Classic SNL Review: October 6, 1984: (no host) / Thompson Twins (S10E01)

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

COLD OPENING: LIFESTYLES OF THE RELATIVES OF THE RICH AND FAMOUS

  • Robin Leach (Harry Shearer) profiles Katharine Hepburn’s maternal third cousin Nelson (Martin Short), a hot dog vendor in Central Park.
  • Directed by John Coles, the first sketch of the season features three of the new cast members and immediately signals a new SNL that makes increased use of the show’s film unit. I’ve always thought it was a bold move to start the season with a taped piece, though this contributes to the premiere feeling less like a real episode of SNL and more like a clip show or special.
  • Most of the comedy comes from the disconnect between Short’s character’s appearance (half-shirt, beer gut, and a bandaid on his thumb) and decidedly unglamorous lifestyle (including a $475 Plymouth Valiant), and his approximation of Kate Hepburn’s patrician voice and mannerisms, though there are some good bits in the interview (reselling a hot dog that Dom DeLuise choked on, his Sunday ritual involves eating a huge bowl of bran and being indisposed for three hours). Short also gets his first of many chances to demonstrate his knack for physical comedy with a small bit of physical business involving his stand’s umbrella.
  • It’s Christopher Guest who walks away with this piece, though, with his quick appearance as Anthony Haden-Callas, the straitlaced professor nephew of Charlie Callas (also named for Guest’s elder half-brother) who can’t seem to control his facial expressions and funny voices.
  • The obviously edited-in-after-the-fact shots of Shearer as Leach nodding were a nice touch.

*** 1/2

MONTAGE

  • The black-and-white Edie Baskin montage of the last few seasons is gone; in its place is an elaborate and surreal sequence by Charlex (who did the video for The Cars’ “You Might Think”) featuring flying hot dogs, giant cockroaches, and the cast as behemoths dominating the NYC cityscape.

MONOLOGUE

  • Billy Crystal discusses moving to New York, SNL’s 10th anniversary, aging, and remembers his daughter’s birth.
  • Not as strong or focused as Crystal’s March monologue, but he’s in his element here and gets some memorable bits (his phlegmy old man reminiscing about The Beatles and Woodstock stands out).
  • Once again, SNL has been displaced from studio 8H due to election coverage, which necessitated that the first five shows of the season were broadcast from two smaller studios on different floors (3A and 8G); the opening theme is also noticeably prerecorded during these shows. I always liked the temporary subway newsstand set they used during this time.

***

FILM: "RETURN OF THE TORCH" - BRUCE VAN DUSEN

  • After the Summer Olympics end, each leg of the Olympic torch’s journey from Los Angeles to Greece is traced.

 

  • A quick piece that relies on visual humor; the best parts were Mary Gross receiving the torch in the mail (along with some burnt letters), the fiery plane, and the ending with the torch being blown out and discarded by an old guy at a very low-rent reception centre.

***

MISCELLANEOUS: RICH HALL'S ELECTION REPORT

  • Rich Hall takes an inside look at Walter Mondale’s high-priced fundraising dinners.
  • A Not Necessarily The News-style mix of found footage edited together with Hall’s adventures. SNL wasn’t doing a lot of political stuff at this time and this is more off-kilter than pointed, but the piece was well done, and I enjoyed the “hailing a motorcade” scene, the escalatingly brazen amounts of money charged (including $100 bags of almonds on a plane ride) and Hall’s theory about the fundraisers being a way to pay off the deficit (“I think…this is illegal”).
  • Written by Hall and Kevin Kelton; pre-tape directed by Claude Kerven.
  • One of the extras behind Hall in the barbecue joint scene (with Mondale flipping the bird) is Reginald VelJohnson

*** 1/2

SKETCH: WHEEL OF FORTUNE INTERVIEW

  • Suicidal Mr. Quigley (Christopher Guest) interviews excitable Pat Sajak superfan Ed Grimley (Martin Short) for a contestant spot on Wheel of Fortune.
  • The SNL debut of one of Martin Short’s most recognizable characters; compared to the SCTV version of the character, Ed Grimley on SNL is much more manic and hyperactive. The audience doesn’t go quite as wild for the character as it would later in the season, but Short connects pretty quickly and is able to feed off their energy.
  • This is Short’s piece all the way, but the contrast between Grimley and the dour Quigley was well done (as well as the initial reveal of what Quigley’s occupation); Julia Louis-Dreyfus also makes the most of a bit part with her facial expression after Grimley’s line about the “nice chat” they’ve been having.
  • The heavyset gentleman with the mustache that appears in the elevator with Grimley during the pre-taped segment also appears in Rich Hall’s Election Report.
  • The exterior scene with Quigley landing on Grimley was taped outside the Toy Center.

****

SKETCH: GRANDPA HOWARD

  • No longer on Monday Night Football, Howard Cosell (Billy Crystal) babysits his two young grandkids.
  • This doesn’t have a bad premise, but it’s mainly an excuse for Crystal to do his Cosell imitation (which was one of those impressions that everyone seemed to do back in the day). It’s cute more than funny.
  • Kate & Allie’s Frederick Koehler plays Brian; I’m not sure who plays his sister (it could possibly be Lily Nell Warren, but I’m not certain).  I also wonder who was doing voices for Don Meredith and O.J. Simpson when Cosell is watching the game (Shearer is Frank Gifford).

