40 Years of Saturday Night Live! – Season Two, Episode Six (Buck Henry)

Host: Buck Henry

Musical Guest: The Band

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 to host the broadcast for the third time, giving him an early lead in “most hosting stints” for the show – a tally I will meticulously calculate as I go.  Each time he returns, he gets funnier.  Also, I never realized it, but he plays Liz Lemon’s dad on 30 Rock. So that’s how the “younger generations” might know him.  Hooray!

The “Halloween Jaws” cold open.  In this cold open, Chevy Chase as the Land Shark – Jaws, on land! – comes a-calling to “trick or treat” at Gilda Radner’s house.  She’s put off by his entreaties to get her to open the door, as it’s 2:00 AM, even though he attempts to ply her with promises of a candy-gram and such.  What finally convinces her to open the door? He identifies himself as a collector for UNICEF.  “Well, that’s different,” she says before she gets eaten.  The shark, which still looks fake, then enters the abode, and Chevy’s face pops out of its mouth to say “Live From New York!”

Buck Henry provides an excellent monologue lampooning the sudden rise to fame and resultant media scrutiny of the Saturday Night cast by laying to bare all of the dirty little secrets, allegedly, of the Not Ready for Primetime Players.  Jane Curtin, who may seem normal, is abused by her husband.  John Belushi is in debt to the mafia.  Laraine Newman, who is young, has been hurt by “hundreds maybe thousands” of men.  Dan Aykroyd sleeps with a bicycle chain in his mouth and is filled with love for animals, including the goat in his dressing room. Gilda Radner, who is the sweetest, is “extremely close to her brother” to the point that her doctor is warning against a child. Garrett Morris, talented as he is, is also talented at cannibalism and skiing.  And Chevy Chase… For those not in the know, this was his last show as an official member of the cast of Saturday Night (Live).  He left the show to pursue a film career, though his official reason on record was that he left to be with who would become his second wife, who lived in Los Angeles.  He would return to the broadcast as host several times (before not being invited back, but that’s another story).  Buck Henry suggests that Chevy doesn’t care about his career or all of the fame that Chevy had been receiving (he was considered the standout star of the original cast); in fact, he plans to be with “Lloyd” and open a dress shop – Buck wishes him the best, knowing he will be very successful, particularly with his knowledge of women’s clothing.

The “Samurai Stockbroker” sketch.  John Belushi’s beloved samurai returns, particularly because Buck Henry, the story goes, requested that his episodes include the samurai sketches, since he enjoyed them so much.  In the sketch, our friendly neighborhood samurai is a stockbroker, and Buck plays his client, who has lost everything due to some very bad advice by our samurai.  Buck sold reliable stocks like GM and bought interest in sushi restaurants, for example.  When he asks the samurai for advice as to how to get himself out of this predicament, the samurai uses his blade to perform calculations on an abacus hidden behind a wall safe (heh heh).  Yet, after brainstorming, via a very screwball conversation between Buck and fake-Japanese-speaking Belushi, Buck decides he can’t go on.  He points out that if there was a window in the samurai’s office, he would jump out of it.  Willing to oblige, the samurai slashes a hole in the set, and Buck, sure enough, dives out of it (though he injures himself in the process…which would become a hilarious running gag throughout the show).  It should also be noted that Belushi was looking very svelte here.  I don’t know when his heaviest drug use started, but the contrast is quite dramatic…so I bet it was during the second season.

The “Not for First Ladies Only” sketch.  Hosted by Gilda Radner’s Baba WaWa, the ubiquitous journalist is interviewing the 1976 presidential candidates’ wives.  Betty Ford, played by Jane Curtin, is her usual homespun self, frequently referring to her husband as a “dim bulb.”  Laraine Newman plays Rosalyn Carter, who makes demure jokes about her sex life with Jimmy, which is also part of a running gag of this episode, in which Jimmy Carter’s “lusty appetites” are satirized (was he a womanizer?  I don’t know things).  The best part of this sketch was near the end, when Baba WaWa decides that she could be first lady, as she’s the first lady of news, and seeks the approval of her interviewees, but the fictitious Betty Ford and Rosalyn Carter are paying her no heed, gossiping about their foolish husbands without a care in the world and jabbering on like old friends.  I most loved Jane as Betty here; she made me giggle with her feigned Midwestern accent (Michigan, wuddup!) and matter-of-fact admissions about her husband not being the sharpest knife in the drawer.

The “Debate ’76” sketch.  The third and final debate between Chevy Chase, doing his not so good impression of then President Ford, and Dan Aykroyd, doing his perfectly lovely Jimmy Carter, was moderated by Buck Henry and featured a panel consisting of show writers, but they never asked any questions, because the debate became a beauty pageant instead, featuring a swimsuit competition, a talent competition, and the like.  The presidential candidates sported onesies for their swimsuits; Jimmy Carter’s talent was dentistry, where he tortured Garrett Morris, one of his staffers, by poking around in his mouth.  Chevy’s Ford, meanwhile, decided to demonstrate his talent of showing the American public how to vote, except he did it very badly, entering the voting booth the wrong way and eventually causing it to collapse in one of his superbly clumsy moves.  There was no clear winner, and the sketch kind of fizzled at the end, but it was fitting satire on all fronts, and I will miss Chevy’s not so good Ford impression. Also, with history as 20/20 hindsight, Ford should never have pardoned Nixon.  There, I said it.

