After I finished watching/writing about Saturday Night Live's second season for TV Club Classic several centuries ago, I was in no hurry to race into its third season, which had just been released on DVD and sat on my over-stuffed desk, silently taunting me with its presence. Quite frankly, I was tired. Exhausted. Pooped. Lacking Energy and Enthusiasm. Unnecessarily Capitalizing random Words and Needlessly padding my work with mindless repetition and non-sentences. I didn't race to a finish so much as I lurched to a close, then collapsed from exhaustion. Then I slept for several days. And spent several weeks in the mountains trying to figure out this crazy thing called life.
What I'm trying to say is that writing about twenty-three episodes of Saturday Night Live's second season almost killed me. I know that might seem dramastic, but I barely emerged from that harrowing ordeal with my sanity intact.
I am a dedicated student of comedy. But there were times throughout SNL's second season when I felt like I was wading blearily through coursework rather than enjoying a larf. Writing about SCTV, by contrast, was a delightful lark. So fun! So infectious! So refreshingly cohesive and consistent! It was like a Bermuda vacation following the soul-crushing comic Death March that constitutes Saturday Night Live's second season.
Nevertheless, with this here TV Club entry I am venturing back into the fray. Pray for me, dear readers. Pray for Mojo. I might not make it out of this one alive.
Then again, SNL's second season wasn't that bad. It was often quite good but it was plagued by the problems that have afflicted Saturday Night Live since its inceptions: sketches that drag on interminably, bad ideas, obvious cue-card reading, comedically tone-deaf hosts and endlessly recycled stock characters and phrases.
Will the show's third season be different? I'm guessing no.
Host: Steve Martin. In Steve Martin's Born Standing Up he devotes maybe a page to his stint as Saturday Night Live's most beloved host. That might seem a little odd, given how big a role he plays in Saturday Night Live mythology but Martin's memoir is all about the standup comedian as Existential Loner and early Saturday Night Live was all about running with the hippest gang in Manhattan. Martin kicks things off with a monologue rich in both trippy conceptual humor (riffing on the chorus of "Mack The Knife" until the band starts to play along, at which point he abruptly moves on), audience-pleasing drug references (joking about plugging his new album on Celebrity Cokeheads) and a really sharp bit about looking for cat handcuffs after learning that his cat is embezzling from him. In both his opening monologue and the rest of the show, Martin is almost creepily polished: he's much closer to Aykroyd's robotic laugh-machine efficiency than Belushi's slobbish abstraction. Also, he's totally funny. I like this Steve Martin. Also, how fucking funny was he in Baby Mama? Answer: Really fucking funny. He should do weird character parts exclusively, says I. Musical guest:Jackson Browne: Yawn. It's hard to believe this is the same boy genius who wrote "These Days" and "Fairest of the Season" The Good: You never forget where you were when the first "Wild and Crazy Guys" sketch aired. I, for example, was sucking on my mama's titties, which is both strange and disturbing, since I was seventeen at the time. Martin and Aykroyd play their soon-to-be iconic brothers as guilelessly enthusiastic would-be swingers who were brain surgeons in their native Czechoslovakia and decorative bathroom figure salesman in the United States. In their very first sketch, the hormonally driven twosome mack unsuccessfully on Jane Curtin and Gilda Radner using a hilariously incongruous combination of groovy seventies slang, shameless come-ons and faltering broken English. It's a dialect act rich in culture-clash comedy carried by the madcap libidinous energy of Martin and Aykroyd and the droll underplaying of straight women Curtin and Radner, who come perilously close to cracking up by the end of the sketch. Good stuff.
The very first Weekend Update pairing Jane Curtin with Dan Aykroyd is highlighted by "film critic" Bill Murray "reviewing" The Deep solely on the basis of a twenty-second clip he's watching for the first time. His shtick strongly echoes Steve Martin's stand-up persona–the air-kissing Hollywood phony all too comfortable with his own fatuousness. The rest of Weekend Update is sharp as well.
Steve Martin's oblivious jerk persona gets an inspired workout in "Mike McMack: Defense Lawyer", a law-show spoof about a lawyer (Martin) who wins his cases by relentlessly appealing to the jury's basest instincts, spinning even the most wholesome testimony into a lurid sexual confessions. Lorne Michaels pops up later to up the ante on his offer to pay the Beatles a whopping three thousand dollars to reunite on Saturday Night Live: this time he promises a whopping thirty two hundred dollars. It's never too early to start recycling your greatest hits.
The Bad: The show, and season, opens with a wildly dated parody of an American Express commercial parodying the monetary and legal foibles of disgraced former Office of Management and the Budget director Bert Lance. It was an anticlimactic way of opening the show's third year and John Belushi, playing Lance, sweated so profusely that he looked like a melting wax figure or a walking heart attack. I don't want this blog to turn into a John Belushi death watch but oh dear Lord is he not looking so good.
A sketch about a Quaalude –addled Cynthia Plastercaster-like groupie's memories of her fling with Roy Orbison drags on endlessly, beating its single joke–John Belushi's Orbison lurching about erratically once his signature shades are purloined–into the ground.
Speaking of endless, the comedy team of Franken & Davis gets their biggest showcase to date in a spoof of old variety shows/beauty pageants that lasts way too long. Early in the bit, Franken quips that unlike most teams, which adhere to the cut-up/straight guy template, neither Franken nor Davis is funny. It's kinda funny cuz it's kinda true!
Grade: B+ Final Verdict: It's weird: I watched this episode a while back and was thoroughly disappointed, perhaps because my expectations for a Steve Martin-hosted season opener were so high. I was a lot more impressed the second time around, although the show still wobbles in places and isn't exactly the tightest ninety minutes in show business. Still, this is good stuff and I am looking forward to covering the rest of the season almost as much as I'm dreading it. Also, guy who actually reads this blog: welcome back! I hope you liked that Thank You card I sent you for your support. How's Aunt Martha? Is her arthritis still giving her trouble? Stray Observations– –"You American girls have such big breasts all the time." –"Your American blue jeans make us think of having sex." –"Nick Nolte, lose the mustache. You look like a Denver cop." –The classic Saturday Night Live opening sequence has been replaced by Jumbotron-style images of the cast as rendered in pinpoints of light. That shit is weird. I don't like it. –The Saturday Night Live TV Club Classic Blog is back! Huzzah?