Classic SNL Review: October 13, 1984: Bob Uecker / Peter Wolf (S10E02)

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

COLD OPENING: PASSWORD

  • Robin Williams’ (Martin Short) constant comic tangents makes the lightning round difficult for his partner (Pamela Stephenson)
  • A very quick piece to start the show. Short doesn’t look a lot like Williams, but he’s got the voice, mannerisms and energy nailed down. There really isn’t much more to the sketch than Short as Williams adlibbing, but it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
  • There’s a nice little nod to the show’s history with a reference to “Miss Gilda” and Emily Litella; Short dated Gilda Radner in the early 70s.
  • Short has the honor of saying the first “Live From New York” of the season, though he ends with “…it’s a baby boy, Mr. Williams! Oh that’s incredible!”

***

MONOLOGUE

  • Bob Uecker self-deprecatingly pokes fun at his mediocre baseball career in a story about the 20th anniversary of the St. Louis Cardinals’ World Series win. Ronald Reagan (Harry Shearer) calls, but the conversation is a bit one-sided.
  • Uecker’s story was funny, but his delivery seemed a little too slow-paced for the show. I liked the idea behind the pre-recorded phone call portion, and Shearer has some good lines (“I had to get ready for my disaster”, referring to Reagan’s debate performance on October 7), but it stretches a little long.
  • Harry Shearer’s Reagan is considerably better than Joe Piscopo’s impression, which I always thought came across as a little too forced in terms of the voice.

***

SKETCH: SNAP, CRACKLE & POP

  • Washed-up Rice Krispies mascots (Martin Short, Christopher Guest, Billy Crystal) do their lounge act at the Zanesville Holiday Inn.
  • An overlooked piece from this season’s ringers. While a tad short of being a classic, this has some good work by Short and Crystal, and Gues steals the sketch with his unstable Crackle. Jim Belushi tended to go to the “angry guy” well a lot this season, but it works in this sketch (there’s something about the role that I could also see being done by Will Ferrell 15 years later).
  • The joke about Pop’s 4th wife being played by a young girl (recurring SNL child actress Lily Nell Warren) left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth, even though they had the line about her being 17 (still too young).
  • The individual songs are credited to Short, Guest and Crystal in the music publishing databases (BMI and ASCAP), but SNL writer Kevin Kelton recalls this sketch was written by Andy Breckman.

*** 1/2

MISCELLANEOUS: AN AMERICAN PORTRAIT

  • Cyndi Lauper (Pamela Stephenson) is the unlikely host of a brief Dylan Thomas biography.
  • There are a few good lines here and there (Lauper saying Thomas drinking himself to death in New York made him “partly American” and adding “and I agree with that!” after reciting the first lines of “Do not go gentle into that good night”), but the ending with Stephenson doing a “She Bop” variant felt tacked on.
  • This is a parody of a real series of one-minute interstitials that aired on CBS from 1984-86 (thanks Frank Stanko).
  • This is the last sketch Stephenson appears in all night.
  • Written by guest writer David Misch.

** 1/2

SKETCH: LITTLE LEAGUE TRADE

  • A little league coach (Bob Uecker) cuts his son (Billy Crystal) from the team and the family after a bad game.
  • This isn’t a great sketch, but the willingness to get into some nasty places makes this work (particularly “your mother and I made a mistake with you!” and the reveal that Crystal’s character had a brother who was traded before him). Uecker is a little too low-key to work as a sketch actor, though and seemed to mutter a lot of his lines.

** 1/2

SKETCH: BROKAW’S COMPLAINT

  • Tom Brokaw (Harry Shearer) tells NBC News president Lawrence K. Grossman (Martin Short) his suspicions that the news writers are going out of their way to put L’s in the copy.
  • This is very well written and has a great absurd premise, but is a little too sluggishly paced and overlong to work as an early-show sketch in the Ebersol era; the audience is mostly dead for this one. Shearer’s ability to get through all that dialogue while keeping the Brokaw pronunciation is impressive but I also found it strangely fatiguing.
  • Lawrence K. Grossman appeared on SNL two seasons ago when he was still president of PBS; I always found it funny that he would be the subject of an impersonation by one of the bigger stars the show would have in the cast.

***

COMMERCIAL: THE MAMIE EISENHOWER CENTER FOR THE DULL

  • Dr. Troy Soren (Martin Short) discusses the work done at the rehabilitation center.
  • Soren is another one of Short’s SCTV characters; this would be his only SNL appearance. Short’s has some good lines (suggesting that “the girl from Alice” check in), but there’s a really nice callback to the monologue with Uecker’s appearance, and Gary Kroeger has a good scene where he struggles to explain the plot of Gremlins. I also enjoyed the visual of Mary Gross as Soren’s wife and former patient leading a very unexciting jazzercise class.
  • This was written by Short and directed by Claude Kerven.

