40 Years of Saturday Night Live! – Season Two, Episode Two (Norman Lear)

Host: Norman Lear

Musical Guest: Boz Scaggs

Cast: Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner – i.e. the “Not Ready For Primetime Players”

Highlights:

Norman Lear, television’s super producer from the seventies and eighties, who was responsible for such classics as All in the Family, One Day at a Time, Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons, Maude and many others, served as host for this episode.  He’s not much of an actor, though, and was rarely funny, though he was affable and game to try. He provided a few good straight men, as you’ll read below.

The “Chevy in the Hospital” cold open.  Chevy Chase’s committed portrayal of Gerald Ford in the previous episode’s “Debate ’76” sketch, which featured him in a few spectacular falls, resulted in injury, according to his willing substitute, Gilda Radner.  As a result, among the Not Ready For Primetime Players in this episode was “The Voice of Chevy Chase,” instead of Chevy himself. The Voice only appeared once; at the top of the show, Gilda explains Chevy’s condition and how the show must go on and how she’s willing to perform the fall of the week in Chevy’s stead, which presumably involved tumbling off a stepladder that Gilda kept climbing to “fix a broken light.”  Chevy calls Gilda on the telephone from the hospital, allegedly, and urges her not to go through with it, calling the feat too dangerous, but Gilda is determined. On his second phone call, he convinces her to make the phone receiver “walk” on her desk and fall over the side instead, at which point, he calls out “Live from New York,” over the phone style.  Personally, I wanted to see Gilda fall, not because I wanted to see her get hurt, but because she was really good at physical comedy too.  Also, delivering “Live from New York” over the telephone just loses something.

The “Norman & Actors” film.  In this film, Norman Lear convinces some of his dearest friends, mostly actors from his shows, including Caroll O’Connor, Jean Stapleton, Sherman Helmsley, Isabel Sanford, Bea Arthur, Bernadette Peters, Richard Crane, and Nancy Walker, to provide testimonials about how he is a kind and loving and caring producer, despite tabloid fodder to the contrary, while behind his back, they make faces and threaten him with various bodily harms.  In one portion of the sketch, Helmsley and Sanford, better known as the Jeffersons, talk about how Lear is an easygoing boss who is not a task master, only to reveal themselves shackled at the ankles to balls and chains, apparently like slaves.  The seventies: so unafraid.  Bea Arthur, once Maude and later Dorothy Sbornak on The Golden Girls, has a bucket of water thrown over Lear’s oblivious head as he prattles on about how touched he is by the outpouring of sentiment in his direction.   Mostly, the fun from this sketch was in seeing all of these actors in their prime and alive states.

Pop and soul singer Boz Scaggs sang his hit “Lowdown” and a song called “What Can I Say.”  Apparently, he was a member of the Steve Miller Band briefly.  Mostly, the songs sound like a combination of disco and funk.

In place of the beleaguered Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin makes her debut as Weekend Update anchor, a role she would fill regularly when Chevy Chase departed the show after the second season (spoilers).  She starts by talking to Chevy’s never-seen girlfriend or hot date, who he is seen cajoling into different naughty conversations at the top of each Update by suggesting that the mystery woman has the “wrong number.” Jane’s introduction is more straightforward than Chevy’s: “Hello, I’m Jane Curtin with the news.”  Her Update is filled with deadpan deliveries and witty barbs concerning the 1976 presidential election and newspaper heiress Patty Hearst, who made headlines at the time.  We are also treated to a live remote by correspondent Laraine Newman, who, having been resurrected from her bout with foreign legionnaire’s disease in the previous episode, agrees to report from Times Square regarding the “New Year.”  She opines that the Square is unusually quiet for a New Year, until Jane points out that it is the Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah, and that this holiday is celebrated privately within the home.  At one point, Jane stumbles over her delivery and directs a big raspberry toward the camera.  The best joke of the segment centers on Speedy Alka Seltzer, who came out of the medicine cabinet as a bicarbonate (this is on the heels of Elton John reporting himself as bisexual at the time).  The story is filled with the best kinds of puns, to the extent puns can be the best of even puns, before Jane signs off with the traditional, “Good night, and have a pleasant tomorrow.”

The “Chevy’s Girls” performance.  In the best segment of the episode, the three ladies of Saturday Night  – Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, and Gilda Radner – in t-shirts marked “Chevy’s Girls,” sing a doo-wop ode to Chevy Chase, which includes references to how they worship and stalk him and hope his girlfriend would die and how when he falls each week, they hope he would fall for them.  It was cute and a lovely “get well” sentiment, apart from most of the lyrics, and so apropos of Saturday Night.

The “Wife Abuse” sketch.  In this sketch, John Belushi plays an attorney, and Gilda Radner plays a battered wife who is going to testify against her abusive husband in court.  Belushi’s attorney is prepping her, and when she can’t muster any emotion to bevy her testimony (she tells her story of violence and abuse in a complete droning monotone), he hits her to try to make her cry, inciting Gilda’s excellent physical comedy. Norman Lear then enters the scene, playing the managing partner of the law firm.  After forcing Belushi’s attorney to apologize to Gilda’s victim, he attempts to demonstrate what Belushi’s lawyer is asking the victim to do, but he doesn’t pass muster either, and Belushi starts beating on him. Except!  The sketch goes meta; Belushi starts wailing on Lear, while Gilda tries to hold him back.  “John, John, you can’t do that, he’s an important producer!”  “Eh, he’s not our producer,” quips John Belushi.  And scene.

