Classic SNL Review: April 14, 1984: George McGovern / Madness

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

OPENING: 60 MINUTES

  • Ten years in the future, Richard Nixon (Joe Piscopo) reflects on his high-priced 1984 interviews for CBS.
  • Nice makeup job on Piscopo; he has some of the physicality down, but the voice still sounds a little "off" to me. The audience enjoyed how gleefully this painted Nixon as a villain (with big applause for the "if you want to look inside Nixon's head, use a proctoscope" line), but this really felt a little underwhelming in a few ways: there didn't seem to be much more to this besides the main "Nixon is a bad person" joke.
  • The line where Nixon admitted he "lied like a two-dollar whore" was censored for the West Coast and repeat broadcasts: "whore" was muted for the West Coast airing, while the repeat loops in "through the nose" from later in the sketch after the word "lied".
  • The date of this future interview (April 14, 1994) would place it eight days before the real Nixon died.

** 1/2

MONTAGE

  • Eddie Murphy is back in the credits this week.
  • Michael Brecker is back playing sax with the SNL Band, but there's no Tom Malone trumpet part during the theme.

MONOLOGUE

  • After suspending his Presidential campaign, George McGovern is hosting SNL because he needs the money.
  • McGovern's definitely not a performer, but he comes across as very likable and self-effacing here. Despite the part with McGovern going into the audience to beg for money (and notably passing by his wife because he could tell she didn't have any), this just petered out.
  • Were the people in the front row with Eleanor McGovern particularly notable figures?

** 1/2

FILM: "MIDTOWN OPEN" - CLAUDE KERVEN

  • George McGovern learns Joe Piscopo and Jim Belushi play golf on the streets of Manhattan instead of on a course.
  • This was fun, and a nice use of SNL's New York roots, with some very funny visuals, including the different urban traps (phone booths, fountains, construction sites). The funniest moments came from Piscopo and Belushi shoving aside the old lady hit by the ball to make their next shot ("She just wants to get on TV") and their not being aware who McGovern was (Piscopo asks "You run for something, George?" after a passerby tells McGovern he voted for him; a beat, then Belushi asks "You win?")
  • It looks like the board room meeting scene was shot in the SNL offices.

***

COMMERCIAL: WHITE HOUSE FOODS

  • Ronald Reagan (Joe Piscopo) touts nutritionally-suspect Very, Very Hungry Man Dinners featuring poverty-level cuisine from around the world.
  • A bit on the nose, but it worked. You could kind of see the Clara Peller cameo coming after Reagan brings up the dinners for the elderly, but this was the best use of "where's the beef?" all night.
  • This felt a little like a companion piece to 1982's Reagan Brand Economics, with Reagan as a pitchman who doesn't really seem to do much to alieviate a poor family's suffering.

***

SKETCH: TRAMPOLINE

  • Cindy (Mary Gross) hates her "circus people" downstairs neighbor Bruno (Jim Belushi) when his trampoline bouncing interrupts her date.
  • Not bad; there's a surprising amount of comedy to be gleaned from just having a guy bouncing up through a hole in the set, and Gross has some good moments here (nonchalantly waving off the big hole in her floor, her delivery on "I wish I could have killed him!", which got a big laugh) but it felt like it could have been built a little further.

***

COMMERCIAL: DIRECT HITS

  • The new record offer includes songs updated to reflect American military muscle.
  • Another record ad spoof; there's somewhat of a stronger satirical element (references to Central America galore in the song titles, plus the 1973 US-backed Chilean coup reference in "The Night We Drove Allende Down"), and the use of more contemporary material works in its favor. It was a little long, there were still a few cringey puns (particularly the band names), and McGovern's delivery was a little too slow (though there was added comic value to have him play the general), but even though this didn't quite reach the level of "Jesus In Blue Jeans", this one worked better than the "Heil Hits" and "Taking Care Of Business" commercials.
  • Written by Eliot Wald and Nate Herman. Herman also confirmed that's him singing "I Guess That's Why The Call It The Cruise").

** 1/2

SKETCH: I DIDN'T REALIZE

  • A couple (Jim Belushi and Mary Gross) tries to get Carl (Eddie Murphy) into a menage-a-trois, only to learn he's already spoken for.
  • The last of the Eddie Murphy pre-tapes in the hopper; it had a good concept, but this was the weakest of the sketches they taped that night. Murphy has this weird delivery/accent for his character for some reason and that took me out of the sketch. For some reason the sketch also ends with Murphy introducing the cast as they take their bows.
  • Recorded September 21, 1983 at the preview show.
  • There's a reference to Friday Night Videos early in the sketch; a curious bit of cross-promotion for Dick Ebersol's other late night NBC series.

***

GUEST PERFORMANCE

  • Prop comic Frankie Pace does some quick bits and plays a miniature piano.
  • This was very lowbrow, and Pace had a tendency to laugh at his own routines, but it was very fast-paced, and the audience really responded well to this. The best bit was probably the imitation of the baby being born; the miniature piano bit was a tad overlong.

