Host: Anthony Perkins
Musical Guest: Betty Carter
Cast: Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner – i.e. the “Not Ready For Primetime Players”
This is the first episode in which the Not Ready For Primetime Players were introduced individually; their photographs appeared as they were announced by Don Pardo. This practice, as all viewers of the show know, has continued for all (or most) subsequent SNL episodes throughout the years and right on up to the present season.
Anthony Perkins, most famously known for playing Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller Psycho, hosted this episode, and he was most enthusiastic. In fact, he was so game, he was often the most energetic player onstage when the sketch featured him. The energy and charisma he brought to this gig rendered this episode quite delightful overall.
The “Hello Dolly Therapy” sketch. In this sketch, Jane Curtin goes to see a therapist, played by Anthony Perkins. While her clearly neurotic patient rambles endlessly about her many insecurities and thoughts, Perkins, who was also a stage actor, deftly starts to sing the title song from the musical Hello, Dolly! He sings softly and in his patient’s ear at first, causing her to break her ramblings momentarily to join in to sing a phrase or two with her unflinching therapist before tentatively resuming her agitated recitations. By the end of the song, however, it’s a full on duet, and Jane’s patient has forgotten all about her troubles…for the moment and until the next appointment, anyway.
The “Household Hints” sketch. In the funniest sketch of the night, Gilda Radner plays a housewife who has consulted an advertisement in the Village Voice and has hired a housekeeper to help teach her how to keep her own house better. The person answering the ad is played by Jane Curtin. As Gilda talks on the telephone, she explains to her friend on the line that the housekeeper is into “S and M,” which she figures is code for “sweeping and mopping.” Much to Gilda’s surprise, Jane Curtin is a dominatrix in the world of household upkeep, and she visits “punishments” on Gilda’s housewife for her lackluster housekeeping skills, such as substandard cooking and not-clean-enough plates. There’s one thing she won’t do, though: windows (apparently, that’s her safe word). The combination of these two women in characters that catered to their strengths – Jane with her deadpan subtlety, and Gilda responding with her physical comedy and more demonstrative reactions – was just magical on top of a truly novel sketch basis. Brava!
The “Norman Bates School of Motel Management” commercial. Performed live, this bit showed just how ready and willing Anthony Perkins was as host of the show; he parodied his famous Psycho role by advertising a school for learning how to keep a motel, particularly one off the beaten path, while at the same time interjecting in “Mother’s” voice (he hid his mouth behind a newspaper to cover up his own moving lips). It was sort of genius and a bit insane by the end.
The Muppets returned! In fact, Scred explains that they went to London to start a show of their own, referring, of course, to The Muppet Show, which premiered in 1976. Yet, our Muppet friends were upset because, now that they were back, their “Gorch” was gone, inferring that the Saturday Night producers burned the scenery used for their usual “Land of Gorch” sketch to the ground to make way for the Bees, the Muppets’ nemeses. They demanded of Anthony Perkins – in front of the red curtain, much as might happen if Kermit the Frog had been hosting this show instead of The Muppet Show – to help them out, despite the fact that Perkins assured them that he had no power, given that he was the host only of the current episode and not of every show. Yet, he promised to try to help…which the Muppets took very much to heart…
Jazz singer and famous scatter Betty Carter was the musical guest. She performed “Music, Maestro, Please;” “Swing Brother Swing;” and “I Can’t Help It.”
Weekend Update featured Chevy Chase saying, “Good evening, I’m not.” He also invited the official Saturday Night “meteorologist” John Belushi to provide commentary and history regarding how the month of March is typically described as “coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb.” While Belushi’s commentary descends into madness, talking about how different countries use a variety of weird and wonderful animals in place of lions and lambs for their own, geographically preferred methods of describing the month of March, Chevy tries to interrupt him to get him back on track, but Belushi keeps swatting him off and growing evermore agitated, until he finally turns red and sort of explodes right off his chair, a bit that I’m pretty sure Chris Farley borrowed liberally from for his own sketches. In addition, Gilda Radner as Emily Litella telephoned into Update, upset by the fact that she had not been invited onto the broadcast for her usual editorial reply and equally upset over calls to preserve “natural race horses.” When Chevy sheepishly apologizes for the fact that she was not asked on to the segment this week, in her usual hard of hearing manner, she says, “Eh? Is this Cheddar Cheese?” When he explains that, no, it’s Chevy Chase, and that the calls are to preserve natural resources, she responds, as always, that those are important and, of course, “Never mind!”
