Classic SNL Review: February 20, 1982: Bruce Dern / Luther Vandross (S07E12)

RATINGS SYSTEM:

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

OPENING: BACKSTAGE

  • Bruce Dern tells Tim Kazurinsky he's the standout in the cast, but advises him that a short, geeky little guy like him can't break into film.
  • Kind of an odd opening: it wasn't particularly funny.  The ending was particularly weak: Dern threatens to walk after Kazurinsky cracks about his tendency to only play psychos, then Tim tell hims to cut the crap because they have a show to do and says "Roll the montage".
  • There were a few small moments that were funny, such as Eddie Murphy warning Dern: "Don't choke" and Dern saying that Kazurinsky's pimply face looked like someone rubbed a chocolate bar on it.

**

SKETCH: SKI DATE

  • Jack's (Bruce Dern) date for a ski trip cancels on him, but he sees an opportunity when his downstairs neighbor Debra (Mary Gross) comes up.


  • I wasn't too wild about this sketch.  It had a long, dull setup, and most of the funny lines were the random afflictions that the neighbor's dog suffered from.
  • The transition from the talent entrance to this sketch was really cool: Bruce walks across the studio onto this sketch's set, which is actually attached to the right side of the home base stage (the door in the sketch is the one on the stage with an extra wall put up beside it).

** 

VOX POP: WHO DO YOU HATE?

  • Various people on the streets of New York tell the camera who they hate.
  • This was the first "man on the street" segment they would do during the Ebersol era; they would mainly do them the next season.  They're basically filler segments and they really can't be rated, but they're entertaining little diversions and this one had a few funny bits like the black man who hates blondes and the guy railing against his mother in law.

SHOW: FOCUS ON FILM

  • Raheem Abdul Mohammed (Eddie Murphy) denies there's anything going on between him and friend Clint (Clint Smith) after they saw Making Love together.
  • This is the first on-camera appearance of Eddie Murphy's friend Clint Smith, who would be a frequent extra on the show throughout the Ebersol era.   Clint doesn't have any lines in this sketch, but him just sitting there wordlessly was pretty funny in itself.
  • Also notable is that this is the second appearance of Raheem Abdul Mohammed in two consecutive shows.  As well, the Focus on Film set has different posters than usual: instead of the usual blaxploitation film posters in later editions, I see posters for movies like "Topaz", "Gunfight At The OK Corral" and "On A Clear Day You Can See Forever".
  • Much of the humor is based on Raheem's homophobic reaction to the movie he saw, as well as him catching himself saying sexually ambiguous things about the things he and Clint do together.  Like "Crazy Mary, Gay Jim" from the previous show, it probably wouldn't go over well today, although it does seem to fit with the whole "pause"/"no homo" terms in hip-hop culture.  It wasn't as ridiculously silly as "Crazy Mary" but it wasn't bad.  I did laugh at Raheem and Clint demonstrating their Milk Dud throwing technique and Mel Brandt reading the "I'm Sorry Clint, I thought you were a homosexual" address at the end.

***

SKETCH: THE BIZARRO WORLD

  • The Bizarro Broadcasting Company's bad programming decisions parallel NBC's in the real world.
  • Another good segment; it went on a little too long but it had some great lines, such as the executive telling Bizarro McLean Stevenson to "go be boring on Carson" and their description of cocaine: "strange white powder- it make you nervous!".
  • As with the first sketch, the illustrations of Bizarro personalities were quite funny, especially Bizarro Alan Alda (Brian Doyle-Murray): "Hey ladies, me got something for you!" *swivels pelvis suggestively*
  • I prefer O'Donoghue's narration in the last sketch to Dern's; the latter is too overdramatic and not quite as Serling-like as O'Donoghue's was.
  • I can't watch the sequence where they reward Tom Snyder by cancelling his show and put Letterman on in his place (to see if it does worse than his morning show) without thinking a few things: first, Letterman had only been on a few weeks at that point and it's funny to see this in light of Letterman's lengthy run on NBC and CBS.  Second, it reminds me all too much of the 2009-2010 Tonight Show battle with Leno being rewarded for his crappy show bringing down the ratings of everyone afterward (yes, I do know it was a matter of Conan being easier to buy out than The Chin).  It's funny to think how NBC was in the ditch in 1982, then climbed to the top of the ratings for the longest time, and now are back at the bottom.  Jeff Zucker would be at home in Bizarro World.

