Host: Jodie Foster
Musical Guest: Brian Wilson
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner – i.e. the “Not Ready For Primetime Players”
Jodie Foster played hostess for this episode of Saturday Night, no doubt due to her critically acclaimed performance in the similarly aged Martin Scorsese movie Taxi Driver, starring Robert De Niro. Jodie was the tender age of 14 at the time of this episode, rendering her the youngest host to date. She might still hold that title, for all I know. Unfortunately, because she was so young and is not exactly well known for her comedic performances, the cumulative results of Jodie’s hosting duties were, on the whole, somewhat uninteresting – competent but not necessarily amusing. Good thing she accumulated all of those dramatic chops and won an Oscar or so in later years, eh?
The “Phasing Gilda Out” cold open. In this cold open, Gilda Radner, who also gets to deliver “Live from New York!”, introduces a running gag for this episode. Essentially, she complains that she is not in much of the episode, and she’s all sour grapes about it, though she dutifully agreed to do this cold opening. Her jokes seem to suggest that the show is trying to push her out, but, of course, we know that’s not the case. She was, after all, one of the more beloved Not Ready For Primetime Players.
The “Pilson’s Feedbag Dinners” commercial. Dear Chevy Chase – you are still here. All this hoopla…I feel let down. Anyway, in this pre-filmed commercial spot, Chevy is the spokesperson for a feedbag that one straps to his/her face, as if s/he was livestock. The product is “marketed” to busy people who don’t have time to eat due to constantly being on the go. The product idea was appalling and funny in a gross way- yet, for all of the “Chevy Chase is leaving” hype, here again is Chevy Chase. I guess they phased him out through cameos? So confused.
The “Peter Pan Bees” sketch. In a completely absurd sketch, and the best of the night, Jodie Foster plays a cynical teenager visited by two bees, namely Peter Pan bee, played by Laraine Newman, and “Tinkerbee,” played by John Belushi. Jodie’s cynical teenager doesn’t believe in bee fairies, leading Belushi’s fairy bee to collapse in dramatic fashion. Of course, the cure for bringing fairies back from the dead is to clap one’s hands, so Jodie encourages the live audience to get into the spirit; however, John appears to be somewhat dead-looking, which worries his co-performers in the sketch. Once again, the sketch goes meta, however, when Belushi whispers into Laraine Newman’s ear that he wants a standing ovation. So, Jodie’s cynical teenager encourages the live audience to clap again, only standing up this time. Ah – Belushi and his diva moments. Providing well-rounded absurdity since 1975. Particularly during bee sketches. Remember the first bee sketch and how it wasn’t very good? How far they’ve come.
Former Beach Boy (and drug addict) Brian Wilson served as musical guest for this episode. Weirdly, he had a habit of introducing all of his own songs; I wondered if he was under the influence during the making of this episode, because he seemed kind of out of it. He sang “Back Home,” “Love is a Woman,” and a solo version of “Good Vibrations,” the latter of which was very weird on many levels. His voice was shaky and occasionally out of tune; plus, that song really lacks something without the backing harmonies and round-robin phrasing of the other Beach Boys. All in all, interesting to see the legendary song writer and producer in this context but sort of sad because it wasn’t up to snuff, really.
