Classic SNL Review: February 25, 1984: Edwin Newman / Kool & the Gang (S09E14)

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

OPENING: HAIRDRESSERS

  • New SNL hairdressers Dion (Eddie Murphy) and Blair (Joe Piscopo) try to work around Edwin Newman's thinning hair.
  • Like with the other Dion and Blair sketches, this has its share of cringey gay jokes, but the Murphy-Piscopo chemistry is here, Newman (who gets applause for his entrance) makes a good foil, and this serves as a fitting send-off for these two characters.
  • Recurring SNL dwarf extras Butch and Pepe show up again at the very beginning; Dion comments they have "the cutest little butts".

***

MONOLOGUE

  • In his first job since retiring last month, Edwin Newman corrects grammar on a cue card, dances, leads the band, and sings "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone".
  • A hint of what's to come for the rest of the night. Newman is affable, playful and ready to make fun of himself; as much as the musical monologue became a crutch for the writers in recent years, it works here, and Newman has a decent singing voice.

*** 1/2

COMMERCIAL: BUDDWEISER LIGHT (repeat from 02/11/84)

SKETCH: HYMIETOWN

  • Under fire for anti-Semitic comments printed in the Washington Post, Jesse Jackson (Eddie Murphy) tries to mend fences with a soul ballad.
  • A topical sketch based on a real-life controversy that boiled over that week, but it stands on its own as a Murphy performance piece. Murphy's Jesse Jackson impression has improved since Crisis Game '83 in December, although the impression is not so much the focus of the sketch as the song.
  • Written by Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield.

*** 1/2

SKETCH: HOTLINE

  • While waiting to go for dinner with his niece, Edwin gives a suicide hotline caller (Robin Duke) more grammar correction than compassion.
  • The premise is a little thin, and the audience response is fairly muted, but this had its moments; the language nerd in me appreciated the humor, and I liked Newman's callback to his alternative to the overuse of "major" as an adjective ("the lieutenant slut"). It actually reminds me a little of next season's First Draft Theater in places, particularly the line about the "underclothes on a bottle of tequila".
  • The dress rehearsal shots on Getty Images reveal that Duke and Newman are on adjacent sets.

***

COMMERCIAL: FUR: YOU DESERVE IT! (repeat from 03/20/82)

SKETCH: NEWS BAR

  • Lamenting the state of the news business, recently retired Edwin bets Tom Snyder (Joe Piscopo) that he can make anyone an anchorman: even Brad Hall.
  • A fun My Fair Lady spoof, with Newman playing Henry Higgins to recently-demoted SNL news anchor Hall's Eliza Doolittle, and a memorable "Rain in Spain" variant ("Iranian's pains come mainly from Khomeini"). Piscopo's musical "ha ha ha ha-ha-ha" at the end always bugged me, though.
  • The Al Hirschfeld drawings on the set were a nice touch.

*** 1/2

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "JOANNA"

  • All ten members of Kool and the Gang look absolutely crowded on the 1982-85 home base stage, especially since they incorporate choreography into their performance. "Joanna", from the In the Heart album, is a little too sappy and poppy to be considered one of their better songs, but I thought the performance was good, and this had a little more muscle than the thin-sounding synthy/new-wave acts of the last few shows.

SHOW: SPEAKING FREELY

  • Edwin Newman sits down with the Godfather of Soul, James Brown (Eddie Murphy).
  • This was merely an excuse to have Murphy reprise his Brown impression; it's very thin aside from the use of James Brown lyrics as "answers", although Newman's loquacious set-ups provide amusing contrast.
  • Speaking Freely was Newman's 1967-76 interview show on NBC.

