Classic SNL Review: April 6, 1985: Christopher Reeve / Santana (S10E16)

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

OPENING: A.D. 13: PART V: A NEW BEGINNING

  • NBC’s latest epic miniseries features James Mason (Christopher Guest) and many other famous actors.
  • A fun opening and rare impression-fest for this era of the show. Many of the celebrity impersonations here are familiar (including Gary Kroeger’s great Alan Alda), while Guest debuts his Mason in a running gag where he abuses his servant (Rob Riley) with the gifts he bears (including a chicken from Frank Perdue), and Billy Crystal plays recent Oscar winner Dr. Haing S. Ngor (the “I rived this” was cringey, though).
  • A.D. was a real miniseries that aired on NBC that week; James Mason’s appearance as Tiberius was billed in advertising as “his final great performance”.
  • The voiceover for this sketch was done by Dan Ingram; according to The Doc of TV Tracks Radio, Ingram was also the narrator for Video Victims.

*** 1/2

MONOLOGUE

  • Dressed as the Easter Bunny, Christopher Reeve likens SNL to his experience in live theatre and shows pictures of some of his past roles.
  • Another “previous roles” monologue similar to Ed Asner and Kathleen Turner, though this one is a step up from those two because of the visual of Reeve in a bunny costume, and some of the comments he makes about his previous roles are funny (particularly the one with Katharine Hepburn doing her Ed Grimley impression). There’s also an interesting segue with Reeve walking from home base to the next sketch’s set.

***

SKETCH: SUPERMAN AUDITIONS

  • In 1977, Christopher Reeve bumbles his way through stunts during his audition for Superman director Richard Donner (Jim Belushi).
  • This was a very strong sketch, with a great swerve once Donner has Reeve and the other actors audition by performing superhuman acts like catching a bullet with their teeth or squeezing a lump of coal into a diamond. Once again Gary Kroeger steals the scene, this time as the cocky brownnosing actor (who quickly gets shot dead during the bullet stunt), but Reeve gets laughs from his ineptitude, Hall is good as the auditionee with weaker acting skills but better superpower proficiency, while even Julia Louis-Dreyfus gets a bit more to do with her character (her thick NY accented line readings were great).

****

SHOW: JACKIE ROGERS JR.'S $100,000 JACKPOT WAD

  • Rajeev Vindaloo (Christopher Guest) and Mindy Williamson (Mary Gross) compete for big prizes with the help of Sammy Davis Jr. (Billy Crystal) and Bob Keeshan (Jim Belushi).
  • One of the highlights of the season; of course, the well-remembered part is the classic run between Crystal and Guest (particularly “Chocolate babies”), but Jim Belushi’s slow burning frustration as a desperate Keeshan opposite Gross’s increasingly panicked contestant (“I DON’T KNOW!”) is just as great.
  • Captain Kangaroo had ended in December 1984, which explains why Keeshan is so impatient and insistent on getting paid in cash. There’s also another topical Oscars reference with Jackie Rogers Jr. (Martin Short) quoting Sally Field’s “You like me!” acceptance speech.
  • According to Martin Short’s memoir I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend, he wrote this sketch with SCTV writers Dick Blasucci and Paul Flaherty, Guest and Crystal; the latter two came up with their section by improvising during writing. Interestingly, Short also says Jackie Rogers Jr.’s mannerisms were inspired by Sammy Davis Jr., so to have both the character and the impression in the same sketch lets the viewer see for themselves.

*****

GUEST PERFORMANCE

  • Steven Wright comments on his leisure activities and reads the diary he kept as a baby.
  • Despite reusing one of his jokes from January 1984 (the actual size map of the United States), this is probably my favorite Wright appearance, with some great lines about playing poker with tarot cards (“I got a full house and four people died”), one way round-trips, and humidifier/dehumidifier battles.

