Classic SNL Review: May 5, 1984: Barry Bostwick / Spinal Tap (S09E18)

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

OPENING: SIMULATED CAT FIGHT

  • As a service to SNL's male viewers, Mary Gross and Julia Louis-Dreyfus simulate a catfight in the make-up room.
  • This was around the time catfight scenes became a TV drama staple, from Dynasty to V: The Final Battle, but despite the knowing wink to how these woman-on-woman fight scenes are mainly for titillation purposes, this was merely OK. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is starting to get more chances to demonstrate what she's capable of, though.
  • I did like how Barry Bostwick was impressing Mary Gross with the most mundane Lincoln facts at the very beginning.

***

MONTAGE

  • Eddie Murphy is gone from the cast again; Billy Crystal is announced as a special guest.
  • Dave Weckl fills in for Buddy Williams on drums again; the theme seems to be at a slightly slower tempo. Don Pardo sounds a little "off".

MONOLOGUE

  • After starring in last month's George Washington miniseries, Barry Bostwick agreed to host SNL despite his fears of being typecast.
  • A bit of a weak one-joke idea, but Bostwick is energetic and the whole "George Washington" thing isn't stretched too thin. I have to admit the dollar bill made me laugh.

** 1/2

COMMERCIAL: FOLDGER'S CRYSTALS (repeat from 04/07/84)

SKETCH: LIE DETECTOR

  • A pre-employment lie detector test reveals Mr. Tatum's (Jim Belushi) extensive criminal background.
  • A simple idea, but this was executed very well, with a nice escalation, good performances and a strong ending. This plays to Belushi and Piscopo's strengths (Brad Hall was in a fairly thankless role, basically the literal version of what Bill Murray called the "second cop" roles from early in his tenure), and there are enough details and smaller jokes that keep this moving.
  • Written by Kevin Kelton.

****

SKETCH: ICEMAN

  • After being frozen for 30 years, resuscitated 1950s relic (Barry Bostwick) protests being dissected by singing "Waking Up Is Hard To Do".
  • A parody of a real movie released the previous month (Gary Kroeger seems to be playing the Timothy Hutton character); like last month's "Footless" sketch, this centers on a big musical number based around a song parody. It's cheesy, but a good way to make use of Bostwick's singing and dancing skills, though I found he oversold some of the pre-song "gibberish". Brad Hall was funny as the scientist eager to cut him up, though.

***

SHOW: 2 ON THE TOWN

  • Robb Weller (Gary Kroeger) and Melanie Anderson (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) give a tour of New York City to its 1,000,000th visitors of the year: Doug and Wendy Whiner (Joe Piscopo and Robin Duke).
  • The Whiners are back (with huge recognition applause) for their last-ever appearance, also their first since the season premiere. This was better than the usual Whiners sketch, though: as with the other Whiner sketches, the annoyance of their foil is the pivotal element, and Gary Kroeger does especially well here, mixing "TV host mode", frustration, and a growing resentment and hostilty toward the two that makes itself apparent when he and Louis-Dreyfus shove them into a porno theatre after their complaints about Cats ("They smell"). I also thought the live outro with the Whiners in the SNL audience was well done. A good way to send off these characters.
  • Directed by Claude Kerven.

*** 1/2

MISCELLANEOUS: SPINAL TAP INTERVIEW

  • Barry Bostwick interviews Spinal Tap's David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer).
  • Bostwick sticks out a little too much here, but this is great stuff; like the film, this appears to have been largely improvised by McKean, Guest, and Shearer. Guest in particular dominates this, but there are so many highlights here: getting Mozart confused with Beethoven, who their music appeals to (professionals, the Trilateral Commission, Illuminati, and 14 year old white boys), early Christmas ceremonies (the devil running about chasing people with his tail, saying "You stay away from here! It's Christmas! Poke poke.") and their characteristically clueless defense of the objectification of women in "Big Bottom". A must watch if you enjoy This Is Spinal Tap or any of Guest's movies.

