Classic SNL Review: April 17, 1982: Johnny Cash / Elton John (S07E17)

RATINGS SYSTEM:

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

OPENING: "MAN IN BLACK"

  • Johnny Cash sings "Man In Black" as his younger self (Tim Kazurinsky) undergoes character-forming experiences.
  • Johnny Cash gets a big round of applause for his signature "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash", getting the show off to a good start.
  • This was a pretty funny opening segment, particularly the still of the mother holding a black-clad baby, and the flashback sequences were pretty good.  Kazurinsky was the right choice to play the younger Cash, playing him more as a pip-squeak kid than attempting a real impression of Cash.  Having Kazurinsky say the requisite "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die!" in that high voice made the line funnier.  Speaking of that scene, can anyone ID the older prisoner for me? [Addendum: it's writer Nelson Lyon].
  • Cash himself was pretty funny in a deadpan sort of way.  His delivery on some of the lines was a little off, but I did particualrly like the fade from young Cash being admonished by his mama that he's going to poke a hole in his face from twisting his finger on his cheek to middle-aged Johnny doing the very same, and the part where he sings with increased vibrato as Joe Piscopo gives him a massage.
  • There seems to be a new design for the back of the home base stage (the part that's visible when the stage is lifted for music performances).
  • There were a few bloopers: you can see a single sheet of paper fall down at one point during Cash's singing, and the camera goes black-and-white for a few seconds as Cash crosses over from the side stage.

****

SHOW: THE HONEYROONEYS

  • Andy Rooney (Joe Piscopo) plays Ralph Kramden opposite Audrey Meadows' (Chrstine Ebersole) Alice and Art Carney's (Eddie Murphy) Ed Norton.
  • The comments about the phony buildings and the "Ever want to send your wife to the moon?" line were small exceptions, but the overall premise was thin, it wasn't very funny, and the ending came off as a little hokey.  It doesn't help that Piscopo's Andy Rooney voice is so incredibly grating.
  • Christine Ebersole gave a good performance as usual, and Eddie Murphy's Ed Norton was funnier than Piscopo's Rooney.

**

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "EMPTY GARDEN (HEY HEY JOHNNY)"

  • More big applause for Elton John, who appears with his classic band lineup of Nigel Olsson, Dee Murray and Davey Johnstone (his second SNL appearance this season, after appearing with Meat Loaf & The Neverland Express).  Elton John is the only musical guest this season to get a separate stage for his performances, as opposed to playing on the giant home base set.
  • A sad, emotional performance befitting the song, John's tribute to his friend John Lennon. 
  • I wonder what it would have been like to hear this song when it originally came out in spring '82, less than 18 months after the "insect" killed Lennon.  Sometimes I wonder whether I can fully grasp how sad that event really was, considering Lennon has always been dead within my lifetime, and my knowledge of him is only as a figure of music history.  Coincidentally, I actually watched my recording of this episode the morning of December 8, 2010, the thirtieth anniversary of Lennon's murder.

SKETCH: LAST REQUEST

  • Death row inmate Frankie's (Eddie Murphy) bluff is called when Johnny Cash fulfills his last request by singing the uncut "99,999 Bottles of Beer On The Wall".
  • Eddie Murphy's charisma carries this sketch, while Johnny Cash, despite being a little stiff, plays off him well by singing the song completely deadpan.
  • The best moments in the sketch are purely visual, from Murphy's gleeful dancing as Cash sings with utter seriousness, to the very bored warden and the older prisoner (who wails "This is cruel and unusual punishment!" at one point) playing cards as the priest munches on a burger and holds a soda.
  • Murphy messes up one of his lines towards the end: "That's the warden! I mean, that's the governor!"

***1/2

MISCELLANEOUS: NEXT WEEK

  • Bill Cosby (Eddie Murphy) announces his old I Spy co-star Robert Culp will be the host next week.
  • Interesting way to shake up the Next Week formula.  I think the "It'll make you smile" comes from Cosby's Coke ads from that timeframe.

