Sunday, June 8, 2008

The "SNL" Next Door

From the fifteenth of October, 1977 comes ...

"Saturday Night Live" Host: Hugh Hefner, Musical Guest: Libby Titus, Special Guest: Andy Kaufman

(follow along with most of these scenes at SNL Transcripts.)

Cold Open -- Leroy Nieman's Femlin from the Playboy Party Jokes page comes to life and attempts to relate some off-color witticisms. Laraine Newman plays the Femlin in a costume that would never ever get past the NBC censors today, despite the fact that director Dave Wilson frames her as discretely as possible. The Cold Opens were a lot quicker back in the day; this one doesn't last a full minute. Laraine is too cute for words. 3 stars.

Credits -- Same as last week, which is too say, slightly better than dreadful. 1 star.

Monologue -- Hugh Hefner ambles out in his trademark silk pajamas on to a stage resplendent with the Playboy rabbit head logo. He perches on a stool and croons "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" while superimposed titles describe how religious he is. It really was Hefner's idea to do this clunkingly obvious song. He's actually not bad at first, but a few lines in, he loses the rhythm and never manages to get it back. The captions are cute. 2 stars.

Angora Bouquet -- Sometimes after a particularly bad "SNL" commercial parody, I'll wonder why they even bother to do the darn things. Seeing these early episodes and especially the run of brilliant commercial spoofs that kicks off this season, I'm reminded how fundamental they are to the show. After The Royal Deluxe II and Swill, we get this piece about a facial cleanser that doubles as a powerful sedative. Jane Curtain opens the ad with the immortal line, "Hi, I'm beautiful but stupid." Angora Bouquet is said to include methaqualone, aka quaaludes. Bill Murray as Jane's husband steps on a rake and gets smacked in the face. Nothing short of genius. 4 stars.

The Planet of the Men vs. The Planet of the Women -- Sci-fi rip about ... well, the title pretty much sums it up. Hefner is Captain Macho. Jane is Captain Estrogena. It's all a little painfully predictable. The shot of the two spaceships crashing is an iconic moment in the series. Beloved, but it really should have been better. 2 stars.

Libby Titus performs "Fool That I Am" -- Last week, I mentioned that I didn't know who Titus is/was. Never let it be said that I don't do my homework. She's a singer/songwriter who had a few albums in the late 70s, none of them especially memorable or successful. She was a companion of the Band's Levon Helm and bore a daughter by him, and is currently Mrs. Donald Fagen. Based on her performance here, she's a thin-voiced minor talent with Juan Epstein's haircut and a wardrobe from the Sears/Roebuck Collection. Hefner introduces her, saying, "I think we'll be hearing a lot more from her." How'd that prediction pan out? 1/2 star.

Anyone Can Host -- Again, this isn't really a bit, but the second announcement of the (very real) contest that brought an unknown to New York to host the 1977 Christmas episode. Garrett Morris handles the boilerplate this time, taking over from Lorne Michaels last week. He holds his sample postcard upside down. Probably not fair to rate this. Too bad. 1 1/2 stars.

X-Police -- Holy heck! This is one dark sketch. Two students (Jane and John Belushi) take a break from studying and light up a joint, only to be busted by the X-Police, a couple of gung-ho cops who've been kicked off the force, played by Bill and Dan Aykroyd. Aykroyd beats Belushi to death, then frames Curtin who goes mad with grief and attempts to kill herself. "Another senseless marijuana-related death." Methinks I detect the authorial hand of Michael "Mr. Mike" O'Donoghue. Some squirm-based laughs, but more squirm than anything else. 2 1/2 stars.

Circular Bed Sex Research -- A comely co-ed (Jane) wishes to test her thesis about the geometry of lovemaking on Hefner's famous round bed, but suffers mathematicus interruptus. Jane has a premonition of "The Girls Next Door" when she mistakes Hef's beeper for a pacemaker. Famous Playboy Interview subject President Jimmy Carter (Dan) asks Hef's help in selecting the right headphones. Fun without being terribly funny. 2 1/2 stars.

