Classic SNL Review: March 15, 1986: Griffin Dunne / Rosanne Cash (S11E12)

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

OPENING: RUMORS

  • “Official spokesman” for NBC Tommy Flanagan (Jon Lovitz) dodges the topic of SNL’s declining ratings and poor reviews.

  • The third cold opening in a row to use the Liar, and the first on-camera acknowledgement that the show hadn’t been doing great that year. Even though the show is starting to lean a little too hard on the character, this still has some funny lines (“ugl…beautiful rumors” and the repeated invocations of “neck-and-neck with The Cosby Show” and “euhh, we have a new cast!” every time Lovitz brings up the reviews). I also liked the forced grin Lovitz flashes the first time he brings up the new cast.

  • Back when the show hired six new performers in September 2013 and did multiple sketches in the season premiere about that fact, I couldn’t but help think of Lovitz saying “euhh, we have a new cast!”

  • Written by A. Whitney Brown and Jon Lovitz.

***

MONTAGE

  • Writer-cum-Weekend Update commentator A. Whitney Brown receives his first credit as a featured player, while Don Novello is credited as himself for the first time since November (his December appearance as Father Guido Sarducci was billed as “Maurice” in keeping with the abandoned People’s Catholic Church gag)

MONOLOGUE

  • Griffin Dunne’s body betrays his claims of being confident enough to do his monologue, but he shows off his special talent anyway - playing the drum solo from “Wipeout” one-handed.

  • Dunne does alright here, with the silliness involving his hair coming out in clumps and giant pit stains on his shirt giving way to the fun part involving him slapping a surf board to the beat of the “Wipeout” drum solo.

  • Anthony Michael Hall makes his first in-studio appearance on the show since December’s Teri Garr show; he and (to a much lesser extent) Terry Sweeney seem to be upstaging Dunne with their facial expressions as he “drums”.

***

COMMERCIAL: DOUBLE R MARCOS

  • Double R (Randy Quaid) is back from the Philippines, and he’s offering big savings on the Marcos’ abandoned possessions.

  • The return of Double R and his goofy clap-dancing son in another topical piece making fun of the ouster and exile of Ferdinand Marcos, with a pointed joked about the taxpayer “having paid for this stuff in the first place”, and Double R calling down people with the initials F.M. for the collection of monogrammed shirts (Don Pardo gets in at the end inviting Fritz Mondale).

***

SKETCH: MR. MONOPOLY

  • Now a lawyer, Mr. Monopoly (Jon Lovitz) uses a “get out of jail free” card to spring his client (Griffin Dunne).

  • This sketch is best known for Damon Wayans’ infamous last-minute characterization switch to an effeminate gay stereotype, an act of rebellion over not being used enough on the show which resulted in a very irate Lorne Michaels immediately firing him. Other than that, there really isn’t a whole lot more to say about the sketch other than it’s got some fun but obvious Monopoly references; unfortunately the sketch is a little too talky and doesn’t really live up to the promise of the concept. Lovitz was a perfect choice to play the title character, though.

  • Written by guest writer Andy Breckman, his first SNL contribution since leaving at the end of the previous season.

** 1/2

SHOW: YOU BET YOUR FINGER

  • Game show contestant (Griffin Dunne) has his fingers unnecessarily amputated thanks to a broken guillotine.

  • Funny concept, and there are some good performances (Dunne’s reaction when the guillotine first falls by accident is great, as well as the detail of Cusack’s smiling nurse casually wiping away the blood and severed finger and putting it into the garbage can next to the podium), though the main joke doesn’t really escalate enough from there.

  • This is one of those sketches that I have to wonder whether it would have worked slightly better if it was the next year’s cast performing it (I can see Phil Hartman in Quaid’s role no problem). That said, I did laugh at Anthony Michael Hall’s deadpan “Looks like gravity, Bob” when he fixed the guillotine the second time.

  • A few bloopers in this sketch: Randy Quaid mispronounces “Yeats” as “Yeets” before correcting himself, while the fake blood starts spilling out a second before the guillotine falls for the third time.

  • Writer Bruce McCulloch appears in one of the still photos as one of the “lucky” winners of a world trip.

  • Written by Andy Breckman, per Robert Smigel.

*** 1/2

COMMERCIAL: BAD SEED

  • Nancy Reagan (Terry Sweeney) rebuts daughter Patti Davis’s novel Home Front with her own “purely fiction”.

