Host: Dick Cavett
Musical Guest: Ry Cooder
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner – i.e. the “Not Ready For Primetime Players”
Dick Cavett returns to host the program for the second time. His monologue is considerably better, as it caters to his strengths – it’s a question and answer session with the audience, where he provides cheekier answers to some pretty cheeky questions. I can’t remember any examples (I took a holiday break from watching early SNL’s), but Dick is a stronger comedian when he’s improvising and reacting than when he’s performing sketches. There, I said it.
The “Chroma-Trak” cold open. Since Chevy Chase was no longer a cast member, the cold openings no longer relied on a pattern of pratfalls and one cast member delivering the same “Live from New York!” each week. Thus began, with this episode, the tradition that still holds true today. In this cold open, Gilda Radner is announcing a technology underlying her clothes; she announces that she’s wearing clothes of different colors than they actual are. Because it’s in the form of a commercial, television viewer Garrett Morris can’t believe his eyes and starts muttering expletives at his television set, as he attempts to adjust the color settings on his TV to match what apparently color blind Gilda is telling him, which was the funniest bit of this cold open. In the end, Gilda Radner announced “Live from New York!”
The “Blonde Ambition” sketch. No, Madonna was not a thing yet, so it’s not that kind of blonde ambition. In this sketch, Dan Aykroyd plays former president Richard Nixon, just prior to the Watergate scandal. He is being confronted by some sort of attorney (maybe the Attorney General even, I can’t remember) played by Dick Cavett. Tricky Dick, in this sketch, plans to entrap and frame Mr. Dean for some of the revelations that later landed Mr. Nixon in hot water prior to Dean’s testimony before the relevant house subcommittee investigating the Watergate scandal. With the help of his trusty assistant Rosemary, played by Gilda Radner, Mr. Nixon’s bookshelf hides a tape recorder, while a desk lamp acts as the microphone. Yet, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, again impersonated by John Belushi to hilarious effect, informs Nixon that his plan won’t work, and that he’s too late. This sketch resolves fairly benignly with a flat punchline, but Aykroyd and Belushi were the money players in this sketch, given their respective hilarious impressions.
Ry Cooder, an eclectic roots and folk rock singer/songwriter/composer, served as musical guest for this episode. He seems to be influenced by many styles and world beats, and history regards him as a preeminent guitarist, but I had never heard of him prior to viewing this episode (nor am I sure what my opinion is of his music based on the sampling here). He sang “Tattler” and “He’ll Have To Go.”
Jane Curtin received the first official promotion to regular anchor of Weekend Update, though she would be assigned co-anchors in future, following Chevy Chase’s departure. She began her official stint at the desk reading “Ms.” Magazine without paying any attention to the camera, zooming in on her after Don Pardo’s start-of-segment announcement. The cover of the magazine advertised the title story, “How’s your sex life?” and provided a multiple choice answer of “Good,” “Bad,” or “I Forget.” Jane chose one but stabbed her pencil through the entire magazine in her zeal (I’m guessing “Bad”). She didn’t provide a funny introduction but launched right into it. The top story described how the Postal Service was issuing a stamp commemorating prostitution, which cost ten cents, unless one wants to lick it – then, it cost a quarter. All throughout the segment, Jane had trouble finding the active camera and kept saying “oh, hello!” Another story centered on the TV movie about Sybil, who had multiple personalities, which involved Jane listing the personalities by naming at least 25 different celebrity and famous personalities, complete with impersonations, such as Lassie, Richard Nixon, and “I’m Chevy Chase, and you’re not.” During one story, after she had picked the wrong camera to look at, she stumbled over her words and asked if she could try again on the other camera. She also reported that Smokey the Bear had died, and that his funeral included distinguished attendees, such as Redd Foxx and Beaver Cleaver, as well as Bambi and Thumper, and that his death ended a twenty year moratorium on forest fires. She also announced that NBC’s Gene Shallot was Smokey’s replacement. She adopted Chevy Chase’s signature sign-off: “Good night, and have a pleasant tomorrow.”