The “Peace Talks” sketch.  In this sketch, John Belushi reprises his impression of former Vice President Henry Kissinger, exiled to Rhodesia as ambassador during the Ford administration.  The sketch starts with him giving a press conference to discuss peace talks in Rhodesia.  He then enters a chamber.  Garret Morris plays Joshua Nkomo, an African head of state who is negotiating a cease fire with Ian Smith, played by Dan Aykroyd, across an imposing conference table.  Norman Lear plays Charles W. Robinson, an apparent aide to Kissinger.  This sketch is funny for two reasons.  First, Aykroyd is playing this stuffy, upper-class twit with a precious British accent who waxes endlessly about diplomacy while calling Nkomo all manner of names, like “gorilla lips;” similarly, Nkomo lobs them back, mostly revolving around the idea that Smith is a “pig” or a “pork face.”  In order to solve this dilemma, which includes a testy negotiation over the length of the proposed cease fire, Kissinger encourages everyone to become involved in a group sing, hitting on peace-loving anthems like “All You Need is Love” and “Give Peace a Chance,” among other feel-good favorites.  In the end, the two officials are so tired of singing, they acquiesce to signing anything, and Kissinger jumps up and down like a schoolboy saying, “I did it again!” before returning to the press with a signed page out of a Playboy magazine.  Absurdity, see.

Less Successful Moments

The “Snakehandling O’Sheas” sketch.  For this episode’s “WTF” award: John Belushi plays the patriarch of a family of snake handlers who live in the greater Pittsburgh (or maybe it’s Philadelphia) area.  He’s also a union representative fighting for a raise at a local steel plant.  His wife, Jane Curtin, plays some manager of the company who has her husband arrested by their gay son and sheriff Barney, played by Dan Aykroyd. Their daughter, a nun played by Laraine Newman, returns home to ease tensions among her family, but nothing seems to be effective until they start holding and chanting at snakes as a family unit. This absurd TV concept is allegedly produced by Norman Lear, who hears a pitch for it at the top of the sketch.  I’m not sure what it was I was watching; I do know that I missed the comedy in the sense that I didn’t find it funny.  Of course, they were also using live snakes, and that’s just a turn-off for me.  Seriously, the sketch might have fallen into the “too absurd” category, and yes, it is possible to be too absurd.

Most Valuable Not Ready For Primetime Players

(1st) Jane Curtin, for saddling up to Weekend Update so deftly and for being one third of an amazing trio of “Chevy’s Girls.”

(2nd) Gilda Radner, for being willing to soldier on with the “fall of the week” in Chevy’s absence, despite his protests; for being another important third of the trio of “Chevy’s Girls;” and for doing her best to stop John Belushi from all-out murdering Norman Lear in the “Wife Abuse” sketch.

(3rd) John Belushi, for not managing his anger in a funny way in the “Wife Abuse” sketch and for his silly, singing Henry Kissinger in the “Peace Talks” sketch.

Honorable mention:

Laraine Newman, for rounding out the three “Chevy’s Girls,” for being a snake-charming nun (whatever else that sketch meant), and for spectacularly misunderstanding Rosh Hashanah.

40 Years of Saturday Night Live! – Season Two, Episode One (Lily Tomlin)

Host: Lily Tomlin

Musical Guest: James Taylor

Cast: Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner – i.e. the “Not Ready For Primetime Players”

Highlights:

Lily Tomlin returns as host to open the second season, injecting her specific brand of fearless, no holds barred comedy into the proceedings.  To set the tone, in fact, in the “Entourage” cold open, Chevy Chase and Gilda Radner are standing outside, waiting for Lily, who Chevy reports has not been to rehearsal all week; no one knows her whereabouts. Gilda assures him that Lily’s a professional, and that she will show up and hit the ball out of the park, but Chevy remains unconvinced.  Then, with a splashy entrance, Lily appears exiting a limousine, followed by an entourage of people including “Countess Alexandra” and “Joe.”  She’s all diva, gushing about how wonderful it is to return to the show, while failing to remember names, calling Chevy “Jerry” and Gilda “Goldie.”  When she encounters Jane Curtin, Lily calls Jane “Joan.”  When Jane corrects her, she says, “Oh yes, this is Jane Belushi.”  Her entourage follows her to the dressing rooms, where Chevy proceeds to anxiously wait for Lily as she takes her sweet old time changing her clothes.  In the meanwhile, he talks to the resident little person in Lily’s entourage; however, he is called to the stage in the meantime, and as he starts to walk toward the stage, he trips over some chairs near the dressing rooms. “Live from New York…it’s Saturday Night!”  Season Two style.

The “Debate ’76” sketch.  In the first political stab of the new season, Lily Tomlin plays moderator to a debate between Republican/incumbent presidential candidate Gerald Ford, played with his typical not-so-good impression by Chevy Chase, and Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter, played by Dan Aykroyd.  There is a panel to pose questions, including Jane Curtin playing Liz Montgomery, a women’s liberation and rights journalist; John Belushi playing Tom Burke, a political commentator for Rolling Stone magazine; and Garrett Morris playing Earl Roland, whose only qualification is that he’s black.  This sketch was more a string of excellent moments.  For example, when Earl asks his first question, it’s, “Now, which of you is President Ford?”  Tom asks Carter about accusations lodged against him that he flip-flops on the issues, and Aykroyd performs an excellent impression of future President Carter flip-flopping about whether he flip-flops.  Of course, all throughout the process, Chevy’s Ford fails to answer a question intelligibly, and he manages to overturn everything, including his podium. Aykroyd’s Carter attempts to help him up and gets dragged down to the ground with him.  It’s like art imitating life.

Singer/songwriter, and one of my favorites, James Taylor served as musical guest for this episode.  He performed “Shower the People,” “Road Runner,” and “Sweet Baby James.”  It was awesome.

Weekend Update’s second season started off with a bang, as Chevy introduced the segment by saying, “I’m God, and here’s the news.”  He then said, “And now for our top story” and threw the paper he was holding to the side without elaborating.  He commented about Generalissimo Francisco Franco having a restful summer in Spain (he is expected to have a similar fall and winter).  He reported that dictator Idi Amin is considering a species change operation to become human.  Roving correspondent Laraine Newman revisits the much maligned Blaine Hotel; she reports that guests of the hotel are contracting “foreign legionnaires’ disease,” which causes those infected to suddenly speak fluently in a different language before dropping dead.  John Belushi plays the Blaine Hotel manager; as he is describing the outlook for his patrons, he suddenly begins speaking Spanish and dies.  Laraine, while she is attempting to finish her report, unexpectedly begins speaking French and also meets her maker.  Finally, to add to this fully loaded baked potato, Gilda Radner as Emily Litella calls into the broadcast.  “Hello?  Is this Cheddar Cheese?”  Though Chevy asks her to visit the broadcast another time or send a letter with a thoughts, she begins to rant about “crustaceans hijacking airplanes,” though Chevy clarifies that Croatians are actually hijacking the plans, a different kind of shellfish.  “Oh, that’s different.”  Of course.  “Never mind!”

