Classic SNL Review: April 11, 1981: (no host) / Jr. Walker & The All Stars (S06E13)

RATINGS SYSTEM:

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

OPENING: STOREROOM

  • Due to cutbacks at NBC, Chevy Chase is forced to change in a storage room holding cobweb-covered artifacts from the original Saturday Night Live.  When he finds Mr. Bill (voice of Walter Williams) among the props and costumes, the two reminisce about the good old days.
  • Written by Walter Williams
  • Although this was a shamelessly calculated attempt to link Ebersol's retooled SNL with the original five years, it got the audience in the right mood: they give big rounds of applause for Chase, the cobweb-covered Land Shark head, Mr. Bill, and the obligatory pratfall from Chase that preceded the "Live From New York..." line.  Once Mr. Bill appeared, you had an idea what was coming, but I thought Mr. Bill's mangling coming from Chase carelessly picking away at him, etc. worked.
  • The writers worked in a dig at Chase starring in Oh, Heavenly Dog!, and the line "Yeah, you're a little late, but they all are!" refers to the delay of the fall television season caused by the actor's strike the previous year.
  • Props seen/used: Bees costumes, the Coneheads' prosthetic heads, the NBC Dancing N, the Land Shark head.  There are also boxes upon boxes of Bambu rolling papers.

***

MONTAGE

  • A collection of still photographs taken around New York City by Patti Perret, with no animation or camera pans and zooms. The camera pulls out to reveal the last shot is on a display stand on home base before a stagehand carries it away.
  • The cast appear in random snapshots with a caption in a simple white font for the main cast, and no caption for featured players.  Among the highlights: Robin Duke's slide of her posing while holding up a dress in front of a mannequin is crooked (you can see the film sprockets), Tim Kazurinsky is getting a haircut, Gail Matthius stares blankly while crawling between two carousel hourses, Eddie Murphy blows out candles on a birthday cake, and Laurie Metcalf reclining on top of a ping-pong table.  The picture of Joe Piscopo has to be seen to believed.
  • I particularly like the shot of the Statue of Liberty used for this episode.
  • The band reverts back to the original 1975-79 theme song.
  • Incidentally, my copy of the show has two WNBC station promos advertising SCTV, which aired right after SNL at the time.  Two of the new cast additions appear in the clips used: Robin Duke's in the one right before the cold opening, and Tony Rosato can be seen at the end of the one that airs before the Wedding Day sketch.

SHOW: DRIVE FOR AMERICA

  • Frank Sinatra (Joe Piscopo) solicits support for the American auto industry through guilt trips, jingoism and open Japanese-bashing.
  • Written by Piscopo, Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield.
  • I do have to give credit to Piscopo's Sinatra impression, but right off the bat I'll say that all the anti-Japanese slurs were very cringe-worthy, even if they tie in well with the whole theme of the sketch.
  • Of the three other castmembers that appear in the sketch, Rosato did OK with a relatively serviceable part as an unemployed auto worker, and Matthius had an excellent "little girl" voice (although the pathetic facial expression was a bit much), but Kazurinsky's war veteran was the funniest, especially with the sight gag where he raises his amputated arm by mistake.
  • Yvonne Hudson, just recently demoted from featured player status, has a non-speaking appearance as the nurse pushing Matthius' wheelchair.

**1/2

COMMERCIAL: LITE BEER

  • In a bar, Bill Cosby (Eddie Murphy) recommends Lite Beer to a table of young children, because regular beer's too heavy for them.
  • A funny concept, with some good lines ("By the time you're nine you'll be drinking like a 37-year-old").  The whole thing has a very loose feel to it and is mostly an excuse for Murphy to do his impression of the Cos, but was a good sendup of how he seemed to pitch anything back then.
  • Denny Dillon appears as the waitress but has no lines.  Talent coordinator Liz Welch can be seen at the table behind Murphy and the kids, sitting with the two African-American extras (is that Hudson?  I'll add her to the sketch listing once I get a corroboration).

