Classic SNL Review: December 3, 1983: The Smothers Brothers / Big Country (S09E07)

RATINGS SYSTEM:
***** - Classic
****  - Great
***   - Good/Average
**    - Meh
*     - Awful

OPENING: RAIN DELAY

  • Tom Seaver reports as the cast awaits umpire Ron Luciano's decision on whether tonight's show can go ahead during a rain storm in the studio.
  • A very interesting way to start the show; not so much in terms of actual laughs, but the level of commitment to the whole premise, including the audience holding umbrellas and the crew wearing raincoats, really makes this stand out. It's also interesting seeing the 1982-85 home base set used like this, with the cast peeking out of the storefront "windows".
  • For some reason, the visual of Robin Duke smoking a cigarette while in a chipmunk costume makes me laugh.
  • Note that the whole cast appears in this opening except for Eddie Murphy.

*** 1/2

MONOLOGUE

  • While the Smothers Brothers lead the audience in a singalong of "If I Had A Ship", Tom tries to take a picture of Dick.


  • A slight step down from last year's "Impossible Dream" monologue, but this has a good payoff (Tom gets his picture, but immediately ruins the film by taking it out of the camera, thinking it's a Polaroid).
  • "If I Had A Ship" was written by longtime Smothers collaborator Mason Williams and recorded by The Kingston Trio on their 1965 album Stay Awhile. Williams wrote for SNL in November and December 1980.
  • Tom's "haul ass" line was left intact in the West Coast and rerun versions; they muted/removed a similar line from Magic Fish in April's Susan Saint James show.

***

SHOW: NIGHTLINE

  • Ted Koppel (Joe Piscopo) pits John Glenn (Tom Smothers) against Rev. Jesse Jackson (Eddie Murphy) in "Crisis Game '83".
  • The audience was quiet for this one, but there were a lot of good bits, from Smothers' portrayal of a slightly hapless Glenn to Carl Sagan (Gary Kroeger) and William F. Buckley (Brad Hall) serving as particularly useless advisors in a simulation (which Jackson loses by accidentally hitting "the button" when telling them to shut up). Eddie Murphy's Jesse Jackson impression was a weak link: it was marginally better than Piscopo's impression the month before, but neither Murphy nor Piscopo nailed Jackson's cadence.
  • This was Eddie Murphy's only appearance of the night; in essence, he's making a cameo in this week's show, though still billed as a regular. According to Saturday Night (Hill and Weingrad), there was one week where Murphy contacted Dick Ebersol on Thursday to inform him he would not be appearing in the show, though he later relented; I wonder if this is the week that happened. 
  • "The Crisis Game" aired as a four-part series on Nightline that aired November 22-25, 1983, wherein former government officials respond to a  simulated nuclear crisis.
  • I have a feeling that the line about the "computer nut...playing with his Wang computer" had to be changed; the extra reference to "computer" weakens the joke.

*** 1/2

SHOW: KNOW YOUR NEIGHBOR

  • Host Bob McCarthy (Jim Belushi) disrespectfully mocks the Hanukkah traditions his guest (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) describes.
  • A little too one-note for my liking; Belushi also seems to be somewhat typecast here (he comes across as a less-likable version of his character in "The Forum"). Julia Louis-Dreyfus does particularly well in this sketch, though, mostly using just her facial expressions to play off Belushi.
  • This was removed from the repeat version, but since restored in the 60-minute syndication edit of the show.

**

COMMERCIAL: CARVEL

  • Tom Carvel (Joe Piscopo) learns his King of Prussia franchisee (Tim Kazurinsky) sells some very adult ice cream novelties at his store.
  • One of my favorites from this season, with a prosthetic-covered Piscopo showing good interplay with Kazurinsky. Nice escalation too, culminating in Peter the Yule Log (with a much longer, more expensive chocolate version).

****

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "IN A BIG COUNTRY"

  • From the band's 1983 album The Crossing; a decent song but a fairly anemic-sounding performance, despite the late Stuart Adamson's best efforts.