***1/2

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "NEVER TOO MUCH"

  • Dern does a long setup about how Vandross is nominated for 2 Grammy Awards and says that he's sure to get "Outstanding Newcomer".  He would lose to Sheena Easton.
  • A very good performance with a full band sound.
  • Former SNL band member Marcus Miller makes his second appearance on SNL this season (his first was with Miles Davis).

SNL NEWSBREAK WITH BRIAN DOYLE-MURRAY AND MARY GROSS

  • Best jokes: Princess Di gives birth, Donny Most turns 75.
  • The opening bit with the Gross/Doyle-Murray romance arc was pretty dumb, although the visual of Gross holding Doyle-Murray's tie with her teeth was a little funny.  The segment's more notable for the appearance of former SNL writer Tom Schiller and current SNL talent executive Neil Levy as gypsy musicians: Levy appeared on the show frequently during 1980-82, but this is the only on-camera appearance Schiller would make between 1980 and 1989 (he has a voiceover in "Art Is Ficial").  
  • Christine Ebersole does a traffic report where she's more concerned with the novelty of seeing the city from up high.  Pretty weak.
  • Joe Piscopo gives the skinny on what's going on in sports: nothing.  It was a brief and fairly pointless appearance, but it got the audience excited.

** 

SKETCH: SONGWRITERS

  • In the 1930s, hack songwriters Harry Schleimer (Joe Piscopo) and Moe Laub (Tim Kazurinsky) see an opportunity when singer Helen Waterling (Christine Ebersole) stops by their office.
  • I always liked this sketch, it has a charm to it as well as good performances from everyone involved.  It wasn't really a hard laugh sketch although it did have some funny parts like "You should hear Paul Robeson do this one" (after the songwriters sing a particularly politically incorrect song for Ebersole's character), "Milwaukee Honeymoon" (to the tune of "Hooray For Hollywood") and "The Lindbergh Baby Polka".
  • The main song Ebersole's character sings, "Montana" was also quite good (especially the way it incorporates the word "ante-penultimate" into the lyrics), and there were a lot of nice little touches to the sketch, such as the flag accurately having only 48 stars and Kazurinsky's marching in the background as Ebersole sings the song.
  • According to the music publishing databases, the individual songs were written or co-written by Mark O'Donnell, so it's safe to say he must have written this sketch.  
  • Piscopo and Kazurinsky would play these characters again in Dern's next show: Dern doesn't appear here, but he's in the March 1983 installment.  Mark O'Donnell left the writing staff by then, so Eliot Wald and Nate Herman wrote the second sketch.

***1/2

SKETCH: THE MILD ONE

  • Zen-inspired bikers (Bruce Dern) and (Tony Rosato) use philosophy to terrorize people in a diner.
  • Written by Nelson Lyon.
  • A longer sketch: it has a bit of an odd feel to it, but I felt the length and slower pacing worked in the context and atmosphere of the sketch.
  • It was more clever/interesting than funny (some parts of it played more as sad) but I did like Piscopo calling Dern's character scum after he waxes philosophical about a rose.

***

HOME MOVIE: "FRACAS" BY TIMOTHY HITTLE

  • Jay Clay, a small claymation man, retaliates against his annoying human roommate.


  • A brief but amusing film.
  • In the original broadcast, the film started before they switched off the "Home movie" title card and you can hear the re-cueing the film before it switches off, and the title card isn't shown.  It runs in the Bill Murray encore three weeks later as well as in the Dern rerun (with no "home movie" title).
  • The song playing on the stereo is the beginning of the coda to Talking Heads' "Mind", off the Fear of Music album. 
  • Timothy Hittle has worked as an animator for a few Pixar movies, as well as a few films directed by Henry Selick.  Hittle has posted the full version of Fracas online: the SNL airing runs at a faster speed and cuts the ending where the roommate blows up Jay Clay's head.

