CPU! LIVE!: Top 5 TV Comedy Inspirations of No Outlet Improv Troupe

couchpotatoesunite

LIVE PODCAST! – Welcome to three brand new features at CPU! combined into one fandangly premiere package! Inspired by the movie High Fidelity, and CPU!’s very own Nick, today’s episode kicks both features into high gear, aided and abetted by guest panelists from Grand Rapids based No Outlet Improv Troupe, specifically Mike, TJ, Eirann, Kristin, Sean, and none other than Nick himself!

The first new feature is our LIVE! podcast. From time to time, when people want us to drop by, CPU! will go LIVE! and LIVE STREAMED to its Facebook page, bringing podcasts to your computer screens like our favorite shows come to TV screens across the nation. Since we’re a very theatrical bunch, this promises to be a real treat – or, at least, it will be something to throw tomatoes at from the comfort of your very own couch. Or your jazzercycle. Fitness first!

The second new feature is our Top 5. Top 5 will channel panel members’ best Rob Gordons by asking them to come up with their own top 5 TV shows or TV-related items around a painstakingly chosen theme. Then, as a group, the panelists will be forced to come up with a consensus, using their individual lists as starting points, that represents the panel at large. It should make for some feisty discussion, depending upon the topic.

The third new feature is that we’ve dropped “iTunes Podcast” from the feed titles, as we’re now Android friendly and on Google Play!!  Now all titles will just be simple titles of episodes.  Dreams really do come true!

This podcast was live streamed on August 8, 2016, with associated video; this is the audio recording of the event! Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Play, iTunes, YouTube, and, naturally, our website, couchpotatoesunite.wordpress.com!

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40 Years of Saturday Night Live! – Season Two, Episode Nine (Jodie Foster)

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”

Highlights:

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.

40 Years of Saturday Night Live! – Season Two, Episode Eight (Paul Simon)

Host and Musical Guest: Paul Simon

Special Featured Guest: George Harrison

Cast: Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner – i.e. the “Not Ready For Primetime Players”

Highlights:

Paul Simon returns to host and, essentially, to play a second gig in the form of the Saturday Night show.  And he brought a friend!  And his friend is none other than former Beatle and favorite of mine (well, really, one of four favorites), George Harrison.  This would prove to be a stellar appearance, particularly from a music perspective, for viewers then and now.  To think, this episode aired a mere six years after the Beatles had broken up.  In the interest of symmetry, for those not in the know, Conan O’Brien had, on his show in September 2014, a “George Harrison” week in anticipation of a box set that was released featuring George’s Apple Records years, and Paul Simon served as a guest and tribute singer to the late George, reproducing, albeit not well, a performance rendered by the two legendary musicians in this episode.  I’m so excited just to write about it!

The “Backstage” cold open.  First, in our pre-filmed cold opening announced by the live voice of Don Pardo, we find our host, Paul Simon, walking up to 30 Rock, arriving early because of some “costume” he has to get into that will take him a half hour before start of show to manage.  As he’s entering the building, he finds Chevy Chase, who apparently was all talk about leaving the show, playing guitar and in modestly messy apparel, singing folk songs for change like a street performer.  Paul and Chevy are famously best friends, so, perhaps this was a cheeky sendoff from friend to friend. Anyway, the interchange was feigned awkward, and Chevy was oddly happy-go-lucky for someone without a formal credit as a cast member.  So, Paul leaves his singing friend, long before they could conceive of “You Can Call Me Al,” and later finds producer Lorne Michaels talking to none other than Mr. Harrison, who is, hilariously, razzing Lorne about the $3,000 Lorne has been offering the Beatles to reunite on the show.  First, Paul Simon interrupts their conversation to protest about wearing the “costume,” which Lorne insists will be just fine and will work great, much to Paul’s chagrin.  Paul is very, very reticent, worrying about his integrity as an artist, but agrees to go put on the nondescript costume.  Meanwhile, Lorne tries to explain to George that the $3,000 was really meant for four people, i.e. $750 per Beatle (he didn’t make a crack about Ringo this time), which George, in his George way, mutters is pretty “chincey” and something of a ripoff where he’s concerned.  Yet, at Lorne’s convincing, George is pretty game to say, “Live from New York!”  At least Lorne got one Beatle!  I think he should have paid George, really.