COMMERCIAL: MENTL

  • Barbra Streisand (Joe Piscopo) made her new movie all by herself.
  • Another sketch with Piscopo wearing prosthetics; this one doesn't really have much more to it than Babs' motormouthing about how she doesn't need anyone else (at one point, she mentions the Bergmans).
  • Is this the first SNL sketch to ever mention the Kabbalah?

**

MISCELLANEOUS: CASINO QUINTET

  • The Smothers Brothers and the Mike Preddy Trio perform Mason Williams and Art Maddox's composition "Fantasy for Auto Horn and Electronic Pulse in D Minor".
  • This is just a musical interlude, but some humor comes from the brothers' facial expressions, and Tom flipping sheet music pages (he only honks a horn in this piece).
  • Pianist Michael Preddy regularly toured with the Smothers Brothers from the 1980s through the 2000s; the other members of the Trio are SNL band bassist Tom Barney and fill-in drummer Dave Weckl.

***

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWS

  • Best jokes: Cabbage Patch Dolls, new call letters
  • Brad Hall seems to have fewer jokes between commentaries, although his frustration at the overexposure of the Cabbage Patch KIds doll started the segment off strong and segued nicely into Gary Kroeger's commentary.
  • Gary Kroeger introduces his now-grown Cabbage Patch Kid, Huckleberry (Jim Belushi wearing a giant fake head), who gets upset when he learns that he's adopted. This was quite funny, with Belushi picking his "nose", Kroeger bemoaning being a single parent as a tolddler, and a strong ending with Huckleberry throwing Kroeger over the SNN desk.
  • Dr. Jack Badofsky (Tim Kazurinsky) returns with a particularly bad set of influenza puns, played to a particularly hostile audience that boos the first joke and some other particularly bad ones. I've said before that Kazurinsky seems to revel in the audience's hostilty towards the excruciating puns, but this audience seems especially harsh (then again, you would boo at the "in flew enza" line too).
  • Joe Piscopo's Saturday Night Sports is back, with a rare athlete cameo: world heavyweight champion Larry Holmes, who remains coy about whether he's retiring. Piscopo posits a hypothetical situation about what would get Holmes back into the ring; when he mentions "Mohammed Ali's son", a child comes out swinging at Holmes. More memorable than Piscopo's last few Sports segments at least.
  • In the original West Coast airing, the "Mohammed Ali's son" segment was pre-empted by an NBC News bulletin about an American fighter pilot being shot down over Lebanon.
  • Cut from dress: Robin Duke as a punkish character.

** 1/2

SHOW: DREAMLAND

  • Elroy Sandquist (Jim Belushi) interprets women's dreams as sexual fantasies about him, except for one that clearly is.
  • This was weak and the punchline was a little too obvious for my tastes. We already saw Belushi playing another talk-show host earlier tonight, although this one's more soft-spokenly arrogant than belligerently disrespectful.
  • Robin Duke plays the same character she played in "The Forum" (Carol Halpin); she doesn't get much to do here (in her only speaking role in the show), although I did like her "No, I don't think so" to Belushi.

* 1/2

MISCELLANEOUS: THE POINT

  • After Dick chastises him for making a cheap joke, Tom misses the point by telling "The Boy Who Cried Wolf".
  • Another brief light-hearted interlude (originally aired at the 12:30 station break); good punchline at the end from Tom.

***

SKETCH: CLARK STREET GARAGE BAND

  • Road Warrior (Jim Belushi) and his terrible band audition for a representative from Atlantic Records (Dick Smothers).
  • A nice character-driven piece; overconfident incompetents and untalented people with delusions of stardom have been a rich source of comedy on the show, and despite being the centre of a few weaker sketches earlier tonight, Jim Belushi carries this scene as the leader. I also give points for referencing a specific label (and namechecking Phil Collins, Laura Branigan and the Rolling Stones as potential labelmates).
  • I can never hear "Gloria" without thinking of the band's misspelled version ("G-L-U-R-O-E").
  • As mentioned in my review of the Jerry Lewis show, this sketch was originally written for that week; Dick Smothers seems to be a better fit for the role than Jerry Lewis.
  • Extras watch: The bass player is Tom Malone (SNL band), and the drummer is production assistant Barry Nichols.

