40 Years of Saturday Night Live! – Season One, Episode Fourteen (Desi Arnaz)

Host: Desi Arnaz

Musical Guest: None

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

Highlights:

Desi Arnaz, best known as Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy and as being the former husband of Lucy herself (Lucille Ball), was the host for this episode.  He reveals that Saturday Night is one of his favorite shows.  The entire episode becomes, intermittently, one long riff on I Love Lucy, and even features Desi Arnaz Jr. playing a younger Desi/Ricky at various points and in various sketches, mostly alongside Gilda Radner as Lucy.  Also, while Desi was a joy to watch as a bandleader, the various riffs on being Cuban and a native Spanish speaker as well as Lucy’s ex-husband fell flat for me. Unfortunately, as a result, the entire episode was extremely uneven, so I don’t have as many highlights to list for this show.

The “Ford’s Shrink” cold open.  While the sketch was not one of the better riffs on allegedly bumbling then President Ford as produced by the show, it still built to a satisfying climax.  In this sketch, Chevy Chase, in his not so good impression of the President, sees a “Presidential” shrink played by Dan Aykroyd.  The President has trouble following instructions, including laying on “the couch” face down, but eventually participates in word association.  He doesn’t get the hang of that either for a minute, until he does, and then the payoff is great.  It’s better to watch it.  The bigger disappointment is that Chevy didn’t fall in this episode, at least not more than sort of collapsing face down on the shrink’s couch before crashing through a stage wall at the end of the sketch, though he stayed vertical when it happened.  Maybe he did hurt himself in the previous week…I should research that.

The “Luciana Vermicelli’s Beauty Regimen” commercial.  In this commercial, Laraine Newman plays a creepy Italian lady who has lived for hundreds of years and is being kept alive by all sorts of creepy beauty procedures.  She performs this commercial from a coffin. I’m not sure if she’s supposed to be a vampire, and it seems like she finally dies at the end of the thing, but I think it was Laraine’s characterization that had me smiling.

The “Very White” sketch.  This was the funniest sketch of the episode; on the other hand, it ran on for too long.  In this sketch, Chevy Chase plays the whitest version of Barry White you could possibly imagine and riffed on Barry’s pattern in his songs of spoken word building into passionate, disco infused, sung choruses, describing his process very literally while professing his love to some unknown “baby.”   The concept was funny, but it grew tedious and repetitive at the same time.

The notable element of Weekend Update, both for this episode and for the previous one, is that Chevy Chase started to change his introduction.  Last episode, it was “I’m Chevy Case, and you’re nothing.”  For this episode…I can’t remember what it was.  But it was different.  Can you tell that I struggled with this episode?  Proof that the show has always been inconsistent at best, but in a way that warms our hearts, I think.

Also, in one of the frequently used transition stills that said “Coming Up” followed by an absurd line or factoid, it said, “Coming up, is television the next radio?”  Keep in mind that this episode predated the birth of MTV by five years, so how could they have known that the answer was, in fact, yes?  I just thought this enjoyable bit of hindsight was funny.

Desi Arnaz also performed musical numbers in this episode, including “Cuban Pete” and his famous “Babalu.”  The latter closed out the night, which resulted in Desi leading a conga line and the entire cast joining in and parading around the studio to end the show.  This was the best moment in the entire episode.

Less Successful Moments

“The Lucy Show” sketch.  This sketch involved Desi Arnaz describing different ideas that were considered before settling onto “I Love Lucy.”  These included “I Hate Lucy,” “I Love Ricky,” “I Love Louie” (when Garrett Morris played Louie Armstrong), and something to do with asparagus.  Desi Arnaz Jr. played his dad, Gilda occasionally played Lucy, and asparagus played the asparagus, but the whole sketch was overlong and tried too hard.  Also, Gilda Radner’s Lucy was not one of her best impressions. Sad, right?

“The Untouchables” sketch.  This was supposed to be riffing on the television show of the same name, with Dan Aykroyd playing Elliott Ness, and Desi Arnaz playing who? Al Capone?  I was so confused.  And then Lucy appeared.  I think I might be too young to appreciate this one, but the execution was also extremely sloppy.

The “Cuban Acupuncture” sketch.  While I enjoy watching cigars, in place of needles, being stuck into John Belushi’s orifices (he played a migraine sufferer seeking alternative treatments), it was far too subdued to be successful.

The “Bisexual Minute” sketch.  In this bit, Jane Curtin describes a woman in colonial times who, though married, ran off with another woman.  I have absolutely no idea what the hell was supposed to be funny here, and I felt like it crashed and burned.  Sorry, Jane.

Most Valuable Not Ready For Primetime Players

(1st) Chevy Chase, for his ever-struggling President Ford, for being “very white,” and for trying to shake things loose on Weekend Update.

(2nd) Laraine Newman, for Luciana Vermicelli and for singing, quite handily, in “Cuban Pete.”

(3rd) Gilda Radner, for her Lucy, since without her, there would have been no show for Desi Arnaz to be in; she did do that nasal “ehhhhh” thing very well.  Indeed, that was the whole joke, used repeatedly, over and over again…a lot.  Let’s move on, shall we?

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One comment

  1. kyliekeelee · March 6, 2015

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