March 17, 2013

Saturday Night Live: The Worst Season?

Ok, I'm not the biggest Saturday Night Live fan in the world, but I'm definitely into television history, famous failures, and not laughing. So let's dive into the Not-At-All Definitive Guide to what many people call the worst season of the NBC late night vehicle--Season 6, also known as SNL '80.

Episode 1, hosted by Elliot Gould.
It opens with the famous Bob & Carol & Etc. skit where all the new unknown cast members compare themselves to the departed superstars of the previous 5 years. Clever, but not hilarious. The cast is made up of Denny Dillon, Gilbert Gottfried, Gail Matthius, Joe Piscopo, Ann Risley, and Charles Rocket. Going into this, I'm already a fan of Gilbert Gottfried, so I'm hoping he can make me laugh at least throughout this short, doomed season.

  • The stop animation film from Randal Kleiser about shoes was cute. 
  • The other short film by Mitchell Kriegman, "Heart to Heart," was another clever but not particularly funny bit.
Best bit: Gilbert as a guest on Weekend Update who accuses Ronald Reagan of being dead long before the election was over. He has photographic evidence that show him constantly being propped up by others. For some reason, the cameras refuse to zoom in the photos, so the bit is not well-executed, but it's a good satire of ridiculous conspiracy theories that still exist on Facebook and YouTube thirty years later. The idea for Weekend at Bernie's may have its roots here.

  • People calling Charles Rocket "Charlie" and him correcting them. Is that really going to be a thing? 
  • Speaking of Rocket, his investigative piece on John Lennon and Yoko Ono was a good opportunity for the new cast member's personality to breakout, but it was ultimately disappointing. The garbage collectors were more interesting.
Everybody's talkin' 'bout: Cocaine, Jews, Homosexuals, Reagan.

Keep an out eye for:
  • An unknown Wendie Malick briefly appearing in the background of the "Nose Wrestling" sketch. Interesting because she and featured player Denny Dillon would later star together in HBO's Dream On. SO INTERESTING.

  • Writer Ferris Butler in the credits. Because his name is almost Ferris Bueller.  

How many laughs? None. But I did smile at "You Light Up My Life - (1 sec)" because someone in the audience busted their gut. It's the Uncle Floyd effect.

Does Joe Piscopo appear as a Sportscaster? Yes. In a Red Coat.

Kiss of Death (for the show): "We're gonna be around forever." - Elliot Gould, commenting on the new cast members.

Other Thoughts:
  • It's certainly not the worst thing I've ever seen. The cast has some charisma and they're all good at delivering their lines (particularly Dillon and Joe Piscopo), which is often painful to watch these days. 
  • The sketches are the usual mix of political humor, cable access parodies, and the Weekend Update, but there isn't any outstanding comedy or personality shining through yet. Character segments can often provide that, but they were absent from this episode. 
  • I think Ann Risley is more of a cross between Maya Rudolph and Anna Gasteyer than Gilda Radner and Laraine Newman. 

Episode 2, hosted by Malcolm McDowell.
A dark, promising cold open, with a rushed, corny ending. I could be imagining things, but I think I heard an extra audience pop for Joe Piscopo in the intro. There's also a monologue here which either didn't exist or was cut out of the last one.

  • Gilbert Gottfried finally letting it rip in a slowly building rant about lungs. 
  • Yoko Ono makes an obnoxious noise, Charles Rocket asks "Was that from the album?" Easy joke, but well timed. 
  • The Rocket Report is separated from Weekend Update this week. It's a definite improvement over the last episode, though there are still many missed opportunities. I'm not sure if the separation makes it more effective as there's already Charles Rocket overkill throughout the entire episode.
  • Mitchell Kriegman's shorts are now consistently weird and getting funnier because of it. 
Best bit: Again, Gilbert Gottfried's Weekend Update bit, this time as Murray Abromowitz who complains about the previous episode of the show. He mentions all the bad jokes about Jews and Homosexuals which validates my observation. It's very meta, self-deprecating, and spontaneously goes off script a bit--all my favorites.

  • I was going to say that the audience member yelling "Clockwork!" during the opening monologue was horribly disrespectful, but the interruption was also the best part of it. 
  • The song "Surf City" is first a musical miscue when it's accidentally played for the wrong segment. Then, when it's in the right segment (opening the skit "Serf City") it goes from a cute pun to retroactively ruining the whole skit. 
  • I'm pretty sure Howard Stern beat SNL to the "Leather Weather" report, not that I'd be dying to claim that. 
  • McDowell missing his cue to enter the "Commie Hunting" skit. The cue, I assume, was Rocket saying "Nigger."
  • I can't follow the plot of "Jack the Stripper" at all which makes it not just unfunny, but a chore to watch. 
Everybody's talkin' 'bout: England, Pedestrially More Busy Streets

Keep an out eye for:
  • Special Sale: Annie Hall frames--$12.00! 

  • Gail Matthius heino-rippin' it in an all-green very-early-for-Christmas outfit.  

