Host: One of the more intriguing aspects of early Saturday Night Live is how malleable the show was in its infancy. When Paul Simon hosted, for example, Saturday Night Live stopped being a sketch comedy show with a few musical numbers thrown in for variety and temporarily became a musical variety show with a few skits thrown in for good measure.
Lorne Michaels was and is the man with the magical rolodex, a consummate schmoozer and friend to the stars with seemingly the totality of show business at his beck and call. When Michaels famously offered the Beatles three thousand dollars to reunite on Saturday Night Live, it was funny and irreverent but there was also a thrilling, albeit minute, possibility that a full-on reunion might actually occur. After all, Michaels had reunited Simon & Garfunkel during the show's first season and even an entity as God-like as the Beatles had to be flattered by the attention they were receiving from the hippest, coolest, hottest show on television.
Today's episode lacks anything as seminal as a Beatles or Simon & Garfunkel reunion. Instead disappointed audiences had to settle with a guitar-strumming Paul Simon performing many of his greatest hits and two duets with George Harrison, who also showcased a pair of "short films" that today are what the young people call "music videos". The comedy comes off as a bit of an afterthought but I doubt anyone minded.
The Good: What's not to like about Paul Simon singing "Still Crazy After All These Years" while dressed as a turkey? Granted, Simon didn't have the brass-iron chutzpah to perform the entire number, instead protesting that performing while dressed as a flightless bird was somehow beneath his dignity but the mere fact that Simon was coerced to wear a turkey suit at all is a testament to Lorne Michaels' powers of persuasion. Dan Aykroyd turns in a scarily on-point Rod Serling impersonation during a funny Twilight Zone parody and a semi-mortified Jane Curtin is quickly growing into her role as sole "Weekend Update" anchor. But today's episode was all about the music, man. In keeping with the agreeably ramshackle variety-show spirit Harrison's two music videos–for "Crackerbox Palace" and "This Song"–have a charmingly homemade vibe courtesy of guest director Eric Idle, who fills the frame with silly costumes, men in drag (always hilarious!), George Harrison singing from a baby stroller and other assorted low-fi wackiness. Also Simon and Harrison perform two songs together, which is pretty fucking awesome. The Bad: The painfully earnest Paul Simon generally steered clear of dignity-unfriendly skits during his early SNL hosting gigs. His starring role in a bloated, over-long, under-funny Billy Jack skit goes a long way towards explaining why. A pop-culture phenomenon like Billy Jack seemingly lends itself to parody but the skit falls strangely flat. Incidentally is anyone else perversely fascinated by the whole Billy Jack phenomenon? It was absolutely huge in the seventies but seems to have more or less disappeared from the annals of pop culture history since then, along with Tom Laughlin himself. The Final Verdict: Today's episode of Paul Simon And Friends was relatively light on laughs but long on peaceful, easy feelings. The Not Ready For Prime Time Players take a back seat to a pair of musical legends: they may have been the kings of countercultural comedy but they seem to have a very firm sense of where they stand in the great show-business pecking order. Grade: B+ Stray Observations: –Oh man am I excited about next week's show: li'l Jodie Foster and big ol' Brian Wilson. –Has anyone else seen SCTV's Thursday Night Live episode? It's a very affectionate spoof of SNL that's included on Shout Factory's invaluable SCTV: The Best of the Early Years DVD box set –Because I'm desperate for an online conversation-starter what do you guys think of SCTV versus classic SNL? At the risk of being wildly controversial I think they're both great in their own unique way. It is amusing to note however that Saturday Night Live is consistently ridiculed and mocked for its reliance on catchphrases and recurring characters while SCTV is deified and hailed for its recurring characters and catchphrases.