Classic SNL Review: April 10, 1982: Daniel J. Travanti / John Cougar (S07E16)

RATINGS SYSTEM:

***** - Classic
****  - Great
***   - Good
**    - Meh
*     - Bad

OPENING: LARRY THE LOBSTER PHONE-IN VOTE

  • As a chef (Tony Rosato) is about to boil a lobster, Eddie Murphy interrupts the sketch to protest the killing of a living creature.  Murphy names the lobster "Larry" and invites the home audience to determine his fate via a 1-900 number phone in vote.
  • I wasn't originally going to rate this segment because its main purpose is to set up a real vote the show had that night, but there was enough comedy mixed in to warrant a rating, from Murphy telling Rosato to "speak English to me" and screaming "YOU PEOPLE ARE SICK!" to the audience, to Rosato cutting in a few times to say "Let's boil that sucker, huh?", to Eddie rushing through the "save" number and slowly and clearly reading the "kill" number.

***1/2

MONOLOGUE

  • Daniel J. Travanti reminds the viewers about the poll and sets up the short film.


  • I'm not going to rate this as it's not really a standalone monologue; you can hear an audience member shout "boil him!"

FILM: RIDEALONG

  • Daniel J. Travanti accompanies a real NYC policeman as he responds to a domestic disturbance call.
  • Interesting change-of-pace segment with no recognizable SNL performers or personnel.  I don't think they'd do anything like this today.
  • This had a few somewhat funny parts like the real policeman having only seen Hill Street Blues once, and the audience reacted well to the part where they tell the woman to clean up their dog, but I didn't really go for the ending where the couple recognize Travanti, pose for a picture with him, and resume their fighting.  It just felt a little obvious.
  • Some of tonight's bumpers were shot during the taping of this segment, including one of Travanti and the couple.

**1/2

SKETCH: WHINERS

  • Grating couple Doug and Wendy Whiner (Joe Piscopo and Robin Duke) annoy the maitre d' (Tony Rosato) and patrons of the restaurant where they had their first date.
  • The Whiners are definitely two of the most irritating and corny characters in SNL history; part of it is deliberate, but these sketches are so overly broad and one-joke (the sketches usually have a mention of diverticulitis every time, too) that it's hard to really enjoy them.  They remind me a little of Kristen Wiig's tics-and-twitches characters in their lack of room for growth: they whine, therefore they are.
  • The main thing that elevates these bits from today's copy-by-numbers sketches is that there's a little more variety with the situations the writers put the Whiners into, and the frustrated foil who has to deal with the couple usually winds up with the best lines.  Rosato is really on his game here, though, doing an excellent slow-burn as the increasingly pissed-off maitre d'.
  • Funniest moment: Rosato grabbing the wine from the passing waiter and plunking it onto the Whiners' table.
  • An observation: a lot of the same extras that appear in the sketch - regular extra Andy Murphy, the other people in line at the beginning, and the waiter in particular - show up in several of the other sketches tonight.  As well, I'm pretty sure the white-haired woman who had to give up her table to the Whiners had been on a few times in the 70s (I think she was "Jody from next door" in Celebrity Bingo in Steve Martin '77).  If someone can confirm or ID her, please comment. [Addendum: the white-haired woman is Karen Roston, SNL's costume designer] 

***

SKETCH: THE MERMAN ZONE

  • An Ethel Merman impersonator (Christine Ebersole) auditions for the head of a celebrity doubles agency (Tony Rosato), who desperately to convince her that every single human being can do an imitation of Merman.  Everyone in the sketch demonstrates, leading him to what Rod Serling (Brian Doyle-Murray) calls "The Merman Zone".
  • Before I begin the review, can anybody identify the guy playing Barry, the Woody Allen impersonator at the beginning of the sketch?  He's about as short as Kazurinsky and it doesn't look like any of the writers I've been able to identify.  It's a significant role in the sketch and it's odd they don't credit him. [Addendum: according to one of the commenters below, it's Barry Mitchell].
  • I really enjoyed this sketch; Rosato and Ebersole give particularly good performances, and the different Merman impressions from everyone made this a lot of fun.  The real fun begins when Rosato breaks the fourth wall and approaches the SNL crew (including cameraman Al Camoin), and the producers (Dick Ebersol and Bob Tischler; Ebersol's wife Susan Saint James is also visible in this part), which culminates with everyone in the control room (including Dave Wilson and Audrey Peart Dickman) singing "There's No Business Like Show Business".
  • The part with Kazurinsky as the out-of-work Tim Kazurinsky impersonator (and the line about how nobody's really even demanding the real thing) was a nice bit of self-deprecating meta-humor.  I also found Duke's visibly annoyance that Kazurinsky kept coming back to the agency quite funny.
  • Callback to last show: one of the extras in the hallway is wearing the tuna fish outfit from the Blythe Danner show.

