Host: The host of today's episode of Saturday Night Live Classic is a handsome, charismatic light-skinned African-American darling of the American Left who made history via his revolutionary dalliance with Presidential politics. Yes, that's right, I'm talking of course about politician/activist and current chairman of the NAACP, Julian Bond, the Obama of his era.
Bond has an impressive and eclectic resume, having taught, lectured, served in the state senate, narrated various documentaries and campaigned extensively for Civil Rights and against the Vietnam War. He can't exactly add "Late night TV funnyman" to the list but in today's episode he acquitted himself somewhere between "admirably" and "adequately". He appeared in a number of funny/clever skits but they generally succeeded despite him, not because of him.
The Good: Commenters have been raving about an infamous "Brer Rabbit/Mr. Mike skit" I'll get to later, but for my money it ran neck-and-neck with the "Black Perspective" sketch for both humorosity and shock value. Garrett Morris once again plays a well-meaning if slightly clueless host of a public-affairs show who sits down with Bond to discuss cultural biases in standardized testing. Bond argues that the SAT is slanted towards Caucasians, then rattles off a yacht-and-evening-themed test question, before casually asserting that the difference in test scores between light and dark-skinned African-Americans can be attributed to the simple, incontrovertible fact that light-skinned African-Americans are just plain smarter than their dark-skinned peers. It's essentially the same gag as a similar sketch in the Fran Tarkenton episode–a guest on "Black Perspective" nonchalantly saying something horribly racist but it got an additional transgressive kick from being delivered by a bona fide Important Black Man.
Today's episode not surprisingly was fairly race-centric. A skit with John Belushi and Gilda Radner as a well-meaning but clueless suburban couple who nervously tell guest Bond–once again playing himself–about seemingly every African-American they know or have seen on TV before their even more backwards suburban cronies quite literally drown out Bond's rhetoric about racism in a sea of white noise–is a gentle but clever satire of the limits of bleeding-heart liberalism.
In "Dr. X: Family Counselor" Dan Aykroyd played a masked, horribly disfigured man with a hook for a hand toils as a family therapist despite his unmistakably super-villainous, suspicious MF/Dr. Doom-like appearance. It was mildly amusing sketch that had the potential to be one of the all-time greats. I also enjoyed the latest in Aykroyd's ongoing tribute to the worst in entertainment, Bad Cinema, which featured Belushi doing a dead-on impersonation of Truman Capote, that most impression-friendly of authors.
On the what-the-fuck front, Gary Weis' short film was a rambling tribute to Patti Smith where the punk/feminist icon nervously, stumblingly talked about how, like, um, when she was on Saturday Night Live they totally, like, censored the lyrics to "My Generation" to cut out a reference to Jesus Christ, which was like, a total trip or something cause when he died he was all like, a burst of celestial energy or something and isn't that crazy, dig? Honestly, I was way too sober to understand half of what she was trying to say. Why are great songwriters so often maddeningly/inexplicably inarticulate?
Plus, Tom Waits! And a notorious meeting of the minds between lovable regressive stereotype Uncle Remus (Garrett Morris) and Michael O'Donoghue's Mr. Mike. The two great storytelling gathered together to trade contrasting/conflicting versions of the Brer Rabbit. Where Uncle Remus tells the standard tale of ingenuity and moral lessons Mr. Mike offers a version where Brer Rabbit is mercilessly killed for no discernible reason. It was the O'Donoghue aesthetic distilled into its purest, darkest form: life as an endless cavalcade of death and humiliation devoid of morality or meaning. For the capper, O'Donoghue gives Uncle Remus the stiff corpse of the bluebird of happiness, which he cradles lovingly. I don't know why, but I found the image of Uncle Remus tenderly stroking a dead bird symbolizing hope and goodness inexplicably touching.
The Bad: Whoever warned me that I would be hating Emily Litella by this point sure was right. In today's memorably dreadful cold-open, Litella moons over her new amour, the man who makes her feel "Like a national woman". Get it, she said "national" instead of "natural". Oh, am I so ready for that character to be retired permanently. Otherwise, today's episode was largely devoid of outright stinkers but boasted its share of sketches that went on too long or exhausted a thin premise. Also, just one song for Tom Waits? What kind of motherfuckery is that? Sure, second musical guest Brick brought both the funk and the noise but it seemed like a goddamned shame to limit Waits to a single number. Final Verdict: I haven't accused the show of ossifying into staid formula for a few weeks and I am going to refrain from doing so now. So while today's episode wasn't filled with wall-to-wall laughs it felt fresh and alive and vital, thanks both to some ballsy skits and some neat, unexpected players like Bond, Waits and Smith. Grade:A- Stray Observations– –Thanks largely to your suggestions and gentle prodding, I'm thinking about covering SCTV for TV Club Classic in addition to continuing on to the third season of Saturday Night Live. What else would you like covered in TV Club Classic? Also what season do you think I should start a potential SCTV blog with? I do wish they'd put them out in order like they're doing with SNL –Bond even looks like Obama –Who are your favorite politician SNL hosts? –Hey, I missed the Walken episode of SNL since I was out of the country when it aired. How is it? Should I tune in tomorrow? –It would have been neat if they'd included Waits in a sketch. The man has presence for days. –Man, there was a lot of good and goodish shit I didn't get around to mentioning, like H&L; Brock and Great Moments In Motown and Belushi as George Wallace. –I thought the monologue was an awful lot of build-up for a minimal payoff.