Classic SNL Review: March 7, 1981: Bill Murray / Delbert McClinton (S06E12)

RATINGS SYSTEM:

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

OPENING: DRESSING ROOM

  • Bill Murray advises the cast not to worry about the negative reviews and comparisons to the original show.
  • This is the first time the show openly acknowledges the bad press that they've received all this season.  In later seasons with bad publicity, referring to how bad the show was tended to sour the mood, but I didn't get that feeling from this opening.  While Murray validates a bit of the criticism (Rocket copying Murray, Gottfried's sad-sack demeanor), albeit in a playful way, it's cancelled out by the resolution, where he advises everyone to adopt an attitude of "it just doesn't matter".
  • Much of the credit for this segment's success rightfully belongs to Bill Murray, who just has a way of infusing a scene with energy.  It's really obvious that it paid off: the audience cheers the loudest it has all season for the Live From New York line.
  • Addendum: The whole cold opening is a reference to a scene in Meatballs, right down to the shirt Murray is wearing.

***1/2

MONOLOGUE

  • A manic Bill Murray has the band start the theme again and picks up an audience member, nearly dropping her on her head.  Eddie Murphy rushes out to stop him, and the two declare themselves the new Pryor and Wilder by declaring "we bad".
  • Right away, Murray brings energy to what is easily the most memorable monologue of season 6.  Murphy and Murray play off each other well, with laughs from Murphy saying "we terrible, gimme 15!" and dismissing Murray's suggestion of the two doing an Irish jig as "bad and dangerous".
  • Murray is the first host this season to actually enter the home base set through the elevator instead of the stairs; the only time the elevator had been used all season was in the Gould monologue (he still used the stairs) and in the Handgun Association commercial from the Karen Black show.

***1/2

FILM: FORMULA FOR THE GOOD LIFE

  • New Jersey chemical plant worker Paulie Herman (Joe Piscopo) is proud of his job and of where he's from.
  • I liked this better than the other Paulie Herman bits this season for some reason; maybe its just that the pre-filmed aspect took a bit of the edge of his irritating qualities or that the character worked better in a documentary context instead of playing to an audience.
  • Nice little sight gag there with Paulie talking about how lunch tastes better at the plant before a bunch of white powder spills onto his food from his hardhat.

***

SKETCH: THE WRITER

  • While a writer (Bill Murray) makes revisions to his script, actors performing the scene behind him struggle to keep up with the changes.
  • This was such a simple idea, but still so clever and so well done, that it's a highlight of the season.  This escalated nicely and had a good ending.
  • While Murray was the perfect choice to serve as the anchor of the piece, special mention has to go to the castmembers involved: they do all the comic business and mix their "performances" as Murray's characters with great reactions to the last-minute changes he makes.  There's a sense of fun to their performances here that was absent in the last few shows, especially the part where Matthew Laurance and Ann Risley struggle to hold their pose.
  • I especially thought Risley had a good part in this, as the actress who is either removed from the scene or forced to be the pitiful, sickly maid.
  • Addendum: Ferris Butler informed me that this was a Billy Brown and Mel Green piece.

*****

SKETCH: ALTERED WALTER

  • Just-retired Walter Cronkite's (Bill Murray) obsessive experiements with drugs and isolation chambers alarm his wife Betsy (Denny Dillon) and successor Dan Rather (Joe Piscopo).
  • I have to give the writers credit for an interesting concept (a parody of Altered States with Walter Cronkite) as well as the topicality of this sketch (this original aired the day after Cronkite's last day as CBS Evening News anchor), even if it did stretch on a little long.  I still thought it was fairly well done, if not hilarious, and ended on a strong note (with Cronkite turning into a test pattern).
  • The trip sequences, while well-done, did feel a little like padding (although with excellent music choices, including Frank Zappa's Uncle Meat Variations).  I've never been a fan of Piscopo's Dan Rather, but Murray carries the whole piece anyway.
  • One thing I noticed about 1980-81 is that they always seemed to try to squeeze in three segments between commercial breaks, excluding musical guests and Weekend Update, and usually not really late in the show.   I think the emphasis on doing a lot of shorter material ended up hurting the season in the long run: although there is a risk that longer sketches will be indulgent or tedious, a lot of the shorter sketches this year felt underdeveloped.  Packing the show with so many sketches also seems to make it feel like the show will never end.

***

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "GIVING IT UP FOR YOUR LOVE"

  • Bill Murray introduces McClinton as someone who once sang with Jake Blues, and mentions Bonnie Bramlett is joining him tonight.
  • A tight and energetic performance of McClinton's only Top 40 hit, with SNL Band members Ronnie Cuber, Lou Marini, Alan P. Rubin and Tom Malone playing alongside regular McClinton saxman Robert Harwell.