***

SKETCH: AUTOGRAPH

  • At a restaurant, Sara (Mary Gross) makes her husband (Tom Smothers) make repeated trips to get Dick Smothers' autograph.
  • This was just tedious and unfunny, with the sole redeeming feature being the ending where the rain from the beginning of the show returns, with the actors and extras opening umbrellas before Ron Luciano clears the set.
  • Nate Herman can be seen as one of the restaurant patrons (back corner table near Mary Gross and Tom Smothers); I'm sure I've seen the young woman with the blonde bob in other sketches.

* 1/2

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "FIELDS OF FIRE"

  • It seemed like Ron Luciano and the Smothers Brothers were trying to stall for time for a little bit before introducing the second Big Country song.
  • This performance had a little more energy than the first number, although the direction still seemed a little lifeless.

GOODNIGHTS

  • Tom mentions they were able to get eight sketches in, so they can call it an official show; Dick tells him to read the cue cards. When Big Country are thanked, Brad Hall can be heard saying "Buy the album
  • Don Pardo announces that (weather permitting), next week's guests are Flip Wilson and Stevie Nicks, or, in case of rain, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (a callback to the cold opening). "Either way, you can't lose!"
  • Dave Weckl and Bob Christianson fill in for Buddy Williams and Leon Pendarvis, respectively.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

This show was all over the place: on the positive side, there was an interesting break in the show's format (Rain Delay), an appearance by Eddie Murphy (Nightline), a funny commercial parody (Carvel) and another confident, if low-key, hosting turn by the Smothers Brothers. However, there were a higher number of weak sketches than usual, as well as the sense that Jim Belushi was being overextended (though his performance in Clark Street Garage Band makes up for it). Big Country also seems like a band that should have been better than they were tonight. A weaker show than normal for this season so far.

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Carvel
  • Nightline
  • Rain Delay

SHOW LOWLIGHTS:

  • Autograph
  • DreamLand
  • Know Your Neighbor
  • Mentl
  • Some of the Dr. Jack puns

MVP:

  • Tom Smothers

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN

cast

  • Jim Belushi: 5 appearances [Rain Delay, Know Your Neighbor, Saturday Night News, Dream Land, Clark Street Garage Band]
  • Robin Duke: 3 appearances [Rain Delay, Nightline, DreamLand]
  • Mary Gross: 3 appearance [Rain Delay, DreamLand, Autograph]
  • Brad Hall: 4 appearances [Rain Delay, Nightline, Saturday Night News, Clark Street Garage Band]
  • Tim Kazurinsky: 4 appearances [Rain Delay, Carvel, Saturday Night News, Clark Street Garage Band]
  • Gary Kroeger: 6 appearance [Rain Delay, Nightline, Know Your Neighbor, Saturday Night News, Clark Street Garage Band, Autograph]
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus: 4 appearances [Rain Delay, Nightline, Know Your Neighbor, DreamLand]
  • Eddie Murphy: 1 appearance [Nightline]
  • Joe Piscopo: 5 appearances [Rain Delay, Nightline, Carvel, Mentl, Saturday Night News]

crew and extras

  • Tom Barney: 1 appearance [Casino Quintet]
  • Nate Herman: 1 appearance [Autograph], 1 voiceover [Mentl]
  • Tom Malone: 1 appearance [Clark Street Garage Band]
  • Barry Nichols: 1 appearance [Clark Street Garage Band]
  • Dave Weckl: 1 appearance [Casino Quintet]

guests

  • Tom Smothers: 6 appearances [Rain Delay, Monologue, Nightline, Casino Quintet, The Point, Autograph]
  • Dick Smothers: 6 appearances [Rain Delay, Monologue, Casino Quintet, The Point, Clark Street Garage Band, Autograph]
  • Larry Holmes: 1 appearance [Saturday Night News]
  • Ron Luciano: 2 appearances [Rain Delay, Autograph]
  • Michael Preddy: 1 appearance [Casino Quintet]
  • Tom Seaver: 1 appearance [Rain Delay]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • March 31, 1984

Known alterations:

  • Know Your Neighbor and Casino Quintet removed
  • Jazz Riffs (alternate take, recorded 09/21/83) added

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.