Classic SNL Review: December 20, 1980: David Carradine / The cast of "The Pirates of Penzance" (S06E05)

RATINGS SYSTEM:

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

COLD OPENING: PARDO IMPRESSION

  • Backstage, Joe Piscopo works on his Don Pardo impression for a potential extra paycheck.
  • A very short "blackout" cold opening with very little audience reaction.  For what it was, though, it wasn't painful.
  • They seem to be carrying on the original cast's running joke of Pardo being this disembodied voice (see Waiting For Pardo, Don Pardo: The First 50 Years), now with added omniscience. -I can't really say I'm a fan of Piscopo's impression: like with a lot of Piscopo impressions it's mitigated by too much of Piscopo's natural voice tone. **

MONTAGE

carradine008.jpg
  • After two and a half seasons as an uncredited bit player, Yvonne Hudson is credited for the first time as a featured player.

MONOLOGUE

  • David Carradine sings "I Want To Be A Dancin' Man" and deflects Charles Rocket's protests that SNL is for comedy, not soft-shoe.
  • Carradine seems to be ad-libbing a lot here: at one point, he says "I'm supposed to say this really fast", and when the joke about his father saying "no son of mine is going to make a living with his feet" got no reaction, he says "that didn't work".  At one point, he even mentions "Just reading the cards, that's all".
  • There were rumors of him being under the influence that night, but he actually doesn't do too badly in the monologue.  The musical number was entertaining to watch, and him (literally) kicking Charles Rocket off the stage got a good reaction.

***

COMMERCIAL: GUN CITY

  • A Crazy Eddie-style pitchman (Joe Piscopo) recommends weapons as Christmas gifts.
  • Short; carried by Piscopo's manic delivery.  This benefits from a few good lines, most notably a dig at Nancy Reagan with the "teeny-weeny guns" line.
  • After watching a few real Crazy Eddie ads, I can appreciate Piscopo's impression a little better.

***

SKETCH: KUNG FU MENSWEAR

  • Caine's (David Carradine) journey leads him to a black menswear shop, where he gets conflicting fashion advice from its owner (Eddie Murphy) and Master Po (Gilbert Gottfried).
  • David Carradine is a mess here, constantly looking at the cue cards and mumbling his lines; his delivery actually bungles a lot of the funnier jokes.  Eddie Murphy does his best to carry the sketch, but despite his efforts (particularly the reactions) the sketch falls apart due to pacing problems, a weak ending and a badly cued music sting.
  • Gilbert Gottfried appears heavily made-up as Master Po from Kung Fu, although not really doing an impression so much as talking in an ominous tone of voice.  He gets some good lines, and his being characterized as slightly annoyed and contemptuous towards Caine was good for a few chuckles.
  • This was the first of three Kung Fu segments in the show.  Ferris Butler confirms they were trying to work in Caine throughout the show as much as possible.
  • Does anyone else find the "coming up" gag at the very end (Babes in Thailand) has a little bit of an unintentional irony considering where Carradine died?

**

SKETCH: CEDAR MALL

  • Vickie (Gail Matthius) and Debbie (Denny Dillon) try to impress some guys (Charles Rocket and Joe Piscopo) at the mall.
  • Matthius is especially good here, particularly when she recounts her conversation with the guy with a string of "and he said, and I said..."
  • Despite the audience not really being into this one (except for Rocket's little garbage throw routine), I thought it was a good low-key sketch.
  • Yvonne Hudson and Patrick Weathers are in the background, as are Andy Murphy and Liz Welch; I wonder if any of the other extras were writers.

***

FILM: THE ROCKET REPORT: SANTA CLAUS

  • Charles Rocket talks glowingly about Jolly Old St. Nick while a derelict Santa (also Rocket) stumbles around New York.
  • A bit short of the better Rocket Reports.  What makes these segments work is Rocket's interactions with other people, and while there was a little of it with Santa hitting on women and lighting up with a fellow pedestrian, it took a backseat to the juxtaposition of Rocket's effusive narration and Santa's seedier activities.
  • This is the first appearance of the "skyline" title card that would be used for the Rocket Report for the rest of the season.