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWSLINE: SCIENCE BREAK WITH DR. JONATHAN LEAR (MARK KING)

  • The news segment gets its third major overhaul of the season; instead of a single segment with stories and multiple commentaries, it is split into three shorter segments spaced throughout the show's middle third, and there is no Pardo voiceover introducing either of the segments.
  • This was amusing and kept short; it reminds me of the Dr. Jack Badofsky segments Tim Kazurinsky would do in the following seasons: both featured a guy with an exaggerated nerdy voice displaying jokes on cards.
  • Many places erroneously list this Mark King as the same one that was in Level 42; this is the Mark King that appeared on Cheers about two seasons later as a nerdy scientist character who Carla fools into thinking he's the father of her baby.

***

COMMERCIAL: CHAPSTICK

  • Autograph-seeking girls (Denny Dillon and Gail Matthius) find that Dr. J., Sammy Davis, Jr. (Eddie Murphy), John Kenneth Galbraith (Joe Piscopo) and Roman Polanski (Gilbert Gottfried) have all adopted "ChapStick" as their surnames.
  • This is a spoof of the ChapStick commericals ("Suzy ChapStick" is the best known example, but the version with "Dr. ChapStick" was airing at this time; this is a parody of that commercial).  I chuckled at the absurdity of the girls getting excited over Galbraith, but the part where the girls go inside with Roman Polanski just felt a little tasteless (though I though Matthius wailing "Roman Polaaaaanskiiiiiii" was funny).
  • Who played Julius Erving?

**

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWSLINE: ARTS & LEISURE WITH BILL MURRAY

  • Murray brings back his "Oscar Nominations" board for the fourth year in a row, which went over well with the audience, especially his usual "nobody cares" remark about supporting actors.
  • More notable for the sentimental quality of Murray nominating his former castmates for Oscards than anything else, although Murray slapping a big "Caddyshack" magnet on the board for Best Picture was funny.

***

SKETCH: NICK RIVERS

  • Aboard a riverboat paddling down the Mississippi, lounge singer Nick (Bill Murray) and pianist Paul Shaffer entertain a crowd which includes a former hostage (Yvonne Hudson) and some Mary Kay representatives (Denny Dillon and Gail Matthius).
  • Another sentimental favorite brought back.  Murray carries this, and he and Shaffer get the audience going with their version of "Celebration".
  • Neil Levy plays the magician at the beginning, and costume designer Karen Roston can be seen among the lounge patrons, as can Patrick Weathers.

***1/2

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWSLINE: WITH CHARLES ROCKET

  • Best joke: Welles / Winters
  • Still nothing great, but Rocket seems comparatively toned down this week, despite still adopting a Bill Murray-esque delivery.  I wonder how this would have played out if they kept him on the show.
  • Piscopo's bit seemed a little weaker than usual.
  • Dom Irrera and Dennis the recurring extra are the two hockey players in Piscopo's illustration.  There's also a fun moment when Rocket pokes fun at his F-bomb in the last show by asking Piscopo "Did you say 'puck?'"

**

FILM: "CUT FLOWERS" - MARY PAT KELLY

  • A florist (Bill Murray) tries to find just the right flower for an exacting customer (Brian Doyle-Murray).
  • This was directed by the show's associate producer, who was Murray's sister-in-law at the time; Murray's then-wife Margaret (Mickey) Kelly is credited with the idea for the short.
  • I thought this one had a good payoff, and it looked and sounded significantly better than a lot of the films that ran this year.  Very nice use of tight closeups.
  • This was shot at the Associated Cut Flower Company on West 28th St. in New York; incidentally, they are wholesale only and do not sell to retail customers as depicted in the film
  • Looks like Dennis the recurring extra is in here as well (he's the first person you see in the film).

***

COMMERCIAL: NO SEX WITH MARY

  • Despite leaving Bendix for Seagram's, Mary Cunningham (Gail Matthius) still can't get away from executives making suspiciously specific denials that they sleep with her.
  • This is another topical sketch based on a real story at the time: Mary Cunningham resigned from a corporate position at Bendix due to speculation that she was promoted because of a relationship with the CEO, and had just gotten her position at Seagram's at the time of the show's original airing.
  • Basically a one-joke premise, with the executives all denying affairs, but decent performances from all (Rocket seems very reigned-in), especially Matthius with her non-verbal mortified reactions.  Gottfried (as the janitor) got my biggest laugh with his "I think she's frigid" comment after his denial.
  • Dennis the recurring extra plays Jim Deacon, and has one line ("No").

**1/2

SKETCH: CAT'S NAME

  • Frustration rises as Richard (Bill Murray) and Marilyn (Ann Risley) struggle to remember the name of their friend Ron's (Matthew Laurance) cat.
  • This feels like a sketch that could play in any season, largely getting laughs from a relateable situation.  Murray gives good energy and carries the whole scene, but I also thought Risley did alright here.  I wonder how she would have played if she was used more like Kristen Wiig was in the earlier years of her tenure.
  • One observation: early in the sketch, the cat is established to be female, but the name ends up being Herman.

