Sunday, June 1, 2008

Where Were You on October 8, 1977?

I know where I was. First, I watched the Los Angeles Dodgers defeat the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS to advance to the World Series. Tommy John, just back from the surgery that would eventually bear his name, threw a gem to outduel Steve Carlton that night. The game was rain-delayed for about an hour and with it airing on NBC, that meant a later-than-usual start for ...

"Saturday Night Live" Host: Madeline Kahn, Musical Guest: Taj Mahal

Once again, if you don't happen to own the box set of the third season of "SNL," you can get a run down of the show and several of the sketch transcripts at the great SNL Transcripts site.

Cold Open -- "The Trial of Lee Harry Oswald." ABC presents a speculative drama on what might have happened in an Oswald trial. The names have been changed to protect ... somebody. The Oswald Trial movie had aired on ABC about a week earlier. A quick opener for "SNL," even at this early stage. The punch-line acknowledges the debt "SNL" owed to classic TV comedy. Not one of their better efforts. 1 1/2 stars.

Credits and Monologue -- The credits are improved from the awful sequence the week before, with the ghost-face images of the cast replaced by scenes of them in Times Square standing in front of their (still terrible) caricatures on the Jumbotron. Better, but still not good. 1 star. Host Madeline Kahn mentions the delay caused by the baseball play-off game (see above) , then admonishes the audience to revel in the unknown with her. Kahn is a sweetie but it looks like they just shoved her out in front of the camera without a script. Or a joke. This one is not off to a good start. 1 star.

Swill -- Just like last week, the show gets the ball rolling with one of its all-time great commercial parodies. Bill Murray extols the virtues of a mineral water bottled domestically, from Lake Erie. Swill is wonderfully gross, as is Murray's jacket. The parody is not so much a shot at mineral waters, which were fairly new in the U.S. at the time, but at the famous ketchup commercial of the era that touted how thick it was by pouring slowly while Carly Simon's "Anticipation" played on the soundtrack. Carly Simon had appeared on the show in the first season as the musical guest for host Madeline Kahn. The circle is complete. 3 1/2 stars.

Bad Opera -- Leonard Pinth-Garnell (Dan Aykroyd) introduces Knabel's bad opera "The Golden Note," a musical featuring a note so hard to sing, it causes "Larynx Lock" and the singer's vocal chords are stuck droning out that same note forever. Always loved this bit in its many incarnations throughout the classic period. Stole the "There now. That wasn't very good now, was it?" line for years. Still do. Garrett Morris appears here as a character identified as "Schwartz Sturum," which I believe translates as "Black Thunder." Nice. The costuming reminds me of The Big Lebowski. Kahn sings the tragic note. 3 stars.

Anyone Can Host -- Lorne Michaels announces a (real) contest where anyone could write in and be picked to host the 1977 Christmas show. A nice example of how adventurous the original show was. Michaels is still stiff as can be. He stares at his cue cards almost as much as Christopher Walken. Not really a bit, but for the record -- and for the originality ... 3 stars.

Bianca -- International jet-setter Bianca Jagger (Kahn) hosts an intimate gathering with three or four of her closest friends. Just in case Murray's jacket in the Swill commercial didn't date the show enough, here are some Bianca Jagger jokes whose bases are lost in the sands of time. As depicted in the sketch, she's a shallow pompous moron prone to making obvious observations ("When you are expected at one and you arrive at four, you are late") and admiring her own depth. She's joined by John Belushi as Truman Capote (funny), Laraine Newman as Margaret Trudeau (okay) and Jane Curtin as Princess Grace. Jane scores big with only a couple of lines, practically stealing the scene from the flashier Kahn and Belushi. A dated impression jam, but still fun. 2 1/2 stars.

Taj Mahal performs "Queen Bee" -- Another week, another legendary artist at the peak of his powers. Last week it was Jackson Browne. This time the great Taj Mahal steps up. At the time, he was incorporating all sorts of unusual instruments into his blues-based sound, and here we see him performing with a flautist and a steel drum player. A breezy treat. 4 stars.

The Acid Generation -- Look at what time can do to a joke. In the very first "Schiller's Reel" ever to appear on "SNL," the Acid Generation, played by a number of old codgers on the street, recall their wilder days. Watching this 31 years on, all I could think was that this is probably what most of the so-called Acid Generation really looks like today. It's funny, but for someone seeing it for the first time, I'm not sure they would even realize there was a joke here. 2 stars.