The “Phone Company” commercial.  In this commercial, which was pre-filmed, Lily Tomlin plays a telephone operator, one of her famous characters Ernestine, who advertises that operators can do whatever they want, on purpose, just for fun!  They can drop your calls, connect you to New Zealand, or eliminate the entire city of Peoria from the switchboard.  After all, “we don’t care, we don’t have to…we’re the phone company.”

The “Muppet Morgue” sketch.  Our friends from the Land of Gorch awaken to find themselves stored away in a morgue, since their human counterparts have been kicking it in London while making The Muppet Show.  Befuddled as to what to do, Ploobus, Scred, and the rest decide to ask the Frank Oz-voiced Might Vivog, who is under a dust cover, for the usual advice.  “It is humiliatin’ to put a dust cover on your spiritual god,” he opines.  His advice, reasoning that this could be the Muppets’ last appearance on the show, is to do “whatever they want.”  Lily Tomlin then appears, happy to see her friends, since she believes they’ve been on The Muppet Show.  “They won’t let us on that.  It’s family entertainment,” one states.  “Aren’t you family entertainment?”  Lily asks confused.  “Hell yes!” says Scred.  They then agree to sing a song, which turns out to be “Whistle a Happy Tune.”  Lily invites them to perform the whistling part; the Mighty Vivog readily agrees on their behalf, assuring that the Muppets can whistle, though felt is not conducive to such an act…at which point, Lily gives up.

The “Tess” sketch.  In a riff on another of Lily Tomlin’s more well known characters, she plays Tess, a clearly poor, clearly lonely middle aged woman who wears too much makeup and who invites a subdivision property salesman, played by Garrett Morris (clearly the straight man), to her house under the pretense of discussing the housing community when, in reality, she is clearly looking for some company.  She’s full of opinions and constantly interrupts the awkward salesman, much to his frustration and chagrin.  The thing is, the sketch is not so much funny as it is fascinating from a performance perspective; Lily becomes this character so completely, I found myself pitying her rather than laughing at her state.  It was awkward, but not in a cringe worthy manner and not in a way that tickles the funny bone.  It’s a testament to Lily’s talents.

The “Judith Beasley” film.  In another appearance of one of Lily Tomlin’s recurring cast of sketch characters, the Calumet, Illinois, housewife is subjected to a number of different product tests and requested testimonials by shyster host Dan Aykroyd, including his trademark toothy grin. Each request of Mrs. Beasley becomes more ludicrous until she ultimately goes grocery shopping in a hamster head and follows a strange man to a hotel to do the “antler dance,” which was apparently a real thing in the seventies and which Aykroyd then creepily watches through the blinds, encouraging people to do anything anyone from the Saturday Night show tells them to do.  I suppose it’s better than twerking.

James Taylor dancing in the live action “Antler Dance” at the end of the episode.

Less Successful Moments

There really weren’t any unsuccessful sketches.  The “Women in Literature” sketch, which features Laraine Newman as Eina Sullivan, who writes inane comments in her journal and speaks in a babyish tone, though she hangs out with great literary minds of her day like Ernest Hemingway (and which includes a voice over by Dan Aykroyd) was a bit esoteric and long, but I think it achieved what it was going for, ultimately.  In the end, Lily Tomlin was a great host, and I really think that elevates the writing and performing of any given episode – when the host is good and funny.  Though, she may be ultimately rhythm-less, as evidenced by the live action “Antler Dance,” performed at the end of the episode.

Most Valuable Not Ready For Primetime Players

(1st) Chevy Chase, for his understated fall, his better not-so-good impression of then incumbent Presidential hopeful Ford, and for an on-fire Weekend Update.

(2nd) Dan Aykroyd, for his flip-flopping Presidential hopeful Jimmy Carter and for the sheer volume of sketches in segments in which he found himself participating in this episode.

(3rd) Gilda Radner, for Emily Litella (always).  To be fair, the regular cast of SNL really played backup to Lily Tomlin in this episode.  The show was all about her.  See also: the highlights.

iTunes PODCAST – Once Upon a Time (MAJOR SPOILERS)

couchpotatoesunite

The third pilot podcast of Couch Potatoes Unite!, which is based on a blog of the same name hosted at couchpotatoesunite.wordpress.com. In this episode, recorded on March 10, 2015, our panel– including moderator Kylie, Eddie, Kristen, and Amie–is Around the Water Cooler and discussing season 4a – otherwise known as the “Frozen” arc – of Once Upon a Time. If you are not caught up on Once, be aware that there are MAJOR SPOILERS! Tell us what you think in the comments below and check out the blog and YouTube for other TV related discussions, in both podcast and blog format. Also, if there are other shows you’re interested in the blog covering, sound off below! If you generally want us to make more podcasts, as we’ve finished our initial three, we’d love to do it if the demand is there. Tell us what you like or don’t like. Keep the discussion going!

PODCAST! – Around the Water Cooler – Once Upon a Time – The Season 4 Mid-Season Recap & Progress Report (MAJOR SPOILERS)

THE SPECS:

Who: “Once Upon a Time” airs on network TV, specifically on ABC, fall/winter/spring Sundays at 8:00 PM.

What: “Once Upon a Time,” a fantasy drama wherein storybook and fairy tale characters are not only real but are living in this world, away from their enchanted kingdoms and worlds beyond reality, and how they all interrelate (for a more detailed Synopsis, read here: http://www.aceshowbiz.com/tv/once_upon_a_time/summary.html).

When: The Season 4 finale aired on Sunday, December 14, 2014, on ABC at 8:00 PM.