****

MISCELLANEOUS: LARRY THE LOBSTER PHONE-IN VOTE: SO FAR

  • In his intro to John Cougar's performance, Travanti announces that "Kill Larry" is leading 65,743 to 56,893; after commenting "Eddie's right, you're sick!", he reads the voting numbers again, speeding through the "Kill Larry" number and slowly reading the "Save Larry" number.

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "HURT SO GOOD"

  • Good performance.  Right after the first chorus, John jokes "Sound just like the Supremes, don't we?"

MISCELLANEOUS: NEXT WEEK

nextweek.jpg
  • My recording is missing part of this; it sounds like Kazurinsky is reminding people about the contest and giving an update beforehand. I do have him announcing next week's guests will be Johnny Cash and special musical guest Elton John.

SNL NEWSBREAK WITH MARY GROSS, CHRISTINE EBERSOLE AND BRIAN DOYLE-MURRAY 

  • Best jokes: 7-year-old Cavalry soldier, Easter Bunny, New York Compost
  • This particular edition stretches for 14 minutes; SNL Newsbreak is starting to eat up more and more of the show, and it's guaranteed never to be the show's strongest segment.  It feels a little like one of Seth Meyers' more recent Weekend Updates; while Meyers' WU has decent jokes but would potentially be ruined by a guest commentary, during the SNL Newsbreak era it was often the other way around.
  • This is also the only Ebersole-period Newsbreak that made it into the 60-minute edits of that season's shows.
  • The first segment is Mary Gross' report from the HMS Invisible; her "ditzy correspondent" act was a little too cutesy (especially the HMS stands for "HuMongous Ship" line), but I always enjoy the complete deadpan of SNL's production designer Akira Yoshimura (who appeared in all of the SNL Star Trek sketches as Sulu) as the fake Prince Andrew (his "Sunday morning. Sneak attack" line was funny).  The ending with Doyle-Murray suggesting Gross invite the "prince" to a sushi dinner was dumb.
  • Tony Rosato gives a test of the Emergency Broadcast Network [sic], which consists of panicked screaming.  An obvious joke, but Rosato's segues between his calm introduction, the test, and his outro were flawless. 
  • Joe Piscopo's Saturday Night Sports segment changes the formula a little bit by not having Piscopo utter a word: instead, Piscopo was made up to look as if he were covered in ice and snow as on-screen captions spelled out his normally bellowed lines.  It was a welcome change of pace and the audience loved it.
  • Up next is an interminable two-and-a-half minute photo montage bit about the many pictures that exist of the Reagans waving.  By this point in the season, every Newsbreak seems to be padded with one of these bits (there's some more pointless ones to come); while Brian Doyle-Murray had some humorous asides, and the gag in the last picture with the Reagans' arms starting to move propellor-like was somewhat funny, the bit definitely did not warrant its length.
  • Tim Kazurinsky comments on that year's overlong Oscars by offering suggestions on how to improve next year's ceremony.  This was alright, particularly when Kazurinsky suggested to take the award away from the winner if their speeches ran too long and mentioning Bette Midler as a "hilarious woman with large breasts".  The funniest moment, though, was when Kaz handed off back to Christine Ebersole who asked "What the heck was Morgan Fairchild doing there?"  The audience evidently agreed.
  • The little bit where Doyle-Murray spells the new formula for relativity on a blackboard as ROLAIDS is a spoof of the current ad campaign for the antacid (the tag: "Rolaids Spells Relief").  
  • At the end of the segment, Doyle-Murray gives the numbers to vote on Larry's fate.

