Classic SNL Review: December 8, 1984: Ringo Starr / Herbie Hancock (S10E08)

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

OPENING: BEATLES AUCTION

  • Ringo Starr himself doesn’t generate much interest at a Beatles’ memorabilia auction.
  • It’s a little predictable, but well-executed. Martin Short does much of the heavy lifting as the auctioneer, but this was a good use of Starr, who only speaks when he gives the Live From New York line.
  • Writer Kevin Kelton is visible behind Julia Louis-Dreyfus, while Andy Breckman plays the worker who wheels Starr into the room.

*** 1/2

MONOLOGUE

  • Ringo Starr explains what it’s like to be a legend and duets with Sammy Davis Jr. (Billy Crystal) on a mix of their hits.
  • This was about nine minutes long; the audience enjoyed it, but there’s really not much humor after the medley starts, unless you count Sammy Davis Jr. and Ringo Starr singing each others’ songs. Ringo Starr is affable enough to pull off a solo monologue, though.
  • According to Dick Ebersol in Live From New York and confirmed by Kevin Kelton, much of this week’s show had to be rewritten after a particularly rough Wednesday read-through; as Ringo Starr was such a high-profile booking, Ebersol requested a new batch of sketches, with many revolving around the recurring characters and impressions.

** 1/2

SKETCH: UNLUCKY MAN

  • Ed Grimley (Martin Short) waits at a bus stop next to a man (Ringo Starr) who gets struck by lightning repeatedly.
  • A weaker Grimley sketch, though Martin Short gives his all and does some nice physical work, especially when he flails about while holding Starr’s hand during one of the lightning strikes. The SCTV fan in me also appreciated the use of the flying dummy at the end.
  • The set is reused from the previous week’s Marty parody.

***

COMMERCIAL: TEXXON (repeat from 02/26/83)

SKETCH: DO YOU KNOW WHAT I HATE? (III)

  • On the girders, construction workers Willie (Billy Crystal) and Frankie (Christopher Guest) compare more self-injury stories during their lunch break.
  • Still the same formula as the other two Willie and Frankie sketches, but this installment’s tales of masochism are at least pretty funny (the specificity of Frankie using Good News razors to shave his “hiney”, Willie sticking his tongue in a self-threading movie projector).

*** 1/2

SKETCH: RINGO'S BUYERS

  • Stan (Jim Belushi) is not happy that wife Kathy (Pamela Stephenson) bought Ringo Starr for $800 at the Beatles memorabilia auction.
  • Not particularly noteworthy aside from it being a rare continuation of a sketch earlier in the show, but it has its moments, mostly from Ringo Starr essentially playing himself as a returning runaway pet who amuses himself by popping bubble wrap and watching The Jeffersons (there’s a funny visual of him singing and dancing along to the theme).
  • I liked the joke about Beatle museum curator’s offer of $1700 being “enough to make you comfortable for the rest of your lives” because it’s the price of two La-Z-Boy chairs.

***

SHOW: STRICTLY FROM BLACKWELL

  • Mr. Blackwell’s (Harry Shearer) conversation with wine expert Rajeev Vindaloo (Christopher Guest) sidelines his other guest (Gary Kroeger).
  • Once again, Shearer’s only sketch of the night, and a bit funnier than the last time he did Blackwell on the show. Guest’s portrayal of a South Asian character is problematic, but the humor mostly comes from the character’s implied gayness, and he has some funny lines (I love “You mean wine, you stay away from me” to a particularly “mischievous” vintage).
  • Like Ringo Starr’s appearance in the cold opening, Gary Kroeger’s mostly silent part as the Chippendales dancer was also pretty funny; SNL would get a reliable running gag from doing something similar in the “What Up With That” sketches 25 years later, but it takes skill to get laughs from just sitting there.

*** 1/2

COMMERCIAL: MASSACRE ON 34TH STREET

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger (Jim Belushi) is Santa the Terminator in an ultraviolent Christmas movie.
  • Well shot as usual by director John Fox, but this was a weak idea, and Jim Belushi doesn’t look or sound a thing like Schwarzenegger.

**

SKETCH: REVERSE PSYCHOLOGY

  • Col. Asaka (Billy Crystal) tries to use reverse psychology to make captured British soldiers (Christopher Guest and Ringo Starr) build a railway bridge.
  • Crystal playing an Asian character is again problematic, though he’s deliberately trying to channel Sessue Hayakawa instead of going for a broader stereotype. While I liked Crystal barking orders for candy apples and champagne and threatening to send his prisoners to the bordello and the ice cream counter, and Guest and Starr were the right kind of deadpan for this (particularly in the conga line), overall it was a little too repetitious and predictable.
  • Written by Kevin Kelton, Andy Kurtzman and Eliot Wald, and based on The Bridge on the River Kwai. According to Kelton, he had to coach Billy Crystal on his performance as the commandant because they couldn’t find a videotape of the movie in time.

