SNL Season 6: Final cast and episode summary

The cast:

Denny Dillon and Gilbert Gottfried

Denny Dillon and Gilbert Gottfried

Denny Dillon: Dillon made a strong impression fairly early by carrying a lot of the sketches in the first two shows of the season, having the first recurring character of the new cast, and bringing needed energy to weaker sketches.  There was a little bit of a sameness to her performances that became more evident over the season, but she was a consistent, dependable performer.  She gave a lot of her castmates a boost whenever she shared sketches with them (Gail Matthius' Vickie was better once she had Dillon's Debbie to play off), and just seemed to exhibit a willingness and commitment in whatever she appeared in.  [MVP: Gould, McDowell]

Gilbert Gottfried: It's a little disarming to see Gofffried in these shows, especially since he was so young, with his eyes wide open and not speaking in that famous stilted squawk.  Where Dillon jumped in, Gottfried had a tendency to hold back: the legend goes that he didn't want to use his A-material on the show because he was concerned the network would claim ownership.  Gottfried's performances would end up being the clearest barometer of the Jean Doumanian era: early on, he's more lively and animated, if a little green, but toward the end of the season, he is a little more sullen and withdrawn.  His decrease in spark could have been because he got some of the most thankless jobs on the show that didn't go to featured players (having to wear the Master Po makeup all night in Carradine, playing a vegetable along the featureds in Dazola, and his nadir: being the corpse in a funeral sketch).  Like most of the cast, though, he was not without his moments: he worked well with Dillon as the Waxmans, and I thought his collaborations with writer Ferris Butler were particularly fruitful.  [MVP: Kellerman]

Gail Matthius

Gail Matthius

Gail Matthius: Matthius definitely had potential to be a great cast member, and hit the highest highs out of all three female leads, but she also had a few really frustrating moments on the show.  Impressions were her weakest point, and despite her efforts, she didn't really have the ability to rise above some of the material she was given.  She had a rough time on Weekend Update as well; fumbling a bit in her early shows at the desk and getting saddled with some of the worst jokes ever written.  These missteps seem even more disappointing because when she was actually given good material, she did quite well: I especially liked Francis Lively and the little girl character she played in "Lonely Old Lady", and thought she ended up going out on a strong note with "Same".  I can only wonder how she would have fared on a different incarnation of the show.  [MVP: Carradine, Harry]

Joe Piscopo

Joe Piscopo

Joe Piscopo: Piscopo ended up being one of the two castmembers that stole Charles Rocket's thunder by demonstrating he was a better fit for the characters and celebrity impressions that the show built its name on in the first five seasons.  Piscopo was consistent, well-rounded, and seemed to feel more natural in the prominent roles that Rocket was being schooled for.  I'd draw the line at calling Piscopo an MVP of the season: I believe the key to his relative success this year were clear and repeated hooks in his signature bits (SNL Sports and Paulie Herman; Sinatra developed more fully after Ebersol took over), but he was always more of a "safe" performer and didn't have the kind of charisma that demanded attention like what Eddie Murphy provided, a quality that was desperately needed this season. [MVP: Gould]

Charles Rocket and Ann Risley

Charles Rocket and Ann Risley

Ann Risley: I actually thought Risley handled the straighter roles fairly well.  Risley never managed to have a recurring character, and there were a few performances of hers that were pretty dodgy (mainly as the hosts of "Dying To Be Heard" and "Was I Ever Red"), but I wonder how much of it was actually her acting style (she's more of a straight actress) and how much of it was the writers not finding a breakout role for her (she did come close with the Toni Tenille sketch).  Some say that she was a poor fit for SNL, but I saw a few small glimpses of a potential Kristen Wiig-style performer whose true gift was understatement, although Wiig had the added benefit of being able to write for herself.  A key part of success on the show is either writing for yourself or finding the right writer to collaborate with; I don't know whether Risley had that support for herself.

