***** - Classic
**** - Great
*** - Good/Average
** - Meh
* - Awful
OPENING: “YOU CAN CALL ME AL”
Paul Simon premieres the yet-to-be-released lead single off his still-unfinished Graceland album, but there’s a particularly big gaffe that exposes that Simon is singing live but the musicians are miming to an instrumental track (identical to the one used on the album): Simon misses his cue to start, so he’s off sync with the track for the first verse, which he has to cut short in order to sing the chorus. There’s also a shot of the SNL Band after the bass solo where Lenny Pickett and Steve Turre don’t have their instruments to their mouths when the familiar horn riff plays. As well, the band continues to mime after the track fades out.
Simon is accompanied by South African musicians Ray Phiri (guitar), Bakithi Kumalo (bass), Isaac Mtshali (drums), as well as Ralph MacDonald (percussion) and South African expat Morris Goldberg (pennywhistle). I’m not sure why the band is miming for these performances; it could be a union issue as far as I know, but maybe Simon just wanted the polish of the overdubbed recorded versions for his SNL appearances.
One of the theater doors on the set behind Simon is visibly taped up due to a scene in the monologue.
Rerun alterations: Replaced with the error-free dress rehearsal version; Simon is wearing a different colored shirt and jacket.
Rerun alterations: Don Pardo’s announcement of “Ladysmith Black Mambazo” replaced to correct his mispronunciation of the last word as as “Mam-bozo”. Audience response sweetened.
Catherine Oxenberg explains how different she is from her Dynasty character, whose mother Alexis (Terry Sweeney) and aunt Dominique (Danitra Vance) have a catfight.
Nothing special, though Oxenberg didn’t handle herself badly here, and Sweeney and Vance give funny performances. The catfight element felt predictable and played out, though there are a few laughs from the two taking each others’ wigs off and crashing through the breakaway glass.
Rerun alterations: Mild audience sweetening.
COMMERCIAL: GERALDO RIVERA OPENS THE TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER
Geraldo Rivera follows up his Al Capone vault special with another stunt.
Just a short bit with still photos and a Don Pardo voiceover that mocks Geraldo Rivera’s The Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults special that aired in syndication on April 21. Brief, but it works.
Rerun alterations: Applause fade error at the end fixed.
SKETCH: GUYS BEHIND BARS
Despite being shackled to the wall, two prisoners (Paul Simon and Jon Lovitz) are optimistic about their dumb escape plans.
An underrated sketch that works to Simon and Lovitz’s strengths, and has a lot of funny details in the writing, particularly the prisoners’ very bad ideas for busting out (melting down the iron bars with the heat from their eyes, having someone bake a pardon in a cake).
It would have probably been remembered more if it aired in a later season, but having the sketch performed this season gives us the visual of tiny Paul Simon futilely flailing from his shackles towards big, burly Randy Quaid.
Rerun alterations: Moderate audience sweetening.
SHOW: THE LATE SHOW WITH JOAN RIVERS
Jane Fonda (Joan Cusack), Brigitte Bardot (Catherine Oxenberg) and Catherine Deneuve (Nora Dunn) rebut Roger Vadim’s tell-all.
This felt like two half-written sketches awkwardly mashed together, one a topical riff on Joan Rivers accepting her own talk show on the yet-to-premiere Fox Network (Rivers’ show wouldn’t launch until the fall, but Johnny Carson had already banned her from The Tonight Show), and the other making fun of Roger Vadim’s book Bardot, Deneuve & Fonda: My Life with the Three Most Beautiful Women in the World.
The Vadim stuff was pretty weak and felt like it was written in five minutes, and Cusack in particular doesn’t seem to be doing much of an impression; the Rivers stuff is a little better thanks to Sweeney’s performance and the running gag of different Tonight Show personnel defecting, from Ed McMahon (Randy Quaid) to producer Fred DeCordova (Don Pardo, in a rare on-camera appearance during the closing), but Quaid doesn’t do much other than McMahon’s laugh
Rerun alterations: Moderate audience sweetening. Feedback removed from intro music.
SKETCH: THE LIMITS OF THE IMAGINATION
Young Paul Simon (Robert Downey Jr.) and Art Garfunkel (Anthony Michael Hall) trade their souls and bassoons to Mephistopheles (Jon Lovitz) for fame; he returns to collect from Paul in 2010.