** 1/2

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "JUNKU"

  • The first instrumental jazz performance in over three years, and some more interesting camera work than usual. The kora played by Foday Musa Suso on the studio version on Sound-System on Jeff Bova’s keytar, and Mixmaster D.ST’s turntabling is more prominent here.
  • This song was used as the “Field” theme for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
  • When this show aired, Starr and Hancock were only 44 years old and had both been well known musicians for about 22 years. It’s weird thinking that Dave Grohl was older and longer-established when Foo Fighters did the show in December 2017.

SHOW: FERNANDO'S HIDEAWAY

  • Fernando (Billy Crystal) chats with Ringo Starr and Barbara Bach in the booth but is more interested in the latter.
  • Billy Crystal carries this with his usual aplomb, Ringo Starr and Barbara Bach were good at playing along and the audience eats up the “you look marvelous” catchphrase; it’s nothing particularly memorable, aside from the meaningful look Bach and Starr give each other when she mentions great sex is her favorite way to stay in shape, and Crystal ad-libbing a “you look marvelous” to the cup he just bumped.

** 1/2

SKETCH: DRAFT DODGER

  • After letting slip his psychiatric exemption from the draft, a job applicant (Jim Belushi) tries to convince the personnel director (Christopher Guest) that he really is mentally ill.
  • Quite weak for this season’s standards. Despite Belushi doing his best to make it work and Guest in his usual superb deadpan, this pretty much died with the audience.
  • This is Jim Belushi’s last sketch for over a month, as he does not appear in the Eddie Murphy and Kathleen Turner shows. In Live From New York, he reveals that Dick Ebersol fired him for being “uncontrollable – throwing things down halls and angry and disruptive”; he was rehired after begging for his job back.

* 1/2

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "ROCKIT"

  • Hancock plays his big hit from the previous year’s Future Shock album; Hancock, Bova, D.ST, along with keyboard player Bernard Fowler, bass player Wayne Braithwaite and drummer J.T. Lewis do a good job at keeping the mechanical groove of the song.

GOODNIGHTS

  • Ringo Starr says “it’s been fabulous!”; Don Pardo announces next week’s show and thinks the name Eddie Murphy sounds familiar (“Didn’t he used to be in Led Zeppelin?”)
  • Andrew Smith and British writer Ian La Frenais (Porridge, The Likely Lads, Lovejoy) are this week’s guest writers.
  • Rich Hall was completely absent from tonight’s show and does not appear in the goodnights either.

Final Thoughts: A bit of a disappointment; not truly bad, but this show has a bit of a tired aura, and the second half is a noticeable drop-off in quality from the first. It’s understandable that the grind of producing SNL would eventually wear everyone out (this is the eighth show in a little over two months); also adding to this show's odd vibe: the complete lack of a Saturday Night News segment. Starr was still a good host, Herbie Hancock was solid (though two instrumentals may have also lent to the weird feeling of this show), and it’s a credit to the professionalism of the cast and the writers that they were able to rewrite the show on short notice and still have it remain watchable, but tonight felt a little obvious that they were going for safe audience pleasers because they were low on ideas.

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Strictly From Blackwell
  • Do You Know What I Hate (III)
  • Beatles Auction

SHOW LOWLIGHTS:

  • Draft Dodger
  • Massacre on 34th Street

MVP:

Billy Crystal

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN

cast

  • Jim Belushi: 3 appearances [Ringo’s Buyers, Massacre On 34th Street, Draft Dodger]
  • Billy Crystal: 4 appearances [Monologue, Do You Know What I Hate (III), Reverse Psychology, Fernando’s Hideaway]
  • Mary Gross: 1 appearance [Beatles Auction]
  • Christopher Guest: 4 appearances [Do You Know What I Hate (III), Strictly From Blackwell, Reverse Psychology, Draft Dodger]
  • Rich Hall: absent
  • Gary Kroeger: 3 appearances [Beatles Auction, Strictly From Blackwell, Reverse Psychology]
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus: 2 appearances [Beatles Auction, Ringo’s Buyers]
  • Harry Shearer: 1 appearance [Strictly From Blackwell]
  • Martin Short: 2 appearances [Beatles Auction, Unlucky Man]
  • Pamela Stephenson: 2 appearances [Beatles Auction, Ringo’s Buyers]; 1 voice-over [Strictly From Blackwell]

crew and extras

  • Andy Breckman: 1 appearance [Beatles Auction]
  • Kevin Kelton: 1 appearance [Beatles Auction]
  • Lee Mayman: 1 appearance [Beatles Auction]

guests

  • Ringo Starr: 6 appearances [Beatles Auction, Monologue, Unlucky Man, Ringo’s Buyers, Reverse Psychology, Fernando’s Hideaway]
  • Herbie Hancock: 2 appearances [“Junku”, “Rockit”]
  • The Rockit Band: 2 appearances [“Junku”, “Rockit”]
  • Barbara Bach: 1 appearance [Fernando’s Hideaway]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • March 9, 1985
  • July 20, 1985

Known alterations:

  • Texxon, Massacre On 34th Street, “Junku” and Draft Dodger removed
  • Crazy Weinstein (12/10/83), Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood (01/21/84), Four Minutes To Live (04/07/84) and Reach Out and Touch Someone (02/06/82) added

Additional screen captures from this episode can be found here.