The Host: Well, friends we have reached the magical second-to-last week of the second season of Saturday Night Live, or as fancy-pants college types might call it, the season's penultimate episode. That's right, we are officially celebrating the twenty-second week of me trying, and failing, to say something trenchant and insightful about the original SNL. The host of today's episode is the willowy, mildly creepy Shelly Duvall. Fun fact: Gilda Radner was the original choice to play Olive Oyl in the big Popeye movie but Altman held out for Duvall. With that marginally interesting bit of trivia out of the way on with the show! The Good: How often does Saturday Night Live save the very best skit for last? Not very often, I reckon. But that was the case today. The show went out on a high note with a beautifully observed, character-based skit where a wonderfully-in-his element Aykroyd plays a harried husband and father-to-be who has sublimated all of his pent-up desire and frustration into transforming his van into the sweetest little pussy wagon on four wheels. In just one of the skits indelible turns of phrase, Aykroyd argues that "A van is a house on wheels" and protests that "That plush chamber is the closest I'm going to come in this or any other lifetime to a movable fur house."
Who wouldn't want to live in a movable fur house? Only a dirty stinking Nazi robot Commie, that's who. Duvall co-stars as Aykroyd's long-suffering, pregnant wife, a working-class day-dreamer whose aspirations are antithetical to those of her gearhead husband but just as poignantly banal: all she wants out of life is to go to the movies once in a while and pick up the "original soundtrack album" of A Star Is Born, much to the chagrin of her husband, who grouses "I hate Barbra Streisand. She's got the hair of a lunatic." This is funny because it's true. Seriously, she was rocking quite the Jewfro back in the day.
The skit has the glorious economy and sneaky depth of a great short story. It condenses years of quiet desperation and mundane sadness into four or five moving and funny minutes of television. It's filled with telling details and memorable lines, like when Aykroyd enthuses that he loves putting in air conditioning because "You get to use twelve different kinds of wrenches." Only for the Aykroyds of the world would that be a turn-on. It's obvious that Aykroyd invested a lot of himself into the character. Oh, if only the rest of the show were as strong, or as soulful. But today's episode was a quintessential mixed bag featuring the good, the bad and plenty in between. And the return of Chevy Chase. But only as an audience member. Today he was the subject of the wacky audience caption, but the caption in question ("Used to be on the show") was less "funny"" or "zany" than "accurate" and "descriptive"
My second favorite sketch was a gloriously silly bit in which Aykroyd leads a band of costumed criminals in a bank robbery that begins to go horribly awry when people start criticizing his admittedly half-assed bug costume. The sketch shared a gleeful absurdist streak with a deadpan short film by newcomer Sharon Sacks that explored the wedding ritual with surreal relish and boasted a cameo from a young Spalding Gray. Other than that the show was full of skits that appeared promising but were undone by half-assed execution.
The Bad: The nadir of today's episode was a wafer-thin sketch predicated on the premise that Ricardo Montalban, Cesar Romero and Fernando Lamas are so similar that even they can't tell each other apart! This leads to several minutes of repeating the same joke over and over and over and over and over and over again as they try to figure out who's who, what's what and what ever happened to quality control. My guess: it went out the window the moment Lorne Michaels announced his intention to do ninety minutes of original comedy and music every week.
Lots of sketches started out promisingly but petered out quickly, like an Elvis parody in which the King tries his hand at Shakespeare and a girls group song that rumbled like a Bruce Springsteen anthem or a Phil Spector golden oldie but came up short in the yucks department. Speaking of unfunny, a sketch depicting Moonies as lurching, dead-eyed zombies stretched a very thin premise far beyond its breaking point.
Final Judgment: The Saturday Night Live second season blog ends next week and I can't say I'm terribly sad about that. It's been fun but it's also been a little exhausting. From the very start Saturday Night Live had been hit or miss but there's always been something that keeps me coming back for more, though I understand why others are less indulgent. Grade: B- Stray Observations– –Hey, I'm doing the rightly notorious, not to mention craptastic, John Belushi biopic Wired for My Year Of Flops next week. Catch the excitement! Look for it on Wednesday. –I'm reading Steve Martin's Born Standing Up, possibly for Silly Li'l Show-Biz Book Club, possibly not, and really digging it, though the Saturday Night Live content so far is fairly marginal –I'm still planning on doing Saturday Night Live season three for TV Club, but I'm probably going to take a few weeks off before re-entering the fray –I'm also still planning on doing SCTV for TV Club Classic. Look for the first entry next week (I know that's what I said last time but I mean it this time)