Host: For Saturday Night Live writers, having an athlete/old-person/politician/non-performer as a host can be either liberating or dispiriting. It can be liberating in the sense that, I dunno, Norman Lear is undoubtedly cool with appearing in as few skits as possible and leaving the mirth-making and comic heavy-lifting to the seasoned professionals. Yet it's undoubtedly dispiriting to show up at work on Monday and realize that your task for the week ahead entails trying to make Paris Hilton seem both funny and human, formidable tasks for even the most gifted scribe. Sisyphus had it easy compared to you, humble SNL writer.
In today's episode Oscar-winner Broderick Crawford, a grandfatherly type best known for his work in All The King's Men and Highway Patrol liberates the show's cast and crew by making himself as inconspicuous as possible, appearing in only two skits and delivering a low-key monologue from a big, comfy chair. If there was a way Crawford could have hosted the show from a recliner in his living room, possibly while taking a much-needed nap, he would have done so. With Crawford taking it easy the Not Ready For Primetime Players pick up the slack, most notably in a legendary sequence that marked a turning point in America's ongoing love affair with Bill Murray, which is still going strong three decades later despite some bumps in the road (I'm looking at you, Larger Than Life).
The Good: Bill Murray got off to a bit of a rocky start on Saturday Night Live, flubbing lines and radiating sweaty nervousness. Things began to turn around with the "New Kid" skit on today's episode. In it, a never-more-vulnerable Murray sits at a desk, faces the camera and frets that he's simply not doing a very good job on the show and all but begs audiences to support him. Here's a transcript of his entire monologue courtesy of the good folks over at SNL Transcripts: Bill Murray: Hello, I'm Bill Murray. You can call me "Billy" but, around here, everybody just calls me "The New Guy." I want to thank the producer, Lorne Michaels, for urging me to speak with you directly. You see, I'm a little bit concerned. I don't think I'm making it on the show. … I'm a funny guy but I haven't been so funny on the show. My friends say, "How come they're givin' you all those parts that aren't funny?" Well, it's not the material. It's me. … ??It's not that I'm not funny, it's that I'm not being funny at the right time. Honest. Uh, before, you know, I could be funny whenever I wanted but now, as a professional, I have to learn to pick my spots, you know? This morning, I picked up my laundry. The guy says to me, "Bill, you know, every time you come in here, you say something funny. But I saw you on the show Saturday night and you stunk." … Well, that hurt, you know? Just totally destroyed my confidence. ??Last Friday, I went to a party with Danny. There was a pretty girl there I wanted to impress and, uh, I'm a party animal. I was very funny. Danny said nothing. He was saving it. She said to me, "You're so funny! I wish I had a tape recorder." Well, I wish she had, too, you know? Saturday night, after the show, when she went home with Dan, I could've played the tape back for her. … ??Now, what I'm asking for is your support. I've gotten some nice letters from old friends and people I owe money to. … But, from you people, I hear nothing. I'm not asking for letters but — I know this sounds corny — support. [slight pause] I'm a Catholic. … [applause] I'm one of nine children. [rattles off the names rapidly] Ed, Brian, Nancy, Peggy, Laura, Andy, John and Joel. I can say that faster but I wanted them all to hear their names. I was raised in Wilmette, Illinois, a small mining town, north of Chicago— That reminds me of something funny. … My father died when I was seventeen. … No, that's not what was funny. … He was funny. People always said to me, "Aw, you'll never grow up to be as funny as your dad." And, now, he's not around to see me be not as funny as him. … My sister Nancy is a nun. My mom works to support the family. But that's all beside the point. It's no concern of yours whether or not they need the money I make. … ??What I'm talking about is between you and me. If you could see it in your heart to laugh whenever I say something. I don't care what it is. Or, if you can't laugh, think about my family … and the father that I never really got to know. … If I know you're on my side, I'll make you laugh so hard, you'll have to hold your sides to keep from pulling a muscle - or tearing a cartilage. It's up to you. Yeah, you. Now, I don't want letters. I just want to make it as a Not Ready For Prime Time Player. When that's done, I'll be able to stand here on a Saturday night, in the middle of Rockefeller Plaza, New York City, New York, one-oh-oh-two-oh … and say, [looking heavenward] "Dad? I did it." [to the camera, with a smile] He'd like that.
He's kidding of course, but he's kidding on the square. I don't think it's possible to watch this sequence without feeling for him. For a man who has become synonymous with sarcasm and irony it's astonishingly sincere in a smartass sort of way: there's something almost voyeuristic about it: Murray really seems to be laying it all out for the world to see. There would be other "I'm not really cutting it" monologues from cast-members to come (many of the "I'm the other black guy who can't get a decent role on this show to save his life" variety) but none made anywhere near as indelible an impression. It's far from the only highlight in the show.
Today we got Baba Wawa interviewing Godzilla, Jane Curtin discussing her lacy undergarments in an almost creepy and unnerving display of WASP hyper-sexuality, Gilda Radner's Lucy Ricardo causes a big mess in a nuclear warhead factory and Richard Nixon sneaking into J. Edgar Hoover's curiously Clyde Tolson-free bedroom to prove that he's not going to ask his subordinates to do anything he wouldn't do. Except fight the Viet Cong firsthand of course. Even the Gary Weis film–a sentimental journey through some of Crawford's old New York city haunts–was more charming than annoying. Old-school Saturday Night Live specialized in commercial parodies and few were more inspired than Aykroyd's breathless spiel for a leather-goods proprietor that lets customers stun and kill their own coats-to-be. For the first time in many a TV Club Blog I'm at a loss for things to complain about.
The Bad: While this episode generally jumped from high to high there were some weak moments during Crawford's monologue and a clever but fairly padded "Highway Patrol" spoof. Grade: A- Final Verdict: I've waited all season long for Murray to really break out. Today's episode marked a turning point in his career where he stopped being the New Kid and became the Bill "Groundhog Day Ghost Bustin' Ass" Murray we've all come to know and love. The magic is happening, people. Bask in his reflective glory. Stray Observations: –I was perhaps inordinately touched when the cast gathers around to give a bathrobe-clad Crawford hugs during the end credits. –The Meters were pretty sweet, as was an all-star band centered around Dr. John and Levon Helm –I skipped over the Sissy Spacek episode because I left the disc at home. I'll get to it two weeks from now (I'm on vacation next week! Woo hoo! Party, party! That'll give me more time to work on my Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium fan fiction) –Also, the opening girl group number was pretty neat, if only for Linda Rondstandt's cameo. I prefer her Spanish-language version of the "Plow King" jingle but this wasn't half bad. –I know it might seem redundant to post both the clip and transcript of the "New Kid" skit but what the hell, I was so fond of it I'd figured I'd give it to you in two different forms. Lemme know if you're also interested in a hologram of this clip or a performance-art piece based on it.