How many laughs? One solid laugh--when Rocket says "Sounds like you've had a couple drink this afternoon" during the Rocket Report--and a few almosts when he suggests everyone's on drugs. I also smiled at the throwaway "Anson Williams Special" crack from Gilbert.

Does Joe Piscopo appear as a Sportscaster? Yes, during "Weekend Update." He's got an official WU jacket now, and he's brought a prop along.

Other Thoughts:
  • Costumes and sets are more elaborate this time but the skits aren't much funnier. 
  • Gilbert is starting give some character to his characters, but he's the only one. 
  • I still find myself constantly referring to Jimmy Carter's Wikipedia's article to fully understand the subtle political jokes. Nothing wrong with that--the jokes just won't be timeless. 
  • As a guest host, I don't think McDowell added much other than the writers saturating the show with lame British skits.
  • People are still calling Charles Rocket "Charlie" occasionally, but he's dropped the correcting them gag. Whew. 

Episode 3, hosted by Ellen Burstyn.
"Real People," "That's Incredible," and "Those Amazing Animals" will not be seen tonight so we can bring you more Ronald Reagan Hates Poor People jokes (I bet those shows were doing those jokes on those show anyway). Ann Risely gets a big "Whooo" in the intro this week, though nothing compared to the howls for Aretha Franklin and Ellen Burstyn. Burstyn, by the way is bringing lots of energy to the stage tonight, so let's hope it lasts.

  • Showing up very early in the program, "The Rocket Report" has now hit its stride. It's well-produced and has a solid premise. Oddly, it comes right before "Weekend Update." At that point, they may as well have been packaged together like in Episode 1. 
  • Gilbert Gottfried in yet another still-relevant satire on "Weekend Update," this time as a female orgasm-denier. 
  • Joe Piscopo isn't the only prepping for a back-up job--Gail Matthius is getting lots of roles where she can practice silly voices. 
Best bit: The final sketch with the elementary school student dressed as a rabbit and the old woman who invites her in. It's not funny, but it's a great creepy scene that is so well-acted and written, you can't help but get sucked in. Great set design too.

  • "What's It All About?" is back, presumably just to stretch 5 minutes out of the Ellen Burstyn/Helen Bernstein joke. 
  • Reagan appointing Dolly Parton as Secretary of Milk? The studio audience groaned even louder than I did.   
  • I know I'm watching abridged versions of these episodes, but is Ann Risley actually on this show? 
  • This one's more literal--I think a light blew out in the middle of the relatively decent "Divorcing Parents" skit. 
Everybody's talkin' 'bout: Heaven's Gate, Cambodia, Chrysler K-Cars, Female Orgasms

Keep an out eye for:
  • Even Gilbert Gottfried towering over 4'11" Denny Dillon.

  • Gail Matthius heino-ripped another solid-color outfit. Burgundy this time and the shoes are included.  

How many laughs? None that happened out loud, but if "The Rocket Report" continues on its upward trajectory, it may hit me in a vulnerable place (one that allows for such absurd rocket metaphors).

Does Joe Piscopo appear as a Sportscaster? Yes. He says a bunch of random words and then brings out Eddie Murphy, who commands the audience to a volume of laughter I haven't heard yet this season.

Other Thoughts:
  • Gail Matthius is nipping at Denny Dillon's screentime, but they're still forgetting about Ann Risley. 
  • Guest Host Ellen Burstyn took on plenty of roles this time, so maybe we'll see more of Ann when there's a male host. 
  • Speaking of males, Charles Rocket continues to be everywhere including a role he was physically born to play--a skinny junkie. 
  • We're down to just one lame British skit.

Episode 4, hosted by Jamie Lee Curtis.
The cast members who got the most screen time last week (Charles Rocket, Gail Matthius, and Denny Dillon) are rewarded by getting to open the show this week. In the opening titles, they've bumped the guest host up to first, and have added featured players (Matthew Laurance, Eddie Murphy, Patrick Weathers) after the musical guest's name. Gilbert Gottfried, Gail, and Joe Piscopo get the biggest pops besides Jamie Lee Curtis and James Brown. Jamie Lee continues Ellen's trend of 80's dancing for a bit after taking the stage. Jean Doumanian must be telling them to do this.

  • It sounded like someone smashed a piano just before Jamie Lee delivered her monologue. That's always a funny sound. Also, she's heino-ripped in blue and not wearing a bra. 
  • Rocket's abortion joke during "Weekend Update." Another huge groan from the audience, but this time they're wrong.  
Best bit: "Dying to Be Heard" is dark and very clever. The premise is edgy and Ann Risley is good as the cold, serious host.

  • Eddie Murphy's weird accents in "Weekend Update" and the "Badger Convention" skits
  • Every joke is over-explained in "Poker and Drugs Don't Mix."
Everybody's talkin' 'bout: Negroes, Homosexuals, Communists, Intellectuals, Jews, Intellectual Jews, Negro Communists, Communist Homosexual Jews (this one was too easy this for this episode)

Keep an out eye for:
  • Gilbert's Snoopy "There's Nothing Cozier Than a Sleeping Bag" Sleeping Bag.