***

SHOW: HILL STREET BLUES

  • Captain Furillo (Daniel J. Travanti) has trouble keeping his work and personal lives separate.
  • It really is unusual to see a straight parody of a current TV show during the Ebersol era of SNL.  I admire that they did attempt something like this, but I couldn't help but be underwhelmed by the whole thing.  It was 10 minutes long and it seemed like they were throwing things together that didn't gel as a whole.  Some of it was especially clunky, particularly Travanti's lampshade-hanging line of being overly sensitive, "especially for a cop".  In what would become de rigeur for SNL's later parodies, we get a cameo by one of the host's co-stars: Bruce Weitz appears in the parody, playing the animalistic Belker as even more of a dog.
  • Mary Gross did a very good job playing against type as Joyce Davenport.  It was rare that they had her play an attractive woman who wasn't a prostitute at this point, and the long hair really went a long way in softening her look up.  Joe Piscopo's take on Phil Esterhaus was alright.  I did enjoy Robin Duke as Fay but felt they didn't make her pathetic enough; same with Brian Doyle-Murray's Howard Hunter, which also felt like a wasted opportunity.  Eddie Murphy's bit as Neal Washington didn't really have a lot to work with and Rosato's "Gypsy King" informant was kind of lame.  Christine Ebersole seemed pretty miscast as Lucy Bates; Ebersole reminds me a lot more of Barbara Babcock (Grace Gardner) and I don't recall Bates as mopey as she was written here.
  • The ending with Furillo starting to rant about his problems and breaking down crying was an OK way to wrap the sketch up, though.
  • The extras from the Whiners' sketch are all in the hallway outside of the office.  As well, Akira Yoshimura gets a quick laugh with his bit as an undercover detective.

**1/2

MISCELLANEOUS: LARRY THE LOBSTER PHONE-IN VOTE: LARRY'S STORY

  • Eddie Murphy announces that "Save Larry" has pulled ahead 184,316 to 171, 717, and gives the audience a view of the kind of lobster Larry really is.
  • More "cute" than laugh out loud funny; Rosato (not dressed in the chef outfit but still using the accent) gets a laugh with another "Let's boil that sucker, huh!"

***

FILM: BAVARIAN BUTTERFLY BY JOSEF SEDELMAIER

  • A silent film demonstrates a hopscotching dance.
  • Short, amusing slapstick.

***

SHOW: CAREER CORNER

  • Burt Wedermeyer (Tim Kazurinsky) interviews Mr. Tooth Fairy (Eddie Murphy) about his unrewarding and dangerous job.
career3.jpg
  • Aside from the Whiners, this is the other sketch that seems to show up in highlight reels and compilations, with a tutu-wearing Eddie Murphy complaining about how difficult delivering teeth to God is for a living.  It benefits from good back-and-forth between Kazurinsky and Murphy, but it's clearly a showcase for the latter.

*** 1/2

MISCELLANEOUS: LARRY THE LOBSTER PHONE-IN VOTE: NIGHT ON THE TOWN

  • Eddie Murphy announces that in a few minutes they will have the final tally of the vote; Mel Brandt announces what Larry can look forward to if he lives.
  • Some of the photos were pretty funny, but this was essentially a time filler segment to wrap up the voting portion.
  • This originally was part of the 12:30 station break segment; repeat versions edit this together with Reagan-Brand Economics in the same segment.

***

COMMERCIAL: REAGAN-BRAND ECONOMICS

  • Ronald Reagan (Joe Piscopo) suggests a new type of economics to an impoverished family.
  • This is a funny parody of the Robert Young Sanka commercials, but with a good amount of bite towards the Reagan administration, particularly Rosato's line "I only like real economic programs!" and the family having to sell their surviving child to pay for food under the new program.
  • This is also the first time we see Piscopo in Reagan makeup; before this appearance, he only did Reagan as a voiceover in the "Hail To The Chief" sketches.

****

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "AIN'T EVEN DONE WITH THE NIGHT"

  • Cougar and band have a particularly big sound tonight; they also seemed to having fun, which makes the performance more enjoyable than usual.

MISCELLANEOUS: LARRY THE LOBSTER PHONE-IN VOTE: RESULTS

  • Eddie Murphy reads the final vote: Larry the Lobster lives, 239,096 to 227,452.  The SNL band plays "Happy Days Are Here Again" as the cast and extras celebrate.
  • Not really much more to it than that, really.  Even the guy who played Barry the Woody Allen Lookalike in The Merman Zone is in the celebration.