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

  • Best joke: James Stewart/Ginger Rogers having sex from memory, albino baseball player.
  • Another overlong SNL Newsbreak; this one clocks in at 17 minutes.
  • Mary Gross reprises her ditzy correspondent act in Red Square where she asks a Japanese tourist (Akira Yoshimura) if he's seen the ailing and missing Brezhnev.  I always find Akira Yoshimura's deadpan, decidedly non-actor delivery funny in itself (especially considering his character is supposed to be Japanese but speaks with Yoshimura's American accent), but it seemed a little off this time.
  • There's also another very long segment of still photos: over four minutes are dedicated to the different salutes of world leaders.  I'm of two minds of this: I appreciate the amount of effort that went into this one, which had a few funny lines and pictures (the one of Charles and Di with Charles' limp wrist describing their wedding night), but the montages are clearly a crutch at this point, and this should have been much, much shorter.
  • Speaking of things that could have been much shorter, the bit with Doyle-Murray and Ebersole discussing varying pronunciations of Falkland War related terms was stretched quite thin for something that was purely the setup to a punchline about the different pronunciations of "Falk".
  • Dr. Jack Badofsky (Tim Kazurinsky) returns for a third appearance, in which he discusses the different types of amputations.  The usual assortment of silly wordplay with a few highlights like Ramputations (weird lonely shepherds experience these).  Kazurinsky briefly breaks character after he delivers one joke (using Krazy Glue instead of jelly leads to a Diaphragmputation), which makes this a little more memorable than the other installments.
  • Christine Ebersole seems to flub a lot of her lines tonight, particularly on the later jokes.
  • In the final segment, Eddie Murphy reads a viewer letter that accuses him of really boiling Larry the Lobster; a racially loaded comment about blacks' supposed aversion to seafood actually led him to boil Larry in revenge.  Decent closure to last week's episode.

**1/2

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: CASH MEDLEY "I WALK THE LINE", "FOLSOM PRISON BLUES", "RING OF FIRE"

  • Good performance; Cash is beginning to look like he's enjoying himself here, particularly during the "Folsom Prison Blues" guitar solo.
  • Of note is that one of Cash's guitarists in this appearance is a young Marty Stuart.

SKETCH: HAIL TO THE CHIEF

  • Ronald Reagan (Joe Piscopo) is back from vacation and Ed Meese (Tony Rosato) has kept him in the dark about the Falklands situation.  Despite Meese's best efforts, Margaret Thatcher (Mary Gross) and Leopoldo Galtieri (Brian Doyle-Murray) meet the President, who uses the situation to fulfill every actor's dream of directing.
  • Decent sketch, with Rosato in fine form as usual as Meese.  I particularly liked Mary Gross' face during Thatcher's awkward reaction as Galtieri is about to kiss her under Reagan's directions.
  • Interesting that they had Joe Piscopo in Reagan makeup strictly for the mirror's "reflection", when the rest of the sketch is him doing the impression as a voiceover.

***

FILM: "JAY CLAY GETS DEPRESSED" BY TIMOTHY HITTLE

  • A claymation man's suicide attempt.
  • A silly little film despite the dark subject matter; this also has an uplifting ending as Jay's head bounces around and lands on his butt, and he realizes "I lost my head!".
  • The painting in the film is "L'Absinthe" by Edgar Degas

***

COMMERCIAL: TEGRIM

  • Kathy's (Robin Duke) friend (Christine Ebersole) tells her how to check for problem dandruff: shake her head over Johnny Cash.
  • A brief but very enjoyable commercial parody, with possibly the best in-sketch use of Johnny Cash all night.  He didn't have to utter a single word.
  • Robin Duke looks quite young here.  Speaking of Duke, this is her only on-camera appearance in a sketch tonight, not counting a voiceover-only role in the opening and her appearances in the talent entrance and goodnights.  I never really noticed this until now, but she really seemed to be struggling at the end of this season.  I always liked her as a performer, but between her very limited appearances at the end of this season and a few other incidents in other shows (the blown cue in Madden, Newsbreak piece not doing so well in Danner), I wonder if she was only kept on because Ebersole was gone over the summer.  Duke made a good impression at the beginning of the season and a few other shows, but by this point in the season, both Ebersole and Gross frequently eclipse her.  Fortunately for Duke, she got a second chance the next fall, as well as the added bonus of a writing credit.