***

SKETCH: DYLAN & GUTHRIE

  • During a visit to his ailing hero Woody Guthrie's (David Carradine) bedside, Bob Dylan (Patrick Weathers) cribs lyrics from their conversation.
  • This is a genuinely good sketch with a solid premise and strong performances from Weathers, who does a very good "young Dylan", and Carradine.
  • Nice little detail: Dylan's "This machine kills facists [sic] too!" on his guitar.

****

COMMERCIAL: THE HOME VERSION OF DALLAS

  • Dysfunctional family drama can be made entertaining by pretending you're a character from the prime-time soap.
  • This was brief but amusing, particularly the visual of the dysfunctional family wearing the cowboy hats and wigs.

***

FILM: "MR. BILL'S CHRISTMAS SPECIAL" - WALTER WILLIAMS

  • A now-homeless Mr. Bill reflects on years of being mangled by Mr. Hands and Sluggo during Yuletide.


  • Best manglings: Sled, bike spokes
  • A little short of the classic Mr. Bill segments from the original cast years.  This Mr. Bill has a (relatively) happier ending, with all of Mr. Bill's dismemberment solely being in flashbacks.  Then again, Mr. Bill, Miss Sally and Spot are homeless during the winter...
  • I wonder if this segment was originally made for the previous season, because some of the clips (the train set, Sluggo In A Box and the sled) were in "Mr. Bill Gets Help" from the Teri Garr episode eleven months before.  I can even hear some of the same dialogue in the clips under the voiceovers in "Gets Help".  This would make sense in the story timeline: the two shorts before "Gets Help" had Mr. Bill's house burn down and his new house build being cancelled, and "Get Help" begins with Mr. Bill and Spot on skid row.

***

COMMERCIAL: KUNG-FU CHRISTMAS

  • Caine (David Carradine) and Bruce Lee (Eddie Murphy) battle evil orphanage-robbing Santas in a Christmas movie trailer.
  • This worked in spite of itself: it was a fairly weak idea and the whole thing seemed kind of slapped together at the last minute, but I thought that actually kind of made it a bit funnier.
  • I couldn't help but laugh at "Bruce Lee is back, but this time he's black!" and Master Po saying "You must kick their butts, grasshopper" in the ominous tone of voice.
  • Gottfried's last sketch of the night.

**1/2

WEEKEND UPDATE WITH CHARLES ROCKET

  • Best jokes: Rupert Murdoch apologizes, Ronald Reagan resigns.
  • Short Update tonight.  Including the two commentaries, this clocks in at about 5 1/2 minutes, and was likely truncated to make room for the musical performances.  Rocket had a comparatively good week.  Was the Rupert Murdoch joke the first SNL mention of the Australian mogul?
  • Ann Risley's holiday tips that revolve around suggesting "lard wrapped in a plastic bag" come off as an attempt at weird humor that may have worked a little better with a different performer.  I still can't decide whether it's bad, or so bad it's good.
  • Joe Piscopo has a brief Saturday Night Sports about the NFL on NBC's "silent game" that aired earlier that day, criticizing Don Ohlmeyer for how boring it really was, and demonstrating what it would be like if applied to his own segment.  This is more notable for Piscopo creating more of a character for his Saturday Night Sports persona (as a poorly paid counterpart to real-life sportscasters) and doing a Christmas greeting in the same style as his intros.

**1/2

MUSIC PERFORMANCE: PENZANCE MEDLEY: "I AM THE VERY MODEL OF A MODERN MAJOR GENERAL", "OH, IS THERE NOT ONE MAIDEN BREAST", "POOR WANDERING ONE!", "WHERE THE FOREMAN BARES HIS STEEL" - THE CAST OF "THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE" FEATURING LINDA RONSTADT, REX SMITH, & GEORGE ROSE

  • This was a very interesting idea to actually book the cast of a Broadway show as musical guest.  It was a little difficult to crowd all these people on the tiny SNL home base stage (especially in "Where The Foreman Bares His Steel") but it makes me wish SNL would do something like this again with a musical guest booking.
  • The scheduling in tonight's show was wisely done: usually SNL musical performances are done before Weekend Update, but this longer performance flows better in the show here.

