Classic SNL Review: November 16, 1985: Chevy Chase / Sheila E. (S11E02)

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

Author’s note [05/22/2019]: This review has been updated to include repeat alterations. Special thanks to Pat Durkin for providing the original airing version for comparison purposes.

OPENING: FIREFIGHTERS

  • In a burning apartment building, fire chief (Chevy Chase) leads his men on a door-checking mission.

  • There’s some interesting production values in this one, and it’s a way to work in most of the male cast (and some of the writers), but this was pretty much one joke, with Chase repeatedly saying “check this, check that, check that again”, though he does mix in lines like “what do you think you get a check for?” and “Check your watch” pretty skillfully.

  • Chase doesn’t do a pratfall before delivering his “Live From New York…”; his character just collapses from smoke inhalation before reviving to say the line.

  • Rerun alterations: None

* 1/2

MONTAGE

  • Rerun alterations: The audience for this show’s montage (and a lot of the rerun versions this season) is noticeably sweetened with more cheers and applause (I call it the “hoot and holler track”). As well, the NBC In Stereo Graphic is changed to the one that appears starting with Teri Garr’s December show.

MONOLOGUE

  • Chevy Chase reminisces about his past in the studio and offers advice to Jon Lovitz.

  • This was pretty rough, with lots of awkward pauses; despite a few funny lines (particularly calling the musical guest “S. Eisenberg”), most of Chase’s jokes are weak and he comes off as unprepared and that he can’t wait to be done with this part of the show. He also seems pretty distracted, mumbly and off his game here, though (thankfully) in nowhere as bad shape as he was when he hosted five and a half years before.

  • It’s strange to see Jon Lovitz as himself here, because he isn’t doing his usual grandiose on-stage persona yet.

  • Chase does the “pretends to leave during the applause” bit yet again; he did that in the cold opening and monologue of his 1980 show.

  • According to Mr. Mike author Dennis Perrin, Michael O’Donoghue wrote an unused monologue that Chase himself wanted to perform on the show; Lorne Michaels refused to let it on the air.

  • Rerun alterations: Mild audience sweetening.

* 1/2

COMMERCIAL: WACKY GLUE

  • Wacky Glue’s firm hold keeps a board stuck to Ross Dalrymple’s (Randy Quaid) forehead even after he passes away.

  • Not one of the show’s more memorable commercials, but I liked the escalation of the joke with Quaid’s pitchman being tracked throughout the eras, with appropriate outfit and makeup changes. Fitting use of Anthony Michael Hall here too.

  • First SNL commercial parody for director Matthew Meshekoff, who would contribute a fair number of the show’s pretapes over the next few seasons.

  • Rerun alterations: Cut from repeat version.

***

SHOW: THE PAT STEVENS SHOW

  • Former model turned morning show host Pat Stevens (Nora Dunn) interviews feminist stripper Harriett DeLafayette (Danitra Vance).

  • The debut of another frequent 1985-86 staple, with Nora Dunn’s vapid Stevens character already fully formed right out the gate (“‘Dear Pat, you’re a former model…’ ‘Thank you!’”). Vance’s character (originally named “Harriett Hetero”) comes from her stage show; her bit was funny (and seems very prescient), but Dunn carries the piece.

  • Rerun alterations: Heavy audience sweetening.

*** 1/2

SKETCH: FORD & REAGAN

  • Gerald Ford (Chevy Chase) helps Ronald Reagan (Chevy Chase) prepare for his upcoming summit with Gorbachev while Nancy (Terry Sweeney) tries to walk their dog Lucky.

  • I get the sense this sketch, the first SNL appearance of Chase’s Ford “impression” (and what would end up being the last), was supposed to be a bigger success than it ended up being. Some funny moments in this one (Ford not getting Nancy’s “facelift” gesture when asking about Betty, mistaking Gorbachev for Joe Garagiola) and Chase gets a pratfall in, but the part with Ford and Quaid’s Reagan role-playing just drags, punctuated only by Sweeney’s physical bit in the background.

  • Rerun alterations: Moderate to heavy audience sweetening. The level on Terry Sweeney’s mic is also fixed for his last line.

** 1/2

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: “HOLLY ROCK”

  • Sheila E. shows off her skills as a percussionist here; this rap-based song is from the Krush Groove soundtrack. Eddie M. performs the sax solo.

  • Rerun alterations: Slight remixing, with clearer vocals and quieter synthesizer.