The “Happy Hour” sketch. In this sketch, Anthony Perkins plays a gentleman who likes to say “hi” to ladies to establish a rapport, which he then uses as a springboard to ask them to engage in extramarital affairs with him. Gilda Radner plays his latest conquest. The sketch itself is not that funny to start, until the Muppets later gatecrash the sketch, with Scred asking if “Mr. Gherkin” has done anything about the Muppets’ usual appearance, given the destruction of Gorch, and indicating that he can, if all else fails, play his version of Emily Litella, including a proposed pun of Muppet-related proportions and his own delivery of “Never mind!” When Perkins indicates that the Muppets inappropriately interrupted a sketch in progress, he suggests that the Muppets go to his dressing room and “sing” to warm up, as he expects to talk to the producer to make something happen and to get the Muppets onto the show, legitimately, very soon. Unfortunately, Scred believes the men’s bathroom is Perkins’ dressing room.
The “You Got a Bee” sketch. In this sketch, Laraine Newman dons her best Valley girl and speaks to her professor, played by Anthony Perkins, to complain about receiving a “b” on her paper. This “b,” however, refers to a literal bee, as John Belushi, in typical bee regalia, walks into the prof’s office and hangs out, listening to their conversation as the real-life representation of what any reasonable person would have heretofore thought was merely a letter grade awarded by a college professor. Laraine’s slightly dim student resorts to all sorts of tactics to get her prof to change the grade, until she is finally reduced to desperation and to dramatics, which ultimately convinces the professor to give her a “b+,” at which point a small, crying child dressed as a bee is handed to Belushi. The kid didn’t seem to be too happy, either to be held by Belushi or to be onstage in front of a bunch of people dressed as a bee. I’m willing to bet it was the latter.
The “Coming Attractions” sketch. In this sketch, Anthony Perkins describes all of the B-horror films he appeared in following Psycho, which is a fair and accurate assessment of his post-Psycho career, at least for a time. His willingness to self-deprecate led me to kind of adore him as a host. In one of the fictitious films, called “Terror Lunch,” Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman play a couple of women, easily frightened of course, who show off their best horror film screams, particularly when they are brought the wrong food order (“I didn’t order the asparagus!” <scream>) or simply don’t like what they are brought (“I thought you liked hollandaise!” <scream>). This part of the sketch was funny, mainly because they were screaming at everything, while Perkins played the creepy waiter bringing them their largely vegetarian orders <scream>. The other funny segment of the sketch found Perkins talking to “Mother” again, walking through a door to quickly put on a laughable wig and then to reemerge, using “Mother’s” voice, only to disappear and pop out as himself or Norman or whomever again. I don’t remember what this one-man screwball chat was about; it was the wig, and the voice, and the ready and willing attitude of Perkins that made this one enjoyable.
Less Successful Moments
The “Fan Mail” cold open. In this cold open, Chevy Chase rambled on and at length about fan mail, with which he disagreed, and which complained that the show wasn’t always funny, and that sometimes the actors were clearly filling empty time and padding with less funny material until commercials. As he described these complaints, he engaged in purposefully similar behavior, stalling and stuttering to kill time, until he was ready to do his fall of the week. The Fall was pretty good, as he upended a desk while falling backwards in his chair, but the “padding” took too long and caused the sketch to lose momentum, though doing so also effectively set up the fall as a surprise. So, the sketch was both successful and unsuccessful all at the same time.
The “Butt County Dance Party” sketch. In this sketch, Anthony Perkins plays a sheriff, and Dan Aykroyd plays his deputy; the sheriff department hosts a dance for Butt County High School students to dance the disco in a safe environment. John Belushi and Laraine Newman play two of the students boogieing on down. The point of the sketch was that the law enforcement types were using the dance as a front to have an excuse to search for suspicious activity, with the consent of their targets who are none the wiser. They discover, for example, that Belushi’s character has outstanding warrants. EVEN THOUGH THE NAME OF THE PLACE WAS BUTT COUNTY (caps necessary), the sketch failed to find a footing that inspired laughter, at least from this member of the future home viewing audience or even from the studio audience at the time.
Most Valuable Not Ready For Primetime Players
(1st) Jane Curtin, for her lovely addition to Hello, Dolly!; for her entirely committed dominatrix housewife; and for her piercing screams in “Terror Lunch.”
(2nd) Gilda Radner, for her dominated, less skillful housewife and for Emily Litella calling Chevy Chase “Cheddar Cheese,” but she earns a modest demerit for so quickly agreeing to an affair with a guy who only has to say “hi.”
(3rd) John Belushi and Laraine Newman (tie). Belushi for his explosive meteorologist and super laid back bee, and Laraine for her Valley girl and shrill screams in “Terror Lunch.” She really doesn’t like Hollandaise sauce.