***

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "SHOTGUN RIDER"

  • A more laid-back tune this time.  Good performance from McClinton and Bramlett.

SKETCH: BUBBA'S WASH, FAYETTA'S DRY

  • Divorced couple Bubba (Bill Murray) and Fayetta (Denny Dillon), still sharing their laundromat after the marriage has ended, snipe at each other over their new significant others.


  • A slower character piece that has some surprising emotional moments towards the end: good work from both leads here.

***1/2

GOODNIGHTS

  • Bill Murray announces that next week's show will be Robert Guillaume with Ian Dury & The Blockheads, and apologizes to the old cast for appearing on the show.
  • The cast gives him a one-sided group hug.  Murray seems more interested in bonding with Murphy, who hugs Patrick Weathers as well.  Charles Rocket wears horrific pink pants.
  • No Don Pardo credit voiceover; judging by the runtime of the Comedy Network version, the show likely ran long and had the goodnights cut off on original broadcast.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

The Jean Doumanian era ends on a high note; while Karen Black's show had a few more peaks, Murray brought an energy that seemed to erase the combination of defeat and panic that lingered over the last few shows.  Rocket's over the top tendencies are reigned in, Risley appears to find her niche, and everyone seems to be having fun again.  The reduction in the number of sketches seems to have also helped tonight.  Most importantly, I didn't have a feeling of "this may be our last show"; if the show had continued with the same cast, writers and producer, I wonder if they would have come up with for Guillaume / Dury.  The potential for Doumanian's show to fully correct itself never came to be: NBC would fire her the next week.  When the show returned the next month, Rocket, Risley and Gottfried were no longer in the cast, and the writing staff was now without Larry Arnstein & David Hurwitz, Ferris Butler, John DeBellis, Brian Doyle-Murray and Leslie Fuller.

EPISODE HIGHLIGHTS:

  • The Writer
  • Nick Rivers
  • Monologue
  • Dressing Room
  • Bubba's Wash, Fayetta's Dry

EPISODE LOWLIGHTS:

  • Newsline (Rocket/Piscopo segment)
  • ChapStick

MVP:

  • Bill Murray

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN:

cast:

  • Denny Dillon: 6 appearances [Dressing Room, The Writer, Altered Walter, ChapStick, Nick Rivers, Bubba's Wash Fayetta's Dry]
  • Gilbert Gottfried: 3 appearances [Dressing Room, ChapStick, No Sex With Mary]
  • Gail Matthius: 4 appearances [Dressing Room, ChapStick, Nick Rivers, No Sex With Mary]
  • Eddie Murphy: 4 appearances [Dressing Room, Monologue, ChapStick, Nick Rivers]
  • Joe Piscopo: 6 appearances [Dressing Room, Formula For The Good Life, Altered Walter, ChapStick, Newsline, No Sex With Mary]
  • Ann Risley: 3 appearances [Dressing Room, The Writer, Cat's Name]
  • Charles Rocket: 4 appearances [Dressing Room, The Writer, Newsline, No Sex With Mary]

featured players [none credited in montage]:

  • Yvonne Hudson: 1 appearance [Nick Rivers]
  • Matthew Laurance: 3 appearances [The Writer, Altered Walter, Cat's Name]
  • Patrick Weathers: 1 appearance [Nick Rivers]

crew and extras:

  • Ronnie Cuber: 2 appearances [Monologue, "Giving It Up For Your Love"]
  • Lawrence Feldman: 1 appearance [Monologue]
  • Neil Levy: 1 appearance [Nick Rivers]
  • Tom Malone: 2 appearances [Monologue, "Giving It Up For Your Love"]
  • Lou Marini: 2 appearances [Monologue, "Giving It Up For Your Love"]
  • Chris Palmaro: 1 appearance [Monologue]
  • Leon Pendarvis: 1 appearance [Monologue]
  • Karen Roston: 1 appearance [Nick Rivers]
  • Alan P. Rubin: 2 appearances [Monologue, "Giving It Up For Your Love"]
  • David Spinozza: 1 appearance [Monologue]
  • Buddy Williams: 1 appearance [Monologue]

guests:

  • Bill Murray: 9 appearances [Dressing Room, Monologue, The Writer, Altered Walter, Newsline: Arts & Leisure, Nick Rivers, Cut Flowers, Cat's Name, Bubba's Wash Fayetta's Dry]
  • Delbert McClinton: 2 appearances ["Giving It Up For Your Love", "Shotgun Rider"]
  • Bonnie Bramlett: 2 appearances ["Giving It Up For Your Love", "Shotgun Rider"]
  • Mark King: 1 appearance [Newsline: Science Break]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • Not repeated on NBC.

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.