  • Eddie Murphy legitimately eating from a can of Cadillac dog food?

  • Danny Devito looking like the Son of Sam in one of his first ever film appearances in a 1972 short film called Hot Dogs for Gauguin by Martin Brest. It's unclear why portions of it are being shown on SNL nine years later, but eventually, Brest will direct Eddie Murphy in his first major role in Beverly Hills Cop

How many laughs? Several during "Dying to be Heard," but not much elsewhere. Of course, this episode was recorded just after John Lennon was killed, so maybe it's intentional this time. (Probably not.)

Does Joe Piscopo appear as a Sportscaster? Yes. And his random words now rhyme.

Other Thoughts: 
  • Weekend Update seems to be better than usual. I think Rocket is riled up by the audience reactions. It's good that he's feeling more confident in the "Weekend Update" segment because there is no "Rocket Report" this week, and he isn't appearing in every single skit. 
  • The screentime actually seems to be split up evenly between the host and all the stars this time. 
  • Ann briefly breaks into song at the end of the Biker skit and it reminds me how little this cast sings, which I appreciate. 
  • What happened to the Mitchell Kriegman shorts?

Episode 5, hosted by David Carradine.
Although I love non sequitur, I also feel that the SNL cold openings should usually integrate "Live from New York..." seamlessly into the bit. It really shouldn't be that much of a challenge for these writers and comedians. Charles Rocket gets the loudest cheers during the intro. Yvonne Hudson has been added to the featured players. No monologue to speak of as it appears to have been cut from this version.

  • I think I can now announce that I like Ann Risley. She has a brief appearance on "Weekend Update" as a subtly kooky version of herself and it's a refreshing change from Rocket's often hokey wink-wink nudge-nudge delivery. 
  • Joe Piscopo's Sportscaster bit is finally used in a clever way that takes it beyond a simple voice impression. It's also the first time that I can recall this season when a cast member calls out NBC management...and it's not entirely clear if the rib is only part of the joke. That's a rebellious SNL that I can get on board with. 
  • Yuppies in Harlem is edgy and Eddie Murphy's "nerdy white" accent clicks. 
  • Eddie Murphy has not just upgraded his screentime in this episode, he's also upgraded his meal plan in a tribute to the Colonel Sanders, who passed away just before this episode. The line "Think what he meant to black people, man. I mean, he borrowed one of our cultural innovations and introduced it to the white world" has an innocent restraint, but you know there's sarcasm behind it. It adds some needed tension to the whole bizarre scene.
Best bit: The more hits-than-misses-this-time "Weekend Update."

  • The David Carradine "Dopenhagen" snuff commercial effectively becomes the snuff commercial it's supposed to be parodying. He even slips and calls it Copenhagen. The whole joke is that it's dope not tobacco, but it's very poorly executed. 
  • Kwai Chang Caine in a welfare office sketch comes with a lot of mistakes. I don't know whether to blame the featured newbie Yvonne Hudson or Carradine, who has already flubbed lines in other skits.
Everybody's talkin' 'bout: Handguns, JR Ewing, Lard Wrapped in Plastic Bags, Quaaludes

Keep an out eye for:
  • How much is that Conehead in the window?
  • Check out the old buckets back from when KFC was still called Kentucky Fried Chicken.

How many laughs? I'll shamefully admit the slightly racist Japanese Reagan got a chuckle out of me, as did "Actress and Tampon Spokesperson." I enjoyed more of the overall humor of the episode, but still more eyebrow raises than laughs.

Does Joe Piscopo appear as a Sportscaster? Not only does he appear as the Sportscaster in the Weekend Update, he also opens the show trying get to his Don Pardo impression down. "I'd love to have his job."

Kiss of Death (literal): After saying "Goodnight," David Carradine steals a kiss from the lips of an unexpecting Gail Matthius, who is heinoripping that green number for the second time on camera (also a fashion Kiss of Death).

Other Thoughts: 
  • "Rocket Report" is back without a vengeance for a requisite Santa Claus story that underwhelms.
  • Despite a lack of Gilbert Gottfried, this may be one of my favorite episodes so far. I want to say things are getting better.

Episode 6, hosted by Ray Sharkey
A few weeks off, and we're skipping the cold opening entirely. Denny Dillon gets a "Whoo" during the intro, as do Charles Rocket, Eddie Murphy, and Patrick Weathers. Ann Risley gets a whistle. I don't know who Ray Sharkey is, but he runs onstage and immediately falls on his ass. Then he announces "New York is the greatest fucking city in the whole world." He's so out of breath--this might be a hilarious trainwreck.