***

SKETCH: I MARRIED A MONKEY

  • A cuckolded husband (Tim Kazurinsky) confronts his chimpanzee wife Madge about her affair with his best friend (Tony Rosato).
  • This really gets the audience going: they like Madge enough and respond well to her (particularly when she starts "drinking" the sugar bowl), but what really makes this memorable is the blooper with the "baby" not wanting to let go of the trainer to go onstage.  Kazurinsky gets applause after his line about Madge having turned the baby against him.
  • Kazurinsky acquits himself well in this sketch, and does a good job playing off the chimps' unexpected behavior.  For all the cheesiness of the concept (right down to the old-timey soap opera organ stings), Kazurinsky fully commits to it, and that helps the sketch work.
  • Rosato's character's name is Mike Short, a shout-out to Martin Short's older brother, a writer who worked with both Kazurinsky (on Big City Comedy) and Rosato (on SCTV).

***1/2

MISCELLANEOUS: JOHNNY CASH AT SPANDAU PRISON

  • A brief fake NBC promo slide.  Definitely a Mr. Mike bit.

***

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "ROADRUNNER/SHOTGUN"

  • Robin Duke promises she'll have more to do next week (oh, the irony) before talking about how they used the original SNL theme again, which Duke mentions was written with Walker's sound in mind.
  • Walker is very energetic and his band has a very spare and simple sound; very back-to-basics R&B.

WEEKEND UPDATE I: WITH CHEVY CHASE

  • At the beginning, an announcer doing an exaggerated John Houseman impression (which reminds me of a goofy impression of Paxton Whitehead for some reason) intones that Weekend Update is sponsored by "Smitt-Burney" who makes money "the old-fashioned way: we steal it".  I'd love to know who did the voiceover: it's not Pardo and doesn't sound like anyone in the cast.
  • Best joke: Bad day for the Little Engine That Could.
  • The audience gives a lot of applause for Chase sitting at a recreation of the old Weekend Update set from the first seven shows, and he keeps the flashback alive by saying "You still aren't".  Unfortunately, his delivery seems to be really lax this time around, with a lot of pauses and speech fillers ("uh").  Hill & Weingrad mention that when Chase was on the fence about showing up because it might cut into a movie shoot, Ebersol offered to let him fly back from Hollywood on the day of the show.  Whether or not that is what happened is yet to be confirmed, but it would account for why he's essentially cameoing instead of serving as an official host, as well as for the sloppiness of this week's Update.  The jokes themselves seem to be an improvement over the Doumanian WUs, though.  I wonder who wrote them, since Brian Doyle-Murray is not credited as a writer this week.
  • In light of the allegations Mackenzie Phillips made in her memoir High on Arrival, the joke about her and father John announcing their wedding plans comes off considerably more disturbing than intended.
  • Raheem Abdul Mohammed (Eddie Murphy) gives a review of Stir Crazy that reveals he was watching Altered States instead.  Not one of the character's better outings, although this is the first time where they establish him as SNL's film critic.  He isn't quite as angry as he would become, and at the end offers to sell Chase some marijuana.
  • Laurie Metcalf makes her only appearance as an SNL featured player in a short "man on the street" film where she asks people if they would take a bullet for the President.  This was an odd segment: it was played completely straight in the wake of the recent assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan.  I give them credit for doing something different and tasteful, though.  Once the film ends, the band starts playing and goes to commercial.
  • Some places list Weekend Update as one segment for this episode, but for the purpose of this review I count it as two separate bits.

**

WEEKEND UPDATE II: WITH CHEVY CHASE

  • Best jokes: Jean Harris, Microwave Baby
  • Pardo introduces Chase this time around.  Chase reprises more of his old Weekend Update bits, including the nose picking, Franco Dead (which gets a little applause), and the "nations of" joke.  There are a few better jokes than in the other segment but Chase is still half-assing it.
  • The "Microwave Baby" joke refers to a Mrs. "Nelson Lyon", a shout-out to the Telephone Book writer-director, who O'Donoghue would bring onto the writing staff next season.  That joke has to be another Mr. Mike contribution.
  • Al Franken brings back his "Al Franken Decade" routine, complete with his name appearing superimposed on screen whenever he mentions it, to explain the show's tumultuous season and ask that viewers send letters requesting that NBC "Put SNL To Sleep" (but not before next week's show with him, Tom Davis and the Grateful Dead).  While Franken says he doesn't want to be cruel to Jean Doumanian, this bit is essentially SNL's way to formally disavow the prior twelve shows, and the audience applauds Franken for saying he has nothing to do with the new show.  He gets in a dig at Chase ("Then, Chevy left. And the show, of course, got even better"), and doesn't spare new producer Dick Ebersol either, sarcastically calling him "Mr. Humor" and playing up some questionable shows he brought to the network, such as The Waverly Wonders, Rollergirls, and Joe & Valerie (a promo for the latter's April 1978 premiere is on Youtube, as is the Rollergirls opening title sequence).  His conclusion: "he doesn't know dick" about comedy.
  • In a way, it does feel like this is a potential final episode, because the Writer's Guild of America strike had began that day (Chase alludes to it after one of his jokes bomb); knowing the rest of the season (including the Franken & Davis / Grateful Dead show, as well as a Dan Aykroyd-hosted show for April 25) had to be scrapped makes Franken's commentary seem even more like one part "SNL is dead, long live SNL", and one part "pouring gasoline on the studio, lighting a match and walking away".