Where: The show is set in fictional Storybrooke, Maine, as well as in “The Enchanted Forest,” the fairy tale kingdom from where most of the main characters originate. The action takes place primarily in present day, though there are flashbacks to the characters’ past lives, before they were whisked away to Storybrooke via curse wrought by the Evil Queen Regina (Lana Parilla) and before they were made run-of-the-mill real world residents with serious bouts of amnesia.

Why: Two primary reasons: one, I love fantasy and fairy tales, and the Disney network green-lit a live action serial television program about fairy tale characters that they would probably own the rights to, if the characters weren’t already public domain.  Two, the creators are Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, two of the head writers of Lost. Whatever else may be said about the latter program, I don’t think anyone could argue that Lost wasn’t well written.  Once boasted some whopper ingredients that promised to result in an explosive and tantalizing mixture of story possibilities; the show has done nothing but live up to that expectation and then some.

How – as in How’s It Going? (THOUGHTS…at present)

For recaps of season 3, click here and here.

In reflecting on the third season, I noted that while the Lost alumni who serve as the show’s executive producers seem to have learned lessons from their prior job by keeping the audience guessing and knowing when to provide the key answers at the key times without it becoming frustrating or a story too big to rein in by the time all is said and done, I felt trepidation upon viewing the uneven and disjointed third season, which swung from Neverland to Oz via plot devices that yielded mixed results in terms of successful storytelling (or lack of). I also believed that the tone and hodgepodge of story sources, such as The Wizard of Oz and Frozen, scatter the overall story flow, as if the producers are reaching and may be a bit too in bed with the network heads – or maybe the latter is a bit too controlling of the property.  In fact, the teased Frozen inspiration caused this viewer genuinely, for the first time, to be apprehensive about the future of the show and to question the producers’ and writers’ motivations, particularly since the omnipresence of Frozen has undercut some of its magic for so many people, including me.  While the third season of Once offered some exceptional episodes, particularly the mid-season finale, the quality of the season overall did not live up to that of the first two seasons, and this viewer hoped that this was not the start of a trend governing the fourth and future seasons going forward.

What do you think?  I asked a panel of fellow Couch Potatoes how they felt about Once’s Frozen arc for the third of three pilot podcasts “Around the Water Cooler.”  This podcast was recorded on March 10, 2015.  Listen and let us know what you think; comment below as to whether you agree or disagree.

Questions, Impressions, and Future Considerations

Old Questions

1) Is Regina really going to go full-on evil again because Robin found Marian?  And how will that affect her relationship with Emma, Henry, and the Charmings?

Answer: She didn’t go “full-on evil” for any length of time, at least not against the heroes of the story, though she was considerably grumpy and desperate, pining for Robin Hood – and he for her – while he tried to remain loyal to Marian.  She wanted nothing to do with Emma or her parents for most of the first half of the season, though Henry started to try to help her in her quest to achieve her happy ending, or at least to believe that such an achievement is possible.

2) Is Robin really going to forget his love for Regina just because Marian is around again?

Answer: The answer is a resounding “no!”  Robin and Regina looked at each other longingly.  He gave her his heart, even, which she took with that creepy heart-taking magic.  At one point, they got it on in her vault.  Even Marian expressed understanding about what happened between them and gave them her tentative blessing, but Robin, Marian, and Regina were ultimately concerned for Robin and Marian’s son, and Robin and Marian have gone to live in the forest with him.  Kids always complicate things.

3) Will Belle find the Dark One’s dagger?  She seems to know Mr. Gold’s shop better than he does. And what will finding the dagger do to them if she does find it?

Answer: She discovered that Rumpel had been deceiving her, and when she did finally get her hands on the real dagger, she commanded that he leave Storybrooke forever.  Unfortunately, “forever” didn’t last long.

4) Is baby Neal magical like his sister?

Answer: At this time, baby Neal’s “specialness,” if it exists, is still unknown.

5) Elsa?  Really?  I vote no.  Oh, sorry, question: what the hell does she want, and how the hell did she come through that portal?  And most importantly: why did she come through that portal?

Answer: She (Georgina Haig) was trapped in a bottle by her sister, Anna, who had been tricked into doing so by the sisters’ aunt, The Snow Queen (Elizabeth Mitchell), who had a magic mirror that induces anyone who looks into it to see the worst in people. The Snow Queen’s story and actions are recapped in the podcast, but Anna saw Elsa as dangerous and threatening to their Frozen kingdom, and she and Hans, via the Snow Queen’s manipulations, trapped her in this magic bottle.  Rumpel got a hold of it when he encountered the Snow Queen.  I don’t actually remember how, though…weird.

6) Is Henry magical?  Did Emma and Baelfire have true love, ever?

Answer: Apart from being the “true believer,” we don’t know yet if Henry has any special magic.  Emma and Baelfire did have true love, presumably, at least for a time.  Perhaps, they were star-crossed.

7) Is the fourth season of Once going to be good or predictably mediocre, now that so many story lines have been resolved and the only inspiration the creators could find was from a movie that is six months old?  PS: Sellouts.

Answer: Listen to the PODCAST!

New Questions

1) What did Snow White and Prince Charming do with Maleficent (Kristen Bauer von Straten) and her baby to ensure that Emma is imbued with a good heart and light magic?

2) How the hell did Cruella de Vil (Victoria Smurfit) get magical?  Where does she come from?  How did she come to know Maleficent and Ursula (Merrin Dungey)?

3) Why did these particular Queens of Darkness band together at any point?

4) How did Rumpel (Robert Carlyle) come to make their acquaintance?

5) What did Rumpel do for the six weeks during which he was ousted from Storybrooke, without magic and disabled?

6) WHO IS THE AUTHOR? And can changing the book really change Regina’s, or anyone else’s, fate?

7) Will Emma go bad? She has the potential; this we know.  Did everyone catch the Fantasia reference?

8) Grown-up Pinocchio, August, is returning to the show.  Will he and Emma canoodle?  They were kind of flirty in the past.

9) How did Will Scarlett (Michael Socha), aka the Knave from Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, end up in Storybrooke and without Anastasia, the former Red Queen?  And how did he and Belle (Emilie de Ravin) decide to hook up?

10) Will Rumpel and Belle ever reconcile?

