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.

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One comment

  1. kyliekeelee · March 18, 2015

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