Classic SNL Review: December 1, 1984: Ed Begley, Jr. / Billy Squier (S10E07)

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

OPENING: ADOPTED SON

  • Michael Reagan (Jim Belushi) uses his adoption as a loophole to embarrass his more-powerful family members.
  • A fairly weak opening based on a then-current news story about Reagan’s adopted son responding publicly to remarks by his stepmother Nancy about him being estranged from the family. There was a predictable jab about Ron Jr.’s alleged sexuality, but other than that, nothing really stood out despite Jim Belushi doing his best to make this work.

**

MONOLOGUE

  • Ed Begley Jr. enters on rollerskates, shoots a surgery scene for St. Elsewhere, and drops the Jr. from his name.
  • A very unusual, somewhat loose monologue, with Begley making jokes and random asides all throughout (“Do you have a cold, Dr. Craig?” in response to Harry Shearer’s attempt at a William Daniels impression). It probably would have benefited from a little more focus, but Begley’s likable and he’s clearly having fun here.

***

COMMERCIAL: KATE & ALI

  • Katharine Hepburn (Martin Short) and Muhammad Ali (Billy Crystal) share a brownstone in a new sitcom.
  • A premise punning on then-current CBS hit Kate & Allie (the kitchen is modeled after the one on the real show), but a good showcase for Short’s Hepburn and Crystal’s Ali impressions.
  • Like with Crystal’s Sammy Davis Jr. and the Ballplayers film from earlier in the season, there is the loaded issue of him playing a black man, however, by this time Crystal and Ali were friends. Crystal had been doing the impression before he did SNL, and this clip from 1979 shows the boxer himself enjoying it; Crystal even broke out the impression at Ali’s funeral.

*** 1/2

COMMERCIAL: STRATEGIC AIRBORNE CONTRACEPTIVE (repeat from 11/10/84)

SHOW: BOOK BEAT

  • Morris Pugh (Gary Kroeger) keeps plagiarizing Gregory Malton’s (Jim Belushi) books; a time traveler (Ed Begley Jr.) interrupts the sketch to search for Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
  • An interesting break in format. The book review talk show segment isn’t great, but it is silly, particularly Kroeger’s performance as the shifty-eyed, unrepentant plagiarist (who also “wrote” A Tale of Two Cities…”Took me months”). The reason for the time traveller’s journey being just to fondle Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s breasts isn’t one of the show’s prouder moments, though. I have to wonder what she thought of the sketch.
  • Larry David can be seen talking to someone as Begley makes his way backstage.

***

SKETCH: SEVENTH WEDGE

  • The Grim Reaper (Ed Begley Jr.) challenges Larry (Martin Short) to a high-stakes game of Trivial Pursuit.
  • The first above-average sketch for tonight, with a strong premise, good jokes throughout (particularly Larry and the Reaper’s mutual dislike of the “sports” category), and a solid ending (the Grim Reaper suggesting Larry trade his girlfriend’s life for his, him agreeing when he find out she’s interested in him).
  • Pamela Stephenson’s role as the Reaper’s date is her only appearance this week.
  • Written by Kevin Kelton, Andrew Kurtzman and Eliot Wald.

*** 1/2

COMMERCIAL: REFRIGERATOR MAGNET SAFETY ADVISORY COUNCIL (repeat from 10/20/84)

SHOW: LET'S WATCH T.V.

  • Chi Chi (Mary Gross) and Consuela (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) discuss their favorite shows on their own cable-access show.
  • These characters get some small recognition applause at the beginning; it’s a weaker segment tonight but Gross and Louis-Dreyfus make the most of their characters, and there are some decent lines (suggesting Doc Severinson gives Ed McMahon laughing pills because he still reacts when Johnny Carson drops a bomb, cheerfully explaiming “Let’s criticize some more shows!”).