Listening to Great Music -- John Belushi hosts a show that helps us grow in our appreciation of the classics. Tonight: Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries." A definitive Belushi scene. He gets to articulate all the highfalutin' culture-speak at the top, then by the end, he smashes the whole place up. No one did it better. 3 1/2 stars.

Weekend Update -- Jane and Dan are still not clicking on the fake news. And this time, there's no Bill Murray segment to save them. Outdated references are made to Physicist John Van Vleck, Anita Bryant, the Gay Bakers (they nailed homophobe Bryant with a pie), Lillian Carter, Howard Cosell, Nadia Comaneci and Catfish Hunter. Gilda Radner as Nadia says that she will soon get fat and grow a mustache "just like my mother." The real Nadia Comaneci, now 46, is still quite cute; she pops up on the MDA telethon every year. Dan does a joke about not mixing heroin and cocaine ("If you must snort, don't shoot"). Five years later, John Belushi would die from an overdose of exactly that cocktail. Creepy. 2 stars.

Sex in Cinema -- Hefner introduces a clip from The First Mrs. Kimball, a screwball comedy starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hebpurn (Bill and Laraine). Though true to the word of the Hayes Production Code, the clip manages to violate its spirit. Bill and Laraine both sink their teeth into their classic impressions. Hefner shows a little bit of comedy talent. Not much. 3 stars.

3 R's -- Jane hosts a show about education featuring Michael Mikonos (John) and his illiterate daughter Colleen (Gilda). Belushi prototypes the character who will become the Greek restaurant proprietor ("Cheeseboorgie, cheeseboorgie"). He spends this entire sketch shoving poor Gilda. Some laughs; I liked the title of illiterate Colleen's book. But this is too unpleasant to truly amuse. 2 stars.

The Story of H -- Hefner's life is retold in this film as a cautionary tale, a la The Story of O. It must have set the music clearance people into a spin to hear this with its lifts from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Frank Sinatra. An okay idea probably too reliant on the audience's familiarity with the relatively obscure reference touchstone. 2 stars.

The Playboy Philosophy -- In Athens circa 400 B.C., philosophers Socrates (John) and Plato (Garrett) are joined by Hefner. Loved when John asks Hef a question in the form of a Playboy Forum letter. Funny sketch sabotaged a little by Hefner's awkwardness. Belushi saves the day, though. 3 stars.

Funeral Magician -- At the Hulce & Playfair Funeral Home, magician Hartley Raymond (Bill) eulogizes the deceased in his own unique manner. A tour de force for Murray who gets to put his glad-handing showbiz persona into overdrive, performing card tricks and conjuring stunts at a funeral service. Aykroyd has a nice turn as one of his glib, jargon-spewing pitchmen. But Murray owns this one. That's Paul Schaffer on organ. 3 1/2 stars.

Andy Kaufman -- He comes out and sings a maladroit version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!" Then he sits down at a piano and recreates a sing-a-long from some ancient kids' record. Finally, he swaggers into his Elvis duds and unleashes a rip-snorting "Oh I Love You So." Just another day at the office for the irreplaceable Andy Kaufman. 4 stars.

The Farbers at the Playboy Club -- Salesman Red Schaffer (Dan), Playboy Club Keyholder, entertains Larry and Bobbie Farber, with Hefner himself making an appearance. Dan gets to use some of the old urban legends about Hefner and Playboy ("He's got a nuclear-powered Bunny submarine!") and Belushi calls Hefner, "'Ner." Never a big fan of the Farbers as characters, but this is probably their finest moment. Laraine looks yummy in her bunny outfit. 3 1/2 stars.

Then Hefner waves good-bye and another "SNL" is in the can. It's said that for years, every Saturday night, Hefner would run a copy of this show at the Playboy Mansion, but maybe that's just another of Red Schaffer's Playboy legends.

No comments:

John and Dave talks Oscar nomination predictions