Classic SNL Review: February 8, 1986: Ron Reagan / The Nelsons (S11E09)

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

Author’s note: I currently only have access to a repeat airing of the show. This review is in the original live running order with segments that were excluded from the repeat noted, but I am unable to check for dress rehearsal substitutions or confirm post-production audio sweetening until I obtain a copy of the original live broadcast. When I do, I will update this review accordingly, but in the meantime, if anyone has a recording of the live broadcast airing of this show, please contact me.

OPENING: RISKY BUSINESS

  • After his parents check in on him from Camp David, Ron Reagan dances in the White House in his tighty-whities a la Tom Cruise in Risky Business.

  • A fun start to the evening, Reagan’s not a strong actor but Randy Quaid and Terry Sweeney’s impressions do the heavy lifting on the first part, and Ron really throws himself into the dance routine; he actually does a nice split at one point (probably something he picked up in his earlier career as a ballet dancer).

  • I also laughed at the stick figure dancing in the lit window in the stock photo of the White House.

*** 1/2

MONTAGE

  • Dan Vitale is credited as a featured player for the first time since November’s Pee-Wee Herman show.

MONOLOGUE

  • Ron Reagan admits he was booked on the show because his father’s the President, and claims that being Ronald Reagan’s youngest son makes him the second most powerful person in the world.

  • Reagan comes off as charming (“You don’t live until you hyperventilate on live TV”), but I just wasn’t feeling the main joke of this monologue. I did like the switch-up where he says that tonight’s show was being carried on the Armed Forces Television Network by special request of the sub-Commander in Chief (his sister Patty).

**

COMMERCIAL: WHERE YOU’RE GOING (repeat of 11/09/85)

SHOW: THE PAT STEVENS SHOW

  • Little Richard (Damon Wayans) is suing the public for not recognizing his genius and claims that everyone steals his ideas.

  • The usual strong Pat Stevens show with a funny fakeout where Pat admits she can’t come up with a positive mental picture (and resorts to putting a picture from a magazine on her forehead). Damon Wayans’ Little Richard sees a little too “generic effeminate” but almost not flamboyant enough, though he has some funny lines about how Down and Out in Beverly Hills being changed from his life story to a movie about “a white man and his dog”, and that “Yabba dabba doo” was a ripoff of “A-wop-bom-a-loo-mop-a-lomp-bom-bom!”.

  • This is the second live show in a row to feature a Pat Stevens sketch; this sketch would also be the only time Dunn and Wayans appear all night (not counting reruns).

  • Written by Nora Dunn and (possibly) Bruce McCulloch, according to Robert Smigel

*** 1/2

COMMERCIAL: DALKON SHIELD TROUT LURE

  • The defective intrauterine devices are great for catching fish.

  • A topical swipe at the birth control devices that the cost of settlements and litigation over had recently forced A.H Robins into bankruptcy. Silly enough to work, and enough background information provided to have it make sense years later.

***
SKETCH: BACK TO THE FUTURE

  • When Doc Brown’s (Jon Lovitz) time-travelling blender brings him back to the Hellcats of the Navy set, Ron Reagan has to get his parents together.

  • A very lengthy (12 minutes) sketch; it could have been tightened up a little, but it’s a fun parody of the movie and a good use of Reagan, Quaid and Sweeney. This is pretty much Sweeney’s sketch all the way, from his entrance as a boozy, chain-smoking Nancy with her hair in rollers, to running off with Quaid’s Ronnie as soon as he starts talking tax cuts.

  • I liked the running joke where the exposition was marked as such on-screen (as well as the “cheap joke” at the expense of Geraldine Ferraro).

  • This takes a few liberties for the sake of the parody (the Reagans were already married in 1952)

  • Written by Al Franken and Tom Davis, according to Robert Smigel.

*** 1/2

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: “WALK AWAY”

  • The high school band of Matthew (bass) and Gunnar (drums) Nelson, notable for being the show’s first unsigned musical guest, and for being booked on the show a month after their father (and one-time SNL host) Rick died in a plane crash. This song is decent power pop, though the guitar solo in the middle sounds a little dodgy (it also sounds like they buried the lead guitar player down in the mix in that part).

  • The Nelson brothers would later record this song for their later band Nelson’s 1995 album Because They Can.

  • Gunnar is wearing a shirt that says “Hi Sam!”, a shout out to his and Matthew’s little brother.

MISCELLANEOUS: NEXT WEEK

  • In a live promo, Jerry Hall announces she will be hosting next week’s show.

  • This isn’t in my copy of the show; from descriptions I’ve read, she teases an appearance by her “special Valentine” Mick Jagger.

WEEKEND UPDATE

  • Best jokes: Wake up Babe!, Baby Doc exile, Charles Manson, Philippines Election

  • Good night for Miller, who seems to be fully settled into his delivery by this point in the season. He has a bit of fun with the negative audience response to the Philippine election joke (“That’s just the body count, the ballots are still being tallied”).

  • This is the first appearance of the Weekend Update Dancers, a running feature where a group of women interpret a top news story by dancing to a current pop hit; this week, they dramatize falling oil prices to the tune of Billy Ocean’s “When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going”. It’s pretty much the same joke every time but it is interesting to get a snapshot of what was on the pop charts at the time.