***

MUSICAL SKETCH: "SAME"

  • Irene Cara (Gail Matthius) sings about how tedious it is for her to keep singing "Fame" over the past year.
  • What turned out to be Gail Matthius' last hurrah was a funny parody of "Fame".  Her singing's a little dodgy/shouty in this one but the bit was enjoyable and helped increase the show's energy.
  • I especially dug the outro where Matthius and the dancers exit out of Studio 8H to the music.  Still adds to the "potential last show" feeling, though.

***1/2

COMMERCIAL: THE SELF-RIGHTEOUS

  • A new NBC series features holier-than-thou professionals who one-up each other on who takes their job the most seriously.
  • Probably the best-written sketch all night, despite the tepid audience response.  It built on the joke nicely, with a nice payoff in the form of Eddie Murphy as a patient demanding the right to die with dignity (for a flesh wound).  O'Donoghue's narration worked for me too.

****

SKETCH: WEDDING DAY

  • Italian Papa (Tony Rosato) imparts Old World advice to son Frank (Tim Kazurinsky) on his wedding day, but tensions between the two build to shouting matches.
  • A slower, somewhat sweet character piece with a bit more emotional depth.  Rosato does alright, but Kazurinsky is better in the straight role.  I prefer these characters' second appearance a little more than this sketch: while the obscene gesture fight toward the end of this one was somewhat funny, the big fight in the other one was a bit more impressive.
  • Addendum [05/06/17]: This was a piece Rosato originally performed at Second City Toronto with Derek McGrath.

**1/2

COMMERCIAL: THE FAMOUS BROADCASTER'S SCHOOL OF CUE-CARD READING

  • Pitchman (Joe Piscopo) betrays the quality of the school's education on discreet card reading and camera switches.
  • Pretty one-joke, but goofy enough for it to work.  Kazurinsky's bit part as the cue-card holder repeatedly turning his head to read the address of the card he's holding was the best part.
  • The logo for the school looks so cheap!

***

MISCELLANEOUS: FRIENDS

  • Chevy Chase thinks Saturday Night Live is bouncing back to form, but friends Christopher Reeve and Robin Williams won't back him up on that point.


  • Not really going to rate this as it's mainly a musical guest intro with a few cameos, just thought it warranted a mention.

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "HOW SWEET IT IS/WHAT DOES ITTAKE"

  • "How Sweet It Is" is a bit more relaxed, but I really thought "What Does It Take" was their best song of the night, with the band sounding more intense than usual.

COMMERCIAL: WILD COUNTRY GUN CARDS

  • Families bond when they learn about different species of firearms together.
  • An old sketch: there is a still photo on Gettyimages that shows the original cast performing this sketch (mislabled as the "Lupner skit") at a dress rehearsal sometime in season 2, with Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin as the parents, and John Belushi and Gilda Radner as the children.  Knowing that kind of ruins the sketch for me because I can't help but compare Rosato's more relaxed delivery with how I would imagine Aykroyd would do it.  The casting seems a little odd too (Piscopo is usually the patriarch in family sketches, while Duke usually played children the next season). Dillon actually works in the Radner role, though.  Nice dark ending with them shooting what they thought was a burglar.
  • Addendum: Dennis Perrin confirms this was another Michael O'Donoghue sketch.

**1/2

FILM: "BAG LADY"

  • Offscreen voices criticize a homeless woman (Denny Dillon) for being derivative of other downtrodden characters in media.
  • Neil Levy discusses how Dick Ebersol suckered him into taking credit for this film in Live From New York.  It's not quite as bad as he makes it out to be: without the overdubbed voices it would have come across as mawkish.  While pretty unremarkable, it still worked well enough as a filler piece.
  • Matthius and Duke are two of the offscreen voices.  Any idea who the others are?  If I had to guess, Ebersol would have conscripted some of the other female staffers such as Liz Welch or Karen Roston to say lines.