Charles Rocket: Doumanian was banking too much on Rocket to be the breakout star: usually when something is pushed so heavily, it only helps build a backlash toward the performer.  Rocket was no exception, and he had a few liabilities that probably hurt him on the show: his impressions were weak, and whenever he tried to play big (like his February Updates or even in Billy-Gram), he chewed so much scenery it was distracting.  When he dialed it back, though, he was a decent utility player, and his strengths in those roles presage his respectable career as a character actor.  Rocket's true strength on the show, though, was catching people off-guard during The Rocket Report, where a different type of charm emerged than when he was doing sketches.  Unfortunately, Rocket became the public face for Jean Doumanian's mistakes on the show, and that one moment during the Charlene Tilton goodnights overshadowed pretty much everything he did since, even after he took his own life.  [MVP: Black]

Yvonne Hudson and Charles Rocket

Yvonne Hudson and Charles Rocket

Yvonne Hudson: SNL's first black female featured player was essentially doing the same types of roles she had been doing uncredited for the previous few seasons; aside from some increased prominence in sketches for a few episodes, she was still essentially an extra on the show.  There is actually one episode where she has less lines that SNL's resident "old man" extra, Andy Murphy.  Despite no longer being in the opening credits, she was kept around as an extra the next few seasons.

Matthew Laurance and Eddie Murphy

Matthew Laurance and Eddie Murphy

Matthew Laurance: Aside from Eddie Murphy, Laurance was the most prominent of the featured players.  I thought he was decent as a utility man, and served as a good counterpoint to the more exaggerated performances of Rocket and Piscopo, even if he didn't make a strong impression on his own.  I wonder how he would have done with one of Rocket or Piscopo's pitchman roles.

 

Eddie Murphy: From his first speaking role, Murphy demonstrated why he was full cast material.  There were a few appearances that betrayed his inexperience (particularly Newsbreak in Harry), but he had a confidence that the others in the cast seemed to lack, and made stronger impressions in less airtime than most of the cast did in more.   [MVP: Burstyn, Sharkey, Hays, Tilton]

Patrick Weathers

Patrick Weathers

Patrick Weathers: His Bob Dylan sketch in Carradine was the main thing that distinguished him; he might have made a bigger impact if he was given more to do.  I won't hold Ravi Sings against him.





Robin Duke

Robin Duke

Robin Duke: Out of Dick Ebersol's three full-cast hires, Duke made a smallest impression of the three, getting a band intro, a leftover Jane Curtin role, a decent part in a five-man sketch and a last-minute voice-over in the bag lady film.  None of these roles really showed what she was known for on SCTV, and viewers would get a better glimpse of her capabilities the next season.  Part of this can be attributed to the fact that Duke was a last-minute addition: Catherine O'Hara was originally slated to be on the show in her place (and was listed in news articles as late as five days before airtime), but O'Donoghue's first staff meeting seemed to justify her reticence towards joining the SNL cast.  O'Hara recommended old friend Duke for the show, and a month later, O'Hara was on the same network with the resurrected SCTV.  If the strike hadn't happened, Duke could have made an impact as soon as the next show.

Tim Kazurinksy and Tony Rosato

Tim Kazurinksy and Tony Rosato

Tim Kazurinsky: Kazurinsky seemed to fit SNL immediately, and ended up dominating the first Ebersol-produced show.  Part of Kazurisnky's strong first outing comes from his prominence in two of the longer pieces, but being a combination writer/performer, and coming from an improv background certainly helped him hit the ground running.  It was John Belushi's recommendation that got Kazurinsky hired on the show, and Belushi's instincts turned out to be correct.  [MVP: Finale]

Tony Rosato: Like Duke, Rosato came from SCTV, and like Kazurinsky, he was hired as a writer/performer and made a fairly strong impression in his first show.  He and Kazurinsky worked well together in their two main sketches, but he would find a stronger footing the following season.

Laurie Metcalf

Laurie Metcalf

Laurie Metcalf: One of the most successful people to have an incredibly brief SNL tenure, Metcalf's sole appearance on the show was a pre-filmed "man on the street" piece.   I can't assess how she would have fared if Ebersol kept her on based on that one segment.




Emily Prager

Emily Prager

Emily Prager: Prager didn't even appear on-camera during her only live show.  She has, however, appeared on the show before and after her tenure as a featured player: she was a girlfriend of Tom Davis' and appeared occasionally as an extra around 1977-78; she and Davis also appear in the Button film next season.