COMMERCIAL: TROJANS I

  • A philosophical musing on declining quality standards and integrity of ideas is really a backdoor advertisement for condom brand Trojans.

  • I’m guessing the joke behind this sketch is that until 1991, condom manufacturers were not allowed to advertise on network television. If you’re aware of that fact, the punchline makes a little more sense, but unfortunately this pretty much dated the joke right out of it.

  • [Addendum (12/10/2018)]: This actually parodies a late 70s commercial for Whirlpool narrated by Leslie Nielsen, right down to using much of the ad copy verbatim. It’s a little funnier with this background information, but again, it’s one of those sketches where the joke is lost unless you know what they’re parodying. Thanks to Peter Fusco for the tip.

  • Rerun alterations: Cut from repeat version, replaced with Trojans II from Tom Hanks / Sade.

**

SHOW: THOSE UNLUCKY ANDERSONS

  • Dad (Chevy Chase) recommends his unfortunate family tend to their injuries with butter.

  • A deliberately absurd and silly premise, but at least the sketch fully leans into that. I think Chase’s underplaying actually works here, as the family is dismayed but not particularly fazed by their unfortunate turn of events, including an arrow through the arm, a frozen cat, being drafted and losing an eye.

  • Written by John Swartzwelder.

  • Rerun alterations: Heavy audience sweetening, including applause added for Joan Cusack and Jon Lovitz’s entrances. Don Pardo’s closing narration fixed in rerun.

*** 1/2

WEEKEND UPDATE

  • Best jokes: Bhagwan followers, Marcos/Ferrarro, Heimlich come-on, Video Linger, Dean Jones, Packers scheduling mishap.

  • There’s a new title logo for Weekend Update, which now matches the style of the then-current logo used for NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw.

  • Dennis Miller has some more good jokes in this fast-moving edition of Update, again opening with a sarcastic jab at Pardo/reference to a Kool & The Gang song, and selling a lot of the punchlines with his delivery.

  • Damon Wayans provides the first Weekend Update guest commentary of the season as the show’s “uptown financial analyst” discussing Reagan’s proposed cuts to social programs and suggesting the country could get “mo’ money” by intimidating debtor nations and selling MX missiles to Iran and Iraq (“let ‘em blow each other up, they killing each other anyway”). This kills with the audience, though it hasn’t really aged well in the wake of Iran-Contra, the two Iraq wars, and the fruits of the U.S. meddling in the Middle East.

  • Miller hasn’t fully established his closing line yet; he ends tonight with: “That’s the news, I’m gone.”

  • Rerun alterations: Moderate to heavy audience sweetening. Damon Wayans’ mic level fixed for his first line.

***

SHOW: JOSE CUERVO’S PARTY SCHOOL BOWL

  • College students are tested on their knowledge of easy courses and partying related questions.

  • A bit predictable and Chevy Chase still seems a little distracted and off here, but it has some funny moments, particularly Joan Cusack’s character mispronouncing “synonyms” as “cinnamons” and art appreciation being deemed more of a bird course than lunch. I liked the insert with Quaid as the spokesman for the Jose Cuervo Institute too (“Working to repair damage we’re ultimately responsible for”).

  • Writers A. Whitney Brown and Robert Smigel make on-camera appearances as the partiers that join the University of Colorado - Vail team at the end.

  • In the dress rehearsal pictures on Getty Images, Joan Cusack’s hair is back and Terry Sweeney is wearing a wig.

  • Rerun alterations: Moderate to heavy audience sweetening.

***

SKETCH: THE LIFE OF VLAD THE IMPALER

  • Neighboring prince’s (Chevy Chase) polite noise complaint causes Vlad Tepes (Randy Quaid) to experience doubts about the path he’s chosen.

  • I liked this; it’s a bit New Show-ish, but this also seems to be a prototype for the style that would flourish more in the next few seasons, with its casual discussions on the sound that impaling people makes (the shrieks of agony and lamentations of family members are louder) and the inherent fairness of impaling everyone, guilty or not. Chase’s delivery was still off, though, and he seemed to be trying to upstage Quaid.

  • Written by Jack Handey and Jim Downey.

  • Quaid wore a shaggy wig during dress rehearsal according to Getty Images.

  • Rerun alterations: Moderate audience sweetening. Don Pardo provides the first narration instead of Mark McKinney.