** 1/2

SKETCH: MARTY

  • In a Playhouse 90 production, Chayefsky’s lonely butcher (Jim Belushi) isn’t interested in pal Angie’s (Billy Crystal) suggestions for Saturday night.
  • Another “writer’s sketch”; a nice tribute to the early days of TV, with the most of humor coming from Angie’s outlandish and sometimes anachronistic suggestions for fun (travelling on the Concorde to Paris, participating in a shamanistic ritual with Inuit in Alaska, taking the space shuttle). The audience didn’t react to this, but it was well acted by Belushi and Crystal.

*** 1/2

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWS

  • After a string of guest anchors, Saturday Night News gets its first permanent anchor in almost an entire year with Christopher Guest helming the news desk. Unfortunately, he is a very poor fit for the desk; while it would be assumed his dry delivery would be a good fit for a news parody, Guest is actually too dry, with slow and almost lecture-like readings and he flubs a few lines. He displays a little more personality in his asides after the guest commentaries, but this is one of the most painful anchoring jobs in the history of the SNL news parody segment.
  • Rich Hall appears as himself to give home economy tips, specifically all the free things you can find at different stores, such as “visible hand puppets” (produce bags), paint chip cards to staple to the side of your house, pneumatic tubes from the bank to use as dinner glasses, and the Brannock Devices from shoe stores as snack servers and cockroach football fields. It works, largely due to Hall.
  • Gary Kroeger tries to combat teenage suicide by giving young people reasons for living, such as this being Reagan’s last term, everything eventually being legal, and Ringo Starr hosting SNL next week. Not really much to it, but it’s an interesting way to promote the next show.
  • Nathan Thurm (Martin Short) returns to defend another shady client, the Trammel Barber and Beauty Supply Company, who has jumped into the artificial organs market without FDA approval. This gets laughs, but is essentially a repeat of the Thurm bit from the 60 Minutes spoof in the last show.

**

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "ROCK ME TONITE"

  • This is Squier’s biggest hit single, though probably better known for its infamous Kenny Ortega-directed video that Squier blames for ruining his career. Squier does seem to be doing a few of his video moves here (especially once he throws his guitar offstage), but they’re not quite as over the top, and it gives the song a little more energy.
  • Squier’s band is Jeff Golub (guitar), Douglass Lubahn (bass), Alan St. Jon (keyboards) and Bobby Chouinard (drums). Lubahn also played bass on The Doors’ Strange Days, Waiting For The Sun, and The Soft Parade albums.

SKETCH: VAUDEVILLE FUNERAL

  • The sons (Billy Crystal and Martin Short) of vaudeville partners Al & Lou tell the story of their “meshugana” dads’ act at their funeral.
  • A little sappy, a little more old-time show-bizzy than the show was up to this point, but this is a good example of a piece that shows off Crystal’s and Short’s comic strengths.
  • Once again, Christopher Guest threatens to steal a sketch; this time, he has a bit part as Al and Lou’s favorite tenor (with a very bad toupee). Larry David and SNL art director Lee Mayman can also be seen in the crowd of mourners during the wide shot at the end.
  • Written by Billy Crystal, Martin Short and Marc Shaiman.

***

SHOW: EYEBALL TO EYEBALL

  • Substitute host Elliott Dryer (Martin Short) is more interested in the answers to inane questions than investigating allegations of misappropriated funds at a museum; real host Steven Lamb (Christopher Guest) confronts him but proves to be less right in the head.
  • This is one of my favorite “deep cut” sketches in SNL history. Martin Short does more good work here, treating questions about directions and how the museum works as hard hitting (“Now, I’m not going to get killed, aren’t I?”). Once again, Christopher Guest steals the sketch with his deadpan (particularly on the lines “You’re not a child. You’re a special person” and “Do you like beautiful things?”), but I also liked how proud he was of the “artifact” he brought out, while Ed Begley Jr. does well playing the guest who grows more uncomfortable as the show goes on.

****

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "ALL NIGHT LONG"

  • The direction suffers from the same issues some of the later 83-84 musical guests have, but compared to the overproduced version on the Signs of Life album, this performance was much leaner sounding and more appropriate for the uptempo rocker this song is.

