Classic SNL Review: February 21, 1981: Charlene Tilton / Todd Rundgren, Prince (S06E11)

RATING SYSTEM:

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

OPENING: SUPER FIGHT

  • Joe Piscopo teases the upcoming paperweight championship between Marc Weiner's puppets Rocko Weineretto and Weindulah.
  • This was a very short cold opening (under 50 seconds) and mainly served to tease a segment later in the show, so I can't really rate this.  This is the same reason why I didn't rate the opening segment to the Danny DeVito show from the following season.  I did get a laugh from the "stats" presented for the boxers (no neck on either).

MONOLOGUE

  • Charlene Tilton mentions how Charles Rocket took her under his wing this week.  Backstage, Gail Matthius tells Joe Piscopo that girlfriend Ann Risley was at Rocket's place last night.  Piscopo vows revenge.
  • Tilton is energetic and enthusiastic, almost distractingly so.  The joke about escaping the crime, sex and corruption of Dallas by going to New York was a little corny, but this monologue's real purpose was to set up tonight's runner by having Tilton talk about how Rocket served as a mentor during this week and was the only one who hasn't tried to take advantage of her.
  • I'm counting this as a combined segment with the backstage antics; not really much to laugh at although I though Matthius seemed to be giving it her all (especially on the line "Joe, get with it!").

**1/2

COMMERCIAL: GREATEST RECORDS OF ALL TIME

  • Music by the likes of Jack Webb, Jerry Lewis, Robert Mitchum and Hugh Downs is perfect for getting you and your lover in the mood.
  • There's really not much more to the joke than the fact that this "makeout music" is mostly comprised of (real) one-off albums by unlikely singers, but it wasn't bad.  I still have to chuckle at the fact that there is a real album called "An Evening With Hugh Downs" (just the album cover with Hugh and his guitar makes me laugh).

**1/2

SHOW: MISTER ROBINSON'S NEIGHBORHOOD

  • Mister Robinson (Eddie Murphy) gives a lesson on how to say "bitch", gets a "chemistry kit" from Mr. Speedy (Gilbert Gottfried) and shows why he can't get a cab.
  • The audience was won over by the end of the theme song.  Pretty much all the basic pieces of the sketch are intact here, from the theme song and the "word of the day", to Mister Robinson's "reaction face" and the way people answer the door in his neighborhood. ("WHO IS IT?").
  • Lots of great lines in this one: my favorite ones were "Did mommy slap you? Then you said it right!" and the dig at Richard Pryor's freebasing accident.

****

SKETCH: PORK PARADE

  • Former Culhane's Pork Queen Sally (Gail Matthius) gives her successor Starla (Charlene Tilton) advice before the big Osceola Pork Parade.
  • Pretty laugh-free, with the few laughs in this coming from whenever Matthius makes a snorting noise.  I suppose the fact that they treat pig meat so seriously is the big joke, but this really just dragged on.
  • Once again, Yvonne Hudson (appearing here as the "Chitlin Princess") gets no lines.  She honestly had more to do when she wasn't billed in the opening credits.
  • There seems to be a fair number of mistakes in this sketch: Matthius stumbles on one of her lines, Dillon calls Risley the wrong name (Mary Jean instead of Mary Ann), and at one point Matthius' sash slips off her shoulder.

*

FILM: THE ROCKET REPORT- FIRST SUBWAY RIDE

  • Charles Rocket takes Charlene Tilton on her first New York City subway ride.
  • A return to form for Charles Rocket, with him asking passengers if they stole their stereo equipment.  The funniest moment doesn't belong to Rocket or Tilton, though: the old lady with a few teeth missing describing an unpleasant subway experience gets the biggest laugh by talking about how someone was "fooling around" so she hit him.
  • Tilton's a little annoying in this one.

***1/2

COMMERCIAL: A FIDDLER BE ON THE ROOF

  • In the tradition of the all-black "Hello Dolly" and "The Wiz", Stevie Wonder (Eddie Murphy) plays Tevye in an adaptation of "Fiddler On The Roof".
  • The audience liked this one and started clapping along to the music.  Murphy did alright matching the Stevie Wonder visual with a wheezy "old Jew" voice.
  • I'm pretty sure that's Neil Levy in the shadows with the violin, going by the outline and the fact that Levy's played violin on the show on several occasions.