11) Where are Robin and Marian nowadays?

12) Why does Emma keep talking about her “superpower” of being able to detect lies when she has actual real superpowers?

13) Why have Snow and Charming chosen to lie to Emma?

14) What is Rumpel’s endgame?  What power does he really want?

15) The Frozen story was wrapped up neatly, so most of these questions come from the first episodes of the second part of this season.  What is the writers’ endgame now?

PARTING SHOTS

The podcast panel was generally lukewarm about the Frozen story line, finding it to be not altogether as bad as expected but still a less-than-ideal choice to shoehorn into the first half of the season, particularly given the revelation about Disney’s demand to the producers that their cash cow be incorporated as a plot device.  The panel was generally more optimistic about the Queens of Darkness arc but also more cautious: this viewer still holds Lost in the back of her mind, one panelist thought the producers stood on a precipice of potentially losing control of the show, and the other two panelists were hopeful but mitigate their hopes in lieu of their reactions to less popular preceding story arcs.  The panel was, overall, more eager to return to Storybrooke and/or the Enchanted Forest as a mainstay, reconnecting to the core group of characters (the Charmings, Regina, Rumpel, Belle, etc.) and developing their stories rather than introducing new characters and/or story devices that veered away from their focus.  The panel was also generally interested in seeing more flushing out of the Enchanted Forest flashbacks, either by incorporating more frequent or more expanded back stories or, perhaps, returning to the event series concept that motivated OUAT-Wonderland as a means of providing additional detail and dimension to those known and beloved characters.  In any event, one panelist made an interesting prediction about Maleficent’s child, and all panelists plan to continue to watch to see how the Queens of Darkness conspire to usurp reign over the magical town of Storybrooke.

LOOKING AHEAD:

Once Upon a Time returned from hiatus on March 1, 2015, airing new episodes on Sundays at 8:00 AM on ABC.  Renewal for a fifth season is all but guaranteed, but no formal announcement has, as yet, been made.  Stay tuned, Once-ers!

EDITORIAL:

Would you like to see Couch Potatoes Unite! continue to cover this show via PODCAST or via traditional recap? Please comment with your vote!

40 Years of Saturday Night Live! – Season One, Episode Twenty-Four (Kris Kristofferson)

Host: Kris Kristofferson

Musical Guest: Rita Coolidge

Cast: Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner – i.e. the “Not Ready For Primetime Players”

Highlights:

Kris Kristofferson, country singer and actor, hosted this episode and also served as partial musical guest alongside his then wife Rita Coolidge (from the second of his three marriages).  Many of his most famous acting gigs occurred in the seventies; I remember him best from the Martin Scorsese film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.  He cold opened the show by singing “Help Me Make It Through the Night” solo. Rita, also a country singer, sang “Hula Hoop” solo for the second musical performance. They sang a duet called “Eddie the Eunuch” in the back half of the episode, and then Kristofferson closed the show with a performance of “I’ve Got a Life of My Own.”  He also performed in sketches; unfortunately, he’s not a comedian, and it showed, quite painfully.  When the writers successfully integrated him into the sketch as the straight man, the sketch in question tended to go better than when they actually required him to do comedy.  As a result, this episode, the first season finale, proved to be a very uneven finale for TV’s then edgiest show.

The “I Was Not a Sucker for Saturday Night” commercial.  Performed live, Laraine Newman poses as a secretary named Sherry, essentially hired for her looks.  In fact, she’s wearing a skimpy outfit that barely covers her “bitchin’ bod” while talking in that Valley girl voice that Laraine made cool before Valley girls themselves were cool.  She explains that when she was hired, she was required to perform all sorts of “weird” job tasks that were basically tantamount to sexual harassment by the show’s writers, including Chevy Chase.  As a result, she composed a book, a testimonial, about her experience, which is the name of the sketch.  The punchline involved her bringing a vacuum to Chevy Chase’s office, implying some sort of “weird,” kinky sexual thing might happen.  Mostly, I just enjoyed her commitment to this smarter-than-the-average-bimbo character.  There was a lot of nuance, even if the character wasn’t playing with a full toy chest.

The “Samurai General Practitioner” sketch.  In this sketch, the best sketch of the episode, John Belushi returns as the beloved samurai who, this time, is a (yikes) doctor. Kris Kristofferson plays his patient, who is complaining of some vague pains and ailments.  Of course, the samurai conducts some interesting examinations.  In one funny bit, it looks like he is lubing his latex covered finger for a rectal exam only to apply it to the scale with the height ruler that won’t retract until he spreads the lube on it. Also, while the patient is supposed to be producing a urine sample, the Samurai is examining X-rays and making unintelligible fake Japanese commentary, though one of the X-rays is of a naked lady.  He also makes his requisite skeleton talk in fake Japanese.  In fact, when the patient can’t initially go enough to produce said sample, the samurai, who takes everything so much to heart, kneels with the intent of impaling himself with his sword, until the patient promises to return with a sample.  Dr. Samurai also prescribes an apple-and only an apple-to aid the patient’s woes, which he proceeds to halve in mid-air, again with a “hiya” and his sword.  It was a chuckle-worthy chapter in the samurai’s legacy.

The “Ford Delegate” sketch.  In this sketch, Chevy Chase once again plays bumbling then-President Ford, deep in the throes of his reelection campaign.  Kris Kristofferson plays a Mississippi delegate seeking federal money to rebuild infrastructure in his county, but, of course, the Not-So-Good Ford confuses everything his delegate says, clumsily disturbs things on his desk, hangs up his phone receivers in the wrong cradles, and otherwise bungles his ability to receive campaign support from this delegate until First Lady Betty, played by Jane Curtin, enters with so-called “horse deveries,” or hors d’oeuvres, and puts everything to rights.  Of course, when she informs the delegate that it is “time to go,” the President takes it as his cue to leave and smash things elsewhere in the White House. I don’t think Chevy Chase helped Ford’s reelection campaign at all…

Weekend Update returned to form, with the standard “I’m Chevy Chase, and so are you” introduction but for one glorious exception.  When Don Pardo introduced the segment, he said, “And now, Weekend Update with Don Pardo!” which segued into a passive aggressive sass-off between Chevy and Don.  The only other highlight of this Update was that roving correspondent Laraine Newman, tasked with offering a live report from NASA headquarters, misheard her assignment and took a trip to Nassau; she proceeds to report on how good of a tan she’s receiving and how much she is enjoying the tropical air. When Chevy points out that she was supposed to be live from NASA and not Nassau, she sheepishly capitulates while asking, “This will be paid for, right?” Chevy responds, “Laraine Newman, reporting live from the vacation she paid for” or something to that effect.