****

SHOW: THE BLUE, THE GRAY, AND THE YELLOW

  • Fraidy-cat brothers Luke (Anthony Michael Hall) and Josiah (Robert Downey Jr.) fight on opposite sides of the Civil War.

  • There were a few funny details about the depths to which the brothers sunk to avoid battle, but on the whole this was weak; Hall and Downey’s performances also didn’t help, nor did the epilogue with Joan Cusack as Hall’s childhood sweetheart.

  • Danitra Vance plays the first of her humiliating maid roles here (“Glory be!”)

  • Written by Al Franken and Tom Davis.

  • Rerun alterations: Moderate audience sweetening. Al Franken’s second narration before epilogue redone to remove a stumble (“And now…and now…”) and add a description of the scene.

* 1/2

COMMERCIAL: DRUMS, DRUMS, DRUMS

  • A mail-order ad for Chevy Chase’s three album collection.

  • Nothing special, though Chase’s drum skills are good and some of the “song titles” were funny. I also liked the visual of Chase pressing a button on a drum machine for the “Techno Classics” EP.

  • Written by Bruce McCulloch and Mark McKinney; directed by regular early SNL filmmaker Gary Weis

  • Rerun alterations: Mild audience sweetening.

**

COMMERCIAL: PATHOLOGICAL LIARS ANONYMOUS

  • Organization “president” Tommy Flanagan (Jon Lovitz) tells many poorly-crafted whoppers in his testimonial.

  • Another first appearance of one of the season’s staple recurring characters. Lovitz is more understated here compared to later on, but this is a good first outing (particularly “I tried to kill myself…yeah, I did kill myself!”) and it hits with the audience quickly.

  • Lovitz performed the character on The Tonight Show the previous March, but the SNL outing is a bit more fully formed, with the “Yeah, that’s the ticket” line and the running gag about him claiming to be married to Morgan Fairchild.

  • Written by A. Whitney Brown and Jon Lovitz.

  • Rerun alterations: Mild audience sweetening. Microphone frazzle in the middle of the sketch is fixed, and a stray bass note from the band tuning up is removed.

****

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: “A LOVE BIZARRE”

  • The hit collaboration with Prince from Romance 1600; this definitely is live and less synthesized than the studio recording, though it sounds like there are some recorded electronic drums in the mix; guitarist Stef Burns seems to be lipsyncing to a prerecorded track of Prince’s vocals at the beginning, but he gets a guitar solo in this performance.

  • Rerun alterations: Remixed audio. Moved to first performance in rerun; an introduction with Chevy Chase sneezing before introducing her is edited in from dress rehearsal.

SKETCH: CRAIG SUNDBERG, IDIOT SAVANT

  • Seemingly-dim teenager Craig (Anthony Michael Hall) wows his fellow judges at a violin recital with his insights.

  • A thin premise, but the sketch was the right length for it, and Hall didn’t come off too badly.

  • I wonder who the violinist is; I’m guessing a professional musician. He appears with the cast at the goodnights.

  • Rerun alterations: Heavy audience sweetening. Anthony Michael Hall’s says lines after freeze-frames in the live versions that are removed from the repeat.

** 1/2

GOODNIGHTS

  • Chase holds a hotel room key and double-talks his goodnight speech. He shakes Jon Lovitz’s hand and side-hugs Sheila E., but as soon as the credits start rolling, you can see him make his way to the back of the crowd. Given the backstage stories about him alienating the cast and writers with his insults that week, it makes sense he doesn’t really try to keep up the happy goodnights charade.

  • The closing credits now have the headers in green and in all caps.

Final thoughts: A fairly weak show; in some respects, this was a rougher night than the Madonna show. A large part of the blame for that is Chevy Chase himself; maybe the stories about this week in Live From New York overshadow the actual material in the show, but even without the backstage drama, Chase is having an off night. He seems to be performing in a vacuum and not on the same page as the rest of his scene partners. Chase would check into the Betty Ford Clinic less than a year later for his painkiller addiction, so it is possible that his behavior and performance were exacerbated by that factor. The cast still isn’t gelling, largely because of the younger performers, but Randy Quaid continues to be the show’s lynchpin, and tonight gave us a better idea what Jon Lovitz, Damon Wayans and Nora Dunn are capable of. [Addendum (05/22/19): After finally seeing the original airing, I was shocked by how heavy the used of canned laughter and applause was for the rerun, especially since some of the most heavily sweetened sketches (except for Craig Sundberg) still got some healthy responses from the audience. Despite a few jokes not landing (particularly Danitra Vance’s “If Phil Donahue can be a feminist, I can be a feminist!”), it felt more like the audience was still just getting used to the show’s new dynamic. I can see why they added more laughs in, but it dilutes the authentic responses the sketches received and the genuine live atmosphere of the show.]