***

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "HEALER" - TODD RUNDGREN

  • A full band rendering of one of Rundgren's one-man recordings, and they do a good job with it in this lively performance.
  • Once again, a different set is used for the musical guest.  This set reminds me a little of the early 90s musical guest stage with the working fan.
  • Backing band: Pat Travers (guitar), Kasim Sulton (bass), Roger Powell (synthesizer), Ralph Schuckett (keyboards), Ernest "Boom" Carter (drums), Mike Shrieve (percussion), Eric Troyer (vocals), Rory Dodd (vocals).  Schuckett appeared with Ellen Shipley two months before.  Dodd appeared with Meat Loaf in 1978 and is the guy who sings "Turn Around" on Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse Of The Heart.

WEEKEND UPDATE: WITH CHARLES ROCKET & GAILMATTHIUS

  • Best Joke: Budget cuts rant
  • If I thought Charles Rocket was over the top in the last two shows, it's nothing compared to how he is tonight: he powers through the jokes at manic speed, and at one point he's stomping his foot after the punchline to a joke.  It really is a shame to see Rocket go from cool and reserved to all but begging for laughs.  Poor Gail Matthius gets her worst set of jokes and her reactions to each joke that dies get more response than the actual jokes.  This was a shorter-than-normal edition; that saved it from being a one-star.
  • Reagan budget director David A. Stockman (Gilbert Gottfried) proposes a new social program where the receipt of food stamps depends on claimants' ability to catch criminals.  Gottfried's voice in this segment sounds almost like the stilted voice that has become his trademark, with a little less squawk to it (and of course no squinting).  This wasn't too bad and provided a welcome break from the jokes.
  • Rocket ends Weekend Update by promoting the fight later tonight.  His face when he was saying "Where's Joe Piscopo?" might have been an attempt at goofiness but I couldn't help but read a little bit more into that.  Matthius ends her last Weekend Update by pretending to write something in an exaggerated way; that was probably funnier than most of what she was stuck doing for all six shows.

*1/2

SKETCH: LINCOLN BEDROOM

  • Nancy Reagan (Gail Matthius) leaves her detested daughter-in-law Doria (Ann Risley) to fend off the ghosts in the Lincoln Bedroom.
  • Not very strong, but better than it could have been, despite the general aura of underdevelopment and a weak ending.  I'm not a fan of Matthius' Nancy Reagan, but she and her delivery choices (especially "Of course I'm right") deserve some credit for whatever did work in this sketch.
  • For some reason I laughed at the absurdity Mary Todd Lincoln (Denny Dillon) breaking from a ghostly moan into "Oklahoma!" (and Risley's line after).
  • Goof: it sounds like the knock for the Ford's Theatre apparition (Eddie Murphy) came a bit too early.

**

MISCELLANEOUS: BACKSTAGE

  • Charlene Tilton learns of Rocket's two-timing from Gilbert Gottfried, who is jealous of Rocket going out with all the hosts.
  • Again, mostly there to propel the runner, but not without humor (the movie Gottfried mentions he wouldn't mind seeing again is Insatiable, a 1980 adult film staring Marilyn Chambers).  Gottfried's a little more sullen in this, although for some reason that made his reading of "Ann's carrying Charlie's baby" funnier.
  • Listing Malcolm McDowell as one of the hosts Rocket went out with and Laurance telling Gottfried he'd go out with him reminds me a little of how the current writers tend to add a gay reference as a cheap joke.
  • Goof: you can see a microphone in the shot at one point.
  • Is it just me, or would the last shot of "Angry Young Gillie" (seen above) make an awesome meme on par with Unsure Fry?

**

COMMERCIAL: THE COMPETITION

  • Finger-breaking is fair game for the piano rivals (Gail Matthius and Joe Piscopo).
  • A parody of a then-current movie of the same name starring Amy Irving and Richard Dreyfuss (Piscopo's definitely imitating Dreyfus' delivery here).  This worked largely because it was so short and ends on the joke; honestly, I thought it held up even without knowing what it's supposed to be parodying.
  • The commercial that was being parodied actually aired during the network commercial break in the original broadcast of this show (after Mister Robinson's Neighborhood).  This specific ad used to be on Youtube but has since been taken down; one of the other commercials is still up; some of the dialogue in the parody is taken from the movie.