**

GOODNIGHTS

  • Chevy Chase kisses Madge while Kazurinsky thanks the audience.  The chimps' trainer Dave Sabo joins Chase, the All-Stars and the cast on home base.  Irene Cara (Gail Matthius) and her dancers come down the stairs for a reprise of "Same".
  • The original broadcast ends at the Eaves-Brooks credit and Matthius breaking character to say "You gotta put me down now, Chevy!".  The full goodnights (on the repeat version aired on Comedy Central) have Matthius and the dancers going around the studio.  The credits are in a different font than normal; acting coach Del Close is credited as "House Metaphysician".

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Not a bad first outing for Dick Ebersol.  A little over-reliant on the nostalgia, yes, and Chase's lazy performance prevented the Weekend Update doubleheader from being a highlight, but there are no truly bad sketches.  Murphy and Piscopo both appear in one fewer sketch each than new regulars Rosato and Kazurinsky, the latter standing out above the others tonight.  Poor Robin Duke and Laurie Metcalf don't make as big impressions, and Emily Prager doesn't even show up in tonight's show.  This show doesn't exactly come across as a triumphant return, though: as I said a few times in the review, this show had a feeling of them knowing it could very well be the very last SNL, and it gives the whole thing a bittersweet aura.  Even the use of the 1980-81 home base sets made it feel a little like everyone snuck into an abandoned building to have one last party before demolition.

EPISODE HIGHLIGHTS:

  • The Self-Righteous
  • Al Franken commentary (Weekend Update II)
  • Same
  • I Married A Monkey

EPISODE LOWLIGHTS:

  • Bag Lady
  • Weekend Update I

MVP:

  • Tim Kazurinsky

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN:

cast:

  • Denny Dillon: 4 appearances [Storeroom, Lite Beer, Wild Country Gun Cards, Bag Lady]
  • Robin Duke: 2 appearances [The Self-Righteous, Wild Country Gun Cards], 1 voiceover [Bag Lady]
  • Tim Kazurinsky: 5 appearances [Drive For America, I Married A Monkey, The Self-Righteous, Wedding Day, The Famous Broadcaster's School of Cue-Card Reading]
  • Gail Matthius: 2 appearances [Drive For America, "Same"], 1 voiceover [Bag Lady]
  • Eddie Murphy: 4 appearances [Lite Beer, Weekend Update I, The Self-Righteous, Wild Country Gun Cards]
  • Joe Piscopo: 4 appearances [Drive For America, The Self-Righteous, The Famous Broadcaster's School of Cue-Card Reading, Wild Country Gun Cards], 1 voiceover [Lite Beer]
  • Tony Rosato: 5 appearances [Drive For America, I Married A Monkey, The Self-Righteous, Wedding Day, Wild Country Gun Cards]

featured players:

  • Laurie Metcalf: 1 appearance [Weekend Update I]
  • Emily Prager: 0 appearances [credited in montage]

crew and extras:

  • Yvonne Hudson: 1 appearance [Drive For America]
  • Michael O'Donoghue: 1 voiceover [The Self-Righteous]
  • Liz Welch: 1 appearance [Lite Beer]

guests:

  • Jr. Walker & The All-Stars: 2 appearances ["Roadrunner/Shotgun", "How Sweet It Is/What Does It Take?"]
  • Chevy Chase: 4 appearances [Storeroom, Weekend Update I, Weekend Update II, Friends]
  • Al Franken: 1 appearance [Weekend Update II]
  • Christopher Reeve: 1 appearance [Friends]
  • Robin Williams: 1 appearance [Friends]
  • Walter Williams: 1 voiceover [Storeroom]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • September 26, 1981

Known alterations: 

  • "Drive For America" and "Bag Lady" are removed
  • "60 Minutes" from Karen Black (01/17/81) and "Mister Robinson's Neighborhood" (04/11/81) are added.  
  • Opening montage removes blurry picture of the World Trade Centre and replaces it with a shot originally seen later in the montage; it also segues into I Married A Monkey.
  • Full closing credits.

Additional screen captures from this episode can be seen here.