** 1/2

FILM: "SYNCHRONIZED SWIMMING" – CLAUDE KERVEN

  • Gerald (Harry Shearer) and Lawrence Orbach (Martin Short) chase their dream of competing in the Olympics.
  • A contender for one of the best pieces in the show’s history. Just the sight of Shearer and Short with dopey grins on their faces as they do their routine to Frank Stallone’s “Far From Over” and John Williams' "Raiders March" is hilarious, but there are just so many pieces to this that come together beautifully: the utter seriousness with which Shearer’s character approaches this dream, Short’s physical humor, and Pamela Stephenson’s overlooked scene in which she returns to selling door-to-door for Amway (as the potential customer is seen hiding). Christopher Guest manages to walk away with the sketch as the brothers’ choreographer, an unnamed proto-Corky St. Clair character (“Hey, you! I know you! I know you!”)
  • Lawrence Orbach is another SCTV import; while the version of the character that competed on Half-Wits was by no means intelligent, the SNL version seems to be even slower.
  • Written by Christopher Guest, Martin Short and Harry Shearer; Guest’s lines were all reportedly improvised.
  • SNL does its first audience caption segment since the 1980-81 season; here, This Is Spinal Tap director (and SNL’s third-ever host) Rob Reiner is captioned “Original Audience Member – 1975”

*****

MISCELLANEOUS: MONDALE & FERRARO

  • Walter Mondale (Gary Kroeger) reminds the audience that the first Presidential Debates are on tomorrow and criticizes Reagan’s defense plans; Geraldine Ferraro (Mary Gross) shuts him up and introduces Thompson Twins.
  • Not really a rateable segment, but it’s good to see Gary Kroeger and Mary Gross get something new to do on the show, and both impressions are pretty good.

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "HOLD ME NOW" - THOMPSON TWINS

  • Their big hit from the Into The Gap album, this is one of those songs that’s probably a little too plodding and gloomy for the SNL stage, especially the more cramped space they occupied during the election. Tom Bailey’s vocals sound a little off at times, but there’s some interesting percussion from Alannah Currie.
  • It seems like Dave Wilson faded out and started the next film a little early, going by the burst of applause a few seconds in.
  • The temporary musical guest stage is a reassembled version of the standard home base set (adjusted for the lower ceilings in the other studio) with the door from the temporary 1982 set and some extra painting on it (including a giant “1984” in the background).

FILM: "THE BULGE" - ANDY BRECKMAN

  • A guy (Jim Belushi) learns that the secret to attracting women in bars involves strategically stuffed paper towel.
  • A mostly dialogue-free piece (the only spoken lines come from Belushi’s quick “how you doing?” at the beginning and hailing a taxi at the end) with a very simple premise and one hell of a visual gag.
  • Music featured in this sketch: “A Clue” by Boz Scaggs and “Cover Me” by Bruce Springsteen.
  • Written by Andy Breckman
  • Another audience caption, with Christopher Guest’s future wife Jamie Lee Curtis “Convinced This Is The Letterman Show”

*** 1/2

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWS I

  • Fernando (Billy Crystal) discusses the Betty Ford Clinic as the hot new resort, and suggests stars in career slumps check in for the publicity.
  • The news segment features a new set (used in this episode only) and a new animated introduction featuring a satellite orbiting Earth (used only this week and the next). The opening theme is also replaced with the music used in the “Buckwheat Buys The Farm” sketch.
  • By this point, Billy Crystal had already done Fernando on the show three times already, and while he plays with the expectation of his catchphrase (“You know how you look”), it’s the same-old same-old, even though the audience still laughs at the “marvelous”. The bit with the photos of stars covering their face seems like it had been done, but the list of stars that Fernando suggested check in had a few laughs.

**

SKETCH: FIRST DRAFT THEATRE

  • Raymond Chandler (voice of Harry Shearer) works out the kinks in The Big Sleep.
  • I’ve always liked this one; this has some very funny individual jokes (the syntax error of “carrying a silver flask wearing a red silk skirt”, the awkward attempts at hard-boiled similes, and lapses in continuity), plus some great performances from Guest and Stephenson (who fit the film noir atmosphere better than Belushi here, to be honest). I especially liked Guest screaming “Aieee! He’s got a gun!” and backing into the radiator that he awkwardly described seconds earlier.
  • The live version of this has a few technical errors with the pause video effect that are fixed in the repeat version (a few tiny edits that are only noticeable if you listen to the background music).
  • Not sure who’s Raymond Chandler at the typewriter in this one.
  • Written by Kevin Kelton, Andrew Kurtzman, and Eliot Wald.

****

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWS II

  • Bob Guccione (Jim Belushi) defends publishing Vanessa Williams’ nude pictures and shows Julia Louis-Dreyfus the next Penthouse exclusive: lost dirty paintings by Norman Rockwell.
  • Not great, but better than the first SNL News segment thanks to an appropriately sleazy turn by Belushi, and some well-done fake Rockwells. I also laughed at Belushi thanking Louis-Dreyfus after she says “you disgust me” at the end.
  • This was taken out of the network reruns.