SKETCH: ELEVATOR STOOL

  • Property owner (Harry Shearer) questions architect’s (Ed Begley Jr.) insistence that the elevators in his new building have a stool built in for the operator to sit on.
  • This is probably best known as Larry David’s only sketch to make it to air during his time on staff at SNL (though Billy Crystal credits him for collaborating on the Lew Goldman newsdesk bits). It’s interesting to see such a recognizable writing style play to near silence from the audience (though the physical altercation at the end gets some laughs), but despite their non-reaction, it’s such a good concept (which would later be adapted into the “security guard chair” subplot in the Seinfeld episode “The Maestro) and I wonder how it would have played under a version of the show a bit more friendly toward conceptual writing than Dick Ebersol was.
  • Once again, this is Harry Shearer’s only on-camera appearance on the show tonight.
  • Almost fittingly, this was removed from the same season repeat in favor of an old Eddie Murphy sketch from the previous year.

*** 1/2

GOODNIGHTS

  • Ed Begley Jr. thanks Billy, Chris and Harry and “all my friends”; Don Pardo announces next week’s show is Ringo Starr (his favorite Beatle) and Herbie Hancock (his second favorite Beatle).
  • Former head writer Andrew Smith is credited with “additional sketches”.
  • There is a credit for a segment called Half Time Tour” produced by Robert Bordiga that didn’t air in the show.

Final thoughts: A bit of a step down from the October and November shows, though Begley was a game host and the show notably had a lot more conceptual “writers’ pieces” than usual, the type of writing that Dick Ebersol tended not to favor during his time running SNL. Martin Short in particular has a good week tonight; according to him in Shales/Miller and his own contract, it took him a little while to get used to the SNL grind, and this show seems to be a turning point in his year there.

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Eyeball to Eyeball
  • Elevator Stool
  • Seventh Wedge
  • Marty
  • Kate & Ali

SHOW LOWLIGHTS:

  • Saturday Night News
  • Adopted Son

MVP:

Martin Short

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN

cast

  • Jim Belushi: 3 appearances [Adopted Son, Book Beat, Marty]
  • Billy Crystal: 4 appearances [Kate & Ali, Marty, Vaudeville Funeral, Elevator Stool]
  • Mary Gross: 1 appearance [Let’s Watch T.V]; 1 voice-over [Monologue]
  • Christopher Guest: 4 appearances [Saturday Night News, Vaudeville Funeral, Eyeball to Eyeball, Elevator Stool]
  • Rich Hall: 2 appearances [Book Beat, Saturday Night News]
  • Gary Kroeger: 3 appearances [Book Beat, Saturday Night News, Elevator Stool]
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus: 3 appearances [Book Beat, Seventh Wedge, Let’s Watch T.V.]
  • Harry Shearer: 1 appearance [Elevator Stool]; 3 voice-over [Adopted Son, Monologue, Kate & Ali]
  • Martin Short: 5 appearances [Kate & Ali, Seventh Wedge, Saturday Night News, Vaudeville Funeral, Eyeball to Eyeball]
  • Pamela Stephenson: 1 appearance [Seventh Wedge]

crew and extras

  • Bob Christianson: 1 appearance [Vaudeville Funeral]
  • Larry David: 2 appearances [Book Beat, Vaudeville Funeral]
  • Joe Dicso: 1 appearance [Monologue]
  • Lee Mayman: 1 appearance [Vaudeville Funeral]
  • Dave Wilson: 1 voice-over [Monologue]

guests

  • Ed Begley Jr.: 5 appearances [Monologue, Book Beat, Seventh Wedge, Eyeball to Eyeball, Elevator Stool]
  • Billy Squier: 2 appearances [“Rock Me Tonite”, “All Night Long”]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • April 20, 1985

Known alterations:

  • Strategic Airborne Contraceptive and Elevator Stool removed
  • Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood (10/15/83) and Safeco (01/12/85) added

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.