Host: I'd love to be able to tell you that Ruth Gordon absolutely rocked today's episode of Saturday Night Live, that she showed the young whippersnappers of her great, great grandkids' generation what true comic genius looks like. But that would be a lie. A lowdown, dirty, peppergut, insecure, no business having lie. To say this was not the estimable Mrs. Gordon's finest hour would be an understatement. The opening monologue proved an ominous portent of things to come with its dispiriting lack of jokes and "Hey, I'm just an old lady giving this wild new comedy show the old college try" vibe. Gordon looked doddering and distracted throughout the show, though I suspect that she was probably on different, more prescriptiony drugs than the rest of the cast and her cue-card reading skills left much to be desired. The writers simply didn't seem to know what to do with Gordon so they filled the show with vaudeville style randomness: three Chuck Berry golden oldies, a Mr. Bill home movie (co-written by Vance Degeneres), two music-video-style sequences, some softcore porn, a Mr. Mike Least Loved Bedtime Story and an elaborate showcase for magic superstar/character actor Ricky Jay. With all that on the docket it's a wonder Gordon managed to appear on the show at all. The Good: In his first number, a suavely mustachioed Chuck Berry wowed the crowd with the sweet-ass Duckwalk he learned from Marty McFly while Dan Aykroyd's machine-gun virtuosity found an excellent outlet in a fake commercial for an electronic superstore temporarily run by Crazy Frank, who schemes to get revenge on Crazy Eddie for stealing his woman by selling all of Crazy Eddie's merchandise for prices that are positively insane, not to mention bankruptcy-inducing. Aykroyd went on to steal a scene about geriatric hookers as a cop who shouts particularly sordid words really, really loud for no discernible reason. I don't know why but I found that really funny. A Tom Snyder parody with an injured wheelchair John Belushi as Dino Delaurantis was mildly amusing if insanely padded, though it did contain the phrase "ruthless monkey pimp". Nothing containing those magical words can be all bad. And Mr. Mike's Least Loved Bedtime Stories are always a perverse delight. Mostly today's episode just felt tired and directionless, the work of a bunch of exhausted, talented people throwing a bunch of shit on the wall and seeing what sticks. The Bad:
Readers (or at least one reader) have warned me that Emily Litella wears out her welcome something fierce in this stretch o' SNL. Oh dear Lord were they not kidding me. Today's episode featured perhaps the first instance of a hacky trope that would be repeated relentlessly over the show's now seven thousand year run: the skit where a recurring character interacts with a relative or friend who behaves exactly like them. Hey, if audiences love Joey Tacopants who only talks about tacos then they'll love his older brother Tito Tacopants who–get this–only talks about tacos! In this instance we're introduced to Emily Litella's sister who–get this–behaves exactly like Emily Litella! How crazy is that? Listening to Gilda Radner and Ruth Gordon screech their way through various "comical" misunderstandings was downright unbearable. And the show had the fucking nerve of bring back Emily Litella for Weekend Update. Please tell me she gets killed off in the next episode. I love me some Gilda Radner–who was looking good in a French maid outfit in her Mr. Mike bit–but this is getting ridiculous.
At this point I've stopped thinking of Gary Weis' short films in subjective terms. They aren't good or bad, really. They just are. That's especially true of today's head scratcher, a raunchy homemade music video for Bob Seger's "Night Moves" that lingers lasciviously and at length on the sensual curves of a gorgeous black woman still smarting from a doomed relationship with Garrett Morris. The short feels unmistakably like a warm-up for Weis' later work directing music videos like "Walk Like An Egyptian" and, like Gordon's monologue, features nothing that even vaguely resembles humor. In the parlance of e-slang WTF? On a similarly WTF note why is Bill Murray only in the show for about three minutes, most of them in a brutal Howard Hughes skit? Why does Mr. Fucking Bill (who I find mildly amusing) have as much screentime as Bill "Groundhog Day Ghostbustin' Ass" Murray? It all just feels kind of wrong. I dug the young Ricky Jay though, with his glorious, lion-like mane of hair, leonine beard and king of the jungle-like mastery of card tricks and witty banter. History casts a ghostly pall over the cold open, which finds a wheelchair-bound John Belushi feverishly intent on doing the show so that his doctor doesn't cut off his drug supply. It's far too creepy and loaded with historical irony to be funny.
Final Verdict: After last weeks' transcendent, historic episode Saturday Night Live falls back into a rut with this sub-par time-waster. Grade: C Stray Observations– –I suspect that the laughs will return–with a vengeance–on next weeks' show starring the always hilarious Fran Tarkenton and music by the always even hilariouser Leo Sayer –What hilarious skits did I overlook this week? Which did I overrate? Which did I underrate? –Watching Garrett Morris try to remember his lines has proven a strange source of fascination. Why doesn't he just read them off the cue-cards like everyone else? –Morris and Newman seem to have less to do every week –A Barbra Streisand parody was sorta funny, then tedious, then sorta funny again, then way overlong, then over