Chevy Chase’s last stint behind the desk of Weekend Update as an official cast member had some interesting elements.  First, his top of segment caller receives some advice that could only be Chevy’s encouragement to smoke dope, in one of the show’s frequent nods to the idea that marijuana is not as harmful as people think.  When he realizes it is time to start, he says, “Good evening, I’m Chevy Chase, and you’re Rod McHugh?  McHeun?”  I STILL DON’T GET IT.  I’m not kidding this time.  Chevy is also sporting a band-aid on his forehead by this time and reports that on the Saturday Night broadcast, Buck Henry cut himself in the forehead with a sword wielded by, essentially, a drugged out John Belushi playing a samurai.  Wait…how much of that was true?!  I bet you all of it was.  In addition, Jane Curtin returns as correspondent to report on “people in the news,” which is something of a precursor to David Spade’s Hollywood Minute.  One item she reports is that Chevy Chase is leaving Saturday Night to replace Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, which was one of the rampant rumors at the time – and which never happened.  She is also sporting a band-aid on her forehead.  Chevy also announces, “And now, for Weekend Update’s Game of the Week,” at which point, he plays a handy and lightning fast round of “The Knife Game” or “Five Finger Filet” without stabbing himself once!  He also receives a collect call from Generalissimo Francisco Franco, who is just lying around, and reports that in an effort to maintain fair and neutral reporting standards, Weekend Update refuses to endorse either of the presidential candidates in the 1976 election.  All around, it was a solid “last” Update for him, including several good jokes, incomplete stories (where he starts a headline and fails to report anything else), and picture interpretations.  Two thumbs up.

The “Bat-O-Matic” commercial.  This is a Halloween themed version of the “Bass-O-Matic” commercial.  This time, Dan Aykroyd plays a druid or a pagan of some sort who is advertising the Bat-O-Matic to grind up bats and other magical potion ingredients without the strain and hassle of using a mortar and pestle.  His fast-talking shyster salesman creates a taupe goo that Laraine Newman also drinks, opining, “Mmm, that’s excellent bat and an excellent potion too!”  The Bat-O-Matic is a magical substitution for your spell-making needs.  Aykroyd even chants.

Canadian folk and roots rock group The Band served as musical guest.  They played at Woodstock, and their most famous song is “The Weight” (“Take a load off, Annie/take a load for free”); they did not sing that, though.  In one of their last live appearances in their original lineup (in fact, they were apparently performing their final live appearance in their original lineup shortly thereafter), they did sing “Life is a Carnival,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “Stage Fright,” and “Georgia.”

“The OintMENt” sketch.  In this sketch, which is a riff on the film The Omen, Buck Henry plays the father of Damien, played by John Belushi, and Jane Curtin is his mother. Damien murders his old nanny, who is replaced by Laraine Newman as some sort of vampire, sent to protect the boy, while Dan Aykroyd plays the priest that warns the clear-seeing father that Damien is the spawn of Satan.  Apparently, in this sketch, he’s also the spawn of a dog, who is buried in a pet cemetery, and Damien can be plied with liver snaps and be made to play fetch.  He still has “666” on his forehead, though his dad reads the number upside down and sees “999,” so he feels assuaged that Damien is not the Anti-Christ.  Unfortunately, Damien’s mom and the priest bite the dust at the hands of the little devil.  Belushi has no lines, but he’s kind of hilarious as the creepy boy.  The whole sketch was off its rocker but still kind of hilarious.  I’m not sure why the sketch was called the “OintMENt,” other than the fact that Jane Curtin gets some kind of salve for the priest after he’s stabbed with a street lamp.  It’s kind of confusing.

In the “Houdini’s Grave” spots, Buck Henry reports that Eric Weiss, aka Harry Houdini, made a promise when he died that if he was going to “come back from the grave,” he would do so fifty years after the day of his death, which was purportedly the same day as the date of this broadcast.  Thus, Garrett Morris is tasked with reporting from the cemetery by Houdini’s actual grave.  First, Garrett reports that he sees someone who identifies himself as “Francisco somebody.”  In the second spot, Garret is suddenly sporting an Afro, his hair in frizzy curls after being frightened by an apparition that he cannot describe, while Buck concludes that Houdini is still dead and buried.

Most notably, at the end of the show, the whole cast is wearing band-aids to match the bandage on Buck Henry’s forehead, but there are no tears shed nor protracted wishing of farewells to Chevy Chase.  I also find it odd that he left in the middle of a season.  Oh well…bon voyage Chevy Chase.  I will now start looking into your post-SNL film career to see if it was worth it.  Which means I can watch Three Amigos! again.  Yay.

Less Successful Moments

Michael O’Donoghue, who is not alive and has not been for about 20 years, was the head writer at the time, and he always seemed to pop out in front of the camera when Buck Henry came to play.  In this episode, he debuted a segment called “Mr. Mike’s Least-Loved Bedtime Tales,” where fables and nursery stories take a twisted path.  The problem is, while this guy wrote some funny stuff, as a performer, he was not funny. The story, which I can’t even remember now, was dark and absurd, but this guy lacked delivery and comedic timing as a performer.  It was so unmemorable, and, really, every time I see this guy, I’m instantly turned off because he doesn’t seem to understand how to execute what he writes.  Some people can’t do both writing and performing.  He would be one of those some people.

Most Valuable Not Ready For Primetime Players

(1st) Chevy Chase, for his swansong (as cast member) reprisal of the Land Shark; his bumbling, fashion victim version of President Ford; and for a solid Weekend Update to round out his last official episode as anchor (he would guest anchor in other episodes).

(2nd) John Belushi, for his always-funny samurai and for his off-kilter Damien spoof.

(3rd) Laraine Newman, for her sassy Rosalyn Carter; for drinking ground bat; and for her silly, supernatural nanny to devil’s spawn Damien.

Honorable mention:

Jane Curtin, for her delightfully hilarious Betty Ford.

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One comment

  1. kyliekeelee · April 4, 2015

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