*** 1/2

SHOW: 7X4

  • A too-easy objective and three impatient contestants thwart a game show.  
  • The most successful piece of the night, with a very economical premise (wasting no time in establishing the joke of the contestants repeatedly buzzing in “28!”), a great performance by Gary Kroeger as the frustrated host, and even a funny side joke with Rich Hall’s character (named Andy A. Abbott) asking “will we be going alphabetically?”
  • This was likely written by Andy Breckman, as per Kevin Kelton.

****

FILM: "BALLPLAYERS" - CHRISTOPHER GUEST

  • Negro Leaguers Leonard “The Rooster” Willoughby (Billy Crystal) and “King Carl” Johnson (Christopher Guest) recall their careers.
  • While the film was very well written, directed and performed, and is in the same vein as Guest’s later improvised documentary features, the big thing that needs to be addressed here is that Crystal and Guest are playing these roles in blackface. Had the roles of King Carl and The Rooster been portrayed by black actors in old age makeup, I’d rate this much higher; as it is, the problematic aspects of this piece are a major taint, despite some good moments (smelt night) and the participation of Dave Winfield and Yogi Berra. SNL didn’t have any black performers this season, though (something that would be addressed in next week’s Jesse Jackson show), and this wouldn’t be the last time this season that a performer appears in race makeup (though I would argue none of those appearances are quite as big an issue as this one).
  • This is also such a lengthy and slow-paced piece (nearly 8 minutes long) that, like Brokaw’s complaint, probably shouldn’t have been so early in the show. I can understand why the logistics of the show being done in two studios may have necessitated it running at this point, though.
  • Crystal has said on several occasions this was one of his favorite pieces he did for the show, most recently in a Rolling Stone article on SNLers’ favorite sketches; while I can see that the motivation behind this piece was out of affection, intentions don’t excuse actions.
  • Written by Billy Crystal and Christopher Guest

** ½

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "LIGHTS OUT"

  • The title track from Peter Wolf’s debut solo album. Wolf gives a hyperactive performance that elevates this poppy soul number (co-written with Don Covay, songwriter of Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools”).
  • Backing up Wolf tonight is a supergroup called the House of Hits All-Stars, featuring Elliott Easton (The Cars), G.E. Smith (Hall & Oates, later to join the SNL band next season), Thommy Price (Scandal, Billy Idol), Leon Mobley (later of Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals), Gordon “Megabucks” Worthy, Maurice Starr and Michael “Spaceman” Jonzun (all from the Jonzun Crew). Mobley in particular has great energy.
  • Besides his work with the Jonzun Crew, Maurice Starr (seen here playing bass) is most notable for discovering New Edition and creating New Kids On The Block.

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWS

  • Bob Uecker anchors tonight’s edition (and doesn’t get any applause when introduced by Don Pardo). Uecker’s delivery is very weak, and at one point misreads Barbara Bush’s name off the cue card as “Barbara Rush”, though he quickly ad-libs a good save with “Barbara Rush did [make the news] too, but that was some time ago.” Most of the photo jokes also feel like they’ve been done a few times before, particularly the national anthem/heart attack one.
  • Speaking of Barbara Bush, Geraldine Ferraro (Mary Gross) responds to the Second Lady’s “rhymes with witch” comment, by saying “that bitch has no business calling me a snitch” in a bit poking fun at the scandal involving her and husband John Zaccaro’s financial disclosures. Despite Gross’s performance, this fell flat.
  • More successful is Billy Crystal’s piece as cranky old Jewish weatherman Lew Goldman. It’s a broad piece that Crystal milks for all its worth (especially with the phlegm-clearing), but it kills with the audience.
  • Crystal has credited Larry David with co-writing the Lew Goldman pieces several times; the rant at the end really does seem like something David would write.

**

SKETCH: LOST & FOUND

  • Naïve police officer Jack (Bob Uecker) believes the dubious claims made by a visitor (Christopher Guest).
  • A weak one-joke premise, though Guest makes the wise direction to underplay his character; something seems disreputable about him without not calling attention to it. It’s pretty tedious to watch once the main joke is revealed, though, and doesn’t justify its five-minute running time.
  • * 1/2

CARTOON: "TIPPI TURTLE" – ZANDER PRODUCTIONS INC.

  • Tippi (voice of Christopher Guest) shows how to annoy the hammerheads at the Post Office with a lighter-than-air package.
  • SNL’s first tentative foray into the world of animation (a 1980 photo essay by Edie Baskin doesn’t count) is this series of quick vignettes. They’re not Smigel-level, but these are pretty good for a quick laugh, and this came at the right point in the show.
  • I always loved the opening theme (“First I’m gonna bother everybody I meet, then I’ll probably go home and get drunk”)
  • Written by Andy Breckman

*** 1/2

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "I NEED YOU TONIGHT"

  • Wolf introduces the individual members of The House of Hits All-Stars before they begin this one. The song itself is a forgettable pop-rocker, but Wolf and the band are good.

MISCELLANEOUS: SNL MAILBAG

  • Mary Gross and Julia Louis-Dreyfus read viewer letters that are all for Julia from one obsessed Texas prisoner.