***

SHOW: SPEAKING OUT

  • Officer Ruth Warren (Denny Dillon) alerts the public of the disturbing upswing in illegal handicapped restroom stall use.
  • Pretty weak sketch: Dillon tried, but there really wasn't anything there to carry.  Matthew Laurance got a prominent but thankless role; the whole thing felt pretty lopsided right down to the microphone levels (Dillon's was much louder than Laurance's).  At least it was short.

*1/2

SKETCH: WOMEN BEHIND BARS

  • Hardened female inmates give a fresh-faced new prisoner (Charlene Tilton) "the treatment": a debate on whether America's public school system was adequate during the Industrial Revolution.
  • A parody of the 1950 movie "Caged".  I have to give the writers credit for giving the usual premise a good twist, but I felt there wasn't too much more to the sketch beyond that.  The structure felt a little stronger than some of the other bits from tonight, though.
  • Written by Ferris Butler with assistance from Billy Brown and Mel Green.
  • Aside from the reveal, the part where Dillon's character had a graph about illiteracy was probably the best part of the sketch.
  • Yvonne Hudson gets her first lines of dialogue in over a month.  Looks like the older female extra from this season is playing the matron.

**1/2

SHOW: SNL SPORTS

  • Joe Piscopo and Don King provide commentary on the big fight between Rocko Weineretto and Weindulah.
  • More amusing than out-and-out funny, but it helps that the audience seems really involved in the outcome of the bout, and the presence of Don King helps sell the commitment to the whole segment.

***

COMMERCIAL: SUBMISSIVE SUGAR DADDIES

  • A new referral service matches wealthy old men with attractive women who like their money and gifts, but prefer to remain in control.
  • Pretty much a one-joke segment.  It lasted the right amount of time.
  • The actor playing "Ralph" was one of the hoodlums from last week's "Sinatra Interview" cold opening.

**

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "TIME HEALS" - TODD RUNDGREN

  • More poppy than the first song (that hook is going to be stuck in your head for days), ending with Rundgren going nuts on the guitar.
  • Man, his pants leave very little to the imagination.

MISCELLANEOUS: MARY LOUISE

  • Denny Dillon's solo performance of her character, a bossy little girl who uses her hand puppet Sam The Snake to terrorize her friends at her birthday party.
  • Nice to see Dillon bring this back (again, viciousness filtered through puppets is one of my weaknesses); I found it interesting that this was a solo performance. I would have liked to have seen some back-and-forth with someone, though, and overall this wasn't quite as good as the last time she did the character.

**

SHOW: AFTER MIDNIGHT

  • Vince Calypso (Charles Rocket) and Marilyn "Kitty" Sparks (Gail Matthius) get suggestive while bathing a dog on a kinky cable show.  When the sketch is interrupted by a sniper's bullet, the question is "Who Shot C.R.?"
  • Again, mostly there to prop up the runner, although this one has a few funny unscripted moments thanks to the dog continually walking away.
  • There's also a funny moment when, in the middle of the ensuing panic, Tilton casually accepts Gottfried's brunch invite.
  • Seen in the ensuing kerfuffle following the gunshot: Billy Brown (orange shirt), Joe Dicso, Neil Levy and Liz Welch.

**1/2

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "PARTYUP" - PRINCE

  • An all-time classic.  Backing Prince is Dez Dickerson (guitar), Andre Cymoné (bass), Lisa Coleman (keyboards), Doctor Fink (keyboards) and Bobby Z. (drums).  Perfect ending with Prince forcefully knocking the mic stand to the ground and the band all leaving the stage.
  • Prince sings "Fighting war is such a fucking bore" (correction (05/26/16): although that it is the lyric in the studio recording, the recent rebroadcast of this performance in the wake of Prince's death clarifies that Prince actually bowdlerized the line to "freaking" for air; it was not quite as clear until I had a chance to see it in such pristine a/v quality).