***

SHOW: BOOK BEAT

  • Larry Thorpe’s (Christopher Guest) recent accident involving a ¾ inch cast iron pipe derails his interview with investment expert Larry Kerven (Rich Hall).
  • The visual with the pipe through Guest’s head was funny enough, but this was a good way for him to demonstrate his ability to play an otherwise normal-looking individual who slowly demonstrates that he’s “not quite right”, something that comes up a few times over the course of the season. Rich Hall didn’t really have much to do here, but this is Guest’s showcase.
  • Written by Andy Breckman.

*** 1/2

MISCELLANEOUS: RUNNING LATE

  • Martin Short explains that the show is running late, so they will be going back to commercial again.
  • No rating; this is just a filler segment. This was not included in the network rerun of the show.
  • Tonight’s show was very top-heavy, with the first commercial break not coming until 25 minutes into the air show, and the first network ID and station break (which usually occurs around midnight) happening at around 12:22 am. With the show being forced to squeeze the remaining sketches and commercial breaks in under 40 minutes, it makes sense that this kind of segment was needed.

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "THE GAP"

  • Pamela Stephenson introduces the band as “the most appropriately named rock group in the world”.
  • Another underwhelming performance; this song just falls flat without the 80s production, and the way this was shot and staged was a little too lifeless.

GOODNIGHTS

  • Pamela Stephenson races to join her castmates at home base; Billy Crystal jokingly calls Fred Koehler and the other child actor “new cast members” and wishes the Cubs and the Padres good luck (Jim Belushi cheers the former, boos the latter). Harry Shearer, who does not appear on camera in any live sketches tonight, looks miserable.
  • Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield are credited as guest writers; the credits also show that a Tippi Turtle cartoon was intended to air this week (it would show up in the next show, as well as repeat versions of this show).

Final thoughts: A very strong start to the season, though Ebersol’s playing around with the show format with five pretaped sketches (not counting the outro to Wheel of Fortune Interview) seems to have gamed the outcome, and gives this show more of a canned clip-show feel. Right away, it’s established that the new writers and performers are going to be the focus of the season, with Billy Crystal as the leader of the group; despite this, I found Crystal’s audience-pleasing stuff was overshadowed by Martin Short’s oddball characters and (especially) Christopher Guest’s versatility. The returning cast from last year do well with their limited airtime, with Jim Belushi getting the most prominent roles but each performer getting at least one showcase tonight. The only downsides to this show were the weak Thompson Twins performances, and an uninspired appearance by Crystal’s signature character Fernando.

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Synchronized Swimming
  • First Draft Theatre
  • Wheel of Fortune Interview
  • Book Beat
  • Lifestyles of the Relatives of the Rich and Famous
  • The Bulge
  • Rich Hall’s Election Report

SHOW LOWLIGHTS:

  • Saturday Night News I

MVP:

  • Christopher Guest

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN:

cast

  • Jim Belushi: 4 appearances [Return of the Torch, The Bulge, First Draft Theatre, Saturday Night News II]
  • Billy Crystal: 3 appearances [Monologue, Grandpa Howard, Saturday Night News I]
  • Mary Gross: 3 appearances [Return of the Torch, Mondale & Ferraro, The Bulge]
  • Christopher Guest: 5 appearances [Lifestyles of the Relatives of the Rich & Famous, Wheel of Fortune Interview, Synchronized Swimming, First Draft Theatre, Book Beat]
  • Rich Hall: 3 appearances [Return of the Torch, Rich Hall’s Election Report, Book Beat]
  • Gary Kroeger: 4 appearances [Return of the Torch, Grandpa Howard, Mondale & Ferraro, The Bulge]
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus: 4 appearances [Wheel of Fortune Interview, Grandpa Howard, The Bulge, Saturday Night News II]
  • Harry Shearer: 2 appearances [Lifestyles of the Relatives of the Rich & Famous, Synchronized Swimming]; 4 voice-overs [Return of the Torch, Grandpa Howard, First Draft Theatre (2 roles)]
  • Martin Short: 5 appearances [Lifestyles of the Relatives of the Rich & Famous, Return of the Torch, Wheel of Fortune Interview, Synchronized Swimming, Running Late]
  • Pamela Stephenson: 4 appearances [Return of the Torch, Synchronized Swimming, The Bulge, First Draft Theatre]

crew and extras

  • Frederick Koehler: 1 appearance [Grandpa Howard]
  • Reginald VelJohnson: 1 appearance [Rich Hall’s Election Report]

Guests

  • Thompson Twins: 2 appearance [“Hold Me Now”, “The Gap”]
  • Jamie Lee Curtis: 1 appearance [Audience Caption]
  • Rob Reiner: 1 appearance [Audience Caption]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • December 29, 1984
  • June 22, 1985

Known alterations:

  • Saturday Night News II and Running Late removed
  • Tippi Turtle (from 10/13/84) added
  • First Draft Theatre edited slightly to remove tech glitches

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.