The “Crossroads” sketch. In this sketch, Dick Cavett plays a reverend doing some kind of religious show, or maybe an infomercial, where he describes the changing family dynamics in America. He focuses in on a family; Dan Aykroyd plays the father, Gilda Radner the mother, and John Belushi the son. The son first tries to tell his father, in a serious confessional, that college is not for him, and that he is able to secure a stable trades job in construction and make some money. The father offers no verbal response; at the end of the son’s confession, the father’s only reaction is to cuff his son upside the head, causing the son to fall on the ground in agony. The son recovers long enough to try again with his mom, only to meet the same reaction (along with “eat your soup”). The hosting reverend then becomes a character in the sketch, visiting this humble abode. He’s invited to dinner by the mom, but when he sees the son writhing on the ground, as only Belushi could do, in agony, he quips something to the effect that this is the kind of family dynamic of which he’s always been in support. It wasn’t uproariously funny, but the first blow and Belushi’s great physical comedy caught me for a giggle.
TWIST! Chevy Chase may not have been in the cast list anymore as of this episode, but he wasn’t gone very long, thanks to the “Mobile Shrink” commercial, wherein he played a psychologist/psychiatrist who was prepared to come to those in need, regardless of what they are doing. In the end, he finishes by administering to John Belushi’s construction worker, as he is running active machinery on a loud construction site. The commercial wasn’t funny, but Chevy Chase’s presence, despite his alleged departure, was an interesting touch.
The “Bee History” sketch. In a long but delightfully absurd and satirical sketch, John Belushi and Laraine Newman play Henry and Esther Bee, one time bee immigrants to the great USA. Their grandson has been accepted at Harvard, and they, in a strong showing of pride for their heritage, tell the story of the struggle for bee acceptance in the face of wasps, or, more aptly, WASPs. It starts with an immigration official played by Dan Aykroyd, who is openly bee racist. Then, Henry Bee gets a job in a sweatshop run by Dick Cavett, where Garrett Morris refuses to work for slave wages (womp womp), while Henry is able to make suggestions to render the sweatshop more efficient and to earn a promotion. The Bees also try to gain acceptance at local clubs and gatherings popular to WASPs, but they can’t make inroads to acceptance without derision from those folks, also played by Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, and Aykroyd. Eventually, the Bees defy prejudice and discrimination and live the American dream, culminating in their grandson’s acceptance to Harvard. This sketch was enjoyable on many levels, from what it was parodying to Belushi and Laraine’s delightful accents, which could have been Eastern European or maybe Jewish or an amalgam of both. Best sketch of the episode.
The “What Makes People Laugh” segment. Saturday Night writers Tom Davis and Al Franken return to the stage, playing dead-on research nerds conducting experiments about what makes people laugh, sponsored by the network NBC. The latest experiment involved announcing five random words and gauging the live audience’s reaction to them by measuring their laughter with some doohickey they brought on stage. The words are all fairly benign, but Al Franken’s nerd scientist can’t seem to say anything related to women or sex and tends to look like he’s hyperventilating every time he says a word remotely in the sphere of either topic. The sketch itself was executed awkwardly, but the characters were supposed to be awkward, so it was kind of chuckle-worthy in the end.
Funnily enough, this episode ran short, and Dick Cavett had to punt for time in the end. He didn’t do a very good job of it.
Less Successful Moments
Michael O’Donoghue returned with a Mr. Mike’s Least-Loved Bedtime Stories sketch. I nodded off again. I just…can’t watch that guy. He’s not funny. I like weird and dark normally, but there’s an undercurrent with this guy that turns me off. No offense to all of his remaining fans out there…
Most Valuable Not Ready For Primetime Players
(1st) John Belushi, for his always on-point Henry Kissinger; for his pratfalls while playing an unexpectedly abused son; and for his earnest immigrant bee.
(2nd) Dan Aykroyd, for playing all the villains in this episode, including former President Nixon, a silently violent father, and a racist-against-bees WASP.
(3rd) Jane Curtin, for carrying the Weekend Update torch in a permanent relay with aplomb.