***

SKETCH: AIRPLANE

  • When pilots Bob (Bruce Dern) and his wife (Robin Duke) bring their friends (Mary Gross and Tony Rosato) on an airplane flight, a drunken Bob threatens to crash the plane over his suspicions of infidelity.
  • A fairly unremarkable sketch, although it starts off promisingly with Bob drinking and referring to taking acid.  All gave decent performances, but I would have to single out Robin Duke in the straight role.
  • The ending was weak: Rosato's character screams he didn't have an affair with Bob's wife, then Bob is satisfied and says he was just testing, and the audience start to applaud and it fades out.  I wonder if they had to abort the sketch early.
  • This sketch is more notable for the censorship it received on all rebroadcasts.  I have a recording of the original West Coast broadcast and they bleep out a word twice (it's likely "screwing"), while the repeat loops in "interested in" for the first instance and mixes the screaming and dialogue to obscure the second instance.

**

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "A HOUSE IS NOT A HOME"

  • A very good six-minute performance of the Bacharach/David song; the audience gives Vandross a warm reception at the end.

SKETCH: MELINA'S CAFE

  • Mad, passionate Greek immigrant Melina (Robin Duke) works her hot-and-cold relationship with maitre d' Anthony (Tony Rosato) into her nightclub act.
  • It wasn't great, but this was a decent character piece carried by the performances of Duke and especially Rosato, who was excellent in the straight man role as usual.  My favorite part is Duke introducing "a song about love, and of course, myself" then barking out a short atonal rendition of "I Know What Boys Like" before going "Okay, so" without a beat, which was the funniest part in the second half of the show.  She seems to be coming into her own again tonight.
  • This sketch has about a minute or so edited out the repeat version: right after she talks about how she has taken many illegal drugs, the rerun version removes the part where Duke continues to publicly bother Rosato's character about his girlfriend and sings "Proud Mary" in the same staccoto shout as before; the repeat just cuts to her breaking a glass with her teeth.  The segment could have been cut due to music licensing issues, but it could have just been removed for time concerns: the live show ran long and they needed the extra time to run the credits in full.

***

GOODNIGHTS

  • Eddie Murphy bellows "Looooooou" after Dern mentions Luther Vandross.  The show runs long in the original broadcast and cuts off before the credits roll.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

A middling episode; nothing egregiously bad, nothing great.  Dern was an OK if unremarkable host, but he did come back about a year later (the famous "Buckwheat Buys The Farm" episode) which means they either liked him enough to bring him back or they were having trouble booking guests.  Despite so-so material, they once again had a great musical guest this week with Luther Vandross, whose performances were pretty much the standout portions of tonight's show.  I still see some renewed signs of life in the cast and writing, though, and it really feels more like a "breather" week than a true flop like Conrad and Madden's shows were.

EPISODE HIGHLIGHTS:

  • The Bizarro World
  • Songwriters

EPISODE LOWLIGHTS:

  • Airplane
  • SNL Newsbreak
  • Ski Date
  • Backstage

MVP:

  • Tim Kazurinsky

CAST AND GUEST BREAKDOWN:

cast

  • Robin Duke: 5 appearances [Backstage, Songwriters, The Mild One, Airplane, Melina's Cafe]
  • Christine Ebersole: 4 appearances [Backstage, The Bizarro World, Songwriters, The Mild One], 1 voiceover [SNL Newsbreak]
  • Mary Gross: 6 appearances [Backstage, Ski Date, The Bizarro World, SNL Newsbreak, The Mild One, Airplane]
  • Tim Kazurinsky: 4 appearances [Backstage, The Bizarro World, Songwriters, The Mild One]
  • Eddie Murphy: 3 appearances [Backstage, Focus on Film, The Mild One]
  • Joe Piscopo: 5 appearances [Ski Date, The Bizarro World, SNL Newsbreak, Songwriters, The Mild One]
  • Tony Rosato: 5 appearances [Backstage, The Bizarro World, The Mild One, Airplane, Melina's Cafe]

featured players

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

crew and extras

  • Joe Dicso: 1 appearance [Backstage]
  • Neil Levy: 1 appearance [SNL Newsbreak]
  • Lee Mayman: 2 appearances [The Mild One, Melina's Cafe]
  • Tom Schiller: 1 appearance [SNL Newsbreak]
  • Clint Smith: 1 appearance [Focus On Film]
  • Liz Welch: 1 appearance [Melina's Cafe]

guests

  • Bruce Dern: 5 appearances [Backstage, Ski Date, The Bizarro World, The Mild One, Airplane]
  • Luther Vandross: 2 appearances ["Never Too Much", "A House Is Not A Home"]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • May 29, 1982

Known alterations:

  • Airplane and Melina's Cafe are edited.

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.