  • A. Whitney Brown, not yet credited as a featured player, makes his Weekend Update debut as senior correspondent with a commentary on human affairs called The Big Picture. Tonight’s inaugural edition features pokes at the pronunciation on Uranus, a revolution in Angola, giving aid to the Contras when they don’t have a country, and the Philippine election; Brown’s delivery is a little giddy, but this is smart, well written and sprinkled throughout with great lines (comparing the inter-relatedness of the global village to an Appalachian coal town).

  • According to Brown, he and Mark McKinney came up with the idea for The Big Picture while walking through Central Park during a snowstorm.

*** 1/2

GUEST PERFORMANCE

  • Penn and Teller take issue with being written off as “comedy magicians” and show how they outdo the big names on a much smaller budget.

  • Probably Penn and Teller’s best bit for SNL; even when you know what the gimmick is (they’re actually suspended upside down), it still has enough rewatch value from the way they try to mask this (there are a few tight shots on the items they make “disappear”) and the live energy from the call-and-response “Are we live? Yeah!”.

****

SKETCH: THE LIMITS OF THE IMAGINATION

  • Paul Jensen’s (Ron Reagan) family and friends have no idea who he is.

  • Not quite as strong as the last outing, but I like how this fully leaned into the crappiness of the twist (all he needs to do is show them his ID), and Floating Head (Randy Quaid) gets another funny bit in his intro where he shows how he can send the audience “screaming into the night” by chewing on a wad of tinfoil.

  • Allan Havey makes another appearance tonight as one of the cops with Dan Vitale; the black cop with a line (“We didn’t recognize you at first, but now we do”) is also notable for not being Damon Wayans (any idea who played him?)

  • This is the last sketch Reagan appears in all night, and he’s in the straight role. According to Reagan and Terry Sweeney in Live From New York , a sketch with them as flamboyant gay interior decorators was cut after dress; it would have been interesting to see how that one played out.

***

SKETCH: SHAKESPEARE IN THE SLUMS

  • Flotilda Williams (Danitra Vance) translates the plot of Romeo and Juliet into ghetto terminology.

  • Another solo piece imported from Vance’s stage show, and probably the best example of her work on the show, with her effortless transitions between the Shakespearean dialogue (showing off Vance’s real-life training) and AAVE.

****

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: “DO YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN”

  • The Nelsons perform a Mickey Jupp song recorded by their father the previous year on All My Best, his final studio album released in his lifetime. They do a decent job, though once again, the lead guitar’s playing is buried in the mix, at least in the rerun copy.

SKETCH: DAVID’S DATE

  • Kelly (Joan Cusack) is tired of her boyfriend David’s (Jon Lovitz) Woody Allen obsession.

  • Good performances from Lovitz and (especially) Cusack, but I wasn’t crazy about the premise; it’s one of those things that felt like it was done before even if you’re not sure where you saw it.

**

GOODNIGHTS

  • Ron Reagan says that they took an informal poll backstage and “we all had fun”. Randy Quaid and Dan Vitale briefly hoist Nora Dunn up, and the Chinese waiter from David’s Date and the Weekend Update Dancers are onstage as well.

Final thoughts: Another fairly good show, though just a step below great. Ron Reagan wasn’t much of a sketch comedy actor but they used him where he worked, and his willingness to play along helped. There are a few signs that the show is beginning to lean heavily on recurring sketches at this point in the season (Pat Stevens, Limits of the Imagination), but Danitra Vance got a great showcase, Jon Lovitz and Joan Cusack were able to show what they were capable of, and Terry Sweeney got the best part of tonight’s big centrepiece sketch (Sadly, Damon Wayans continues to be misused).

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Shakespeare in the Slums

  • Guest Performance

  • Risky Business

  • Weekend Update

  • Back to the Future

SHOW LOWLIGHTS:

  • Monologue

  • David’s Date

MVP:

  • Terry Sweeney

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN:

cast

  • Joan Cusack: 3 appearances [Dalkon Shield Trout Lure, The Limits of the Imagination, David’s Date]

  • Robert Downey Jr.: 3 appearances [Dalkon Shield Trout Lure, Back To The Future, The Limits of the Imagination]

  • Nora Dunn: 1 appearance [The Pat Stevens Show]

  • Anthony Michael Hall: absent

  • Jon Lovitz: 3 appearances [Back To The Future, The Limits of the Imagination, David’s Date]

  • Dennis Miller: 1 appearance [Weekend Update]

  • Randy Quaid: 3 appearances [Risky Business, Back To The Future, The Limits of the Imagination]

  • Terry Sweeney: 2 appearances [Risky Business, Back To The Future]

  • Danitra Vance: 2 appearances [Back To The Future, Shakespeare in the Slums]

featured players

  • Dan Vitale: 2 appearances [Back To The Future, The Limits of the Imagination]

  • Damon Wayans: 1 appearance [The Pat Stevens Show]

unbilled crew, extras and bit players

  • A. Whitney Brown: 1 appearance [Weekend Update]

  • Allan Havey: 2 appearances [The Limits of the Imagination, David’s Date]

  • Larry Jacobson: 1 appearance [David’s Date]

  • Carol Leifer: 1 appearance [David’s Date]

  • Mark McKinney: 1 voice-over [The Pat Stevens Show]

guests

  • Ron Reagan: 4 appearances [Risky Business, Monologue, Back To The Future, The Limits of the Imagination]

  • The Nelsons: 2 appearances [“Walk Away”, “Do You Know What I Mean”]

  • Penn & Teller: 1 appearance [Guest Performance]

  • Jerry Hall: 1 appearance [Next Week]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • April 26, 1986

Known alterations:

  • Next Week removed

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.