The “Carter-Young” sketch.  In this sketch, Garrett Morris plays a Southern Congressman named Andrew Young, who is literally preaching to a church-type crowd, speaking of his days of marching with Dr. King while suggesting that Jimmy Carter, played by Dan Aykroyd in the sketch, is the delegate to represent Southern interests, having experienced all of the racial inequality and struggle in the South.  This Mr. Young is on a bully pulpit, calling for “amens” and “hallelujahs,” until the to-be President joins him at the podium and guarantees the crowd, in his Southern gentlemanly way but in no uncertain terms, that Mr. Young will receive no political kickbacks as a result of his support, which causes Mr. Young to become very displeased indeed.

Less Successful Moments

The “Police State” sketch.  In this sketch, Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd play cops who get called to crime scenes and literally shoot first and ask questions later.  This sketch involved a spinning camera; literally, some cameraman either spun in circles holding the camera or put a camera on a tripod that could swivel 360 degrees, causing me to feel sick to my stomach just watching the blurry, spinning footage.  Also, there was a not so subtle implication that police officers are power-hungry, trigger-happy, and somewhat murderous, and while I can see what the sketch writer was going for, it wasn’t funny…ever.  At any time.  So, between feeling bored, being somewhat put off by the subject matter, and feeling nauseous with relation to how the sketch was shot, I thought this one completely crashed and burned.  Totally DOA, or at least festering as a stinky pile of sick on the floor after all was said and done.

The “Blind Date” sketch.  In this sketch, Jane Curtin plays Judy, who we find out has been set up on a blind date with what turns out to be her gynecologist, played by Kris Kristofferson.  While the sketch concept was potentially brilliant, the execution was plain boring.  The conversation was so serious, lacking any comedic timing particularly on the part of the host, it played out like a drama!  I can’t even remember the audience ever laughing.  I concluded that Mr. Kristofferson has zero comedic chops, and while Jane can be funny in her own right, the show’s writers and producers never let her be anything other than a straight woman, at least for most of the first season.  The combination in this sketch was catastrophically unsuccessful.

The “Waiting for Pardo” sketch.  In this sketch, Chevy Chase and Kris Kristofferson play Bob and Bill, parallel characters to the main characters in the play Waiting for Godot.  In a setting similar to that described in the play, they wait for the unseen “Pardo.” This might be funny, except that Don Pardo subsequently interjects, often, with descriptions of products related to what they were discussing, satirizing his previous and concurrent stints as a game show announcer.  The tone of this sketch was disjointed, lurching from the deadpan duet riffing on Godot to the hammy, over-the-top voice of announcer-behind-the-scenes Don Pardo.  It might have been a funny idea if the writers had discovered a different use or way to incorporate Don Pardo and/or if the concept itself had not been so esoteric.  I mean, how many people know that play?  I only know that play a little, and that’s because I’m theatrical.

Most Valuable Not Ready For Primetime Players

(1st) John Belushi, for his reliably entertaining samurai.

(2nd) Laraine Newman, for her reliably entertaining Valley girl turned secretary and for mistaking her Update assignment so spectacularly, she at least got some sun and sand out of it.

(3rd) Garrett Morris, for his electrifying, sometimes singing, preacher turned Congressman and for another sketch called “Great White Athletes,” where Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens, played by Garrett, extols the virtues of that frequently unrecognized group, White athletes.  It wasn’t uproariously funny, and he sort of stumbled over his line delivery, but I enjoyed the concept and the fact that only he could play Jesse Owens here.

40 Years of Saturday Night Live! – Season One, Episode Twenty-Three (Louise Lasser)

Host: Louise Lasser

Musical Guests: The Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Cast: Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner – i.e. the “Not Ready For Primetime Players”

Highlights:

Louise Lasser served as host for this episode.  As a Gen Xer (or Gen Yer, depending on how one breaks it down), I had never heard of her.  Her claim to fame at that time was as the star of a short-lived sitcom called Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.  She was also married to Woody Allen, prior to his being married to Mia Farrow.  She has shown up in some projects over the years, most recently in HBO’s Girls (which I don’t watch). She was not a very successful host.  On review of this episode, I can safely say that her sketch appearances predominantly brought the show down.  She was tonally different, clearly uncomfortable (for various reasons, which she has described in interviews), and tended to meditate on very similar jokes.  She also failed to have chemistry with the cast.  As a result, there are few highlights from this episode.  Apparently, this was her only appearance on the show.  Hey, sometimes, live television is difficult for people.

The “Back from Vacation” cold open.  In this cold open, the entire cast appears onstage to announce their triumphant return from hiatus, though John Belushi is notably absent. It is implied by one of the girls that John feels a bit threatened by Chevy Chase; it seems they have something of a rivalry going, and John feels that Chevy’s getting all the attention.  This is obviously fake, but when John finally does appear, in a baller’s white suit and shades, Chevy takes steps to make up.  They hug it out, then commence to do this interchange of five-givings that culminates in a rough end, when Chevy’s over exuberance causes John to punch him in the face and send him flying off the stage. Again rocking the meta wave…

Louise Lasser’s monologue was unremarkable but for the end, in which she seems to have a meltdown indicative of her television character and leaves the stage in tears, locking herself in her dressing room.  First, Gilda Radner tries to reason her out, then Dan Aykroyd poses as some law enforcement official to scare her out, and finally, Chevy Chase resurrects the land shark (Jaws…on land!) to coax her out, which works. Unfortunately, the end of it really landed with a thud.