**

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWS

  • Edwin Newman anchors tonight's edition. This is a step up from the previous few shows because this actually has a bit of a running joke: instead of reading "news stories", Newman finds different reasons not to read them. At one point, he even breaks the fourth wall to point out the absurdity of "a late breaking story from Argentina" when Saturday Night News doesn't even have a bureau there.
  • Jim Belushi returns as Rappin' Jimmy B to deliver rhymes (co-written by Herb Sargent, according to BMI) about Princess Di, the Iowa caucus and Chernenko. The audience responds well to this, but I found this didn't have the impact of last week's opening segment. 
  • Mary Gross brings back her piss and vinegar for the first "spittin' mad" commentary since November, this time about pointless official national holidays. Like the November one, I thought this was one of the stronger outings for this bit, and there are some good lines (a sarcastic "Whoa! Let's Party" in response to Dried Fig Week, Homemade Bread Day being a holiday for counterfeiters).
  • Worthington Clotman (Tim Kazurinsky) returns to chastise respected public figures that appear on entertainment programs, singling out "hitherto-respected newsman" Edwin for hosting tonight's SNL. This was better than the first appearance with Rickles, as Clotman actually seems even more disgusted tonight, and this had a stronger ending with Newman staring at him for a while before spraying him with a seltzer bottle.
  • According to Getty Images, a segment with Gary Kroeger as Ted Kennedy was dropped after dress rehearsal.

*** 1/2

SKETCH: HOW HIGH THE NOON

  • With the sheriff gone and the Kelton Gang riding into town, a cowboy (Gary Kroeger) seeks the wisdom of retired gunfighter Kid Halpern (Edwin Newman).
  • I enjoyed this. The breezy silliness that marked "A Boy's Life On The Mississippi" is back in a bigger way, and this has a lot of quick jokes that are too numerous to mention here; I particularly liked Halpern's inflation of his gunfighting record (quickly backtracking "all but 108, who died of natural causes", before admitting some of these f"ights" were by mail). 
  • Written by Nate Herman and Eliot Wald; the Kelton Gang were named after fellow SNL writer Kevin Kelton.

****

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "CELEBRATION"

  • A high-energy if slightly synthier take on their big hit from 1980's Celebrate! album.
  • Kool & the Gang performed this song three years before when they appeared on SNL rival Fridays on February 13, 1981 (with hosts David L. Lander and future SNL cast member Michael McKean). It's interesting to contrast the two performances: the Fridays take is a little looser and has the band going into the audience, but the SNL performance sounds better, even if the bass and synthesizer are mixed a little hot.

SHOW: URBAN ANSWERS

  • Charles Thorne (Gary Kroeger) discusses gang violence with rival gang leaders Little Rat (Brad Hall) and Crazy Max (Edwin Newman).
  • A quick but unusual sketch. Edwin Newman playing a gang member (with the requisite jab at Newman's vocabulary being "street lingo") is funny enough, but this veers into a different direction with Newman saying "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!" prompting the fourth wall to break. 

****

SKETCH: A NICKEL

  • Two alter kockers (Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy) reminisce about the days when they could get anything for a nickel.
  • Eddie Murphy's final live sketch as an SNL cast member (two pre-tapes appear in later shows), and there isn't a more fitting way to end his tenure with the show than a two-hander with Joe Piscopo. This was very loose, with both of them cracking up, and Murphy's misreading the cue card as "stone" instead of "stove" prompts some adlibbing, including Piscopo commenting about how his character looks like "Al Franken in 50 years".

****

SHOW: FACE THE PRESS

  • Edwin Newman plays it cautious after seeing how a mob-connected guest (Jim Belushi) handles his colleagues' tough questions.
  • This is a pretty much forgotten "deep cut", but I thought it actually manages to top the last few sketches. Despite the slightly obvious premise, the real humor comes from Newman's willingness to play himself as a bit of a coward, with a lot of well-timed pauses and silent bits as he does everything possible to delay asking his question. There's also another "throw Kroeger over the desk" bit, and even a bit of fake blood after Tim Kazurinsky's character gets shot (plus the great sight gag of his character slumped over dead in the background during Newman's close-ups).
  • Belushi's character, Leonard Kleinfeld, is a fictional character, but the reference to him being Reagan's new Secretary of Labor indicates that this was inspired by Raymond Donovan, the real life Secretary who was alleged to have Mafia connections.
  • Mary Gross' moderator character is named Joyce Sloane, after the legendary Second City producer and matriarch.

