICHAEL DAVIS

  • The juggler returns with a few balancing acts as well as a letter from a fan named Lefty who requests he juggles three bowling balls.
  • Another impressive, solid appearance by Michael Davis, although I'd put it below his other two appearances so far this season.
  • Davis usually has at least one classic line in each of his performances; this time, it was "Is [the bowling ball] affected by gravity or does the Earth suck?"

****

MISCELLANEOUS: SARDUCCI'S PREDICTIONS 

  • Bill Murray and Father Guido Sarducci discuss predictions the latter made for the nearly finished 1981.  Sarducci then makes a few more for 1982.
  • The audience enjoyed this absurd segment, and the random things Sarducci suggested would happen in 1981 were pretty funny, especially the aliens from outer space disguising themselves as Chiclets and Sarducci saying his prediction of Prince Charles marrying a 45-year-old Canadian divorcee wasn't too far off the mark.
  • Bill's line "I only read the Post" got a big reaction from the audience.

***1/2

SKETCH: AT HOME WITH THE PSYCHOS

  • The paranoid patriarch (Bill Murray), his mohawked wife (Christine Ebersole), their blind ballerina daughter (Mary Gross) and dynamite-covered son (Eddie Murphy) ignore the warnings of an emergency worker (Brian Doyle-Murray) about the dangerous fissure at the nuclear plant next door; Dad anticipates the extra radiation will lead to a new orifice called the blow-hole, and he's going to get rich by selling accessories for it.
  • This is it, Michael O'Donoghue's last gasp during his tenure as SNL's producer.  He would contribute to the show very briefly in 1985-86 as well as pen the classic "Boulevard Of Broken Balls" song from Christopher Walken's 1992 gig, but this is the last time O'Donoghue would have such a huge direct influence on the content of a show.  This was a collaboration with Nelson Lyon, Rosie Shuster and Terry Southern.
  • This is such an odd, disquieting segment made even eerier by the audiences' lack of reaction; when this silence is combined with the siren going off in the background and the choral music at the very end of the sketch, it really gives this an odd atmosphere.
  • The actual blow-hole prop (which had been described as "a c*** with ears") was not approved by Standards and they were forced to do the sketch without it (Murray shows Doyle-Murray accessories in a briefcase opened away from the camera).
  • Mary as the blind ballerina daughter was funny in a wrong way, like how Fred Armisen's David Paterson impression is funny.  The scene with Murray making out with her was a little creepy.
  • Murray's speech at the end where he proudly announces the Psychos were the people who believed in the MX missile, Chrysler and the Tomorrow Show (a callback to the Snyder sketch?) tied everything together; however, while there were good moments throughout, the whole thing is so long, dark, hellish and twisted makes it hard to watch multiple times.
  • Addendum: When this sketch was originally broadcast on NBC in 1981, the first bit (up to Murray looking in the newspaper) was pre-empted by a network news bulletin announcing the declaration of martial law in Poland.  This sketch has an added unsettling quality when viewed as originally aired with the news bulletin.

***

MUSICAL SKETCH: SUPPLY SIDE CHRISTMAS

  • Honker (Bill Murray) approaches a well-to-do couple (Joe Piscopo and Christine Ebersole) for some spare change; they explain to the tune of "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas" that if they spend elsewhere, it will eventually trickle down to him.  A Salvation Army Santa (Eddie Murphy) joins the song as Honker realizes "it's a gift-wrapped scam".


  • A brief, amusing interlude, with the main laughs coming from the smugness of the couple as they sang, Santa's singing and Honker saying that the end result would be that he would be "trickled on".

***1/2 

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: MEDLEY: "THE WHIFFENPOOF SONG", "BOARS HEAD CAROL", "GOD REST YE MERRY GENTLEMEN", "JINGLE BELLS"

  • A nice respite from the mood set by the Psychos sketch (which aired right before this in the repeat).  The SAT scores being projected under the singers' faces were funny.
  • Having the cast come out at the end was a nice touch, although I wonder why they had them electronically distort their voices to make them sound like Chipmunks.
  • The sideways pan across the cast has Tony doing these exaggerated facial expressions, as well as revealing how short Robin and especially Tim are.  Tim actually looks like a little kid with the hat on, and Robin's hair really looks wild in this episode.