*****

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "CHRISTMAS WITH THE DEVIL"

  • This is perhaps the biggest production done for a musical performance on the Dick Ebersol version of SNL, between the giant red-eyed devil's head (complete with Santa beard), smoke machine, fake snow, and cameo by regular SNL dwarf extras Butch and Pepe (tossing a Christmas tree onto the stage from a sled). Even not taking production values into consideration, this was a very good performance, with considerable more heft than much of the last run of musical guests.

NEXT WEEK

  • Billy Crystal announces that he will co-host the season finale with Mayor Ed Koch, Edwin Newman, Father Guido Sarducci and Betty Thomas.
  • This is not in my copy of the show; I assume this is a pretty straightforward promo.

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWS

  • Billy Crystal is back to do the news as Fernando, commenting on the announcement of the new fall TV lineup. It's a little long, but this time Crystal really connects with the audience, and there are a few good lines (I can't help myself, I laughed at "The Pope and The Chimp: He's a pope, he's a chimp, they're detectives.").
  • Nancy Reagan (Mary Gross) drops by to show pictures of her and Ron's trip to China. This is an extended photo-based segment that runs a little long (and the audience lets out an audible groan on the panda muff reveal), but Gross is surprisingly good here. This is the first time in the Ebersol era that someone has impersonated the First Lady. This segment ends with an extended banter between her and Fernando that's very loose ("We never slept together, did we?"); I wonder if this was mostly ad-libbed by Crystal.  
  • Getty Images has pictures of two commentaries cut from dress rehearsal: Tim Kazurinsky playing what appears to be a relative of the shady taxman character he debuted in the previous show, and Brad Hall portraying a dark-haired goateed person who I can't easily identify.  If anyone has more information about these bits, please let me know.

*** 1/2

SKETCH: THE TURKEY LADY

  • A freak accident while demonstrating his teleportation device turns Dr. Phillip Doyle's (Barry Bostwick) fiancee Cindy (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) into The Turkey Lady (Robin Duke).
  • This four-part sketch has to be one of the most ambitious sketches done in the Ebersol era. There are a few issues with the execution (particularly the timing for the brief dialogue between Gary Kroeger and Andrew Smith's reporter characters at the end of the first part), but I have to commend whoever wrote this for going above and beyond the standard SNL format. Robin Duke gets a bit of a thankless task having to wear a turkey mask and making gobbling noises, but I enjoyed the physicality she gave to the role, particularly her body language on the "Barney's Beat" talk show segment.  The thing that really brought this whole sketch together for me, though, was the random pre-taped commercial in which the Turkey Lady somehow got an endorsement deal for iced tea. The Soupy Sales cameo at the end was also a random enough ending to work.
  • Speaking of Sales, there was absolutely no mention of him during the goodnights; his show was a bit before by time, so I had no idea who he was supposed to be for a few years after I first saw this sketch.

****

GUEST PERFORMANCE:

  • A. Whitney Brown does stand-up about the difficulty of driving while stoned and doing battle with a slow motorist.
  • Another glimpse of the future of SNL, though Brown wouldn't join the show's writing staff until Lorne Michaels' return in 1985. For those who are familiar with his "Big Picture" commentaries, this is a more animated, less satirical and urbane Brown than the one that appeared regularly on Weekend Update, but this was an enjoyable set.

*** 1/2

COMMERCIAL: LA CAGE AUX FOLLES

  • After conquering the music, TV and film worlds, Rick Springfield (Barry Bostwick) sets his eyes on the Broadway stage and sings a variant of "Jessie's Girl".
  • This was a short piece with the reveal of the joke at the end; it felt a little obvious, but maybe that's because identifying what the commercial is for spoils the reveal. Bostwick gets another chance to sing; he doesn't really sound like Springfield, but I give him credit for being so game.