  • The "WASP Translator" skit is rough around the edges, but works. 
  • Gilbert's back with another satirical political-type character, but the delivery is off. Fortunately, it turns into a say-humjob-as-many-times-as-possible-on-network-television joke. Not what I was expecting, but that's OK. 
  • Eddie Murphy on "Weekend Update" gives him an excuse to quickly run through some of his "Great Negro" impressions, and reference former cast member Garrett Morris. 
Best bit: After his segment on "Weekend Update," Joe Piscopo spontaneously decides to interrupt Charles Rocket's next story by sending a wind-up bowling ball across the desk, cracking everyone up. Upon finishing the punchline (that everyone ignored), Rocket flicks the bowling ball onto the floor, which gets another big laugh.

  • Since SNL was not on the air for New Year's, celebrating as it turns midnight January 11th is a cute bit. Unfortunately, some knucklehead on the street yells "Happy New Year" just as Charles Rocket is about to begin the countdown.
  • Gail Matthius is now co-anchorperson of "Weekend Update." I'm not sure if this means the network thinks her star is rising, or Charles' is falling. Her first joke is solid, but then it quickly goes downhill. I'm sure there's a learning curve, but her reading and timing is way off.
  • People cheering for the New York City murder rate? I like to imagine they're being absurdist, but I honestly think it's some twisted hometown pride. 
  • While Eddie Murphy scores for wondering how the show would go on without his "token black" presence, doesn't it hinge upon forgetting that Yvonne Hudson is also in the cast?
  • This is going to be a real nitpick, but I found Mike Nesmith and William Dear's short film "The Man With the Black Hat" weak. Whenever a film sets up a character with an absurd quirk and then at the end, the character is matched up with a member of the opposite sex with the exact same quirk, I find it extremely cliche.
Everybody's talkin' 'bout: Fugheddaboutit, Humjobs, Babies

Keep an out eye for:
  • Ray Sharkey accidentally drops his prop gun in a sketch, then without missing a beat, picks it up and threatens Gilbert with it which drives home the loose cannon nature of his character and shows that he can improvise well. 

How many laughs? Two--the shock of "Humjobs" and offscriptedness of the wind-up bowling ball.

Does Joe Piscopo appear as a Sportscaster? Briefly, but as I mentioned, his best joke came after his segment was over.

Other Thoughts: 
  • The drug references are out of control and tiresome. Wasn't there anything else to joke about?
  • Two consecutive baby sketches. The second was stronger. 
  • We've gone from too much Charles Rocket to too much Eddie Murphy. In an unusual segment at the end of the show, Eddie gets to address the audience and show them "How Black People Fight." It's not especially funny and doesn't feel like anything but a time filler. 
  • Ray Sharkey did a good job hosting, but the show overall felt like a step backwards. 

Episode 7, hosted by Karen Black
The Reagan Inauguration topic is quickly addressed in the cold opening. Let's hope they give Reagan and Carter a rest for the remainder of the episode. Everybody but Karen Black and Cheap Trick gets an average response from the crowd in the intro. I can't tell if Karen Black's monologue about loving applause is planned or not--she's a bit wacky.

  • The "Mona Lisa" sketch is cute.
  • A pretty average "Rocket Report," but notable in hindsight because it's doubtful NBC would allow the filming of a stunt that risks the possibility of a car accident today. 
  • The "Weekend Update" anchors drinking scotch on-air is a nice bit of spontaneity (Gail Matthius' imbibing certainly didn't look planned). Both glasses disappear before the end of the segment though.  
  • The hospital bed skit is unique because of its first-person POV and though it's not too funny, it stands out thanks to its dramatic storytelling and staging like the Ellen Burstyn/Anne Matthius skit from Episode 3. Denny Dillon is particularly strong in it.
  • "Saturday Night Live Action Dolls" is a nice, simple concept executed quickly. If the actors themselves aren't going to let their personalities seep into the program, then this type of skit can force it out (or invent it). Charles Rocket did a decent job with the figurines though I think an unrestrained Gilbert Gottfried would have really taken it to another level. 
  • The NRA bit was another quick and to the point skit, possibly thrown in to fill time.

Best bit: Can't pick one this time--none were really outstanding.

  • Gail Matthius's newsreading has improved a bit by the second half of the "Weekend Update," but the first half is still pretty shaky.
  • Ann Risley returns with her "Weekend Update" reporter role, though she's now using "Mary Lou James" instead of her own name. This throws off Gail who calls her "Mary Ann." It's less deadpan than the last appearance (and less effective, to me), and the camera switches to a two-person shot too early creating a big distraction.
  • After the Morris Birnbaum hospital scene, the Jewish caricatures go into overtime when Pinky and Leo Waxman show up for yet another episode of "What It's All About?"
Everybody's talkin' 'bout: Schvartzes, Niggas

Keep an out eye for:
  • Charles Rocket fighting to make sure his reactions are seen on camera during the hospital bed POV skit with Karen Black.  

  • Eddie Murphy's sharp sweater.

How many laughs? A few. When the audience boos after Karen Black exclaims "I don't use drugs" during what might be considered her monologue, it's hilarious to me. (She easily recovers though and realizes who her audience is.) A couple Weekend Update photo jokes make me chuckle, particularly the Alexander Haig "swallowing the key" joke. Also, Piscopo's Paulie Herman "I'm from Jersey" laugh managed to crack me up the first two times.