GOODNIGHTS

  • Eddie conducts a mock interview with Larry as Daniel J. Travanti exclaims "Larry Lives!"
  • Mel Brandt announces next week's show with Johnny Cash and special guest Elton John and says "Good night from New York!  ...which I don't think is the most dangerous city in America".  Brandt didn't really do many comments like this on his show closing announcements, so this struck me as an odd attempt at something Don Pardo normally did.
  • For some reason, Brian Doyle-Murray is standing far behind everyone else.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

An above-average show with an interesting gimmick to carry it through.  Despite not being used at all in the last half hour, Travanti was actually quite good in what he appeared in, and while sometimes the writing wasn't up to par (Hill Street Blues could have been so much better), there wasn't a terrible segment all night, except for a little bit of the overlong SNL Newsbreak.  Even the debut of Whiners (never my favorite characters) didn't weigh the show down.  Tony Rosato seemed to have the best night of his SNL tenure this week, especially in the first half of the show.

EPISODE HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Reagan Brand Economics
  • The Merman Zone
  • Career Corner
  • Larry The Lobster Phone-in Vote

EPISODE LOWLIGHTS:

  • the Reagans Waving portion of SNL Newsbreak
  • Ridealong
  • Hill Street Blues

MVP:

  • Tony Rosato

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN:

cast

  • Robin Duke: 4 appearances [Whiners, The Merman Zone, Hill Street Blues, Larry: Results]
  • Christine Ebersole: 5 appearances [The Merman Zone, SNL Newsbreak, Hill Street Blues, Reagan Brand Economics, Larry: Results]
  • Mary Gross: 4 appearances [The Merman Zone, SNL Newsbreak, Hill Street Blues, Larry: Results]
  • Tim Kazurinsky: 5 appearances [The Merman Zone, Next Week, SNL Newsbreak, Career Corner, Larry: Results]
  • Eddie Murphy: 7 appearances [Larry: Phone-In Vote, The Merman Zone, Hill Street Blues, Larry: Larry's Story, Career Corner, Larry: Night On The Town, Larry: Results]
  • Joe Piscopo: 5 appearances [Whiners, SNL Newsbreak, Hill Street Blues, Reagan Brand Economics, Larry: Results]
  • Tony Rosato: 8 appearances [Larry: Phone-In Vote, Whiners, The Merman Zone, SNL Newsbreak, Hill Street Blues, Larry: Larry's Story, Reagan Brand Economics, Larry: Results]

featured player:

  • Brian Doyle-Murray: 4 appearances [The Merman Zone, SNL Newsbreak, Hill Street Blues, Larry: Results]

crew and extras:

  • Al Camoin: 1 appearance [The Merman Zone]
  • Audrey Peart Dickman: 1 appearance [The Merman Zone]
  • Dick Ebersol: 1 appearance [The Merman Zone]
  • Yvonne Hudson: 1 appearance [Whiners]
  • Phil Hymes: 1 appearance [The Merman Zone]
  • Neil Levy: 2 appearances [Whiners, Hill Street Blues]
  • Lee Mayman: 1 appearance [Whiners]
  • Andy Murphy: 4 appearances [Whiners, The Merman Zone, Hill Street Blues, Larry: Results]
  • Terry Rohnke: 1 appearance [The Merman Zone]
  • Karen Roston: 1 appearance [Whiners]
  • Robin Schlien: 1 appearance [The Merman Zone]
  • Bob Tischler: 1 appearance [The Merman Zone]
  • Dave Wilson: 1 appearances [The Merman Zone], 1 voiceover [SNL Newsbreak]
  • Akira Yoshimura: 2 appearances [SNL Newsbreak, Hill Street Blues]

guests:

  • Daniel J. Travanti: 5 appearances [Larry: Phone-In Vote, Ridealong, The Merman Zone, Larry: So Far, Hill Street Blues]
  • John Cougar: 2 appearances ["Hurt So Good", "Ain't Even Done With The Night"]
  • Barry Mitchell: 2 appearances [The Merman Zone, Larry: Results]
  • Susan Saint James: 1 appearance [The Merman Zone]
  • Bruce Weitz: 1 appearance [Hill Street Blues]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • September 11, 1982
  • January 15, 1983

Known alterations:

  • Next Week is removed.

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.