***

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWS

  • George McGovern sits in the anchor chair tonight; again, his delivery is a little too slow, and he has to deliver that groaner about how Madness thought it was Boy George hosting, but he doesn't really do many jokes this week.
  • Gary Kroeger is back, ostensibly to do another movie review, but instead he plays an obviously fake tape of "George McGovern" being a nightmare backstage. It was a little predictable (you could tell this was leading to another Kroeger-over-the-desk moment), but still funny, especially McGovern's "Why, you scoundrel!" when Kroeger presents the tape. Stage manager Bob Van Ry can also be seen on camera for a second after the Kroeger-over-the-desk bit.
  • Because tax day is tomorrow, Maurice Frank (Tim Kazurinsky) offers his recommendations on tax deductions, such as counting frost-bitten tomatoes in the fridge as a "farm loss", or your wife leaving as a "home improvement"; Kazurinsky also starts to crack a little as his wig comes out of place. Very silly stuff, but it's fast paced, and while it's not Kazurinsky's most memorable routine, it works. There is a little bit of trivia regarding this bit: a real accountant named Maurice Frank unsuccessfully sued the show for defamation over this routine.
  • Joe Piscopo is back for his last-ever Saturday Night Sports, where he touches on baseball (offering up a fake Yogiism: "If Steinbrenner wasn't my boss, I wouldn't work for him!"), hockey (who cares about the Islanders), the Soviet Olympic boycott ("Screw 'em!") and golf (with a wind-up golf game). This was alright, but it felt like Piscopo was treading some of the same territory he went over before in previous Saturday Night Sports, especially the golf game bit (though, there is a blooper with the ball not actually hopping into the hole). Piscopo's "screw 'em!" line was muted out on the West Coast broadcast; the repeat adds "cuckoo" sound effects over both words.

** 1/2 

SHOW: COSMOS

  • Carl Sagan (Gary Kroeger) hypothesizes a parallel planet Earth where the sole divergence from ours is that George McGovern beat Nixon in 1972.
  • The "America's problems would have been solved" angle was a bit predictable, but there were little details that kept this entertaining (George worrying about the 17 American kids without a balanced breakfast, him disguising his voice while on the Hot Line, the jab at that week's overlong Oscars telecast). I have to give McGovern credit for doing this sketch, particularly the big twist at the end that changes this from a wishful-thinking utopia into something much darker.

*** 1/2

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "OUR HOUSE"

  • Clara Peller asks George McGovern "Where's the band?" during the introduction.
  • This was a fairly anemic take on their Ivor Novello Award-winning single (from 1982's The Rise & Fall, not issued on a Stateside LP until 1983's Madness compilation); compared to the recorded version, which has a hint more of a melancholy undertone, this came off as a little too poppy. The vocals seemed off here too.

SHOW: BOOK BEAT

  • Archaeologist's (George McGovern) recent find devalues Treasure Hunt author Dale Butterworth's (Brad Hall) book.
  • Good performance by Hall here, whose mortification grows as it becomes all too apparent that his new book (that involved his borrowing of $100,000 to hide) was made worthless during the show's broadcast. Not much more to this than the premise, though it's executed well.
  • Written by Andy Breckman.

***

SHOW: BROTHER-IN-LAW

  • Ike (Robin Duke) convinces husband Walter (Gary Kroeger) it's time to send his unsuccessful kid brother George McGovern packing.
  • After appearing in "Footless" last week, Walter and Ike are back, with the twist that George McGovern is the family loser. Again, McGovern is a self-effacing good sport, and I like the twist that he's actually not really a leech (at one point offering to make Chateaubriand), but the things pushing them to the breaking point were very minor (I love Duke's complaint about always watching the news: "It couldn't have changed that much!").
  • This was Robin Duke's only appearance all night.

***

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "KEEP MOVING"

  • The title track from their 1984 Keep Moving album; not my favorite of theirs, but this had a little more life to it.

GOODNIGHTS

  • George McGovern asks Clara Peller her thoughts on the candidates, which of course is another chance for her to say her catchphrase. George introduces his wife Eleanor. Joe Piscopo seems a little upset.
  • Don Pardo addresses his "fellow countrymen" to announce next week's rerun of the Robin Williams episode.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Despite having a recent political candidate as host, this was a fairly forgettable show, with not much standing out as especially good or bad. There are a few sketches that distinctly felt like they could have been better (60 Minutes, Trampoline), and McGovern's limitations as a performer were somewhat obvious (though he often made up for it with his likability), but unlike last week, nothing seemed especially bad (though maybe it was overkill to have three "Where's the beef" variants tonight). Even the last Eddie Murphy pretape underwhelmed. There was a slight boost in quality after the news, but on the whole, this show just came off as a tad disappointing.

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Cosmos

SHOW LOWLIGHTS:

(none)

MVP:

(tie) Jim Belushi / Gary Kroeger / Mary Gross

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN:

cast

  • Jim Belushi: 3 appearances [Midtown Open, Circus People, I Didn't Realize]
  • Robin Duke: 1 appearance [Brother-In-Law]
  • Mary Gross: 4 appearances [White House Foods, Circus People, I Didn't Realize, Cosmos]
  • Brad Hall: 2 appearances [Cosmos, Book Beat]
  • Tim Kazurinsky: 5 appearances [60 Minutes, Circus People, I Didn't Realize, Saturday Night News, Cosmos]
  • Gary Kroeger: 4 appearances [White House Foods, Saturday Night News, Cosmos, Brother-In-Law]
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus: 3 appearances [White House Foods, I Didn't Realize, Cosmos]
  • Eddie Murphy: 1 appearance [I Didn't Realize]
  • Joe Piscopo: 5 appearances [60 Minutes, Midtown Open, White House Foods, Saturday Night News, Book Beat]

crew and extras

  • Nate Herman: 1 voice-over [Direct Hits]
  • Tom Malone: 1 appearance [Cosmos]

guests

  • George McGovern: 8 appearances [Monologue, Midtown Open, White House Foods, Direct Hits, Saturday Night News, Cosmos, Book Beat, Brother-In-Law]
  • Madness: 2 appearances ["Our House", "Keep Moving"]
  • Eleanor McGovern: 1 appearance [Monologue]
  • Frankie Pace: 1 appearance [Guest Performance]
  • Clara Peller: 2 appearances [White House Foods, Madness intro]

REBROADCAST HISTORY

  • August 18, 1984

Known alterations:

  • 60 Minutes and Saturday Night News edited.

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.