**** 1/2

GUEST PERFORMANCE:

  • Harry Anderson uses oversized playing cards to illustrate his story about trying to beat a four card monty game.
  • A bit of a departure for Anderson, with a lower-key sleight-of-hand routine merely used as an illustration for a story.
  • This is Anderson's first appearance on the show since Night Court premiered on NBC in early January.

***

COMMERCIAL: JACOBY ESCORT SERVICE

  • Chaste cousins Luba (Robin Duke) and Rosie (Mary Gross) adhere strictly to the literal definition of "escort service".
  • This originally included Gary Kroeger and Brad Hall in dress rehearsal, but the show running long forced Duke and Gross to whittle this down to 1 minute and 15 seconds. This suffers a little bit from the rushing, and I wonder how this would have played out at full length, but all things considered, this is decent.

** 1/2

GOODNIGHTS

  • No mention that this is Murphy's last show, though Robin Duke gives him a kiss and hug, and as he goes behind the group, Joe Piscopo in a big bear hug that turns into play wrestling between the two. No Pardo voiceover over the closing theme. 

FINAL THOUGHTS:

After the weaker Curtis show, tonight was definitely an improvement, and one of the most consistently enjoyable shows all season; while the show starts decently, it really starts hitting a hot streak in its second half. Edwin Newman more than made up for a limited acting range with a willingness to do a lot tonight, from singing to playing a gang member (and "ruining" a sketch), as well as a lot of general poking fun at himself. Eddie Murphy was also more present (in both senses of the word) in his final live show as a regular, with one of his more famous late-tenure sketches ("Hymietown") and two sketches paired with Piscopo ("Hairdressers", "A Nickel").

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Face The Press
  • How High the Noon
  • A Nickel
  • Urban Answers
  • Hymietown
  • News Bar
  • Monologue
  • Saturday Night News

SHOW LOWLIGHTS:

  • Speaking Freely

MVP:

  • Edwin Newman / Eddie Murphy

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN:

cast

  • Jim Belushi: 3 appearances [Saturday Night News, How High The Noon, Face The Press]
  • Robin Duke: 2 appearances [Hotline, Jacoby Escort Service]
  • Mary Gross: 3 appearances [Saturday Night News, Face The Press, Jacoby Escort Service]
  • Brad Hall: 3 appearances [News Bar, How High The Noon, Urban Answers]
  • Tim Kazurinsky: 3 appearances [News Bar, Saturday Night News, Face The Press]
  • Gary Kroeger: 4 appearances [News Bar, How High The Noon, Urban Answers, Face The Press]
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus: 3 appearances [Hotline, News Bar, How High The Noon]
  • Eddie Murphy: 4 appearances [Hairdressers, Hymietown, Speaking Freely, A Nickel]
  • Joe Piscopo: 3 appearances [Hairdressers, News Bar, A Nickel]

crew and extras

  • Bob Christiansen: 1 appearance [News Bar]
  • Butch: 1 appearance [Hairdressers]
  • Joe Dicso: 1 appearance [Hairdressers]
  • Pepe: 1 appearance [Hairdressers]
  • Al Siegal: 1 appearance [Monologue]

guests

  • Edwin Newman: 9 appearances [Hairdressers, Monologue, Hotline, News Bar, Speaking Freely, Saturday Night News, How High The Noon, Urban Answers, Face The Press]
  • Kool and The Gang: 2 appearances ["Joanna", "Celebration"]
  • Harry Anderson: 1 appearance [Guest Performance]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • June 9, 1984

Known alterations:

  • Jacoby Escort Service removed

Sketches in the 03/24/84 Best Of special:

  • News Bar

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.