40 Years of Saturday Night Live! – Season One, Episode Twenty-One (Buck Henry)

Host: Buck Henry

Musical Guests: Gordon Lightfoot

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

Highlights:

Buck Henry returns as host, and it’s a triumphant return at that, resulting in an overall marvelous episode.  He and Candice Bergen tie for two hosting appearances each as of this episode, i.e. the most hosting spots so far.  This tally will be bested shortly in later seasons.

The “Crutches” cold open. In this cold open, Chevy Chase appears on stage in a cast and using crutches.  As a result, he says, Laraine Newman has graciously agreed to perform the week’s fall for him.  He then waxes on about he broke his leg while winning/accepting the Emmy for the show (did this happen?  The big win?  I need to cross reference) and how it’s good to give the little people a chance, essentially, and allow them to follow in his footsteps. Laraine then regally steps onstage, presumably prepared to fall over a table and chairs set up to Chevy’s right.  Instead, she rips one of the crutches from Chevy’s right hand, causing him to fall over the table and chairs.  It was a most satisfying fall of the week.

The monologue was an epic meta sketch and much better than that offered with Buck Henry’s first appearance on the show.  First, there is panic.  Don Pardo calls for Buck; he’s not there.  Director Dave Wilson comes on to the stage in a frenzy and convinces John Belushi, in a plaid flannel robe (stylin…70s like), to host in his place.  John is not sold on this idea until Lorne Michaels comes to the stage and encourages John to do the hosting, which causes John to rant about working on the show, while Lorne goes to look for Buck. The cameras then follow him backstage, with the rest of the cast on his heels and also panicked.  Lorne subsequently finds Buck at the security desk, where the security guard is hassling him because he doesn’t know who he is.  Of course, the guard also doesn’t really know who Lorne is.  After Lorne “forcefully” insists that Buck needs to be upstairs hosting the broadcast, which is currently, like, happening, Buck finally makes it to the stage.  Lorne asks Howard Shore to repeat the opening music, and Mr. Shore is very put out by the request.  Buck starts his monologue, and then Dave Wilson calls from the booth to tell him that the monologue has run long and to cut to the segue.  It’s better to watch it than to read it, but I love this stuff.  They should do more of it – now.

The “Samurai Tailor” sketch.  John Belushi returns as the popular and hilarious Samurai engaged in the everyday and the ordinary.  In this episode, he plays a tailor, and Buck Henry is a customer picking up his pre-ordered tuxedo for his wedding.  Highlights include our friendly samurai hacking up a vest fresh and from scratch, implementing a jacket vent in an otherwise non-vented tux jacket, nearly impaling himself from shame when Buck pointed out that there were too many buttons on the sleeves, and agreeing to add a zipper hole, which wasn’t previously added, with his blade – while Buck is wearing the pants.  Of course, the sketch ended before the real mayhem began.  But I wanted to know if he could do it without castrating the man!!

The “Dell Stator’s 99 Cent Toad Ranch” commercial.  Performed live, this featured Dan Aykroyd as a cowboy version of his shyster salesman, who operates a “toad ranch” and sells 99 cent toads, fried or fresh, for eating to customers, including Buck Henry and Jane Curtin, who give Southern fried testimonials.  The best part of the commercial is a singing spot, featuring Gilda Radner and Laraine Newman as cowgirls singing the jingle while Aykroyd cooks the toads with a blow torch.

Canadian folk singer Gordon Lightfoot was the musical guest on this episode.  He sang “Summertime Dream” and “Spanish Moss.”  He was going to sing “Sundown” near the end of the show, but Buck Henry insisted he was only allowed to sing two songs.  When Gordon tried to protest, Samurai John Belushi appeared and sword-sliced his guitar strings. That’s dirty pool, that is!

Chevy Chase began Weekend Update by saying, “I’m Chevy Chase, and I love to squeeze things.”  Oh do you, Chevy?  The jokes were actually quite funny all around, taking many potshots against the presidential candidates of the year and relying heavily on misinterpreting photographs to above average hilarity.  In fact, it was some Emmy caliber writing.  Seriously, I gotta check if that really happened.

The “Crowd” sketch.  In this sketch, Buck Henry plays a film director, and Chevy Chase plays his casting director.  We learn that the film director is fastidiously casting every role, right down to even the smallest ensemble parts.  In fact, they are about to audition for the “crowd scenes.”  What this means, however, is that an entire crowd auditions together, which includes most if not all of the cast and production team.  The director asks them to be angry and anticipatory and Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz before finally giving them the part.  The most cringe-worthy moment, though, is when he asks, at the end of the sketch, whether the crowd does “lynchings,” at which point Garrett Morris is hoisted toward a noose.  Wow.  Again, another example of how the politically incorrect, even if satirical, was the order of the day.  Forty years ago, man.