  • Sweeney’s Nancy Reagan is still funny, but it works better when there’s someone else to the First Lady interact with, and aside from the part where she freaks out over the incident with the “six foot phallic symbol” at the art museum in her daughter’s book, this mostly fell flat.

  • More bloopers: there’s an awkward pause before Sweeney starts (exaggeratedly) reading in silence, and someone crosses in front of the camera as he begins talking.

**

COMMERCIAL: BUON GIORNO IRELAND BUON GIORNO

  • The new album from Gianni Tucci (Don Novello), the most popular Italian singer in Ireland.

  • A pretty weak one-joke idea. Novello has a nice singing voice, and there are some laughs from him singing “Harrigan” in Italian, but this wasn’t enough to support a full-length commercial parody. I couldn’t but help think of the similarly weak “Cicely Sings Sicily” from 1979’s Cicely Tyson / Talking Heads show.

* 1/2

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: “HOLD ON”

  • The current single from Cash’s Rhythm & Romance album; this is a little punchier instrumentally than the studio version, with a more prominent guitar solo at the end.

COMMERCIAL: TWO JONES’ CABLE INSTALLERS

  • Fed (Anthony Michael Hall) and Ned (Damon Wayans) explain how a one-time fee of $50 and a splitter box will give you access to all the channels your neighbor has.

  • The Jones Brothers make their first (and final) appearance since the season premiere, in what would be Damon Wayans’ final sketch as a featured player. This wasn’t quite as strong as the other Jones Brothers sketch in the premiere: maybe it was that it stretched out a little too long,or maybe it was Hall’s mugging that did it.

  • I laughed at Pardo’s spiel at the end (which wasn’t very clear in the mix) telling customers to “knock on the window or call from the corner”.

** 1/2

WEEKEND UPDATE

  • Best jokes: Julius Caesar, Gorbachev summit, Marcos’s new neighbors

  • The Weekend Update Dancers are back yet again, this time interpreting the Brown University prostitution scandal to the tune of “Addicted to Love”; again, pretty much the same as the usual Update Dancers bit, although Dennis Miller participates in this one to “blow the whistle” (“Yeah, it gets too wacky” he comments on the deliberately cheesiness of the bit).

  • A. Whitney Brown also returns with another installment of The Big Picture, wherein he has some words about the U.S. government giving $100 million to the Contras. This was a little stronger than the previous outing, thanks to some choice lines about the amount of money involved for such a small group (“That’s a lot of velvet paintings, my friend”, and suggesting the money may be better spent putting them all through Harvard Law School so they can sue the Sandinistas).

  • Dennis Miller follows up on the topic of Central America by using Nixon’s comments comparing the region to a cancer as a pretext to chainsaw it out of the map in the Weekend Update backdrop.

  • If that wasn’t enough, Miller follows up this bit by announcing a new contest for viewers to guess how long Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet will last and the way he will be disposed of, working in some digs at the SNL’s now-precarious situation (“See who lasts longer: Pinochet or Saturday Night Live”). Probably the most memorable Weekend Update in quite some time.

  • Miller ends tonight’s show by telling home viewers to “get your VCRs ready” for the upcoming Penn & Teller segment.

*** 1/2

SHOW: YOU CAN PICK YOUR FRIENDS, YOU CAN PICK YOUR NOSE, BUT YOU CAN’T PICK YOUR FRIENDS’ NOSES

  • Jonathan Lee (Jon Lovitz) won’t let his guest (Griffin Dunne) pick his friend’s (Randy Quaid) nose during a discussion of prison reform.

  • This was dumb, but very, very funny thanks to its execution. From the show being a sober political discussion, to Lovitz’s serious (and impressively flawless) delivery of the show’s title, to the visual of Dunne’s finger slowly travelling into frame towards Quaid’s face, to the escalation of the joke (the visual of the grappler makes the sketch). I also enjoyed the twist with Lovitz trying to pick Quaid’s nose (Quaid: “I don’t know you!”).

  • This sketch worked well enough as-is, but I think it’s another piece that would have been even better with the next season’s cast: I can see Kevin Nealon in Dunne’s role and Phil Hartman in Quaid’s role.

  • I have conflicting information about who wrote this piece; according to Mark McKinney, this was a Franken & Davis piece, while Robert Smigel says this was another Andy Breckman sketch.