Does Joe Piscopo appear as a Sportscaster? As Charles Rocket put it, "There's a big story in sports this week, as in every week," so I guess the bit is really here to stay. (Or Rocket is being entirely sarcastic.) And again, he interrupts the next Charles Rocket story, but it felt rehearsed this time.

But wait, there's more! He also comes back as the Red Coat Sportscaster for the "Scottish Fair Dinkum" sketch, the premise of which, is completely lost on me.

Kiss of Death (for himself): "Have you ever looked over the egde of a tall building and wondered what it would be like to jump?" - future suicide victim, Charles Rocket

Other Thoughts: 
  • Slightly better than last week, with a nice even dispersal of cast members.
  • Karen Black's personality in her sketches took over a bit too much at times, but she was fun to watch when her characters played to her strengths.

Episode 8, hosted by Robert Hayes
Solid opening. Yvonne Hudson is dropped from the intro entirely. Nobody gets a pop from the audience (not even the host or musical guest) except for "'New Talent' 14 Karat Soul" at the very end. Tough crowd, but Hayes works them up a bit.

  • As I mentioned, the cold opening bit on hostages is solid. It's a funny, but critical commentary on News as Entertainment.
  • In 1983, Representative Patricia Schroeder popularized the term "Teflon President" to describe Ronald Reagan, but here in 1981, Charles Rocket is advertising Ronald Reagan wallpaper, "made out of stain resistant textured plastic." SNL was definitely ahead of the curve with that concept. 
  • I'm quickly getting tired of all the News and Sports parodies, but the Pre-Superbowl Pre-Game Preview is witty enough to get a pass. Even hammy Rocket doesn't overwhelm the strong deadpan from Hayes and Ann Risley. 
Best bit: Probably the Pre-Superbowl Pre-Game preview, but even that was underwhelming.

  • Organ Player at a Funeral is painfully predictable because Matthew Laurence telegraphs the whole bit with "He's one of the best. He's the main guy at Madison Square Garden. He plays at all the hockey and basketball games." It would been more rewarding if the audience pieced this together themselves or if it was revealed much later. 
  • Weekend Update is mostly boring, segments included. Gail Matthius is able to read all right now, but there's no interaction between her and Rocket. She also incites the biggest groan of the season so far with a pair of horribly lame Eldridge Cleaver jokes. 
Everybody's talkin' 'bout: Incest, JR, Dukes of Hazzard, Sheep, Reagan, Hostages, Reagan, The Super Bowl, Reagan

Keep an out eye for:
  • Host Robert Hayes, from the movie Airplane, posing for his intro photo in front of... an airplane. (Gail Matthius would score a minor role in Airplane II: The Sequel the following year.)
  • It's either creative camera tricks, the magic of platform shoes, or casting from the Extra-short Extra Agency, but they definitely do a good job of making Denny Dillon look average height here in this Disco skit.

How many laughs? A couple, maybe for Robert Hayes and "The Rocket Report."

Does Joe Piscopo appear as a Sportscaster? Jesus Christ, yes. Red Coat. And again in "Weekend Update" with props. Plus he opens the show as Newscaster Ted Koppel.

Kiss of Death (for his job): "Take This Job and Shove It" - Matthew Laurence's hat, a promotion for an upcoming Robert Hayes

Other Thoughts: 
  • I think this had a good start with some smart, interesting bits, but then it got G-Darn dull. 
  • It's unfortunate that Gilbert is relegated to roles as a dead body or under a mask when he should be the primary Weekend Update regular over Joe Piscopo.
  • New It-Boy Eddie Murphy's promotion announcement is a quick, funny bit, but an odd choice to have happen onstage. That it goes immediately into a Former It-Boy Charles Rocket skit is hopefully not intentional. Still, you can help but note the contrasts in their styles. Eddie gets a big laugh with little effort, but Charles still seems like he's trying so G-Darn hard to be wacky.
  • I can't stop saying G-Darn now, G-darn it. 
  • Is Patrick Weathers really still in the cast?

Episode 9, hosted by Ronald Reagan
No wait, Ronald Reagan is just promoted to full-time cast member. And now that Eddie Murphy has also been upgraded, Yvonne Hudson is back in town. So that means Sally Kellerman gets the task of rattling off titles of her movies instead of delivering a monologue, aka hosting.

  • Surprisingly, I enjoyed "The Gavonnes," but not surprisingly, it was because the skit featured Gilbert Gottfried getting to be loud and perform some anti-comedy. I could easily see myself getting sick of the premise though, so if they ever bring it back, I hope that it's evolved. 
  • Gail Matthius catches Eddie Murphy completely off-guard during "Weekend Update" when she responds to his "Thank you" with a "You're welcome." It's a cute moment, and yes, that's really the highlight of her performance in the segment. 
  • Eddie Murphy's "Weekend Update" segment is not bad, but it's really easy to see why he has become the audience's favorite on the show. His jokes gets to the point quickly, his delivery is smooth, and doesn't come across as someone "acting." Even if the joke isn't the funniest or most complex, he still leaves the impression that he's a relatable, funny dude.  
  • The "Weekend Update" segment-within-a-segment featuring Marc Weiner's hand puppet Rocko was great.  
Best bit: The Rocket Report goes for broke during the Hostage Homecoming Parade. Charles Rocket breaks through the crowd and police barriers, walks right up to the motorcade, and shakes the hand of Barry Rosen, who he deems "America's Favorite Hostage." He ends the segment with a sarcastic quip about "the precision drillwork of the exhibition sanitation team." Very well-played.