Weekend Update with Jane Curtin was less funny in this episode, though, overall, her jokes and method of delivery tickle my funny bone more than Chevy Chase’s many rounds at the anchor desk. There, I said it. Jane starts the segment by saying, “I’m Jane Curtin, and here, but for the grace of God, goes Gilda,” in a nod to the frequently complaining Gilda Radner, who has reappeared for a couple of segments to grudgingly introduce sketches, despite her otherwise limited appearance in the episode (irony). In one bit, Jane calls President Elect Jimmy Carter at home, as voiced by Dan Aykroyd. She informs Mr. Carter that he has the potential to win a contest and the grand prize of an all new denim wardrobe if he agrees to answer one question. When Mr. (fake) Carter agrees, the question posed to him refers to which dictator died a year ago from the date of the broadcast. The answer is, of course, Generalissimo Francisco Franco, but fake President Carter answers, “J. Edgar Hoover.” His consolation prizes include an off-brand aftershave lotion and a Herbie Hancock jazz album. At one point, Jane is reporting that legendary crooner Frank Sinatra is drinking to ward off “swine flu,” but she flubs and says “fline swu.” She then quips, “swine flu or fline swu…you don’t know.” And in her trademark running gag, she reports that Morris the Cat, who previously tried to end his nine lives, received hundreds of suggestions for taking that ninth life that he unsuccessfully failed to extinguish as of the previous episode, which included sticking dynamite in unmentionable orifices. One racist viewer threatened Saturday Night cast member Garrett Morris, confusing him for the cat. In any event, Morris has proven to be more finicky than originally thought, so Weekend Update continued to solicit suggestions to end Morris’ last life, suggesting that his decision would “probably” be final.
Bitter Gilda Radner then introduces a brand new segment called “Little Known Talents of the Not Ready for Primetime Players.” In this episode, Laraine Newman mimics a baby crying, a dog being stepped on, and a possessed chicken, while Gilda half-heartedly watches. Laraine’s impressions were quite good, but the put-upon Gilda bit was starting to wear thin by this point.
“The King Kong Dirge” segment featured Garrett Morris, singing an operatic dirge in ode to movie monster and legendary Giant Gorilla King Kong. It was surprisingly serious, but Mr. Morris displayed another impressive showing of his amazing set of pipes.
Sweetly, at one point, Gilda Radner is sitting in the audience and gets one of the audience subtitles that frequently appear over random audience members in these early episodes. Sadly, I can’t remember what it is. I didn’t write it down.
Less Successful Moments
The “Teacher” sketch. In this sketch, Jodie Foster was apparently playing a youngster who had some sort of creepy crush on her teacher, played by Dan Aykroyd. I guess the point of the sketch is that she is so hung up on him, she won’t let him leave and keeps suffering from verbal diarrhea of the mouth in order to prevent him from embarking on his summer vacation and not having her in class or around anymore. She even gives him a poem. Aykroyd spoke in monosyllables, and I don’t necessarily think this sketch landed with a thud because of Jodie Foster. Rather, I think the idea wasn’t funny. It was painful and awkward but not in a manner that would inspire laughter. On a sketch comedy show. It’s all I’m saying.
The “White Like Me” sketch. While I’m all for race reversal scenarios that demand audiences to consider opposite perspectives, this one was delivered somewhat poorly. Jane Curtin plays the wife of Garrett Morris. The sketch finds her confessing to her husband that she, who is obviously white, is not, in fact, black. Apparently, he thought she was black. But then we also find out that he thinks he is white. And that she serves ribs. Again, I blame the lack of punch, funny or otherwise, in this sketch on lousy writing, though the execution might have been too deadpan and dry as well. It was a good idea in theory, but the method of delivery here just didn’t do it justice.
There was another “Mr. Mike’s Least-Loved Bedtime Stories” sketch, featuring Michael O’Donoghue, but this one actually played a bit better because he was telling his bedtime story to an eager young listener played by Jodie Foster. I think he is more likable when other likable people are there for him to play off of, react to, and otherwise interact with, instead of it just being him telling a creepy bedtime story. Still, I don’t like these sketches overall. They just don’t do it for me.
Most Valuable Not Ready For Primetime Players
(1st) Laraine Newman, for her freaky accurate impressions, as listed above, and for being Peter Pan bee, which was weird, but a funny weird.
(2nd) Gilda Radner, who provided many of the episode’s laughs, despite (allegedly) not being in it very much.
(3rd) John Belushi, for knowing when to diva out and, at the same time, for playing a character called “Tinkerbee.” Hehehehe. Tinkerbee.