Paul Simon then comes onstage for the monologue dressed as a turkey.  The episode aired on November 20, 1976, right around Thanksgiving, so, you know, festive.  He starts to sing “Still Crazy After All These Years” but can’t get through it, mortified as he is in light of being dressed as a turkey.  He leaves the stage in a huffy manner, prepared to confront Lorne Michaels, who thinks the turkey costume is top-notch.  Paul gets mad, though, particularly when he can’t fit through backstage doorways due to the span of his turkey feathers.  It’s a pretty well-known, even legendary, bit, actually, and worth a few giggles.

Since Paul Simon is a musician and everything, he also served as primary musical guest and sang, solo, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” (which, gag, Miley Cyrus sang less aptly during the 40th anniversary special, even though Paul Simon was there to sing for himself, wonderingly); “Something So Right,” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” all by himself and without the soaring harmonies of Art Garfunkel, which lent an almost eerie quality to the song, though it was still beautiful in its simplicity.  In addition, treat of all treats, Paul Simon and George Harrison sang two duets, first of George’s classic Beatles tune “Here Comes the Sun” and then of the Simon and Garfunkel classic “Homeward Bound.”  And it was ah-mazing.  Seriously, what a wonder to be in that studio for that performance.  It was perfection, really.  Two men, two expertly played acoustic guitars, and two beautiful songs.  Magnifique!

The “Baba WaWa at Large” sketch.  Gilda Radner recreates her speech-hampered Barbara Walters impression for this segment, in which Baba interviews outgoing Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, hilariously rendered again by John Belushi.  While he wasn’t at his best, she was on fire, now mimicking Barbara Walters’ special brand of point-blank questioning, which Mr. Kissinger, in this sketch, frequently answered with clipped, one-word answers.  This one is better viewed than described.

“The Twilite Zone” sketch.  This sketch was a mixed bag.  The highlight of the sketch was Dan Aykroyd’s impression of Twilight Zone narrator Rod Serling, which was pretty convincing, even though Aykroyd injected his creepy, toothy smile into the proceedings. The premise of the sketch was that Rod Serling, producer, lures three young, naive actresses of similar skills and talents, as played by the women of Saturday Night (i.e. Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, and Gilda Radner) to a hotel room, or, really, a motel room, where Garrett Morris creepily brings them room service.  I think the point of this sketch is that Aykroyd’s Rod seeks to entice some young actresses to do naughty things in exchange for parts in his TV show, but the sketch landed with a thud and without driving that point or its aims home.  The women screamed and gasped a few times, and Rod came into pour drinks.  It was all about Aykroyd’s impression, truly, for the purpose of being a “highlight.”

Jane Curtin’s Weekend Update in this episode began with the camera zeroing in on Jane while she tried to open what appeared to be a birth control pill dispenser.  After she realized awkwardly that the camera was on her, she said “Good evening; the news,” and segued nicely into the top story about the effectiveness of oral contraception versus diaphragms, though, Jane indicated, scientists were reporting that diaphragms are much harder to swallow than the pill.  Other stories included one about how the Republican party was soliciting suggestions from the public to change the party name, after former California governor and future President Ronald Reagan allegedly proposed doing so.  When Jane reported some of the suggestions, many of them were presumably explicit and bleeped out, except the name “The Supremes.”  Jane also reported about a “Harry Reems,” one of the cast of “Deep Throat,” who was having some sort of party or fundraiser wherein he introduced a new cocktail named after himself.  Jane joked, “The cocktail contained no beer but still had a head,” prompting Jane to quip, “Sorry, mom, it’s my job!” in light of the inappropriate penile joke.  A filmed segment featured correspondent Laraine Newman reporting from a diner frequented by Nazi war criminals, many of whom were wearing regalia and armbands with swastikas in the background.  Laraine reported that residents of Long Island, where the diner is located, treat the Nazi war criminals like any other immigrant group seeking refuge from persecution.  Also, in what appeared to be a running gag, Jane reported that Morris the cat, of Meow Mix fame, tried to commit suicide after he learned of the death of Smokey the Bear.  His suicide note was apparently, pound for pound, the Meow Mix jingle (“meow meow meow meow”), which Jane gamely reproduced by singing it.  Jane reported that Morris tried to end all nine of his lives in a variety of gruesome ways, including locking himself in a garage with a car running and shutting himself in an oven, but Morris could, sadly, only think of eight ways to kill himself and was recuperating at a hospital after his failure to completely end his life.  As a result, Jane and Weekend Update solicited home viewership to write-in with suggestions for a ninth way for poor Morris to commit suicide, whose decision as to the winning choice was “final.”  Jane further reported in this broadcast that it was the first anniversary of the death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, who received well wishes from a worldwide collection of folks, including “homesick for NBC” Barbara Walters.  Finally, Garrett Morris, acting as science correspondent, provided commentary about a strain of gonorrhea that had become resistant to penicillin, which Jane indicated was true in eleven United States, all of which were visited by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.  Garrett analyzed the sample DNA of a gonorrhea victim, which was depicted as an old-time cartoon, lampooning the onslaught of the sexually transmitted disease.  When Jane asked Garrett where he got the sample DNA, Garrett, uncomfortably writhing in his chair from presumably contracting said STD, replied simply, “Loretta.”

