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Saturday Night Live (Classic): "Buck Henry/Jennifer Warnes"

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Host: Buck Henry. Well, friends, it appears that the long national nightmare of me blogging about the second season of Saturday Night Live for TV Club Classic has finally reached a merciful end. What began with the faintest flicker of excitement and interest from A.V Club readers is now ending with resounding thud. I diligently exhausted the interest of loyal readers until I was left with but a single regular reader for this feature, a 43-year-old woman from Nebraska named Ethel. Thank you for your loyalty and dedication, Ethel. I hope I have not let you down.

Thankfully the season ends on a high note, with a classic episode hosted by the eminently reliable Buck Henry. According to insights stolen from commenters, the cast and crew loved working with Henry, both because he was a terrific straight man but also because he was literally down for anything, as evidenced by an opening monologue bit where he promised to perform a real, live sex act on camera. I'm guessing Gerald Ford's press secretary, to cite a slightly more image-conscious early host, probably would have been just a little bit squeamish about doing that bit. Henry didn't care about ruining his image because he had no public image. He was a writer, first and foremost, and I'm sure he could have plugged along quite nicely even if he never appeared in front of the camera again. Incidentally I just learned that Henry has Cancer, which seriously bummed me out. I didn't experience a "Bill Murray's soon-to-be ex-wife says he physically abused her" level of sadness and disillusionment but it made me sad all the same. He did a lot of great work, that Buck Henry. He was a comedy transgressive who looked like a quintessential mousy bureaucrat. Here he plays off the cast's live-wire energy beautifully.


The Good: Today's episode offered a consistently funny mix of the tried and true and the oddball and out-there. Henry throws down the gauntlet in his opening monologue, where he push the boundaries of television comedy with real, live on-camera perversion. He asks the audience for a volunteer and the camera pans over several apparent prostitutes making sex faces before a bulky gentleman bounds onto the stage and enthusiastically begins to hump the host. And we're off!

Though the comedy goodness begins with a really funny cold open in which Dan Aykroyd's Jimmy Carter, in a fit of energy-preserving insanity, promises to single-handedly power his television address via his exercise bike. Oh sweet Lord did Aykroyd do a mean Jimmy Carter. It was even better than the real thing. The show trotted a series of its best-loved recurring characters for the big finale. A fearless Henry–who was famously cut by Belushi's Samurai sword in an earlier sketch–tangoes with Belushi's inscrutable swordsman once again in a surprisingly clever college-themed sketch. Later Henry once again plays straight man to the Coneheads in a sketch that starts out really strong but wears out its welcome well before the Coneheads travel to their home planet for fighting and love. Christ, we even saw the return of the Land Shark (and Chevy Chase) in a genius callback in which the wily cold-blooded killer of the deep tries to trick Henry's pervy Charles Lindbergh. It's touching that the cast put aside their fierce hatred/jealousy over his breakout success to have him back on the show.


Actually, this episode leaped from high to high. Speaking of pervertitude and Henry, Bill Murray starred in a prescient sketch as a shower singer who invites his wife (Radner) and her lover (Henry) into the shower with him to discuss their infidelities. It was neat to see Murray do a variation on his lounge character and it's always a treat to see him sing. Man, Murray and Radner were a pretty sweet real-life couple as well. She is sorely missed.

Buck Henry stops by the Weekend Update desk to give Jane Curtin an award for general excellence in a rather desperate and transparent attempt to get laid. Curtin's look of extreme discomfort and mortification as Henry leeringly rhapsodizes about wanting to explore her "silky thighs" and pale white skin mines considerable hilarity out of extreme awkwardness. In an exceedingly odd but clever and brilliantly performed sketch, Henry plays a doctor who works with people with disabilities, including a patient (Gilda Radner) who compulsively adds oral punctuation to everything he says as well as an idiot who just likes to ring a bell and point at things (Laraine Newman).


There's also a neat, Second City-style observational Rhonda Weiss sketch and a short film by a young William Wegman. In a shocking twist, Wegman's film prominently involves a telegenic dog. At the risk of being controversial, I think dogs are cute. And also fun. And also sometimes they catch things with their mouth.

Michael O'Donoghue's dark, twisted fingerprints were all over this episode, so it's appropriate that he pops up as the world's greatest impressionist, a gentleman whose specialty is impersonating how various celebrities and prominent figures would behave if long needles were plunged into their eyes (in this case he impersonates the director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It's a one-joke premise to be sure, but a dark and clever one at that. And I was feeling Jennifer Warnes' countrified "Right Time of the Night" and Kenny Vance's "The Performer"


The Bad: Oh, Emily Littela, why must you waste everyone's time? There's a thin line between annoying in a funny way and just plain annoying. Not even a cameo from Bella Abzug could make that shit funny. And Bella Abzug is almost always comedy gold. And I wasn't too crazy about the Howard Shore song but I'm not crazy bout the jazz fusion in general. Besides, three fairly obscure musical guests on one show? That just seemed a little lazy. Final Verdict: To be honest, I'm feeling a little burnt out on Classic SNL but this episode was strong enough to make me feel a little melancholy about saying goodbye to old SNL at least for a little while. It embodied everything that made the show such an electric and exciting phenomenon Grade: A- Stray Observations –I'm sorry I'm posting this so late. I had to do a rush edit and intro on a big Robert Smigel interview that's running next week. I talked to him for a good hour and a half. Man, I just cannot get away from SNL, nor do I really want to. –Look for more SCTV (which will be resuming its broadcast day, at the A.V Club at least) in TV Club Classic as well as Newsradio (the show Dave Foley did before Postal) from our own Donna Bowman. That oughtta get you comedy geeks excited –What did you guys think of the second season of SNL? When do you think I should start on season three? –Sorry bout dropping the Henry Cancer and Murray divorce stuff on ya. That's my humble little homage to Sean O'Neal's inconceivably awesome Friday Buzzkills.

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