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”
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.