 

 

Strongest shows:

  1.  Karen Black / Cheap Trick, Stanley Clarke: (Average rating: 3.18/5) The show where everything seemed to go right.  It's not flawless (SNL rarely is) but the combination of an energetic host, more determined writing and a receptive audience worked wonders.  As much as Black and the audience kept things lively, the victory belongs to the cast and writers.
  2. Bill Murray / Delbert McClinton: (Average rating: 3.11/5) This is the textbook example of the host bringing a boost to the show.  The previous four shows were dispirited affairs, and the prior show in particular contained the moment that overshadowed the rest of the Doumanian-era.  Murray shows up and infuses what would be the final Doumanian-produced SNL with energy and the sense of fun that had all but vanished in the second half of the season.
  3. No Host / Jr. Walker & The All-Stars: (Average rating: 2.88/5) Ebersol takes over, cleans house (as much as the budget would allow), and makes an appeal to nostalgia with his first show.  It's weighed down by Chevy Chase's disappointing Weekend Update return engagement, but this one remains consistently watchable if not an all-out return to form.

Weakest shows:

  1. Robert Hays / Joe "King" Carrasco & The Crown, 14 Karat Soul: (Average rating: 2/5) The string of mediocre-to-bad sketches that come after Weekend Update is the air seeping out of the SNL '80 tire that they finally were able to inflate the week before.
  2. Jamie Lee Curtis / James Brown: (Average rating: 2.22/5) The first three shows of the season had enough highlights to counteract the weaker material.  Here is where the good to bad ratio finally tips to to the other side; while nothing in this show is as bad as "Commie Hunting Season", a significant number of sketches were underdeveloped and uninspired. 
  3. Charlene Tilton / Todd Rundgren, Prince: (Average rating: 2.26/5) A fair amount of OK material here, but the backstage runner that culminates in "Who Shot C.R." is underwhelming, and the highs don't really offset the lows enough.

Best sketches:

  1. The Writer (03/07/81) Bill Murray is in front but playing it straight, while the new cast gets the fun of acting out the revisions he makes to his story.  Just a good sketch done well.
  2. Hospital Bed (01/17/81) Probably one of the saddest sketches the show has ever done, with Gilbert Gottfried's disembodied voice communicating the thoughts of a stroke victim.  It's punctuated enough with humor to avoid mawkishness, but the writers wisely put the emotion of the scene first.
  3. Mister Robinson's Neighborhood (02/21/81) The debut of one of Eddie Murphy's signature sketches, pretty much fully-formed.  The audience is on board by the end of the theme song.

Honorable mention: The Rocket Report - Fifth Avenue Charles Rocket's signature piece remains the place where his talents were best put to use.

Worst sketches:

  1. Commie Hunting Season (11/22/80) SNL tries to make a pointed statement about the Greensboro Massacre acquittals; it's uncomfortable and alienating, but without the humor to redeem it.
  2. Ravi Sings (01/24/81) The only joke in the sketch: a cartoonish portrayal of an Indian musician singing American love songs.
  3. Badgers (12/13/80) A grating, amateurish sketch that hinges on a pun.

Best musical guests:

  1. James Brown His sweat-drenched eight-minute medley of classics is a high point of both the season and the series, especially when taking into consideration that the band exceeded their allotted time.
  2. 14 Karat Soul Five young singers with no instrumental accompaniment get one of the biggest reactions from the audience this season.
  3. Stanley Clarke Trio Instrumental jazz-fusion that rocks as hard as any other musical guest this year.

Worst musical guests:

To be honest, I couldn't really say that there were any truly bad musical guests.  Joe "King" Carrasco may have had a rough and raw sound but it was clear the band was going for energy over technique, and the worst I could really say about Ellen Shipley is that she was decent but a little generic-sounding.  The other musical guests only really pale in comparison to the stellar choices Doumanian (and whoever else was involved in snagging musical guests) made this year.  I wonder how much of the booking strategy was intentional and how much of it was necessity, but this was where the Jean Doumanian show had some of their biggest victories.

Writer tally and turnover:

(*) indicates the writer returned the next season, (~) indicates a previous writer returning to SNL.