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS

  • The Life of Vlad The Impaler

  • Pathological Liars Anonymous

  • The Pat Stevens Show

  • Those Unlucky Andersons

SHOW LOWLIGHTS

  • Monologue

  • The Blue, The Grey, and The Yellow

  • Firefighters

  • Trojans

  • Drums, Drums, Drums

MVP:

  • Randy Quaid

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN:

cast

  • Joan Cusack: 4 appearances [Those Unlucky Andersons, Jose Cuervo’s Party School Bowl, The Life of Vlad The Impaler, The Blue, The Gray, and the Yellow]

  • Robert Downey Jr.: 5 appearances [Firefighters, Ford & Reagan, Jose Cuervo’s Party School Bowl, The Blue, The Gray, and the Yellow, Craig Sundberg, Idiot Savant]

  • Nora Dunn: 5 appearances [The Pat Stevens Show, Those Unlucky Andersons, Jose Cuervo’s Party School Bowl, The Blue, The Gray, and the Yellow, Craig Sundberg, Idiot Savant]

  • Anthony Michael Hall: 6 appearances [Firefighters, Wacky Glue, Those Unlucky Andersons, Jose Cuervo’s Party School Bowl, The Blue, The Gray, and the Yellow, Craig Sundberg, Idiot Savant]

  • Jon Lovitz: 7 appearances [FIrefighters, Monologue, Ford & Reagan, Those Unlucky Andersons, Jose Cuervo’s Party School Bowl, Pathological Liars Anonymous, Craig Sundberg, Idiot Savant]

  • Dennis Miller: 1 appearance [Weekend Update]

  • Randy Quaid: 6 appearances [Firefighters, Wacky Glue, Ford & Reagan, Jose Cuervo’s Party School Bowl, The Life of Vlad The Impaler, The Blue, The Gray, and the Yellow]

  • Terry Sweeney: 4 appearances [Firefighters, Ford & Reagan, Jose Cuervo’s Party School Bowl, Craig Sundberg, Idiot Savant]

  • Danitra Vance: 2 appearances [The Pat Stevens Show, The Blue, The Gray, and the Yellow]

featured players

  • Damon Wayans: 3 appearances [Firefighters, Those Unlucky Andersons, Weekend Update]

unbilled crew, extras and bit players

  • A. Whitney Brown: 1 appearance [Jose Cuervo’s Party School Bowl]

  • Al Franken: 2 voice-overs [The Life of Vlad the Impaler, The Blue, The Gray and the Yellow]

  • Mark McKinney: 3 voice-overs [The Pat Stevens Show, The Life of Vlad the Impaler (live only), Pathological Liars Anonymous]

  • Don Novello: 1 appearance [Firefighters]

  • Don Pardo: 1 voice-over [The Life of Vlad the Impaler (rerun only)]

  • Robert Smigel: 1 appearance [Jose Cuervo’s Party School Bowl]

  • Dan Vitale: 3 appearances [Firefighters, Those Unlucky Andersons, Craig Sundberg, Idiot Savant]

guests

  • Chevy Chase: 7 appearances [Firefighters, Monologue, Ford & Reagan, Those Unlucky Andersons, Jose Cuervo’s Party School Bowl, The Life of Vlad the Impaler, Drums, Drums, Drums]

  • Sheila E.: 2 appearances [“Holly Rock”, “A Love Bizarre'‘]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • January 11, 1986

Known alterations:

  • Wacky Glue and Trojans I removed

  • Trojans II (from 12/14/85) added

  • Audience sweetening:

    • None to mild: Firefighters, Monologue, Drums Drums Drums, Pathological Liars Anonymous

    • Moderate: Ford & Reagan, Weekend Update, Jose Cuervo’s Party School Bowl, The Life of Vlad the Impaler, The Blue, The Gray, and the Yellow]

    • Heavy: The Pat Stevens Show, Those Unlucky Andersons, Craig Sundberg, Idiot Savant

  • Edits: The Life of Vlad the Impaler, The Blue, The Gray, and the Yellow, Craig Sundberg, Idiot Savant.

  • Dress substitutions: Chevy Chase’s intro to “A Love Bizarre”.

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.