The most fully realized Limits sketch; despite a weaker than normal Floating Head intro, this was a great way to incorporate Simon into the sketch and actually finds a way to use Hall and Downey in a way that works. Jon Lovitz’s Mephistopheles officially becomes recurring (and now wearing his usual outfit); he has some particularly though the “coughing during the evil laughter” bit didn’t need to be brought back.
Pretty big flub from Cusack when she calls Downey “Seymour” (the name of Art Garfunkel’s uncle in the sketch and subject of the first draft of “The Sound of Silence”); I’m surprised they didn’t fix it for the rerun.
Downey doesn’t really sound anything like Paul Simon but he has a really nice singing voice.
It’s interesting seeing 2010 depicted as the far-off future in the sketch nine years later (even though I first saw this show sometime around 1999), especially since Paul Simon would be musical guest on SNL twice after that year, including an appearance on his 77th birthday in 2018.
Who in the SNL band is playing the bassoon?
Rerun alterations: Moderate audience sweetening. A stray music cue is fixed during the magazine cover montage. The elevator music is now continuous through Lovitz’s reappearance.
SHOW: DIRK LANDERS
After a lengthy premise-explaining opening title sequence, former CIA agent Dirk Landers (Robert Downey Jr.) is quickly dispensed of.
Another bit that works because of its brevity; you can pretty much guess what’s coming from the title but the overly-detailed explanation of the show and the crappy Chroma-Key effect is pretty funny.
Downey’s exaggerated “Come In” makes me laugh for some reason.
They reused the rec room set from Limits as Dirk’s living room here.
Rerun alterations: Mild audience sweetening.
Best jokes: Peabody Award, George Shultz drunk, Schwarzenegger-Shriver wedding announcement
Dennis Miller has a mixed bag this week, including more photo-based jokes and digs at Kurt Waldheim and Nell Carter, but gets a fun prop-based bit with a Mouse Trap board game serving as a visual aid as to what happened in Chernobyl, and commemorates Mother’s Day by reading the scene in Oedipus Rex where he gouges his eyes out after discovering Jocasta’s body.
A. Whitney Brown discusses Soviet misinformation on Chernobyl, including a well-constructed fart joke, and the ongoing Afghanistan quagmire; as usual, good stuff, with some more particularly prescient jokes in light of the United States’ own involvement in the region and “fake news”.
Miller ends this week’s Update by announcing SNL has been renewed for its 12th season and with mock indignation, asks “Did anyone think to ask if we wanted to come back?”. In Live From New York, there is a bit of discussion about how this renewal actually came after Brandon Tartikoff decided to cancel the show but quickly relented, and that this renewal would only be for 13 shows instead of the standard 20. Good thing the show turned itself around the next season, although I wonder if anyone back then would have predicted that the show would still be on the air (with Lorne Michaels still executive producer) 33 years later.
Rerun alterations: Heavy audience sweetening. Dennis Miller’s microphone issue during introduction fixed. Black frames during several camera switches removed.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: “HOMELESS”
Paul Simon introduces Zulu isicathimiya group Ladysmith Black Mambazo and explains he co-wrote the song with their lead singer Joseph Shabalala before joining on this acapella tune showcasing the choir’s harmonies and dancing.
Rerun alterations: None
SKETCH: BEVERLY HILLS LIAR
Posing as an important movie producer, Tommy Flanagan (Jon Lovitz) swaps fibs with hotel employee and wannabe actress Fern (Catherine Oxenberg).
After a one-episode break, the season’s most heavily-used character returns, though this appearance has him in a full-fledged sketch as opposed to interacting with others in the “reality” of the show. Oxenberg has her best appearance of the night and actually has a bit of a charming chemistry with Lovitz here.
Robert Downey Jr.’s character says “Very attractive!” at the end much like his emcee character in the last show’s Biff & Salena sketch.
Rerun alterations: Mild audience sweetening. Sound effect of children playing added periodically.
COMMERCIAL: BRIM DECAFFEINATED
Exhausted waitress (Nora Dunn) serves the coffee to a drowsy customer (Randy Quaid).
Very thin premise, but the background music and (especially) Dunn and Quaid’s performances make this better than it has any right to be.
Written by Mark McKinney.
Rerun alterations: Mild audience sweetening.
Teller does a straitjacket escape as Penn entertains the audience with “the magic of fine poetry” by reading “Casey At The Bat” in 1 minute, 54 seconds.
This is a pretty straightforward bit, but humor comes from Penn’s complete lack of acknowledgement of Teller’s feat, as well as his speeding up his recitation.
Rerun alterations: Mild audience sweetening.