The “Crackerbox Palace” film.  In a definite precursor to music videos, thought not the first of its kind, since the Beatles as a collective were kind of doing this thing once upon a time, George Harrison brought a film of him singing his single “Crackerbox Palace.” Directed by Python member and previous Saturday Night host Eric Idle, it featured the erstwhile Beatle in some very silly and absurd – one might say Pythonesque – adventures and situations.

The “Tomorrow” sketch.  In this sketch, Dan Aykroyd sports his impression of late night talk show host Tom Snyder.  His guest is Paul Simon, but it is apparent that Tom Snyder, in this rendition of the television personality, has no idea who Paul Simon is. He first believes that Paul is the singer of a song about driving trucks that plays at the top of the sketch.  Aykroyd’s Snyder then confuses Paul with Neil Simon, the playwright, and finally with another singer named Paul, before Mr. Simon becomes angry and leaves the stage, while Aykroyd’s Tom Snyder tried to play off his mistakes, in a frighteningly accurate portrayal of Mr. Snyder. The execution of this one was actually somewhat brilliant.

George Harrison brought a second film or music video to another single of his, “This Song.”  Both of the filmed tracks are on his Thirty Three and 1/3 album.

Less Successful Moments

While there were less funny segments in this episode, none of them could be considered “less than successful” because every sketch accomplished what it set out to do and did so providing at least some laughs.  Perhaps, I’m getting soft.

Most Valuable Not Ready For Primetime Players

(1st) Dan Aykroyd, for his more than passable impressions of Rod Serling and Tom Snyder.

(2nd) Jane Curtin, for an overall hilarious Weekend Update (ten points to Gryffindor for the original opening) and for hocking “Quarry” cereal in a top of show commercial, which was basically chunks of mined rocks, full of minerals and such.  She played a perfectly straight-faced spokesperson and could have probably made a career out of it if she weren’t so darn funny.

(3rd) Gilda Radner, for continuing to finely hone her Baba Wawa.

40 Years of Saturday Night Live! – Season Two, Episode Seven (Dick Cavett)

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”

Highlights:

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.

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.

40 Years of Saturday Night Live! – Season Two, Episode Five (Steve Martin)

Host: Steve Martin

Musical Guest: Kinky Friedman

Cast: Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner – i.e. the “Not Ready For Primetime Players”

Highlights:

Venerable comedian Steve Martin performed the first of many SNL hosting gigs in this episode; in fact, he is one of only a few actors and actresses who have hosted the show the most (I don’t know where he falls in the order directly, but I’ll be tallying that statistic throughout this watch project).  This particular appearance was, for the most part, unremarkable, but, in many ways, he felt like one of the regular cast, for better or for worse – and I don’t blame the worse on him.