  • "Parent & Child" seemed like actual good advice. Not sure what's supposed to be funny about it.
  • I'm happy that there's lots of Gilbert tonight, but the roles aren't too great. And one retreads hand puppet territory which was already done more creatively during "Weekend Update."

Everybody's talkin' 'bout: Charts, Nipples

Keep an out eye for:
  • Jesus looking down on Joe Piscopo as he grabs the ass of someone who isn't his wife. 

How many laughs? One for each of the highlights.

Does Joe Piscopo appear as a Sportscaster? Of course, and of course the big story is, of course, boxing, of course.

Other Thoughts: 
  • Pretty good episode but faltered after the "Weekend Update."
  • Lots of Matthew Laurance, but I only spotted Patrick Weathers during the goodbyes. I'm not convinced that Yvonne Hudson is allowed in the building. 
  • Sally Kellerman was also largely absent from this version of the episode. I'm going to have to watch the unedited versions at some point. 

Episode 10, hosted by Ronald Reagan again.
Charles Rocket's Reagan impression is very gravelly tonight. And Piscopo's Frank Sinatra impression is introduced. No whoos or whistles for anybody in the intro besides actual host Deborah Harry. She comes out with a tuxedo and a lot of energy. It's Valentine's Day which means everybody's wearing something red and there are lots of gags taking place among the audience. Seems promising.

  • "Where's Cooter?" is completely annoying until the twist ending, which they should've gotten to much faster.  
  • Gilbert Gottfried returns to "Weekend Update" with another still-timely satire on Ultra-Conservatives.
Best bit: Pinky and Leo Waxman show up to talk to their lesbian niece in a segment that is not "What's It All About?". For once, I'm not annoyed by them, and it's a smart piece of writing. I would be willing to bet that it's from the same writer who was behind the other dram/com pieces I've enjoyed.

  • I feel like "The Rocket Report" is best when Charles Rocket has a premise suggesting something dark lurking behind the mundane visuals combined with interviews of the unknowing subjects that take their words out of context. This time, it's just a half-assed attempt at half of that. 
  • The news portion of "Weekend Update" is weaker than ever. I think SNL is aware of Weekend Update's spiral into the toilet, so early in the night they brought in Eddie Murphy twice for "Newsbreakers" reports. He's not the best reader, but his jokes are much quicker which allow you to concentrate more on the hits rather than the misses. He even gets a Man on the Street segment.  Is Eddie being groomed to take completely invade Charles Rocket's final stronghold?
Everybody's talkin' 'bout: Sinatra, Mama, Poland, Queerbait-O-Rama

Keep an out eye for:
  • The debut of the animated horse tail in the intro.

  • Gilbert's not-exactly-subtle but probably-not-scripted fly down. 

How many laughs? Like, a few, I'm sure. Excuse me for livin'.

How many Valentine's Day Kisses? 

  • Eddie Murphy kisses Deborah Harry after the monologue. 
  • Gail Matthius kisses a picture of Charles Rocket
  • Deborah Harry kisses Aunt Pinky on the cheek.
  • Uncle Leo also kisses his niece. 
  • Eddie Murphy kisses Gail and Denny Dillon during the Goodbyes. 
  • Gilbert kisses Deborah Harry before Eddie gets to her.
  • Charles Rocket also moves in for the Blondie Kill but I'm not sure if he pulls it off before the fade to black. 
Kiss of Death (for the country): "At least one of us is in for a long term." - Charles Rocket with a Reagan joke. 

Does Joe Piscopo appear as a Sportscaster? Sure, to talk about... what else? Boxing.  Marc Weiner's hand puppets are back, and get everything but a standing ovation from the audience. By now  they should have their own segment without Piscopo.

Other Thoughts: 
  • I spotted Yvonne Hudson with the cast during the Goodbyes so I think she's still on the payroll.
  • Debbie Harry did a good job in all her roles and put up with a lot of kisses.
  • Actually a decent episode. I think they should have been bold and swapped Gail out for Eddie during "Weekend Update," then replaced "Newsbreakers" with some short films and a more developed hand puppet segment. As we know, the end is looming near for Jean Doumanian and most of the cast, so this would have been the time to gamble. 

Episode 11, hosted by Charlene Tilton
We go right to Red Coat Joe Piscopo and a teaser of the Marc Weiner hand puppet main event. I have no idea who Charlene Tilton is, and the audience has no idea who Prince is. If only we could both time travel.