The “Human Hair Potholders” commercial.  This could rank as one of the most disturbing sketches of all time.  In this commercial, performed live, Laraine Newman dons famous Charles Manson follower Squeaky Fromme again to chilling effect, while Jane Curtin plays another Manson follower named Sandra Good.  They are in jail, in religious/cult garb with tattoos on their foreheads, weaving potholders from their own hair, which they are advertising for sales.  Sandra explains that they must do this or punish themselves, which causes Squeaky to start hurting herself.  At the end of the commercial, Squeaky Laraine stares into the camera in a way that is really not funny and kind of turns one’s blood cold and says, “You better buy them, you little piggies, I’m not kidding!”  Also, we learn that neither of them have any hair left; they’re bald as cue balls.

The “Cathode Ray” musical sketch.  In this sketch, Dan Aykroyd plays some dude with TV shaped glasses who wants to introduce a segment celebrating the wonders of television hardware.  This segues into a doo-wop ode to TV’s, with Laraine Newman singing soulfully about diodes and gamma rays and Jane Curtin and Gilda Radner serving as her backup singers.  There’s also an overlay explaining that eight people in the whole world understand all the terms being sung in the song.  Mostly, I was impressed again with Laraine’s fastidious performance; she’s got a great voice.

Chevy Chase began Weekend Update by saying, “I’m Chevy Chase, and boy, are you glad to see me!” There were some decent jokes lobbed at then presidential party nominees Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, but the best part of Update featured a roving report by correspondent John Belushi at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, back when there were two Olympics, the summer and the winter version, per every four years.  He interviews a Russian gymnast played by Gilda Radner who lost some of her notoriety given the tour de force performances and finishes of legendary Russian gymnast Nadia Comenici.  Belushi speaks in a Russian accent and translates the gymnast’s Russian into English, though she unmistakably utters in English that she would like to impale Nadia with a balance beam (or something to that effect), which Belushi then translates to be a much nicer statement of well wishes and congratulations, despite the fact that the audience heard her true feelings.

The “John Belushi Wardrobe” commercial.  In this commercial, Belushi is trying to hock the clothes off his back for a reasonable price – John Belushi originals, his signature look.  He really needs the cash, he says.  After all, he’s an underpaid late night television actor.  He tries to sell some of his vinyl records too.  He had some great selections!  Though he only played Grand Funk Railroad once.

The “Jimmy Carter” sketch.  In this sketch, Dan Aykroyd debuts his Jimmy Carter impression, which, as he explains in the sketch, involves him surveying a room back and forth while he’s talking and then, when pausing, making unwavering eye contact with the camera. He ended the sketch with his trademark toothy grin that seems somewhat non-human in nature.  He didn’t say anything particularly funny, but it’s a decent impression, and one must track the Presidential impressions; they’re really the backbone of Saturday Night Live, if you think about it.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band of New Orleans, Louisiana, served as musical guest. They played a ragtime number called “Panama” and were a hoot.  Since more than half of them appeared to be quite old at the time, I surmised that most of them are probably not alive today, but I wonder if the Jazz Band perseveres.  Also, I really want to get to New Orleans someday.

Less Successful Moments

The “Louise & Dog” sketch.  This involved Louis Lasser having a very grown up conversation with a golden retriever named Maggie, like she was breaking up with the dog, over a “fetch” incident.  I was bored out of my skull, and I felt really sorry for the dog, who was panting heavily, no doubt overstimulated by having to perform for a live studio audience.  To me, this one crashed and burned.  Totally DOA.

The “Diner Sketch” film.  Billed as “A Film by Louise Lasser,” this featured Louise talking to various other actors, again about serious grown up things, and repeatedly forgetting her lines.  She even implores the present Lorne Michaels to excise her from the proceedings.  If this was supposed to be funny, I totally missed the joke.

The “Mary Mary” monologue. In this end monologue, Louise Lasser, as her famous television character Mary Hartman, talks about her real Louise Lasser life and her infamous public arrest for drug possession, which occurred as a result of a public disturbance that she created when trying to buy a dollhouse or something.  Frankly, it dragged the pace of the show down considerably, and may have been cathartic for her and awkwardly funny for an audience of that time but induced me to doze.  I can’t see it as having been all that meaningful even to a 1976 audience, much less a 2015 one.

Most Valuable Not Ready For Primetime Players

(1st) Laraine Newman, for her bone-chilling Squeaky Fromme and for her more than competent musical ode to television innards.

(2nd) John Belushi, for his too-cool-for-school delayed entrance in the cold open, for his role as a Russian translating correspondent in Weekend Update, and for trying to sell the clothes off his own back.

(3rd) Dan Aykroyd, for taking on Jimmy Carter.

Honorable mention:

Jane Curtin, for being the more sane Manson follower, for being somewhat slutty in the “Girl Talk” sketch (where she talks about seeing a boy’s penis with her best friend played by Gilda Radner), and for being a totally decent backup singer to Laraine Newman.

40 Years of Saturday Night Live! – Season One, Episode Twenty-Two (Elliott Gould)

Host: Elliott Gould

Musical Guests: Leon Redbone; Harlan Collins & Joyce Everson

Cast: Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner – i.e. the “Not Ready For Primetime Players”

Highlights:

Elliott Gould returns as host, tying him for two hosting appearances with Candice Bergen and Buck Henry (so far).  His affability and willingness to go all in on the sketches also render him a delightful host.  He even performs a song and dance in his monologue, accompanied by Paul Shaffer, which is quite nice. His name was Saul in the Ocean’s movies, wasn’t it?  Gosh, it seems like such a long time since those movies were made, yet this episode was made decades before them!  Weird.

The “Wax Museum” cold open.  In this cold open, Laraine Newman (Joan of Arc), Jane Curtin (Marie Antoinette), Neil Levy (King Louis some such or other, probably), and Gilda Radner (I’m not sure…maybe Mae West?) pose as seemingly famous wax figures in a museum.  Chevy Chase plays a visitor to the museum with somewhat puerile intentions.  For example, in his long trench coat, he flashes one of the figures.  He interacts with each of them in different ways, but when he finally reaches Gilda’s Hollywood bombshell type figure, he acts as if he is going to perform less than innocent acts with her, until she comes to life, slaps him in the face, and causes him to fall of the stage.  Naughty, Chevy!