GOODNIGHTS

  • Bill Murray mentions that the members of the Polish pro-democracy group Solidarity have been arrested, and (erroneously) that the country has been taken over by the Soviets; he jokes that the Whiffenpoofs have to join the army, before reminding the audience it's Christmas, "there's still a bargain to be had in Fort Lee, New Jersey", and solemnly closes: "Our hearts should be with, and are with, the good people of Poland.  God bless them."  Christine Ebersole and Robin Duke are visibly in tears.
  • This segment was joined in progress for the rerun, which added "Fracas" to fill time and as far as I'm aware did not have any other material cut;
  • A remembrance by Don Novello in Live From New York tells how Dick Ebersol told Murray to break the news that Russia invaded Poland on the air during the goodnights.
  • Jim Downey is listed as an additional writer for this episode.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

A decent, if underwhelming episode.  Nothing was especially bad tonight, although it wasn't really a standout show as one would expect from a host like Bill Murray.  I don't recall any particularly bad segments; even the difficult to watch At Home With The Psychos was actually a well done sketch.  It's just that most of the material was slightly above-average at best.

This is also the end of the first portion of the season.  O'Donoghue would be fired before the next live show, the catalyst being when he crashed a meeting where he berated everyone's performance (one account I've read was that he told Mary Gross she was so untalented she should be selling shoes), leaving Bob Tischler as the sole producer under Ebersol.  O'Donoghue may have done a lot more daring and potentially alienating material in these shows,  but this period of SNL also seemed to demonstrate a forward momentum, and the first few shows after O'Donoghue's firing really feel like it was derailed a bit.  I really look forward to seeing those episodes again because there were some interesting moments in each of them, but I also recall some of the material being just bad.  I'll get to the good and bad in the specific episode reviews.

EPISODE HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Monologue
  • Michael Davis
  • Tales Of The Unlikely
  • Supply Side Christmas
  • Sarducci's Predictions

EPISODE LOWLIGHTS:

  • None

MVP:

  • Bill Murray

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN:

cast

  • Robin Duke: 4 appearances [Tales Of The Unlikely, MX-5 Tampons [voice only], Fairytale, "Jingle Bells"]
  • Christine Ebersole: 5 appearances [Tales Of The Unlikely, No Tomorrow, Supply Side Christmas, At Home With The Psychos, "Jingle Bells"]
  • Mary Gross: 5 appearances [Tales Of The Unlikely, SNL Newsbreak, Fairytale, At Home With The Psychos, "Jingle Bells"]
  • Tim Kazurinsky: 4 appearances [Tales Of The Unlikely, No Tomorrow, Fairytale, "Jingle Bells"]
  • Eddie Murphy: 6 appearances [Tales Of The Unlikely, SNL Newsbreak, Fairytale, Supply Side Christmas, At Home With The Psychos, "Jingle Bells"]
  • Joe Piscopo: 6 appearances [Tales Of The Unlikely, No Tomorrow, SNL Newsbreak, Fairytale, Supply Side Christmas, "Jingle Bells"]
  • Tony Rosato: 4 appearances [Tales Of The Unlikely, No Tomorrow, Fairytale, "Jingle Bells"]

featured players:

  • Brian Doyle-Murray: 4 appearances [SNL Newsbreak, Fairytale, At Home With The Psychos, "Jingle Bells"]

crew and extras:

  • Andy Murphy: 1 appearance [Monologue]
  • Mark O'Donnell: 1 appearance [Tales Of The Unlikely]
  • Fred Stoller: 1 appearance [Tales Of The Unlikely]

guests:

  • Bill Murray: 7 appearances [Monologue, Tales Of The Unlikely, Sarducci's Predictions, Fairytale, Supply Side Christmas, At Home With The Psychos, "Jingle Bells"]
  • The Spinners: 1 appearance [Medley]
  • Father Guido Sarducci: 2 appearances [MX-5 Tampons, Sarducci's Predictions]
  • Yale Whiffenpoofs of 1982: 1 appearance [Medley]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • March 13, 1982
  • December 25, 1982
  • September 14, 1985
  • July 5, 1986

At the time this review was written, this episode is tied with Eddie Murphy / Lionel Richie (12/11/82) and Jack Black / Neil Young (12/17/05) as the most-repeated episode in SNL history, with four network rebroadcasts each; as of 2013, that record has been surpassed by the Peyton Manning / Carrie Underwood episode (03/24/07).

Known alterations:

  • "Fracas" (from 02/20/82) is added.
  • The goodnights were edited to remove some of Murray's comments on the Polish situation. 

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.