Aside from Ferris Butler's contributions (special thanks goes to Butler for providing a lot of insightful information about the season, by the way), knowledge of Blaustein & Sheffield's partnership with Eddie Murphy and a handful of other sketches whose writers have been identified, I don't really know what each specific writers' voices are in the show and whether any shifts in quality were from writers joining or leaving, or being favored or disfavored.  If anyone has more information regarding who was responsible for any sketches, please feel free to drop me a line.

Full season:

  • Barry W. Blaustein*
  • Billy Brown & Mel Green
  • Patricia Marx
  • Douglas McGrath
  • Pamela Norris*
  • David Sheffield*
  • Terrence Sweeney

Full Doumanian run:

  • Larry Arnstein & David Hurwitz
  • Ferris Butler
  • John DeBellis
  • Jean Doumanian
  • Brian Doyle-Murray*~
  • Leslie Fuller

Shorter tenure:

  • Mason Williams (head writer, Gould through Carradine)
  • Jeremy Stevens & Tom Moore (head writers, Sharkey through finale)
  • Nancy Dowd (Gould and McDowell only)
  • Sean Kelly (Gould and McDowell only)
  • Mitchell Kreigman (Gould through Carradine)
  • Mark Reisman (Harry through finale)

Post-hiatus hires:

  • Mitchell Glazer
  • Judy Jacklin
  • Tim Kazurinsky*
  • Matt Neuman~
  • Michael O'Donoghue*~
  • Tony Rosato*
  • Dirk Wittenborn

An essay regarding the season as a whole will follow in a subsequent post.

Classic SNL Review: March 7, 1981: Bill Murray / Delbert McClinton (S06E12)

Classic SNL Review: March 7, 1981: Bill Murray / Delbert McClinton (S06E12)

Sketches include: "Dressing Room", "Formula for the Good Life", "The Writer", "Altered Walter", "ChapStick", "Nick Rivers", "Cut Flowers", "No Sex With Mary", "Cat's Name" and "Bubba's Wash, Fayetta's Dry".Delbert McClinton performs "Givin' It Up For Your Love" and "Shotgun Rider" with Bonnie Bramlett.Mark King also appears.

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Classic SNL Review: February 7, 1981: Sally Kellerman / Jimmy Cliff (S06E09)

Classic SNL Review: February 7, 1981: Sally Kellerman / Jimmy Cliff (S06E09)

Sketches include: Reagan & The Economy, The Rocket Report- Hostages, The Audition, Name That Sin, Eye Ear Nose & Throat, Was I Ever Red, Iranian Joke Book, Parent & Child, A Day In The Life of a Hostage, Lean Acres, Iranian Student Council, New York, Pillow Pets and Televised Trial.Jimmy Cliff performs "I Am The Living" and "Gone Clear". Sally Kellerman performs "Starting Over Again".

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Classic SNL Review: January 24, 1981: Robert Hays / Joe "King" Carrasco & The Crown, 14 Karat Soul (S06E08)

Classic SNL Review: January 24, 1981: Robert Hays / Joe "King" Carrasco & The Crown, 14 Karat Soul (S06E08)

Sketches include "America Not Held Hostage Anymore", "Dazola", "Love American Style", "Saturday Night Live Sports Central", "Reaganco", "Save-A-Network Telethon", "Pre-Superbowl Pre-Game Preview", "The Foreign Film", "Funeral", "Disco Meltdown", "The Rocket Report", "The Pacesetter", "Ravi Sings", "Cut 'N Curl", "Promotion", "Dream Date", "Ordinary Elephant People", and "National Enquirer".Joe "King" Carrasco & The Crown perform "Don't Bug Me, Baby".14 Karat Soul performs "I Wish That We Were Married" and "This Time It's For Real".

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Classic SNL Review: January 17, 1981: Karen Black / Cheap Trick, Stanley Clarke Trio (S06E07)

Classic SNL Review: January 17, 1981: Karen Black / Cheap Trick, Stanley Clarke Trio (S06E07)

Sketches include "White House Strip", "The Legendary Composers", "Foundation for the Tragically Hip", "The Livelys", "Sinatra & Reagan", "The Rocket Report: Daredevils", "Mona Lisa", "60 Minutes", "Hospital Bed", "Saturday Night Sports: Fair Dinkum", "Neighbor", "Turnpike Diner", "Saturday Night Live Action Dolls", "What's It All About" and "National Handgun Association".Cheap Trick performs "Baby Loves To Rock" and "Can't Stop It But I'm Gonna Try".Stanley Clarke Trio performs "Wild Dog".