GOODNIGHTS

  • With some time to kill, Charlene Tilton asks Charlene Rocket how he's doing.  Rocket replies: "Oh man, it's the first time I've ever been shot in my life.  I'd like to know who the fuck did it", then smirks.  Everyone's reaction is priceless: Tilton cackles, Dillon looks shocked, Risley puts her hand over her mouth, Murphy makes a face similar to his Mister Robinson reaction shot before breaking into a huge grin, Laurance really seems to enjoy it, and Matthius has a naughty look on her face.
  • The band start to play, and the camera makes a rare pan over to the side stage: you can see pretty much the whole group there.
  • Over the closing theme, Don Pardo announces the next show will be in two weeks with Bill Murray, and confesses that he shot Charles Rocket for fooling around with his wife, with a Smith & Wesson bought from the Spiegel catalog ("Chicago, 60608").

FINAL THOUGHTS:

If it weren't for the incident during the goodnights, this would just be a typical 1980-81 show, with maybe a slight improvement over the three previous shows thanks to Mister Robinson and one of the better Rocket Reports.  There's still a long and pointless sketch, a few bits that either fail to fully live up to their promise or are only saved by their brevity, and a Weekend Update that seems to be aware of how bad it is, but there are still signs of life throughout the show.  One thing I've noticed about watching this particular episode is that now that you know what happens during the goodnights, it helps the runner feel more like it's leading up to something.

Rocket's comment seems more deliberate than just a mere slip a la Jenny Slate or Paul Shaffer, but it still has the feeling of something tossed off and in-the-moment.  It would lead to the end of the line for Doumanian's version of the show and follow Rocket to his grave, but the use of the word "fuck" seems more like a quick lapse in judgement than anything overtly premeditated.

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • The reaction to Rocket during the goodnights.
  • Mister Robinson's Neighborhood
  • The Rocket Report

SHOW LOWLIGHTS:

  • Pork Parade
  • Weekend Update
  • Speaking Out
  • Submissive Sugar Daddies
  • Backstage
  • Mary Louise
  • Lincoln Bedroom

MVP:

  • Eddie Murphy

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN:

cast:

  • Denny Dillon: 6 appearances [Pork Parade, Lincoln Bedroom, Speaking Out, Women Behind Bars, Mary Louise, After Midnight]
  • Gilbert Gottfried: 5 appearances [Greatest Records of All Time, Mister Robinson's Neighborhood, Weekend Update, Backstage, After Midnight]
  • Gail Matthius: 7 appearances [Monologue, Pork Parade, Weekend Update, Lincoln Bedroom, The Competition, Women Behind Bars, After Midnight]
  • Eddie Murphy: 4 appearances [Mister Robinson's Neighborhood, A Fiddler Be On The Roof, Lincoln Bedroom, After Midnight]
  • Joe Piscopo: 5 appearances [Super Fight, Monologue, The Competition, SNL Sports, After Midnight], 2 voiceovers [A Fiddler Be On The Roof, The Competition]
  • Ann Risley: 6 appearances [Monologue, Greatest Records of All Time, Pork Parade, Lincoln Bedroom, Women Behind Bars, After Midnight]
  • Charles Rocket: 5 appearances [Monologue, Pork Parade, The Rocket Report, Weekend Update, After Midnight]

featured players

  • Yvonne Hudson: 2 appearances [Pork Parade, Women Behind Bars]
  • Matthew Laurance: 2 appearances [Backstage, Speaking Out]

crew and extras

  • Billy Brown: 1 appearance [After Midnight]
  • Joe Dicso: 1 appearance [After Midnight]
  • Neil Levy: 2 appearances [A Fiddler Be On The Roof, After Midnight]
  • Liz Welch: 1 appearance [After Midnight]

guests

  • Charlene Tilton: 7 appearances [Monologue, Pork Parade, The Rocket Report, Backstage, Women Behind Bars, Submissive Sugar Daddies, After Midnight]
  • Todd Rundgren: 2 appearances ["Healer", "Time Heals"]
  • Prince: 1 appearance ["Partyup"]
  • Don King: 1 appearance [SNL Sports]
  • Marc Weiner: 2 appearances [Super Fight, SNL Sports]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • Not rebroadcast on NBC.

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.