  • The first appearance of "Mister Robinson's Neighborhood" skit from Eddie Murphy is off to a good start.
  • Charles Rocket uses the term "Pastafarian" 20+ years before The Flying Spaghetti Monster followers.
  • "Evil Nancy Reagan" is fun because it takes a basic political impression to a more interesting level. 
  • "Rocko vs Weindulah" is really a pleasure to watch. Piscopo rightfully tries to speed along the non-puppet portions.
Best bit: Eddie Murphy's not the only one gunning for Charles Rocket on the show. Joe Piscopo, Charlene Tilton, and Gilbert Gottfried all set their sights on him in a running behind-the-scenes Dallas gag. It culminates in the most shocking moment of the season, where Rocket says "fuck" on camera. It  gets a huge amount of genuine nervous laughter from the audience, the host, and the other cast members. Rocket, relaxed and smoking in his wheelchair, is extremely satisfied with himself. I've given Charles Rocket a hard time in these reviews due to his overexposure, but he also provided the best go-for-broke moments of the season. I only wish there had been more.

  • "The US Postal Service got approval to raise the price of a stamp to 18 cents. The additional revenue will go toward improving their service. That means that now you get the wrong mail a day earlier." Why do I feel like I've heard this joke thirty billion times? I'll be honest though, I'm starting to enjoy Gail Matthius' reactions to the failure of her jokes. 
  • "Submissive Sugar Daddies" was dull, but commercials parodies are easily forgivable due to their brevity. 
Everybody's talkin' 'bout: Bitch, Charlie Rocket, Fucks

Keep an out eye for:
  • Joe Piscopo showing off his triceps in other makeout session with Ann Risley.

  • For many, the moment that defines SNL '80.

How many laughs? Not a ton, but they outweighed the groans.

Does Joe Piscopo appear as a Sportscaster? Both as Red Coat Joe and Tuxedo Joe along side Don King.

Other Thoughts: 
  • Yvonne Hudson finally appears in a skit, squeaking out an "OK" just to get her voice heard. 
  • I wonder if I would have gotten tired of the Marc Weiner puppets if they had just shown up on the show as individual segments rather than a 3-part arc. Likewise, I wonder if I would have enjoyed Joe Piscopo's Sportcaster character if he only showed up for independent sports segments as opposed to a weekly Weekend Update stint. 
  • Eddie Murphy did not take over Weekend Update this week. Maybe it was just a threat. 
  • I've seen "The 'Fuck' Incident" before but completely forgot that it was coming up in this episode. To be honest, I thought was a decent episode before remembering the climax. 

Episode 12, hosted by Bill Murray
It opens with a confessional meeting between the cast and former cast member Bill Murray. It was a pep talk that they definitely needed and Bill Murray was the right person to give it to them.  The crowd goes nuts too and carries the enthusiasm along through the intro, cheering for nearly every cast member as their names are announced. Murray's very enthused too as he mounts the set, then nearly kills an audience member with a back body drop. Also of note, all the featured players have been removed from the show intro, though Bill Murray acknowledges them all by name in the cold opening.

  • "Dark and Stormy Night" is a clever bit, though unnecessarily repetitive. Could have had a bigger payoff.
  • Same with the "Nameless Cat" bit. Fun premise, plenty of building tension, but no interesting payoff.
  • Bill Murray's and Denny Dillon's performances are good in "Bubba's Wash, Fayetta's Dry" but I don't think this dram-com piece is as strong as previous ones that have won me over.  
Best bit:  The strong "It Just Doesn't Matter" cold open. It's all downhill from there.

  • "Weekend Update" and "Newsbreakers" will not be seen tonight so that we may bring you "Saturday Night Live Newsline." I'm happy they've decided to retool the news, but the first segment is lame. Even Bill Murray's Oscars bit isn't too great. They've rightfully pushed Gail Matthius away from the desk, but Joe Piscopo was in need of cutting as well. To me, Gilbert Gottfried and Ann Risley (and to some extent, Eddie Murphy) were the best segment reporters, but they're nowhere to be seen. 
  • Most of the highlights I listed weren't really that high. 
Everybody's talkin' 'bout: Danny, John, Gilda, Laraine, Garrett, Jane, Gilda, Laraine, Roman Polanski, Pucks

Keep an out eye for:
  • The final credit for Jean Doumanian and the last appearance of Charles Rocket, Gilbert Gottfried, Ann Risley, the feature players, and many of the writers. 

How many laughs? Most of Bill Murray lines, but not much else.

Kiss of Death: "You guys need help. You need a lot of help" - Bill Murray to the cast.

Does Joe Piscopo appear as a Sportscaster? Briefly.

Other Thoughts: 
  • I don't think this cast needed a lot of help--I just think they needed some better organized segments and time to get through the kinks. And they needed an honest voice to tell them what worked and what didn't. Most of the problems seemed obvious to me in watching these episodes for the first, but of course I had the benefit of hindsight.  