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Classic SNL Review: December 13, 1980: Jamie Lee Curtis / James Brown, Ellen Shipley (S06E04)

Classic SNL Review: December 13, 1980: Jamie Lee Curtis / James Brown, Ellen Shipley (S06E04)

Sketches include "The Mean Majority", "Clovin Hind Jeans", "Attack of the Terrible Snapping Creatures", "Three Card Monty", "Who Is Gilbert Gottfried?", "Dying To Be Heard", "Poker and Drugs", "Badgers", "Tortu-Matic", "Hairstylist", and "News In Akron". James Brown performs "Rapp Payback" and a medley of his hits. Ellen Shipley performs "Fotogenic". Excerpts from Martin Brest's "Hot Dogs For Gauguin" are also shown.

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Classic SNL Review: December 6, 1980: Ellen Burstyn / Aretha Franklin, Keith Sykes (S06E03)

RATINGS SYSTEM:

***** - Classic
****  - Great
***   - Good / Average
**    - Meh
*     - Awful

DISCLAIMER

  • Those Incredible TV Shows will not be seen tonight...

OPENING: GOING CO-OP

  • David Rockefeller announces that the Reagan administration has decided to make the United States a co-op, which means the poor are being evicted from the country.
  • A funny enough idea which was kept fairly brief.  I'll give Rocket a pass for not attempting a Rockefeller impression because he's not really that prominent a public figure (Phil Hartman did a funnier Rockefeller in 1989, though).  The audience was receptive too.
  • This has got to be the most awkward segue into a LFNY ever: Rocket says "...you'll be..." before pausing for a second, then does this exaggerated bug-eyed "Live From New York...".  It reeks of desperation, not to mention the implication that they couldn't figure out an ending to the line.  The rating is docked for that.

**1/2

MONOLOGUE

  • Ellen Burstyn mentions her 48th birthday is in a half-hour, and explains that after all those intense movie roles, it's time for her to lighten up.
  • Quick and harmless.  Like with McDowell it was more of a "talk" monologue, but I did get a chuckle out of Burstyn describing her Exorcist character as the mother of a child with a "slight personality disorder".  Burstyn seemed pretty energetic though.
  • As Ellen comes down the stairs, the SNL Band is visible through the window on the side of the stage.  Guess they all stayed on that cramped looking musical guest stage throughout the show.

**1/2

COMMERCIAL: ED MCMAHON SCHOOL OF LAUGHING

  • Pitchman (Joe Piscopo) says an education in laughter skills leads to a fruitful career recording TV laugh tracks.
  • This was actually pretty good, and Piscopo gets his first appearance as a commercial pitchman, something he always did well on the show.
  • S-N-L.com message board poster TheLazenby pointed this out: at the beginning when it shows the four people laughing together, Ann Risley sounds like she's just saying the words "Ha ha ha ha ha".

***

SHOW: WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT WITH PINKY AND LEO WAXMAN

  • The Waxmans (Denny Dillon, Gilbert Gottfried) change the subject while interviewing Ellen Burstyn on their cable access show.
  • Another strong sketch, and an improvement on the Gould installment: the writers changed it up enough, including having Leo Waxman try to flirt with Ellen.  Gottfried and Dillon are good here, and Burstyn seems to be enjoying herself.
  • This one had a lot of good lines, particularly Gottfried telling Burstyn that she was so convincing as Alice, he almost ordered a sandwich (it's funnier because of the delivery in Leo Waxman's Yiddish accent).  
  • Best dialogue between Gottfried and Burstyn: "So you're probably a bisexual, am I right?" "(curtly) Multi.  I'm multisexual."

***1/2

FILM: THE ROCKET REPORT - STATEN ISLAND FERRY

  • Charles Rocket exposes the commuters' secret: instead of working, they were all constantly having sex in Manhattan.
  • A step down from the other two Rocket Reports, but this had a funny enough concept, and there were some good moments, including the guy playing along with Rocket by saying he had "beaucoups" of sex, and Rocket backing away from the two co-workers.