****

SKETCH: ESCAPING THE GERMANS

  • Sergeant (Jim Belushi) operating by the premise of “so dumb it just might work” misses the sarcasm in his troops’ suggestions on how to get past the Germans.
  • This role was a perfect fit for Belushi, who carries the sketch by giving his character the right mixture of overconfident bravado and sheer stupidity, the combination of both getting most of his men killed, including a funny run where Reeve eventually but correctly answers his Nazi-rooting question about Gone With The Wind, only for Belushi to kill him because he thought Cary Grant was Rhett Butler.
  • I really like the shot through the doorway that opens the sketch; you rarely get that kind of cinematography in a live sketch on SNL.
  • Written by Kevin Kelton, Andrew Kurtzman and Eliot Wald.

****

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWS

  • Best jokes: Francis the Talking Bible, “We Are The World” on Muzak.
  • A better night for Christopher Guest; maybe it’s just me but I thought his delivery made the line about the previous time a human voice was broadcast on Muzak being “Don Pardo singing the theme from Jeopardy! with a chorus of game show losers” even funnier.
  • Critic-at-large Jim Belushi and his air horn are back to complain about the new services offered by the recently split AT&T. You pretty much know how this is going to go, but Belushi has some funny lines about how the calls that interrupt your conversation through call waiting turn out to be more interesting than yours, and a reference to his own temper when he mentions how he often smashes phones or throws them out the window.
  • Paul Harvey (Rich Hall) discusses “We Are The World” and suggests that the single be pressed onto edible records made out of pita bread and pizza to cut out the bureaucracy and markup between the sales and the donations. This was an improvement over the previous Paul Harvey bit, but felt a little rushed.
  • Buddy Young Jr. (Billy Crystal) also returns, this time doing jokes about his unpleasant experience at the movies, and once again going into the crowd to insult a few audience members, including this week’s celebrity guest Calvert DeForest. It’s not quite as good as the one in the Harry Anderson show, but the interactions with the audience are still fun (he addresses one person as “a member of the Santana lookalike club”) and the audience cheers when DeForest mentions his role as Larry “Bud” Melman on Late Night with David Letterman.

***

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "SAY IT AGAIN"

  • A poppier track from the band’s Beyond Appearances album; Carlos Santana gets some guitar solos and there’s a brief percussion break, but this is a relatively straightforward synth-based top 40 hit from 1985.
  • Santana’s lineup had changed considerably since their last SNL appearance in March 1977, with Carlos Santana and Raul Rekow (percussion) the only continuous members since then, Greg Walker (vocals) and Graham Lear (drummer) having left and rejoined, and Alex Ligertwood (guitar and vocals), Alphonso Johnson (bass), Chester D. Thompson (keys), Orestes Vilato (percussion) and Armando Peraza (percussion) joining or rejoining in the interim.

SKETCH: PALISADES NURSING HOME

  • Alter kocker Izzy Tishman (Billy Crystal) has stories of his own in response to elderly Superman’s (Christopher Reeve) tales of his past glory.
  • This is a little long, but it lands with the audience, and Reeve gives his aged version of Superman a little bit of pathos. Tishman is like a more subdued, less grumpy Lew Goldman (he does a few Goldman-like phlegmy coughs), though there is a portion where he finishes Superman’s sentence a la “Do You Know What I Hate?”.
  • Guest writer Anne Beatts appears as an extra in the sketch; she plays the old lady with the walker that does the big reaction at the end when Superman blows away his birthday cake. One of the other extras can also be seeing shooing her away at the beginning; I wonder if that was a planned bit of stage business or if that was a way to cue her to start moving.

***

SHOW: TALK BACK

  • It becomes clear that the Amish men (Gary Kroeger and Rich Hall) protesting their community’s portrayal in Witness are imposters.
  • A short, silly and underrated sketch, with Christopher Guest playing straightman. Kroeger is great as usual as the first guest, who claims the depiction of a boy with shoelaces upset his prostitutes and that the movie depicted Amish women with too-small breasts, while Hall’s more subdued character makes his line (about people coming over to buy their babies) land better.
  • According to Kroeger, this was likely an Andy Breckman piece.