MISCELLANEOUS: A MOTHER’S DAY MESSAGE
Uptight Chicago mother Margaret Carolan (Joan Cusack) mumbles about moral values.
This was weak; Cusack tries, but there really isn’t enough to this sketch aside from her character’s low-talking to the point of inaudibility.
Cusack’s character’s surname is Carolan, her mother’s maiden name.
Rerun alterations: Mild audience sweetening. Audio level on Pardo’s closing line fixed.
COMMERCIAL: TROJANS II (repeat of 12/14/85)
This airing has a slightly different voiceover than the version that aired in other shows and repeats.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: “GRACELAND”
Once again Simon is singing live as Phiri, Kumalo, Mtshali and MacDonald mime to a playback of the studio recording; the big giveaway is the presence of the Everly Brothers’ harmonies and the steel guitar.
Catherine Oxenberg doesn’t notice the camera is on her for a few seconds and laughs embarrassedly during her introduction.
Rerun alterations: Five seconds of dead air before Catherine’s introduction removed.
Everyone just stands around on stage for a bit as the audience applauds, Paul Simon says something about Mother’s Day but is pretty much inaudible before various people on stage say “Happy Mother’s Day!”. Catherine Oxenberg’s mother Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia (Jelisaveta Karađorđević) joins everyone on stage.
Don Pardo announces all five guests in next week’s show, with brief explanations of who Jimmy Breslin and Marvelous Marvin Hagler are.
Rerun alterations: Don Pardo’s announcement removed.
A very lopsided show; the beginning had some weaker moments, but a lot of the good was very good, and a few bits worked because they were so short. Despite the less-than-live aspect of the Paul Simon performances (and major screw-up at the beginning), his presence was welcome; Oxenberg was weaker as a host but didn’t do too badly. Unfortunately, the quality really drops off toward the end of the show; maybe it was the structure of the sketch running order, but the back half really felt like they were padding.
Guys Behind Bars
The Limits of the Imagination
A Mother’s Day Message
The Late Show with Joan Rivers
CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN:
Joan Cusack: 3 appearances [The Late Show with Joan Rivers, The Limits of the Imagination, A Mother’s Day Message]
Robert Downey Jr.: 3 appearances [The Limits of the Imagination, Dirk Landers, Beverly Hills Liar]
Nora Dunn: 3 appearances [The Late Show with Joan Rivers, The Limits of the Imagination, Brim Decaffeinated]
Anthony Michael Hall: 1 appearance [The Limits of the Imagination]
Jon Lovitz: 3 appearances [Guys Behind Bars, The Limits of the Imagination, Beverly Hills Liar]
Dennis Miller: 1 appearance [Weekend Update]
Randy Quaid: 4 appearances [Guys Behind Bars, The Late Show with Joan Rivers, The Limits of the Imagination, Brim Decaffeinated]
Terry Sweeney: 2 appearances [Monologue, The Late Show with Joan Rivers]
Danitra Vance: 2 appearances [Monologue, The Limits of the Imagination]
A. Whitney Brown: 1 appearance [Weekend Update]
unbilled crew, extras and bit players
Tom Davis: 2 voice-overs [Dirk Landers, Brim Decaffeinated]
Lanier Laney: 1 appearance [Brim Decaffeinated]
Mark McKinney: 1 voice-over [Beverly Hills Liar]
Don Pardo: 1 appearance [The Late Show with Joan Rivers], 2 voice-overs [Geraldo Rivera Opens the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, A Mother’s Day Message]
The SNL Band: 1 appearance [“You Can Call Me Al”]
Catherine Oxenberg: 4 appearances [Monologue, The Late Show with Joan Rivers, Dirk Landers, Beverly Hills Liar]
Paul Simon: 5 appearances [“You Can Call Me Al”, Guys Behind Bars, The Limits of the Imagination, “Homeless”, “Graceland”]
Ladysmith Black Mambazo: 1 appearance [“Homeless”]
Penn & Teller: 1 appearance [Guest Performance]
August 23, 1986
Trojans II removed
Die Foreigner Die! (from 11/23/85) added
None to mild: Monologue, Geraldo Rivera Opens the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Dirk Landers, Beverly Hills Liar, Brim Decaffeinated, Guest Performance, A Mother’s Day Message
Moderate: Guys Behind Bars, The Late Show with Joan Rivers, The Limits of the Imagination
Heavy: Weekend Update
Edits: Catherine Oxenberg’s intro to “Graceland”
Dress substitutions: “You Can Call Me Al” (full segment)
Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.