****

MISCELLANEOUS: FLASH AND SHOWMANSHIP

  • Johnny Cash demonstrates how Elton John's performance style has begun to rub off on him.
flash2.jpg
  • Not a rateable segment, but the visual of Cash wearing the gaudy outfit and glasses was a highlight of the show.

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "BALL AND CHAIN"

  • A catchy, uptempo song from Elton's then current LP Jump Up!

SKETCH: TRAIN POET

  • A man who loves passenger rail (Johnny Cash) waxes poetic to his fellow commuter (Brian Doyle-Murray) about his preferred mode of transport.
  • Not really much in terms of laughs but it was a cute segment, even if the ending with Cash advising Doyle-Murray "If you take the train to work, you'll never enjoy the ride" was a little sappy.
  • Cash's delivery is a little awkward at the beginning until he gets into the rhythm of the poem.

**1/2

SHOW: BLACK TALK

  • Eddie Murphy shares his experience paying the power bill with buddy Clint Smith.
  • Short, fillerish segment that depends mainly on Murphy's charisma.  Good one-joke-and-out structure.

***

COMMERCIAL: REACH OUT AND TOUCH SOMEONE [REPEAT FROM 02/06/82]

GOODNIGHTS: "SUNDAY MORNING COMING DOWN"

  • The cast really seems like they're having a ball here, especially when they're sitting on the stage, circled around Cash like children.  Eddie Murphy is smiling and dancing, while Robin Duke can be heard singing along as the credits roll.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

This was an unusual show: the extra music performances in the show made tonight seem likelike halfway between a show and a week off for the writers.  There was a considerably higher number of shorter pieces throughout this episode, with a few weaker segments, while SNL Newsbreak lasted forever.  Cash, a limited host, stuck pretty well to his comfort zone, but fortunately that was something that could work well in sketches, and he seemed to be a good sport having a fun time that night.  Besides Cash, Eddie Murphy in particular seemed to dominate tonight, particularly in "Last Request", the next week segment, SNL Newsbreak and Black Talk.

EPISODE HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Tegrim
  • "Man In Black"
  • Last Request

EPISODE LOWLIGHTS:

  • The Honeyrooneys
  • Train Poet
  • SNL Newsbreak's obvious padding

MVP:

  • Eddie Murphy

CAST & GUEST RUNDOWN:

cast

  • Robin Duke: 1 appearance [Tegrim], 1 voiceover ["Man In Black"]
  • Christine Ebersole: 4 appearances [The Honeyrooneys, SNL Newsbreak, Hail To The Chief, Tegrim]
  • Mary Gross: 2 appearances [SNL Newsbreak, Hail To The Chief]
  • Tim Kazurinsky: 4 appearances ["Man In Black", Last Request, SNL Newsbreak, Hail To The Chief]
  • Eddie Murphy: 5 appearances [The Honeyrooneys, Last Request, Next Week, SNL Newsbreak, Black Talk]
  • Joe Piscopo: 3 appearances [The Honeyrooneys, Last Request, Hail To The Chief]
  • Tony Rosato: 2 appearances [Hail To The Chief, Train Poet]

featured players:

  • Brian Doyle-Murray: 4 appearances [Last Request, SNL Newsbreak, Hail To The Chief, Train Poet]

crew and extras 

  • Nelson Lyon: 2 appearances ["Man In Black", Last Request]
  • Lee Mayman: 1 appearance [Train Poet]
  • Andy Murphy: 1 appearance [Train Poet]
  • Clint Smith: 1 appearance [Black Talk]
  • Akira Yoshimura: 1 appearance [SNL Newsbreak]

guests:

  • Johnny Cash: 6 appearances ["Man In Black", Last Request, Cash Medley, Tegrim, Flash and Showmanship, "Sunday Morning Coming Down"]
  • Elton John: 2 appearances ["Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)", "Ball and Chain"]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • August 28, 1982

Known alterations:

  • Next Week is removed.

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.