 

  • Another weaker bit, though both Gross and Louis-Dreyfus are good in this (particularly Gross’s admission that she used to go out with ex-cons), and it’s good to see two of the show’s more overlooked performers appearing on-camera as themselves. Once the first letter is read, you can see where this is going, though.
  • There are two minor speaking roles in this one that I can’t identify: Dwayne W. Maltin (the prisoner) and the guard. If anyone can identify who played either, please let me know.

**

COMMERCIAL: FRESH SQUEEZED

  • Bob Uecker starts his day off right with a big glass of fresh squeezed baseball.

 

  • This pretape (again directed by Claude Kerven) doesn’t get much of a reaction, but this has such an absurd idea and execution going for it, and I liked Rich Hall’s “…for flotation” when Uecker describes cork as one of the essential ingredients.
  • I have a feeling the show was running long again this week, since this was a one-minute pretape in between two commercial breaks.
  • While not referring to the brand, Uecker references his Miller Lite commercials here; one of these ads actually played in the commercial break before during the original broadcast.

*** 1/2

GOODNIGHTS: NBC SPORTS UPDATE

  • Vin Scully (Harry Shearer) and Joe Garagiola (Billy Crystal) review Uecker’s performance and announce next week’s SNL guests.

 

  • I’m not going to rate this (though I will say Shearer’s impression is better than Crystal’s), but this was an interesting way to end the show.
  • The goodnights cut off on the original NBC broadcast before the credits roll, but if you watch a cable airing, you can see that the two-studio arrangement meant some extra technical crew (including eight cameramen). Mary Gross can be seen chatting with the guy playing Dwayne in SNL Mailbag, while Martin Short has his arm around Leon Mobley before he talks with Pamela Stephenson and a bored-looking Christopher Guest.

Final thoughts: A considerable step down from last week’s strong opening, but for the most part this was a show where the good and bad seemed to mitigate each other: Bob Uecker was a weak host, but he had some funny moments and a nice recovery from a line flub; the blackface aspect ultimately marring the otherwise well-done Ballplayers film; Peter Wolf’s energy and band elevating forgettable songs. There’s also a refreshing lack of the recurring sketches that would soon dominate the show this season, and a few genuinely overlooked pieces (7x4 being the most successful sketch of the night). It’s not a great show, but I give the cast and writers some credit for some good absurd humor and a willingness to take chances tonight.

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • 7x4
  • Snap, Crackle & Pop
  • Fresh Squeezed
  • The Mamie Eisenhower Center for the Dull
  • Tippi Turtle

SHOW LOWLIGHTS:

  • The blackface in Ballplayers
  • Lost & Found
  • SNL Mailbag

MVP:

  • Harry Shearer

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN:

cast

  • Jim Belushi: 3 appearances [Snap, Crackle & Pop, Lost & Found, Fresh Squeezed]
  • Billy Crystal: 5 appearances [Snap, Crackle & Pop, Little League Trade, Ballplayers, Saturday Night News, NBC Sports Update]
  • Mary Gross: 4 appearances [The Mamie Eisenhower Center for the Dull, 7x4, Saturday Night News, SNL Mailbag]; 1 voice-over [Tippi Turtle]
  • Christopher Guest: 4 appearances [Password, Snap, Crackle & Pop, Ballplayers, Lost & Found], 1 voice-over [Tippi Turtle]
  • Rich Hall: 2 appearances [7x4, Fresh Squeezed]
  • Gary Kroeger: 5 appearances [Snap, Crackle & Pop, Little League Trade, Brokaw’s Complaint, The Mamie Eisenhower Center for the Dull, 7x4]; 1 voice-over [Tippi Turtle]
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus: 2 appearances [7x4, SNL Mailbag]; 1 voice-over [Monologue]
  • Harry Shearer: 3 appearances [Monologue, Brokaw’s Complaint, NBC Sports Update]; 1 voice-over [The Mamie Eisenhower Center for the Dull]
  • Martin Short: 4 appearances [Password, Snap, Crackle & Pop, Brokaw’s Complaint, The Mamie Eisenhower Center for the Dull]
  • Pamela Stephenson: 2 appearances [Password, An American Portrait]

crew and extras

  • Joe Dicso: 1 appearance [Monologue]
  • Bob Tischler: 1 voice-over [Tippi Turtle]
  • Lily Nell Warren: 1 appearance [Snap, Crackle & Pop]

guests

  • Bob Uecker: 7 appearances [Monologue, Little League Trade, The Mamie Eisenhower Centre for the Dull, Saturday Night News, Lost & Found, Fresh Squeezed, NBC Sports Update]
  • Peter Wolf: 2 appearances [“Lights Out”, “I Need You Tonight”]
  • The House of Hits All-Stars: 2 appearances [“Lights Out”, “I Need You Tonight”]
  • Yogi Berra: 1 appearance [Ballplayers]
  • Dave Winfield: 1 appearance [Ballplayers]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • Not rebroadcast on NBC

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.