SKETCH: HEROIN IN HARLEM

  • Rich white drug users (Joe Piscopo, Charles Rocket, Ann Risley and Gail Matthius) seeking the "real experience" go to Harlem for their heroin.
  • While the rich drug users' characterizations seemed a little too cartoonish for my liking, I actually thought this was a decent sketch with a good payoff at the end, the black junkies actually being undercover cops.  I liked the visual of Rocket taking a picture of the pusher threatening Matthius with a knife at her throat.
  • Eddie Murphy's line ends the sketch on a strong note:  "Look -- I am SICK AND TIRED of you junkies coming up and giving Harlem a bad name! You should have STAYED on Park Avenue where you belong!"
  • One line, "you're probably the kind of guy who worries about dirty needles" takes on a whole new light since the AIDS crisis began.  This actually aired less than six months before the disease was first reported.

***

FILM: "VIRGIN SEARCH" - LINDA LEE

  • NBC executives' (Neil Levy, Matthew Laurance, Mitchel Kriegman) search for the next female SNL cast member takes them from Anytown, USA to Paris to Rome to LA, all in search of a virgin.
  • This is the film that was originally the subject of a big battle with standards for the Burstyn show; I don't know if there was anything that had to be altered before it finally aired tonight.  I'd say it was alright but not particularly memorable.
  • Gail Matthius gets a good workout, having to play four different characters, including an all-American cheerleader, a Parisian schoolgirl, a Roman Catholic nun and a version of herself with garish New Wave makeup and a Carl Sagan obsession.
  • The joke with the Parisian schoolgirl not being a virgin because of Roman Polanski was a little tasteless, but the nun's "Damn you, Father Sarducci" got a good response.
  • Does anyone have an ID for the actor who played the network president?  He looks very familiar: I think they actually got a local character actor instead of using show personnel like they normally do for small roles. [Addendum: it's John Doumanian, onetime husband of Jean].

**1/2

COMMERCIAL: DOPENHAGEN & HAPPY DAZE

  • Country singer (David Carradine) gets his THC from a dipping tobacco-like product.  Now with a starter variety for the kids.
  • Weaker segment.  While Heroin in Harlem was also a drug bit, it had a bit more substance than just substituting marijuana for chewing tobacco.  This commercial really didn't have any more to it than that.
  • Carradine's delivery was off (he even says Copenhagen instead of Dopenhagen at first).

**

SKETCH: MOURNING THE COLONEL

  • Chicken lovers (David Carradine, Denny Dillon, Eddie Murphy) grieve the passing of fried chicken icon Colonel Sanders.
  • This wasn't a bad idea for a topical sketch; understated, with good work from all three (and one of Carradine's better performances that night).
  • This uses the same mall set as the Vicki and Debbie sketch from earlier tonight, and many of the same extras.

***

FILM: "THE DANCING MAN" - MITCHELL KRIEGMAN

  • Hungover man (Bill Irwin) compulsively boogies whenever presented with "Shake Your Groove Thing".
  • This was good, carried entirely by Irwin's skill as a mime; there is not a line of dialogue in the whole segment.

***1/2

SKETCH: WELFARE COUNSELING

  • Unemployed Caine (David Carradine) and Ms. Robley (Yvonne Hudson) are literally pimped out due to changes to their welfare requirements.

 

  • Written by Ferris Butler, Billy Brown & Mel Green.
  • This had the best premise of the three Kung Fu parodies, a good spoof of government doublespeak, and Dillon was good as the dismissive bureaucrat.
  • I kind of liked the bits of business with Caine (still seeking water) not being entirely sure what to do with the water cooler.
  • Yvonne Hudson gets her first prominent role as a credited featured player, despite doing some fairly major sketch work the season before ("Bad Clams").
  • Carradine blanking out towards the end ("I am troubled by one thing, um...") and Denny asking the question for him did not seem scripted.  Unfortunately, it does derail the sketch,  and it never quite recovers.
  • The last exchange between Carradine and Risley's character is probably one of the dirtiest things I can think of SNL getting away with this season (think "water sports").