****

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "RIGHT NOW"

  • Still a poppier, synth-driven song in the Santana oeuvre, but this is a livelier performance particularly the instrumental coda with Armando Peraza dancing.

GOODNIGHTS

  • Christopher Reeve talks about how it took a while to work up the nerve to do the show, which was a “complete kick in the butt”. Anne Beatts is onstage with Reeve, Santana and the cast.

Final Thoughts:

The strongest show since Harry Shearer’s firing, with a very strong first half (largely owing to the classic Jackie Rogers Jr. sketch), and even the (relatively) weaker segments worked well for what they were. What’s astonishing is that this show did not have any pre-taped segments at all, not even a commercial parody or repeated segment to bridge sketches; the number of longer pieces tonight likely had a lot to do with this. Surprisingly, Christopher Reeve actually didn’t really stand out too much as a host; aside from the monologue and Superman Auditions, he seemed a little too reserved, if not a bit stiff. This show belongs more to the cast and writers anyway.

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Jackie Rogers Jr.’s $100,000 Jackpot Wad
  • Superman Auditions
  • Talk Back
  • Escaping The Germans
  • Guest Performance
  • A.D. 13: Part V: A New Beginning

SHOW LOWLIGHTS:

(none)

MVP:

(tie) Billy Crystal / Christopher Guest / Rich Hall / Gary Kroeger

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN:

cast

  • Jim Belushi: 5 appearances [A.D. 13: Part V: A New Beginning, Superman Auditions, Jackie Rogers Jr.’s $100,000 Jackpot Wad, Escaping the Germans]
  • Billy Crystal: 5 appearances [A.D. 13: Part V: A New Beginning, Jackie Rogers Jr.’s $100,000 Jackpot Wad, Escaping the Germans, Saturday Night News, Palisades Nursing Home]
  • Mary Gross: 2 appearances [A.D. 13: Part V: A New Beginning, Jackie Rogers Jr.’s $100,000 Jackpot Wad]
  • Christopher Guest: 4 appearances [A.D. 13: Part V: A New Beginning, Jackie Rogers Jr.’s $100,000 Jackpot Wad, Saturday Night News, Talk Back]
  • Rich Hall: 5 appearances [A.D. 13: Part V: A New Beginning, Superman Auditions, Escaping the Germans, Saturday Night News, Talk Back]
  • Gary Kroeger: 4 appearances [A.D. 13: Part V: A New Beginning, Superman Auditions, Escaping the Germans, Talk Back]
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus: 3 appearances [A.D. 13: Part V: A New Beginning, Superman Auditions, Palisades Nursing Home]
  • Martin Short: 2 appearances [A.D. 13: Part V: A New Beginning, Jackie Rogers Jr.’s $100,000 Jackpot Wad]
  • Pamela Stephenson: 2 appearances [A.D. 13: Part V: A New Beginning, Jackie Rogers Jr.’s $100,000 Jackpot Wad]

crew and extras

  • Anne Beatts: 1 appearance [Palisades Nursing Home]
  • Don Pardo: 1 voice-over [Saturday Night News]
  • Rob Riley: 1 appearance [A.D. 13: Part V: A New Beginning]

guests

  • Christopher Reeve: 4 appearances [Monologue, Superman Auditions, Escaping the Germans, Palisades Nursing Home]
  • Santana: 2 appearances [“Say It Again”, “Right Now”]
  • Steven Wright: 1 appearance [Guest Performance]
  • Calvert Deforest: 1 appearance [Saturday Night News]
  • Dan Ingram: 1 voice-over [A.D. 13: Part V: A New Beginning]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • August 10, 1985

Known alterations:

  • A 2004 airing on NBC All Night replaces a bumper of Reeve standing in front of the World Trade Center with another bumper that appears later in the show.

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.