Opening segment: In yet another meta bit the show opens with an uncredited Richard Belzer at the Weekend Update desk pretending to be the injured and absent Chevy Chase. When an indignant Chase calls in from his hospital bed wondering what in the hell this impostor is doing pretending to be him, Belzer, a bubbling cauldron of venom and hatred, replies that he'd simply answered an ad seeking a "Good looking buffoon who's a flash in the pan". As I wrote earlier one of the unexpected highlights of this season is watching the free-floating contempt for Chevy Chase and his instant super-stardom bubble constantly to the surface. It's a clever idea but compared to the rest of the show it's relatively weak tea. Monologue:We open on Eric Idle cradling an acoustic guitar before shouting his way through a simian version of "Here Comes The Son". Before he can finish the song he's spirited away to a set where he plays a genetic engineer who queries future parents Gilda Radner on what characteristics they'd like their son to have. He starts out slowly, then ratchets up the absurdity with questions like "General texture: fur or quilted?", "General aptitude: Artistic or a welder?", and "Mouth: tongue or dipstick?" When they respond indignantly Idle explains that a "Dipstick will allow your son to suck flies out of soda bottles". It's deadpan absurdism in the Monty Python mold and Gilda Radner gets to utter the immortal line "I don't want a baby with a shrimp's head". The skit sets a prohibitively high standard of comedic excellence the rest of the show shockingly lives up to. This is maybe one of the all-time great Saturday Night Live episodes in the show's thirty-two year history. Host: Eric Idle, who brings his A game to skits worthy of the Monty Python legacy. It's an absolute delight watching a comic performer of Idle's stature bring out the best in a cast that's crackerjack even under the worst of circumstances. Everyone steps their game up when an Idle or Pryor or Tomlin or Steve Martin's holding down the host slot. The Good:Two words: The Rutles. The motherfuking Rutles. This is the episode that introduced Americans to four Liverpudlian who created a legacy that will last a lunchtime but Lorne Michaels' introduction to the first Rutles bit is nearly as funny as what follows, as the SNL Fuhrer explains that Idle promised to bring The Beatles with him if he was allowed to host the show but that Michaels would have to send the 3000 dollars in advance because the Fab Four desperately needed money to buy new clothes, only to later send a telegram reading "Can't come now. Ringo's pants too long. Stop. Please send more money for alterations. Stop. Signed, the Beatles" Then comes a glimpse of the Rutles that eventually flower into The Rutles: Can't Buy Me Lunch.
The Rutles bit is surrounded by brilliant skits. Dan Aykroyd kills in another solo showcase as a DJ who appeals to the AM and FM crowd by alternating rapidly between cheesy "Morning Zoo" banter and hipster hep-cat riffing. Another highlight is a World War II skit with Eric Idle and Aykroyd as Allied spies who trade secret information via non-sequiturs like "Cats are nothing more than effeminate dogs" and pretend to be oblivious German nationals when company is around. They give the game away, however, when Aykroyd guilelessly enthuses, in dumbass German patriot mode, about how they will "fly to England, kill Hitler and steal a plane." To a Nazi officer. The Bad: Twenty-somethings Al Franken and Tom Davis contribute a time-filling skit where two dumbass college students shoot the shit while playing Pong. We don't actually see either performer: just a primitive video game screen showing a computerized ball bouncing hypnotically back and forth. Like pretty much all of these Pong-based "skits" it's unfunny in a quirky, offbeat, borderline experimental kind of way, but unfunny all the same. Musical Guest: Joe Cocker, who seems to be doing a hilariously over-the-top impersonation of John Belushi's Joe Cocker impersonation, right down to the grimacing facial contortions and constipating mugging-as-emoting. Is there any reason the corpulent Cocker is wearing a tiny little shirt that exposes way too much of his bloated beer belly? I know this is the seventies but dear God man, cover up! For his second song Belushi joins Cocker and the two trade hilarious Joe Cocker impersonations. The whole celebrity-pops-up-along-satirical-doppelganger bit has been beaten to death as of late: it's more or less a testament to how toothless the show's satire has become that it regularly invites its targets to mug alongside the show's regulars to show what good sports they are. But it's both funny and endearing here. I can't help but think of Belushi as the real-fake Joe Cocker and Cocker a poor imitation of the fake real thing. Got it?
Weekend update: Guest anchor Jane Curtin once again kills in a set of funny, timely and socially relevant gags. I'm struck once again by how much sharper and more satirical Weekend Update was back in its early days and by its willingness to engage in racially and politically charged humor.
Final Verdict: Total fucking Godhead. At the risk of being hyperbolic this episode was just about perfect. It was a reminder of how exciting it must have been to sit down to watch Saturday Night Live in the mid-70s secure in the knowledge that the show would at the very least be funny and at best would instantly hurl itself into the annals of television history, whether through a classic skit or a Simon And Garfunkel reunion or, in the case of tonight's episode, the introduction of The Rutles. It's that exhilarating sense of possibility that keeps people like myself coming back even through the lean years. When sad old codgers talk about how great Saturday Night Live was back in the old days this is what they're talking about. Grade (A) Stray Observations- -Fuck, this episode was good. O.K, that wasn't profound but hey, Vacation! Woo hoo! Merry Christmas everyone! (oh and for those wondering there will be a new My Year Of Flops entry on Christmas day, possibly involving Santa Claus: The Movie) -Commenter who raved about this episode last week: Dude, you were so very right on