Leon Redbone returns as musical guest.  He sings “Shine on Harvest Moon” and “Walking Stick,” the latter accompanied by just a tuba player.

A singer/songwriter coupling, Harlan Collins and Joyce Everson, sang “Maybe That’s the Way It Goes” near the end of the episode.  I can find no information about these two, unless Mr. Collins is also a composer who has composed music and songs for various television and film projects.  Their duet was very seventies, I think.

“The Last Voyage of the Starship Enterprise” sketch.  In this now legendary sketch, and the best sketch of the episode, John Belushi channels his inner William Shatner playing Captain Kirk; Chevy Chase plays Leonard Nimoy (RIP)/Mr. Spock, and Dan Aykroyd serves double duty as Mr. Scott (over the ship’s intercom) and Dr. Bones McCoy/DeForest Kelley, though this impression is the least impressive of all.  In the sketch, the Enterprise encounters a hostile ship, which turns out to be an old sixties convertible, bearing network executives, played by Elliott Gould and Garrett Morris, who have come to cancel Star Trek. Belushi’s Shatner does not take it well, failing to break character and insisting that they’ve only explored three years of their storied five year mission.  Chevy’s Spock stays loyal until he gets very emotional, losing all Vulcan logic, as set crews deconstruct the Enterprise set around them.  It is both absurd, has timeless nerd appeal, and features a great performance by John Belushi.  He’s not a bad Kirk.  Or a bad Shatner.

Chevy Chase began Weekend Update by saying, “I’m Chevy Chase, and so are you.” There were some great one-liners, photographic misinterpretations, and editorial replies in this Update.  He begins Update by reporting that Fidel Castro has pulled out of Angola, and that a frustrated Angola could not be reached for comment (ba dum ching). In another story, a naked woman showing one whole breast appears on the view screen, and Chevy stands up to cover her exposed breast with his hand.   A photograph of some couple, possibly an erstwhile political candidate and his wife, prompts Chevy to report, “Well, nobody really cares anymore.”  A report about former Vice President Spiro Agnew discusses him dressing for a Halloween party, but the photograph behind Chevy is one of a Ku Klux Klan member.  “The Vice President is shown here before he’d decided on his costume,” quips Chevy.  Jane Curtin appears as Audrey Peart Dickman, a squeaky voiced editorial reply provider who attempts to justify the over-commercialization of the American bicentennial.  Chevy Chase returns to his bit of making funny faces and rude gestures behind her back.  Finally, the “News for Fans of Emily Litella fans” is provided by none other than Gilda Radner as Emily Litella, who proceeds to mishear everything Chevy is saying, calling him “Cheddar” in the process. When he says “Good night and have a pleasant tomorrow,” she says, “Hello, and how are you today?”  I’m a big Emily Litella fan myself.

The “Vibramatic” commercial.  In this commercial, performed live, Elliott Gould and Laraine Newman play a married couple.  Laraine’s wife complains of not being able to relax, while Elliott’s husband suggests that she go make him a salad.  Who should appear but Dan Aykroyd as another of his shyster salesmen, advertising the Vibramatic, a kitchen utility and personal massage assistant.  It slices vegetables and potatoes but seems to be somewhat phallic shaped, like, say, a vibrator or dildo, causing Laraine’s wife to lick her lips in quivering anticipation.  “For women AND vegetables,” says Elliott’s husband, while Aykroyd offers complete satisfaction or money back with that trademark toothy grin.

The “Shirley Temple” sketch.  In this sketch, Elliott Gould and Garrett Morris play, what I presume, are leaders of opposing factions in war-torn Angola.  Or maybe some other conflict in Africa.  At any rate, Laraine Newman plays a cross between Shirley Temple, the child actress, and Shirley Temple Black, the adult ambassador.  She sings, talks, and dances like precocious young Shirley with remarkable precision, complete with ringlets in her hair, while encouraging everyone to “be friends.”  This sketch is topped off by an excellent tap dance performed by Laraine, Garrett, and Elliott, hearkening back to all of Shirley’s Depression-era films, yet referring to her in what was no doubt her then-current role of ambassador.  It was great!

“The Honeymooners” sketch.  Presented by “The Bees,” John Belushi is Ralph Kramden, Gilda Radner plays a pregnant Alice, and Dan Aykroyd plays Ed Norton, with Jane Curtin playing neighbor Trixie to start the sketch.  Of course, they’re all bees here. The scenario was only moderately funny, but the sketch proves a highlight thanks to its punchline (the bee baby is not Ralph’s) and due to Belushi’s spot on Jackie Gleason impression. Aykroyd’s Art Carney is nothing to sneeze at either.

The show ended with the whole cast and host Elliott Gould included wearing cowgirl outfits (skirts and legs, people) and inciting a sing-along of “Till We Meet Again” with the audience, since the show was going to experience a hiatus of sorts – production schedules were apparently not the same as they are now.  It was heartwarming, in its way.

Less Successful Moments

Again, there were less funny sketches, but in order to be deemed “less successful,” it has to be completely not funny, ridiculous, and/or an all around train wreck. Fortunately, no such moment existed in this episode.  All of the sketches were solid, though two early season commercials, including the “Academy of Better Careers” commercial, were replayed, and neither were very amusing, even if the point was made in both.

Most Valuable Not Ready For Primetime Players

(1st) John Belushi, for his expert and hilarious impressions of William Shatner as Captain Kirk and Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden.  He kind of made this episode.

(2nd) Chevy Chase, for being on fire in Weekend Update, for being a truly pervy wax museum patron, and for his pathetically emotional Mr. Spock.

(3rd) Laraine Newman, for her spot-on Shirley Temple and tap dancing skills and for being a bit too aroused by the Vibramatic.

Honorable mentions:

Gilda Radner for Emily Litella (always) and for hitting home in the “Honeymooners” sketch.

Garrett Morris, for his awesome tap dancing skills while playing an African dictator, defying gravity and stereotypes in one fell swoop!