***

SKETCH: VIDEO DATE

  • New Jersey chemical plant worker Paulie Herman (Joe Piscopo) makes a tape for a video dating service with (Gail Matthius)'s help.
  • I personally don't care too much for this character, but I can't deny that "I'm from Jersey! *laugh* Are you from Jersey?" was a memorable hook, and Piscopo was able to bring the audience onto his side quickly, .
  • The punchline seemed a little obvious, though, and it felt like they were repeating jokes for the sake of repetition when Paulie kept going on about his date after finishing the tape.

**1/2

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "UNITED TOGETHER" - ARETHA FRANKLIN

  • The SNL Band (plus additional horns and a conductor) sounds great here.  Aretha Franklin's microphone sounded a little too low in the mix at first, but this was a very good performance.
  • The studio version is orchestrated and a little slower.

WEEKEND UPDATE WITH CHARLES ROCKET

  • Best jokes: Heaven's Gate, Secretary of Milk, Lillian Carter, Ed Koch/Abzug
  • The Weekend Update set gets a slight change this week: there's now a world map behind Rocket in the space between the two screens.  Charles Rocket seemed to have a better night than in the McDowell show, and the audience seems more generous with their responses than they were that week.  There were still some pretty lame jokes (like the colorblind Jews/Moses being colorblind one) but nothing super uncomfortable to watch.  Rocket's WU was still nothing amazing, but the audience was probably energized by...
  • Eddie Murphy's proper SNL debut: Piscopo's Saturday Night Sports segment for the week, commenting on a story about race quotas on high school basketball teams.  Piscopo is still not fully at his normal volume and pace, but is already catching on with the audience.  The real story, of course, was 19-year-old Murphy: he manages to get the biggest response of the night with his first speaking appearance on the show as Raheem Abdul Mohammed (who does not yet speak with the character's regular exaggerated angry voice).  Right away, you know he's got that something.  The commentary (by David Sheffield) has some great lines like being a "junior going on seven years now" and the speculation that the next black trend co-opted by white people would be going on welfare, but Murphy's the main reason it works, and by the time he brings out the boombox, the show had found its new breakout star.
  • Gilbert Gottfried's commentary as Dr. Calvin Zuko, reporting (solely from first hand experience) that female orgasms don't exist, was somewhat funny.  Kind of dies off, though.
  • There's a tech issue between the Saturday Night Sports and Gottfried segments, where the Weekend Update graphic bleeds through the pictures on the screens.

**1/2

SHOW: OUR FRONT DOOR

  • A suburban family (Joe Piscopo, Gail Matthius, Gilbert Gottfried, Denny Dillon) is eager to learn about a junkie's (Charles Rocket) drug addiction.
  • This was one of the sketches that nearly cost Doumanian her job: Standards and Practices fought the airing of this sketch, as well as the Planned Parenthood sketch (which aired tonight) and the "Virgin Search" film (scheduled for this week, aired two weeks later in the David Carradine show).
  • This was easily the weakest of the three contested bits, but I got a few chuckles from it.  For some reason the visual of Piscopo with those glasses and the pipe in his mouth always makes me laugh a little, especially since it usually comes up in sketches with dark subject matter such as this one.
  • The juxtaposition of the almost 1950's sitcom-style family with a heroin addict was an interesting concept, but it just didn't yield the dividends it could have.  Gottfried asking if Rocket has ever ODed and Rocket showing the family his tracks seemed more like forced shock humor.  Denny Dillon asking Rocket if he knew Janis Joplin and Ginger Baker was a copy of her bit in the Amy Carter sketch the show before where she asks Reagan if he knew John Travolta and Kristy McNichol.
  • Trivia: this is the first SNL appearance of Patrick Weathers, who plays the visiting sniper at the end.

**

FILM: "PEPE GONZALES" - LEON ICHASO

  • A profile of the only bullfighter in New York City (Gilbert Gottfried), who is seen baiting traffic as he describes his life.
  • I had trouble deiciding what to make of this; after seeing it a few times, I concluded that it's one of those pieces where I can admire the conceit behind it but the actual execution doesn't really do much for me.  The footage of Gottfried fighting the various vehicles as he narrates the various injuries he's sustained was interesting visually, but the humor really didn't connect for me.  The main thing I found funny was Gottfried chugging the bottle of Scope at the beginning.

