Classic SNL Review: October 15, 1983: Danny DeVito & Rhea Perlman / Eddy Grant (S09E02)

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

OPENING: CALVIN KLEIN CREAM PIES

  • Andie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) tells a story about trailer park couple Dot and Earl.

 

  • Like with last week's Calvin Klein spoof, this incorporates elements from a real commercial, spoofing a specific ad with Andie MacDowell. I'd rate this slightly higher if they didn't do a similar sketch the week before.

** 1/2

MONTAGE

  • Beginning with this episode, all musical guests and special guests are shot in front of a standard backdrop.

MONOLOGUE

  • Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman feel like their two-person monologue is like awkward award-show banter.
  • Not really much to it; this is pretty loose. DeVito and Perlman run with the corny award show style jokes for a little bit until it runs its course.

**

SHOW: MISTER ROBINSON'S NEIGHBORHOOD

  • Mister Robinson (Eddie Murphy) receives a present from his "old friend" Juanita.
  • A return to form after the underwhelming installment in the Ed Koch show. So many good lines in quick succession, starting right away with a new variation of the opening song where he reveals he's having an affair with the landlord's wife, and "Can you use this word in a sentence? Cab drivers can!" More importantly, Murphy seems to have his spark back this week.
  • Written by Kevin Kelton, who provides this behind-the-scenes story:
    "It’s my 2nd show, and first show I had material in. So I’m as green as can be. During rehearsals the censor, Bill Clotworthy (very nice guy), tells me that we can’t use “bastard.” So I tell Dick who tells Eddie. Then Dick comes back and says Eddie wants to use bastard. So I need to “fix this.” And I’m thinking, how do I fix this?!?!  So I come up with a few alternates but nothing is anywhere near as good as bastard, and Eddie shoots them all down.  So I go to Clotworthy (and again, remember, I have no idea what I’m doing) and say, what if he doesn’t SAY the word, he just points to it?  Clotworthy replies, but Eddie always says Today’s New Word.  I say, well, if we don’t say it, can we just have it on the easel and he just points to it?  Bill relents and says okay.  But no mention of it!  So I wrote the cover line and gave it to Eddie, who loved it.  And of course, the line killed on air."

****

COMMERCIAL: CRAZY EDELMAN

  • The discount psychiatrist (Joe Piscopo) has prices so low, his own mental health is questionable.
  • Piscopo's second Crazy Eddie-style commercial pitchman in two weeks. He does this stuff well, but it's a little played out. Fortunately, this is still quite good, with a lot of well-crafted jokes packed in.
  • It looks like a cue card briefly creeps into the bottom of the frame for a second, and a boom mic can be seen as well.

*** 1/2

SHOW: WHAT WOULD FRANK DO?

  • Dom LaMagna (Danny DeVito) asks Dion Dion (Eddie Murphy) and other game show contestants how Frank Sinatra (Joe Piscopo) would handle different situations.
  • This lags in places, but Eddie Murphy manages to make this sketch worth watching with only a few well-timed non-verbal reactions: look at him when Sinatra enters. DeVito does well as the slimy host, although the business with Rhea as the contestant he hits on runs its course early. Poor Robin Duke is wasted in a "first contestant" role.
  • The pre-taped segments were directed by Claude Kerven; Wally's NYC gets a credit as "Frank's Restaurant" during the goodnights.
  • Saturday Night and Live From New York both trace the origins of this sketch to Joe Piscopo's tendency to comment whenever the writers had Frank Sinatra do something he felt was out-of-character for The Chairman of the Board.
  • A dress rehearsal picture on Getty Images shows that DeVito was originally supposed to wear a hairpiece for this sketch.

***

SKETCH: SMALL WORLD

  • Amusement park visitors find themselves trapped and tortured when "It's A Small World" breaks down.
  • This has a great premise, some good performances (particularly from Mary Gross and Eddie Murphy), and a dark streak I appreciate, but taken as a whole, this doesn't quite connect as well as it should. There's some very interesting green-screen work though.
  • Frequent SNL extra Andy Murphy has a speaking role as Robot Grover Cleveland ("Two...non-consecutive...terms!"); writer Nate Herman provides the disembodied voice of Walt Disney at the end. 