Episode 13, not hosted by Robert Guillaume.
After a few weeks of no shows, the cast is now made up of Denny Dillon, Robin Duke, Tim Kazurinksy, Gail Matthius, Eddie Murphy, Joe Piscopo, Tony Rosato, and featuring Laurie Metcalf and Emily Prager. After the intros, we jump to a musical number, which I'm sure NBC was tripping over themselves to get back on the show. It's brief at least and moves to a fair pro-America satire hosted by Piscopo as Frank Sinatra.

  • In the cold opening, Chevy Chase finds Mr. Bill is found in a pile of Budweiser cans. There's a reference to him not being used at all during the season, although he did show up on film in episode 5. 
  • Eddie Murphy pouring Lite Beer into kids' hands is sort of funny, but this already the second celebrity impression sketch in such little time.
Best bit: Nothing outstanding worth giving this coveted award.

  • Weekend Update is back and while Chevy Chase shows a much more confident grasp of the format, many of the jokes miss. Worse, Eddie Murphy's and Laurie Metcalf's segments are completely unfunny. I've also got mixed feelings about Al Frankin's rant. While I typically enjoy on-air raging against the machine, this was, pound-for-pound, more bitter than humorous. Plus, I'm not a huge Al Franken fan.  
Everybody's talkin' 'bout: Japs, Al Franklin

Keep an out eye for:
  • Chevy Chase's Grateful Dead t-shirt. Is he a fan of next week's guests or is it a reference to the press' "Saturday Night Dead" accusations?

  • Cameos from Christopher Reeve and Robin Williams, who appears to have shaved off all his arm and chest hair for the appearance. 

How many laughs?  A couple. It's lowest common denominator, but I will almost always laugh at a chimpanzee. Beyond that, "I Married a Monkey" faltered too much to be successful. I also cracked up when the "Weekend Update" wasn't going Chevy's way and he began a report with "More really bad news..." followed by an extremely long pause.

Does Joe Piscopo appear as a Sportscaster? No! But he does cut an ad for the "Famous Broadcasters School of Cue Card Reading."

Other Thoughts: 
  • This is another episode that starts out all right, then doesn't achieve much else. 
  • I don't believe Dick "Mr. Humor" Ebersol had to do much to produce this one other then wind up Chevy Chase and let him go. The audience was going to respond positively to him and any easy insults to the the earlier incarnation of the season regardless. 
  • It would be unfair to judge the new cast members for this unique, transitional episode, but they didn't exactly have any outstanding moments. 
  • A writers' strike would eliminate the rest of the season. Denny Dillon and Gail Matthius would not be invited back for Season 7, nor would one-timers Laurie Metcalf or Emily Prager. (Technically, Emily Prager was never even on-screen the first time, so I guess she's a zero-timer.)

In summary, this was not the complete abomination I was anticipating. It was far from the funniest thing I've ever seen, but it was also not the worst of what usually bothers me about Saturday Night Live.

So what went wrong? For me it was too much Charles Rocket. For Charles Rocket, it was probably too much Charles Rocket. The pressure was on him as he was constantly placed front and center, but his forced wackiness was too much to take for as many skits as he was in.  Once Eddie Murphy's talents were uncovered, he too was in danger of overexposure, so I'm glad he  was pulled back a bit even while being promoted. I think the bits he was given played to his strengths. Overall, I prefer the hit-and-run sketches that he typically found himself in over longer bits with too much going on.

There was so much "Weekend Update" that I barely even remember any live sketches. It was just such a major source of groans, especially after Gail Matthius got a seat. I almost always enjoyed her in sketches, but not as an anchor. Ann Risley I thought had a good deadpan humor which was underutilized (and contrary to Bill Murray's joke, I did not think she and Gail were indistinguishable). Gilbert Gottfried, who I'm obviously a fan of, was also inconsistently used. I wanted more of him and Ann during the "Weekend Update" segments--they both could have really let loose. Denny Dillon and Joe Piscopo were usually solid in their roles, but not particularly funny to me. I'll blame them and the writers for that.

A credit to the writers is those dram-com sketches which were easily the highlights of the whole season, though it's unfortunate when the best things on a comedy show were not exactly meant to be hilarious. I also appreciate that they didn't rely too much on recurring characters and musical numbers.The absurd short films and Kriegman's bizarre skits were enjoyable, but those were few and far between as time went on. It's possible that what was cut out of these episodes addressed on some of my complaints, but then again, things may have actually been worse than what I've exposed to.

I'm clearly going to have to seek out that missing footage and explore more seasons for better comparison and context, but I can safely conclude that I felt bad when arriving at the end of the season. Comedy is not easy, nor is following up an act like the original Not Ready For Prime Time Players, and I think in the right hands, the Season 5 cast could have been molded into something stronger.

As for right now, I'm so sick of watching this show and looking things up on Wikipedia to get the political jokes and film and commercial parodies that I'll give the show and the 80s a rest.  I will see you next time in 1994 for the 20th season.

March 5, 2013

Courtroom Sketch Artist/Interior Designer For Hire

There really should be an elaborate penis clock right up there on the wall so potential jurors know what time it is. Come on four o'clock!