*1/2

SKETCH: PLANNED PARENTHOOD

  • Vickie (Gail Matthius) and her scared friend Debbie (Denny Dillon) get contraception advice from a counselor (Ellen Burstyn) at Planned Parenthood.
  • A much stronger sketch than the original Vickie sketch from the Elliott Gould show, because Matthius has the opportunity to play off both Dillon and Burstyn.  Pairing Vickie up with another character also gives the character a better dynamic.  This had some genuinely funny material, particularly the girls' misconceptions about getting pregnant, and Vickie's line about using her mother's birth control pills to clear her skin and replacing the missing pills with Saccharin.
  • This sketch also has the night's second reference to female orgasms (after Weekend Update) when Burstyn's counselor character tries to explain what they were like, comparing them to the flock of geese.  This also leads to the best exchange of the sketch, IMO: "Is it ever like ducks?" "Way too often!".
  • They reused the same set from Video Date, but rearranged some of the furniture for the sketch.

***

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "CAN'T TURN YOU LOOSE" - ARETHA FRANKLIN

  • Another improvement over the Arif Mardin-produced studio version, which is considerably slicker.  An excellent, lively performance.
  • Most of the SNL Band can be seen a little better in this segment.  I think you can see Dr. John (who sat in with the band that night according to the end credits) in one of the very last shots during the applause.

SKETCH: THE LESSON

  • Privileged English girl Mary Louise (Denny Dillon) is the Dr. Jeckyll to her sock puppet Sam The Snake's Mr. Hyde as she terrorizes her tutor (Ellen Burstyn) and maid (Ann Risley).
  • Not bad.  I like the whole trope of a character's vicious side being expressed through their puppet (think Mr. Hat on South Park and Bob Campbell on Soap) and thought Dillon pulled it off.  Burstyn did alright, but Risley seemed to try too hard with her Cockney maid character.
  • Speaking of the maid, when Dillon attacks her for being so poor "she doesn't have a pot to piss in", I'm amazed they actually got that word on the air in that particular context back then.  The show did use the word pissed in 1977 (and not without some backstage controversy either) but this time the word is used as a synonym for urination, even if it is part of an old saying.  I wonder if Doumanian got trouble from the network for that.

**1/2

SHOW: THE TONI TENILLE SHOW

  • Toni Tenille (Ann Risley) thinks Jean Harris' (Denny Dillon) claims of innocence are segues to discussing her hair and questions about weight loss.
  • A spoof of Toni Tenille's real short-lived talk show (there's a promo during a KNBC station ID on my recording of the Gould show), and one of Risley's stronger performances of her entire 12-show SNL tenure.  It holds up well enough as a proto-Pat Stevens without knowledge of the real Tenille Show or the Scarsdale Diet murder, even if the sketch is nothing special.

**1/2

FILM: "FISH HEADS" - BILL PAXTON, ROCKY SCHENCK, BARNES & BARNES

  • An edited version of the music video for Barnes & Barnes' 1980 novelty single.
  • When I say edited, I mean edited: most of the first two minutes of the full video are cut, as well as a number of repetitions of the chorus.  There's a particularly awkward cut right before the "drinking cappuccinos" verse.
  • Never minded the song at all.  The film's an amusing diversion.

**1/2

SKETCH: BLAME THE KIDS

  • Divorcing parents (Charles Rocket and Ann Risley) tell their children (Mitchell Kriegman and Gail Matthius) that their breakup is actually their fault.
  • This was nasty, but the idea was interesting, and it worked.  The audience responded well to it. 
  • This is the only live sketch appearance of writer Mitchell Kriegman, who normally appeared in his taped bits.  Kriegman would be one of the first writers that Doumanian disposed of before season's end
  • There is a boom mic visible at one point in the sketch.

***

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "B.I.G. T.I.M.E" - KEITH SYKES

  • Good tune.  Kind of retro-ish power pop.
  • This is one of the times they don't use the regular musical guest stage.  I think this is just the stage on other side of the main home base, where the SNL Band normally played.