    *** 

SKETCH: MOM WAS RIGHT

  • The documentary "Odyssey of a Paper Clip" shows why "you don't know where it's been" is sensible advice.
  • This was decent but not particularly memorable: the film begins like a standard-issue educational film and turning into a little bit of a gross-out parade. Some of the live wraparound (with Gary Kroeger) felt a little awkwardly paced.
  • Addendum (07/15/14): Veteran radio and TV announcer Jackson Beck provides the narration.

** 1/2

SKETCH: SPANISH CLASS

  • Senora Sanchez (Rhea Perlman) insists that all conversation in her Spanish class be "en Espanol".
  • This works because of the premise's relatability; it also reminds me a more grounded version of the sketch with Alec Baldwin insisting that his French class match his singsong vocal inflection. Perlman gets some good lines in (particularly her inappropriately cheery instruction on the proper way to say "her mother is dead"), while the other cast members do well in their student roles (particularly Gary Kroeger). Even in a relatively minor role, Eddie Murphy gets the sketch's biggest laughs. The ending felt a little too obvious, though.
  • Written by Kevin Kelton; the button with the class responding "en Espanol" was a last minute rewrite after a different ending got no response in dress rehearsal.
  • Head writer Andrew Smith appears as the police officer ("Freeze, Mother!").

*** 1/2

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWS

  • Best jokes: KISS without makeup, fireman's urinalysis
  • Very fast paced tonight. A few of Brad Hall's jokes die (which he then ad-libs about) but his anchor segments don't drag this week.
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays (fictional) fired news anchor Marjorie Franks, who blames sexism for her dismissal but is unaware of the facial expressions she makes as she talks. This is a little too broad, but the audience loves it, and Louis-Dreyfus actually has quite a talent for mugging. 
  • Gary Kroeger gives a review of the  Never Say Never Again that is mainly focused on the Bond girls' bodies. He does well with what he has, even if it feels a little obvious; he goes all-in by opening his shirt to illustrate how much breast was exposed, and there's an amusing reaction from an audience member when Kroeger mentions he had to cross his legs. The final punchline, where Kroeger points at Hall and mimes a limp wrist for asking about Sean Connery, doesn't really play well today, but Hall gets an funny line in afterwards ("Thank you, Gary, for the last time you'll ever appear on SNL News").
  • Dr. Ruth Westheimer (Mary Gross) returns to discuss the media's bombardment of teenagers with sexual messages. This commentary stretches the joke a little too long, although there's some unintentioanl humor involving a blooper with Gross' microphone. Note that when she first attempts her Ronald McDonald joke ("His Big Mac, his McNuggets, his McMuffin"), Gross accidentally refers to him as "That clown Ronald Reagan" (Freudian slip?).

** 1/2 

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "I DON'T WANNA DANCE" & "ELECTRIC AVENUE"

  • Grant performs two-minute versions of the tracks from 1982's Killer On The Rampage album, which were released as singles in the US some time after they charted in the UK.  Both are a little faster tempo and less synthesized than their studio counterparts.
  • The lighting changes at the point where Grant switches songs, which I thought was a nice touch.

SKETCH: AUTOGRAPH HOUNDS

  • Herbie (Danny DeVito), Denise (Rhea Perlman) and Egbert (Tim Kazurinsky) compare their collections and ambitions while waiting for celebrities to emerge from the stage door.
  • Well-written if unremarkable character piece, with all three leads giving strong performances. Dick Cavett makes a cameo about halfway through the sketch and steals DeVito's hat. DeVito's reaction makes it seem like Cavett actually broke script.

***

SHOW: BOOK BEAT

  • Self-published author Chuck Bell's (Danny DeVito) books (and album) were all inspired by the woman he's stalking.
  • DeVito's body language and demeanor really add to his characterization here: he seems particularly schlubbier than normal. A little bit obvious in the joke, but this is quick, with a nice escalation and payoff. 
  • Another changed ending: a picture from dress rehearsal shows Rhea Perlman as Debra discussing her book The Revenge Of Debra Rappaport. In the air show, Debra remains an off-screen role.

***

COMMERCIAL: THE AMOS 'N ANDY SHOW

  • Andy Rooney (Joe Piscopo) makes observations while Kingfish (Eddie Murphy) is in "a world o' trouble".
  • Same old Andy Rooney; Murphy makes it somewhat entertaining, but I've always felt Piscopo was the weakest of SNL's Rooney impersonators, and a lot of this felt like it was done before (particularly Rooney's line about the show being written by Jewish writers).