**1/2

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "O COME EMANUEL", "THE FIRST NOEL", "JOY TO THE WORLD"

  • This was a nice touch, with the Penzance cast performing a capella (the only bit of instrumentation is the organ playing the key change for each new song), and snow beginning to fall for Joy To The World.

GOODNIGHTS

  • David Carradine, the cast, and the Penzance performers are all crowded on or below home base.  Gilbert Gottfried is still in his Master Po robes.
  • Don Pardo announces the show will return live on January 10th, and that he'll be spending New Years' at Art Fleming's, snorting potpourri.

FINAL SUMMARY:

This was a surprisingly consistent show, with no truly awful segments (at the very worst, the weaker segments were either forgettable or just not strongly executed) and one very strong sketch ("Dylan & Guthrie").  Carradine wasn't exactly a great host, though, and is responsible for derailing the Kung Fu Menswear and Welfare Counseling sketches, though he did alright in most of everything else he was in.  That said, the show seemed to move quickly and was actually pretty enjoyable for the most part.  This is the last show before a significant upheaval backstage, though, with Mason Williams and Mitchell Kriegman gone, and Jeremy Stevens and Tom Moore appointed head writers before the next show.

MVP:

  • Gail Matthius

EPISODE HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Dylan & Guthrie
  • The Dancing Man

EPISODE LOWLIGHTS:

  • Ann Risley's WU commentary
  • Dopenhagen & Happy Daze
  • Kung Fu Menswear
  • Pardo Impression

CAST & GUEST SUMMARY:

cast

  • Denny Dillon: 4 appearances [Cedar Mall, The Home Version of Dallas, Mourning the Colonel, Welfare Counseling]
  • Gilbert Gottfried: 2 appearances [Kung Fu Menswear, Kung Fu Christmas]
  • Gail Matthius: 5 appearances [Cedar Mall, The Home Version of Dallas, Kung Fu Christmas, Heroin In Harlem, Virgin Search]
  • Joe Piscopo: 6 appearances [Pardo Impression, Gun City, Cedar Mall, The Home Version of Dallas, Weekend Update, Heroin in Harlem]
  • Ann Risley: 5 appearances [Pardo Impression, Dylan & Guthrie, Weekend Update, Heroin In Harlem, Welfare Counseling]
  • Charles Rocket: 7 appearances [Monologue, Cedar Mall, The Rocket Report, The Home Version of Dallas, Weekend Update, Heroin In Harlem, Kung Fu Welfare]; 1 voiceover [Kung Fu Christmas]

featured players

  • Yvonne Hudson: 2 appearances [Cedar Mall, Welfare Counseling]
  • Matthew Laurance:  2 appearances [Virgin Search, Mourning The Colonel]
  • Eddie Murphy: 4 appearances [Kung Fu Menswear, Kung Fu Christmas, Heroin In Harlem, Mourning the Colonel]
  • Patrick Weathers: 3 appearances [Cedar Mall, Dylan & Guthrie, Mourning The Colonel]

crew and extras

  • John Doumanian: 1 appearance [Virgin Search]
  • Mitchell Kriegman: 1 appearance [Virgin Search]
  • Neil Levy: 1 appearance [Virgin Search]
  • Andy Murphy: 3 appearances [Cedar Mall, Kung Fu Christmas, Mourning The Colonel]
  • Don Pardo: 1 voiceover [Pardo Impression]
  • Liz Welch: 2 appearances [Cedar Mall, Mourning The Colonel]

guests

  • David Carradine: 7 appearances [Monologue, Kung Fu Menswear, Dylan & Guthrie, Kung Fu Christmas, Dopenhagen & Happy Daze, Mourning the Colonel, Welfare Counseling]
  • The cast of "The Pirates of Penzance": 2 appearances [Penzance medley, Christmas carols]
  • Bill Irwin: 1 appearance [The Dancing Man]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • February 28, 1981

Additional screen captures not shown above can be found here.