***

SKETCH: UNANSWERED QUESTIONS OF THE UNIVERSE

  • Havnagootiim Vishnuuerheer (Tim Kazurinsky) answers another batch of viewer-submitted questions.
  • The final appearance of Kazurinsky's guru character and the Unanswered Questions format; this one actually seemed a little tighter and funnier than the previous installments. I particularly liked Kazurinsky's annoyance at yet another question about the Ty-D-Bol man.

***

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "BIG BOTTOM"

  • Some interesting lighting color changes (which don't really come across in the screen caps) for the classic heavy-on-the-low-end ode to the behind. 
  • David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) introduces the full band at the beginning of the performance, including eventually doomed drummer Richard Shrimpton (Ric Parnell) and keyboard player Viv Savage (David Kaff).

SHOW: DOG DAY P.M.

  • Legend of Greyhound director Henry Wigglesworth (Barry Bostwick) discusses his autobiographical film about being raised and mistreated by humans.
  • The weakest segment of the night. I found Bostwick's overaffected dog voice a bit too distracting, especially compared with Belushi's more low-key take. There were a few laughs when he narrated the film ("Puppy porn" got a big reaction), but the ending seemed a little too far into the "forced raunch" territory (though I'm amazed they got away with the "If someone else ["licks themselves"] for them, that's another story" line).

**

GOODNIGHTS

  • Barry Bostwick calls it the most ridiculous week, and gives everyone (including Butch and Pepe) $3 dollar souvenir antenna headsets.
  • Canned closing theme in the repeat; I don't have access to the live version so I'm unsure what Pardo's ending voiceover is about aside from the announcement of next week's "Five Hosts" show.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

A strong show, and a little bit of a preview of the next season. Barry Bostwick was an eager and willing host, despite occasionally being a bit too "on" for the sketch's purpose. He was overshadowed, though, by Spinal Tap, 2/3 of which would join the cast next season, along with Billy Crystal, who is already connecting well with the audience. The rest of the show benefited from some stronger and more ambitious writing in the live sketches, and two recurring sketches went out with better-than-usual final installments. 

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Spinal Tap Interview
  • Lie Detector
  • The Turkey Lady
  • Guest Performance
  • Saturday Night News
  • 2 On The Town

SHOW LOWLIGHTS:

  • Dog Day P.M.

MVP:

  • Spinal Tap

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN:

cast

  • Jim Belushi: 3 appearances [Lie Detector, The Turkey Lady, Dog Day P.M.]
  • Robin Duke: 2 appearances [2 On The Town, The Turkey Lady]
  • Mary Gross: 3 appearances [Simulated Cat Fight, Saturday Night News, The Turkey Lady]
  • Brad Hall: 3 appearances [Lie Detector, Iceman, The Turkey Lady]; 1 voice-over [La Cage aux Folles]
  • Tim Kazurinsky: 3 appearances [Iceman, The Turkey Lady, Unanswered Questions of the Universe]
  • Gary Kroeger: 3 appearances [Iceman, 2 On The Town, The Turkey Lady]
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus: 4 appearances [Simulated Cat Fight, Iceman, 2 On The Town, The Turkey Lady]
  • Joe Piscopo: 4 appearances [Lie Detector, Iceman, 2 On The Town, The Turkey Lady]

crew and extras

  • Butch: 1 appearance ["Christmas With The Devil"]
  • Pepe: 1 appearance ["Christmas With The Devil"]
  • Andrew Smith: 1 appearance [The Turkey Lady]

guests

  • Barry Bostwick: 7 appearances [Simulated Cat Fight, Monologue, Iceman, Spinal Tap Interview, The Turkey Lady, La Cage aux Folles, Dog Day P.M.]
  • Spinal Tap: 3 appearances [Spinal Tap Interview, "Christmas With The Devil", "Big Bottom"]
  • Billy Crystal: 2 appearances [Next Week, Saturday Night News]
  • A. Whitney Brown: 1 appearance [Guest Performance]
  • Soupy Sales: 1 appearance [The Turkey Lady]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • August 25, 1984

Known alterations:

  • Next Week removed
  • Buddweiser Light added

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.