* 1/2

SHOW: MASTERPIECE HUMOR

  • The conclusion to the 11-part miniseries "A Kangaroo (Danny DeVito) Walks Into A Bar".
  • I liked Tim Kazurinsky's dry setup of the joke, but the "overlong credits" gag could have had more punch.

**

SKETCH: BODY GUARD

  • At a beloved politician's funeral, mourners are quick to attack his bodyguard (Robin Duke) for her incompetence.
  • This was weak; with the same joke over and over (the mourners start attacking Duke once they figure out she's the bodyguard). The ending with Brad Hall's funeral director being the one person who appreciated her work was alright.
  • A picture on Getty Images shows Duke originally wore a dark wig during dress rehearsal.
  • Looks like the recurring Ebersol-era extra I call "mustache guy" (who appears in Opie's Back as Floyd's first customer) is the guy in the casket.

* 1/2

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "LIVING ON THE FRONTLINE"

  • An older track, from 1979's Walking On Sunshine album; Grant plays guitar solos with his teeth, butt and foot.

GOODNIGHTS

  • Eddie Murphy announces he's getting married while Danny DeVito announces that Jimmy Belushi will be on the show starting next week. Joe Piscopo again has Joey with him, while Eddy Grant and his band stand at the back of the stage.
  • Don Pardo announces next week's show with John Candy and Men At Work and says he gets paid by the word before launching into a lengthy story.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

This week's show felt a little more consistent than Tartikoff, largely due to the amount of good (but not great) sketches; the highlights didn't feel as strong or as frequent as last week, though, and many of the sketches felt like they could have been executed a little better. Most of the weaker bits (aside from Body Guard) were at least fairly short. The cast is considerably more balanced this week, though Gary Kroeger, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and (especially) Robin Duke have less to do than the others. Both DeVito and Perlman were fine hosts, though.

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Mister Robinson's Neighborhood
  • Spanish Class
  • Crazy Edelman

SHOW LOWLIGHTS:

  • Body Guard
  • The Amos 'N Andy Show
  • Monologue
  • Masterpiece Humor

MVP:

  • Eddie Murphy

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN:

cast

  • Robin Duke: 2 appearances [What Would Frank Do?, Body Guard]; 1 voice-over [Mister Robinson's Neighborhood]
  • Mary Gross: 5 appearances [Small World, Spanish Class, Saturday Night News, Autograph Hounds, Body Guard]; 1 voice-over [Mom Was Right]
  • Brad Hall: 5 appearances [Small World, Spanish Class, Saturday Night News, Autograph Hounds, Body Guard]
  • Tim Kazurinsky: 5 appearances [Small World, Autograph Hounds, Book Beat, Masterpiece Humor, Body Guard]; 1 voice-over [Mister Robinson's Neighborhood]
  • Gary Kroeger: 4 appearances [Mom Was Right, Spanish Class, Saturday Night News, Autograph Hounds]
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus: 3 appearances [Calvin Klein Cream Pies, Spanish Class, Saturday Night News]
  • Eddie Murphy: 5 appearances [Mister Robinson's Neighborhood, What Would Frank Do?, Small World, Spanish Class, The Amos 'N Andy Show]
  • Joe Piscopo: 5 appearances [Crazy Edelman, What Would Frank Do?, Small World, Spanish Class, The Amos 'N Andy Show]

writers, crew & extras

  • Jackson Beck: 1 voice-over [Mom Was Right]
  • Nate Herman: 2 voice-overs [Calvin Klein Cream Pies, Small World]
  • Andy Murphy: 2 appearances [Small World, Body Guard]
  • Andrew Smith: 1 appearance [Spanish Class]
  • Clint Smith: 1 appearance [Spanish Class]

guests

  • Danny DeVito: 7 appearances [Monologue, What Would Frank Do?, Small World, Autograph Hounds, Book Beat, Masterpiece Humor, Body Guard]
  • Rhea Perlman: 5 appearance [Monologue, What Would Frank Do?, Small World, Spanish Class, Autograph Hounds]; 1 voice-over [Book Beat]
  • Eddy Grant: 2 appearances ["I Don't Wanna Dance/Electric Avenue", "Living On The Frontline"]
  • Dick Cavett: 1 appearance [Autograph Hounds]

REBROADCAST HISTORY

  • Not rebroadcast on NBC (not counting a 2005 NBC All Night airing)

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.