SKETCH: LONELY OLD LADY

  • Dared by her friends, a little girl (Gail Matthius) comes face-to-face with the scary old lady that lives alone in the neighborhood (Ellen Burstyn).
  • Easily the non-Eddie Murphy highlight of the night, and one of 1980-81's few outright victories, with a throwback to the semi-dramatic pieces of Marilyn Suzanne Miller.  This one had a mix of gentle humor (the old lady's story about her son wanting to be a robot for Halloween but her hearing "rabbit", the little girl's misconceptions of the old lady) with some of the saddest moments in a SNL sketch (particularly brutal: the lady going to the door and asking "someone there?"  Burstyn sells the hell out of those two words).
  • Gail Matthius's little girl in the bunny outfit was very Gilda-esque, right down to the phrasing.  This is one time when a comparison is both apt and favorable.

****

GOODNIGHTS

  • The cast and guests wish Ellen a happy birthday.
  • Eddie Murphy is front and centre with the cast.  And to think he didn't even have a credit in the opening montage tonight.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

A definite improvement over the infamous Malcolm McDowell show.  While not much of the material was amazing, there weren't any huge missteps (at its worst, Pepe Gonzales was just dull) and the cast and writers were able to come up with a more consistent show.  Burstyn was a decent host who didn't have to do a lot of heavy lifting but had a few good moments.  Joe Piscopo seems to be getting bolder and developing more of a connection with an audience, and the Old Lady sketch is a highlight of the season.  But the real story of this week is Eddie Murphy's Weekend Update debut, which had a boldness and confidence that stood out among the other cast members, who were still begging to be accepted as the new faces of the show.

EPISODE HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Saturday Night Sports segment on Weekend Update with Raheem Abdul Mohammed
  • Lonely Old Lady
  • What's It All About

EPISODE LOWLIGHTS:

  • Pepe Gonzales
  • Our Front Door

MVP:

  • Eddie Murphy

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN:

cast

  • Denny Dillon: 6 appearances [Ed McMahon School of Laughing, What's It All About, Our Front Door, Planned Parenthood, The Lesson, The Toni Tenille Show]
  • Gilbert Gottfried: 4 appearances [What's It All About, Weekend Update, Our Front Door, Pepe Gonzales]
  • Gail Matthius: 6 appearances [Ed McMahon School of Laughing, Video Date, Our Front Door, Planned Parenthood, Blame The Kids, Lonely Old Lady]
  • Joe Piscopo: 4 appearances [Ed McMahon School of Laughing, Video Date, Weekend Update, Our Front Door], 1 voiceover [Pepe Gonzales]
  • Ann Risley: 4 appearances [Ed McMahon School of Laughing, The Lesson, The Toni Tenille Show, Blame The Kids]
  • Charles Rocket: 6 appearances [Going Co-Op, Ed McMahon School of Laughing, The Rocket Report, Weekend Update, Our Front Door, Blame The Kids]

crew and extras 

  • Yvonne Hudson: 1 appearance [The Toni Tenille Show]
  • Mitchell Kriegman: 1 appearance [Blame The Kids]
  • Eddie Murphy: 1 appearance [Weekend Update]
  • Patrick Weathers: 2 appearances [Our Front Door, The Toni Tenille Show]
  • The SNL Band: 2 appearances ["United Together", "Can't Turn You Loose"]

guests

  • Ellen Burstyn: 5 appearances [Monologue, What's It All About, Planned Parenthood, The Lesson, Lonely Old Lady]
  • Aretha Franklin: 2 appearances ["United Together", "Can't Turn You Loose"]
  • Keith Sykes: 1 appearance ["B.I.G. T.I.M.E."]
  • Bill Paxton: 1 appearance [Fish Heads]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • January 31, 1981

Additional screen captures from this episode not posted above are available here.

SNL Up Close: 1980-81

The ill-fated 1980-81 season is one shrouded in mystery and a negative reputation that grew bigger the less frequently reruns from that season appeared in syndication.Like with 1981-82, I will be doing sketch-by-sketch reviews of the episodes this season.If anyone has information to contribute about the episodes, such as who wrote what, writer cameos, etc., I welcome it and will acknowledge my source in the sketch review.

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