Weekend Update -- "SNL" is still pushing the news-team concept, but this week, only Bill Murray's entertainment reporter ("Now get outta here you knuckleheads, and I mean it!") joins anchors Jane and Dan Aykroyd. They still haven't got the rhythm of this news-team thing as Dan fumbles a joke and completely blows a couple of cues. That's Gilda underneath the Dancing "N." Some of the wildly outdated references include jokes about Moshe Dayyan and Yassir Arafat, Kojak, Dinah Shore, Freddie Laker, John Denver, Billy and Buddy Carter, and Donny and Marie Osmond. This episode aired on Chevy Chase's 34th birthday and at the end of Update, Dan wishes him "a happy 37th." Murray is hilarious again. 2 1/2 stars.

Silver Balls and Golden Pins -- Murray as a preacher delivers a sermon comparing the travails of life to the highs and lows of bowling, accompanied by a choir of bowling-trophy figures led by Kahn. More funny-strange than funny-ha ha, but I love this bizarre scene. Murray wears yet another eye-blistering jacket -- this one burgundy red -- while Kahn revels in a chance to belt out a gospel number. One of the highlights of the first season was her performance of "I Feel Pretty" kitted out as the Bride of Frankenstein and she does another fine job singing in an odd milieu. 4 stars.

Reverse Discrimination -- One Craig Baker (John) threatens to sue a university for reverse discrimination if it accepts a blind, black man (Garrett) over him. A slow, lifeless scene, despite some major efforts from both Aykroyd and Belushi. The topic was relatively new at the time and it probably benefited from some relevance, but now, it's just predictable. 1 1/2 stars.

Autumn in New York -- With the emergence of Tom Schiller as "SNL's" moviemaker, Gary Weis would slowly fade from the show as Albert Brooks had a year earlier. After his time with "SNL," Weis would go on to direct Wholly Moses! which starred several "SNL'ers", and music videos for the Bangles and George Harrison. In this piece, he films Kahn wandering around New York in a funny hat and crooning "Autumn in New York" off pitch. In the end, she appears just under the Times Square Jumbotron that figures so prominently in the credits. Sort of sweet with the rosy veneer of hindsight. 2 stars.

Woman's Product -- Gilda gleefully tells Laraine about a new feminine product so personal, she doesn't even know what it does. But it keeps you fresh. Unlike the Acid Generation film, this is still timely today, as evidenced by this past season's somewhat similar Annuale commercial. This is the first time we've seen Gilda's face on this episode since the credits; we did see her legs briefly protruding from the Dancing "N." 3 stars.

Hercules -- An actor prepares to dub the latest foreign Hercules epic. Used to love Herc films as a kid. Still do, despite the ripping they took on "Mystery Science Theater 3000." The cast puts their improvisation skills to work, swiping a page out of the Second City playbook with a simple dubbing/rewind scene. Belushi, Morris and Radner all do a lovely job inhabiting the cheesy film, whether going forward or backward. But this is a showcase for Aykroyd's verbal dexterity as he deftly switches from voice to voice, dubbing all three characters. 3 1/2 stars.

Barry Humphries (Dame Edna) -- The Dame sits down with Kahn for a little one on one. Is there any way I can get into my time machine, go back, and make them not do this and instead give me another Taj Mahal performance? Dame Edna is as lame then as he/she was the last time I saw him/her, which thankfully was a while ago. Kahn tries to bring this segment to an end at one point, only to have Humphries trample on, oblivious or uncaring. Just like me. 1/2 star.

Pocket Pal -- Aykroyd hawks a device that gives you a ten-second warning before a mid-air collision. Great "SNL" absurdism with Dan's voice of authority put to fine use. Maybe the single most useless product "SNL" has ever put into a commercial parody. That's a compliment. 3 1/2 stars.

Phone Call -- Gail and Judith (Gilda and Madeline) wait by the phone; Gail expects the man she met the night before will call soon, but Judith cautions her to expect the worst. I detect a Marilyn Suzanne Miller script here; she excelled at intimate relationship scenes and this is a great one. Gilda and Madeline play off each other beautifully, trading secrets and giggles. The kind of thing I'm constantly hoping "SNL" will do more of instead of one more lame game show. As good as it gets. 4 stars.

And then Madeline says good night. Don Pardo tells us that next week the host will be Hugh Hefner with musical guest Libby Titus. Who the hell is Libby Titus? Even I don't remember. I'm off to the wikipedia.

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