The “Beatle Offer” sketch.  In one of the longest running gags of the season, Lorne Michaels returns to the front of the camera to “sweeten the pot” for the then-alive four Beatle members to reunite on Saturday Night.  He indicates that now that the show has won some Emmys and is fairly popular, the network, NBC, has authorized Lorne to offer more money – in the amount of $3,200 (“that’s fifty dollars more per Beatle,” he says, though he also suggests that Ringo could be paid less if needed) – and free hotel accommodations at a motor lodge that provides things like clean glasses and an ice service.  Seriously, what if they had actually taken him up on this?!

The “Not For Ladies Only” sketch.  In this sketch, Gilda Radner as “Babwa Wawa” returns to interview an Italian or a German director named Lina Wertmuller played by Laraine Newman.  While Lina boasts a thick accent, she’s far more understandable than her interviewer.  In fact, Lina has a hard time understanding her too and frequently deflects the question or changes the subject when Baba’s speech impediment gets in the way.

The “Toilet Seats” film by Gary Weis.  His films are always elevated by Buck Henry, it seems, who appears in this one.  In this chapter, Buck interviews customers, mainly senior citizens, who are shopping for toilet seats.  He asks them why they are making the purchase of a new toilet seat and what is under consideration for such a purchase. The result is modestly hilarious and quite charming.

The “An Die Musik” performance.  Did you know that Garrett Morris is a classically trained vocalist with a Julliard education?!  Well, he is, and apparently, according to title cards that scroll over his performance of Franz Schubert’s “An Die Musik,” he approached producers about singing on the show.  Not only is his performance flawless, shattering all expectations, the title cards included a pointed commentary about such shattered expectations, as follows:

“Guess we owe you an explanation.  Garrett came up to the office several weeks ago and said, ‘I’d like to sing on the show.  I want to do an old favorite of mine.’  So we figured, great, he’ll do ‘Sunny,’ he’ll do ‘My Girl,’ he’ll do ‘Devil with the Blue Dress On,’ he’ll do ‘Boogaloo Down Broadway.’ But, no, he comes in with Schuberts’ ‘An Die Musik’.  What could we say?  What would you do in our position?  Tell him, ‘Garrett, it’s too middle class?’  No.  You’d do what we did.  You’d be polite.  You’d realize there’s nothing wrong with doing this kind of thing. I mean, frankly, we’re tired of being thought of as just a comedy show when we know we can be so much more.  And besides, who was going to tell him?  He carries a knife………That’s the story.  And you know, actually, he does sing it really well. Of course, this probably won’t start a major Schubert craze.  But it’s pleasant enough, in a lilting, lyrical sort of way.  However, just to make sure you wouldn’t confuse us with PBS, we wrote all this stuff, figuring you’d at least stay tuned to read it…. See, that didn’t hurt.  Two and a half minutes of quality. Sung by a very talented performer…Maybe next show he’ll do ‘Funky Weekend.'”

He also finishes on a classic falsetto with a pop slide.  It was a hilariously high brow, satirical, edgy, and wonderful idea.

Less Successful Moments

The “Peter Lemon Moodring” commercial.  In this commercial, Chevy Chase plays what is clearly the precursor to Bill Murray’s Nick Ocean, the Lounge Lizard.  He sings cabaret favorites while the camera turns him colors in what was clearly state-of-the-art special effects of the day.  I’m sure it was far out and super groovy in 1976, but it was simply boring in 2015.

The “Polaroid” commercial.  Garrett Morris was in charge of this one, and he got to take a picture of Gilda Radner operating a camera.  I don’t know what was happening here. Was this all just an early form of product placement?  A live commercial for a then-hip and happening product?  Well, Garrett lacked the panache of John Belushi, who previously served as spokesperson for this product, for real or for fake.  It seemed very off.

The Michael O’Donaghue impression of Tony Orlando and Dawn.  Buck Henry thought this guy, a writer on the show at that time, was funny.  I think these impressions are flat out stupid.  Maybe I just don’t get the joke.  Give me Andy Kaufman any day! But this guy strikes me as a screaming geek, and I prefer my geeks with less screaming.

Most Valuable Not Ready For Primetime Players

(1st) Laraine Newman, for rightfully (and with such gusto) ripping the crutch out of Chevy Chase’s smug hand; for being an excellent singing cowgirl; for being one of the “Crowd” so well; and for taking Baba Wawa’s interviewing prowess in such classy stride.

(2nd) John Belushi, for (begrudgingly and temporarily) hosting the show; for his always funny if not fluent Samurai; and for adding great things to the “Crowd” mentality.

(3rd) Garrett Morris, for his stunning “An Die Musik” performance and for offering himself up as the token Black man in the “Crowd” sketch.

Honorable mentions:

Gilda Radner for Baba Wawa and for her singing cowgirl.

Lorne Michaels, for his steadfastness and determination in his attempts to reunite the Beatles.  I applaud you, sir.  Forty years later.

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One comment

  1. kyliekeelee · March 13, 2015

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