Host: The shining example of Jodie Foster gives hope to future generations of kiddie superstars that not every child star is doomed to end their days robbing liquor stores in Reno while clad only in a g-string and cowboy hat. The resilient little trooper survived Travis Bickle, John Hinkley, Hannibal Lecter, doing a movie about carnies with Gary Busey, switching bodies with her mom and the perils of child stardom. Most impressively on November 27th, 1976 she survived a crazy high profile, insanely demanding hosting gig on Saturday Night Live at the height of its drugged-up madness. Seriously, there are donkey shows in Tijuana and dogfights that are more conducive to children in the workplace. For much of the seventies everyone who entered 30 Rock was given a giant shoe box full of blow and a handful of multi-colored pills Is this really where you'd want your wide-eyed, fresh-faced fourteen year old to spend their time? Alas today's episode of Saturday Night Live was to be survived rather than enjoyed. The Good: It always struck me as strange that it took nearly three decades before someone came up with the bright idea of doing a show about Saturday Night Live (or at least a thinly veiled doppelganger). But then I realized that for pretty much my entire life there's been a show about Saturday Night Live: It's called Saturday Night Live. Meta-textual references to behind-the-shenanigans has been a fixture of the show from day one. Today's episode was no different. The show began with the oppressively adorable Gilda Radner complaining that she has next to nothing to do on that night's show, so she's been given the task of delivering the opening "Live From Saturday Night!" As Radner continues her increasingly bitter spiel onscreen graphics reveal that Radner is actually being phased out of the show entirely but no one has the guts to break the news to her. But the moment Radner delivers her big iconic line her bitterness disappears instantly, replaced with child-like exuberance. Radner turns a negative into a positive by transforming her lack of good roles into a winning running joke: late in the show she's even shown watching from the audience.
Actually most of the show's best moments are self-referential in nature, from an endless, albeit mildly amusing "biography" of announcer Don Pardo to a skit where John Belushi plays the typical Saturday Night Live viewer, a flower shop owner who blithely brags "I'm so secure in my virility that I can joke about homos." An emboldened Belushi goes on to boast "I like women and they like me. I've had five gonorrhea five times. The more promiscuous the girl, the more I respect her. When it comes to entertainment it's raunchy, sophomoric comedy for me." After numerous mid-show dead spots the show picks up towards the end with a genuinely funny skit where Jane Curtin finally reveals her big secret to husband Garrett Morris: contrary to what she's been telling him she is, in fact, a Caucasian. Morris is appropriately shocked and horrified. The skit works largely because Curtin may be the single whitest woman in the universe, just as Radner might be the most huggable woman in television history. Curtin always comes off like the responsible babysitter forced to look after a gaggle of misbehaving little ruffians. She's the calm at the center of SNL's perpetual raging storm, a Connecticut Yankee stuck with all the cool, weird drugged-up brats.
The Bad: Boy, nothing kills a party quite like a kid showing up. Today's episode was no exception. Foster, who clearly didn't need to be coked to the gills to experience a dizzying rush of nervous energy, stumbles her way through the monologue, racing through her speech and killing plenty of punch lines in the process. She never quite finds her footing, although there's a nice Second City-style skit where she plays a jittery elementary school Lolita nervously hitting on teacher Dan Aykroyd. It's not funny but then it's not really going for laughs. A "King Kong Dirge" isn't funny either but is going for laughs. Garret Morris sure can sing, though. Gary Weis' short film is even more annoying than usual. This time he's set his cameras on the young people of today and learned that kids really do say the darnedest things. I've gone from feeling vaguely guilty about disliking Weis' films to viewing him as history's greatest monster. In his own way he's somehow much, much worse than Hitler. I don't know how, he just is. An early bee skit parody of Peter Pan goes nowhere despite the disarming sweetness of Belushi's Tinklebee while musical guest Brian Wilson seems to be channeling Bill Murray in Caddyshack with his mush-mouthed slur and sideways manner of talking. Awkward! Also who thought it'd be a good idea for Wilson to play two forgettable numbers with a full band then stumble through a solo rendition of "Good Vibrations" on a sandbox nursery set? Final Verdict: Today's episode came smack dab in the middle of a serious rough patch following Chevy Chase's departure. It's hampered throughout by the host and musical guests' palpable nervousness, flubbed lines and weak writing. Thankfully Bill Murray's debut lurks tantalizingly in the distance and with it hopefully a rejuvenated show. Grade: C+ Stray Observations– –Today was quite the SNL-centric day for me. I interviewed Will Ferrell in person in the morning, read parts of Bob Woodward's Wired in the afternoon and wrote up Classic Saturday Night Live. If I have time I may even write a lukewarm review of the big Semi-Pro –How is the big Semi-Pro movie? Not bad but I liked it a lot more back when it was called Anchorman. And Talledega Nights. And Blades Of Glory. Ferrell seemed nice though. –For some reason there was a copy of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue on the table when I interviewed Ferrell. –I've been watching SCTV 90 pretty compulsively as of late and I totally under-rated it last week. There's a conceptual ambition to even the weakest episodes of SCTV that sets it apart from its peers. It wasn't always successful but it was always at least going for something impressive and unique. It takes a little while to get into SCTV's vibe but once you do it's pretty damned addictive. –Can anyone guess the connection between the book I'm reading and the dude I interviewed today? It's an easy one. –Wilson's song introductions are pretty pricelessly awkward –Is it wrong that I found the 14-year-old Foster kinda hot? If only there was something dramatic I could do to worm my way into her heart, perhaps something assassination-related.