*** 1/2

GUEST PERFORMANCE

  • Penn & Teller show a trick viewers can do at home with a deck of cards and a VCR.

  • The usual strong Penn & Teller piece, even if this was a little less impressive than the Upside Down bit in the Reagan show. Penn Jillette’s step-by-step walkthrough of the trick is still fun, though, and the home recording segment was pretty inventive.

***

SHOW: BUSINESS BEAT

  • Employees of Datatronics keep their motivation and productivity up with devices based on cliches.

  • Most of the humor was supposed to have come from the props that the guests wear; aside from Griffin Dunne’s random kick-in-the-pants device, this was just weak.

  • The most notable part about this sketch is how effortlessly Danitra Vance (in her only appearance tonight) recovers from accidentally calling the show “Business Week” at the beginning by ad-libbing “I don’t like that name” and making another ad-lib during the closing. It may have made the sketch run over by a few seconds, but it’s a well-done save.

* 1/2

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: “I DON’T KNOW WHY YOU DON’T WANT ME”

  • The first single from Rhythm & Romance, which had just won Cash the Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance by a female artist; Cash and then-husband Rodney Crowell wrote this in response to her losing the award to Juice Newton several years earlier.

SKETCH: TEA AND SYMPATHY

  • Mrs. Sullivan (Joan Cusack) invites her daughter’s undead boyfriend Larry (Griffin Dunne) for a sandwich.

  • Interesting idea, but the sketch just lies there, and it isn’t helped by the quiet audience. Joan Cusack’s trying a little too hard with the middle-aged Midwestern mom characterization.

  • Who is the extra playing Cusack’s daughter?

  • According to Mark McKinney, he wrote this with Cusack. I could see the premise working much better on The Kids in the Hall with some tonal/performance differences.

**

GOODNIGHTS

  • Griffin Dunne says “Goodnight everybody” and Teller raises his “AMEN!” sign; the credits cut off early, but in copies of the show with the full scroll, Damon Wayans can be seen glowering and unmoving in the back of the crowd.

Final thoughts: Another “in the middle” show, weighed down by a number of weaker-than-usual sketches (Bad Seed, Gianni Tucci, Business Beat, Tea and Sympathy), and less memorable material to counteract them, most of which is overshadowed by Damon Wayans’ Mr. Monopoly. Anthony Michael Hall’s presence wasn’t as strongly felt as Nora Dunn’s absence or even Robert Downey Jr., Terry Sweeney and Danitra Vance’s underuse. Griffin Dunne did fine as a host, but everything else this week just seemed to bury him.

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • You Can Pick Your Friends, You Can Pick Your Nose, But You Can’t Pick Your Friends’ Noses

  • Weekend Update

  • You Bet Your Finger

SHOW LOWLIGHTS:

  • Buon Giorno Ireland Buon Giorno

  • Business Beat

  • Tea and Sympathy

  • Bad Seed

MVP:

  • Randy Quaid

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN

cast

  • Joan Cusack: 3 appearances [You Bet Your Finger, Business Beat, Tea and Sympathy]

  • Robert Downey, Jr.: 1 appearance [Double R Marcos]

  • Nora Dunn: absent

  • Anthony Michael Hall: 3 appearances [Monologue, You Bet Your Finger, Two Jones’ Cable Installers]

  • Jon Lovitz: 3 appearances [Rumors, Mr. Monopoly, Pick Your Friends]

  • Dennis Miller: 1 appearance [Weekend Update]

  • Randy Quaid: 5 appearances [Double R Marcos, Mr. Monopoly, You Bet Your Finger, Pick Your Friends, Business Beat]

  • Terry Sweeney: 2 appearances [Monologue, Bad Seed]

  • Danitra Vance: 1 appearance [Business Beat]

featured players

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

  • Don Novello: 1 appearance [Buon Giorno Ireland Buon Giorno]

  • Damon Wayans: 2 appearances [Mr. Monopoly, Two Jones’ Cable Installers]

guests

  • Griffin Dunne: 6 appearance [Monologue, Mr. Monopoly, You Bet Your Finger, Pick Your Friends, Business Beat, Tea and Sympathy]

  • Rosanne Cash: 2 appearances [“Hold On”, “I Don’t Know Why”]

  • Penn & Teller: 1 appearance [Guest Performance]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • Not rebroadcast on NBC (not counting a 2006 NBC All Night airing)

Additional screen shots from this episode are available here.