The “World Series” cold open.  In this cold open, the men of Saturday Night play baseball players in a locker room receiving an apology talk by the coach, played by Dan Aykroyd, who is taking the loss of the World Series by his team, which looks to be the Yankees, so personally that he hangs himself at the end of the talk for his players to see.  They wander out of the locker room mostly unaffected by the sudden suicide of their coach. The most notable aspect of this cold open is that, for the first time, Chevy Chase did not fall.  He did not even mimic falling.  Aykroyd was dangling from a fictitious hangman’s noose, but Chevy did not fall. This could signify the beginning of the end…or, at least, be a clue to Chevy’s limited future on the show from this point forward. To be continued…spoilers…

Steve Martin gave an excellent monologue, which included him playing the banjo.  The rhythm and pace were taken from his stand-up routines.  I can’t reproduce everything; the best stand-up comics are so stream of consciousness that jokes flow in and out of and overlap each other, and Steve is one of the best.  Plus, he plays the banjo.  “Hey, he’s good!” Indeed.

The “Jeopardy 1999!” sketch.  This sketch is funny for so many reasons.  First, this is one of those quaint sketches wherein writers and performers imagined what would be 20 years into the future to be so much more futuristic than it actually was.  Everyone apparently wears curly white afros and seems to be numbered clones or something.  Steve Martin plays the host, Art F114, while Dan Aykroyd, Laraine Newman, and Chevy Chase serve as the contestants.  The lines are delivered, and the game is played, rapidly, which actually causes Steve to stumble over his lines quite a bit.  In fact, more than once during this episode, I had the notion that some of the cast and our illustrious host might have been enjoying some recreational refreshments backstage.  One of the Jeopardy clues also points to something close to the notion of identifying a Saturday Night cast member who washed up and faded quickly.  The question: “Who is Chevy Chase?” which Chevy Chase’s character answers correctly.  It was a bit screwball all around and somewhat awkwardly rendered, but it provided a few good laughs (and may have planted the seeds for my all time favorite recurring sketch, Celebrity Jeopardy, from the nineties cast).

Satirical country singer Kinky Friedman served as musical guest and sang “Dear Abbie.”  I had never heard of him and was not impressed by the appearance, but I’m not a big fan of country music.

Chevy Chase started Weekend Update by saying, “Good evening, I’m Rod McHugh.” Wait, what?  I DON’T GET IT.  Just kidding.  The jokes were standard fare for this Update, though Chevy graciously welcomed Jane Curtin as a featured regular on the segment, in lieu of her prodigal anchoring skills during his absence, while championing the equality of the sexes in these male dominated times.  Jane launches into a fairly straight-laced report about fluorocarbons, which prompts Chevy to do his regular bit of making faces behind her back, which is not nice.  Also, Al Franken pops in to read Chevy’s news sides over Chevy’s shoulder, about which Chevy is not so keen.

The “Beatniks” sketch.  The whole cast participated in this one.  It centered on one of those old cafes that attracted beatniks during the sixties.  Dan Aykroyd plays Herbie Gleason, the cafe proprietor, who speaks in a raspy voice and introduces all of the acts.  Steve Martin plays a beat poet, Laraine Newman provides an interesting interpretive dance, Chevy Chase plays a Latin singer, Garrett Morris plays a blind blues singer that might have formed the basis for David Alan Grier’s blues singer on In Living Color – there is something for everyone!  The sketch was a bit long, but it was fun to see everyone involved.

The “Ramblin’ Guy” spot.  Though less funny than the monologue, it was another chance for Steve Martin to perform some stand-up stuff, which is always welcome.

Less Successful Moments

The “Looks at Books” segment.  Though normally funny, this Looks at Books spot fumbled for an unexpected turnover.  Hard-hitting hostess Jane Curtin interviewed Steve Martin as the author of a book studying the effects of sex on athletic performance.  Something went wrong in this sketch – you could almost hear the crickets in the audience.  Maybe Steve lost his place in the cue cards, or maybe the jokes were particularly and disastrously unfunny. The whole sketch revolved around showing a bunch of sports clips: successful sports players had not had sex, according to Steve’s author, while those who made mistakes had had sex at some point before doing so.  It was a concept that could have been potentially comedic but failed in the execution, which was really disappointing, considering the players involved.

The “Mary” sketch.  Good God, Lemon.  I do not know what motivated anyone to write this sketch.  Steve Martin plays a news anchor who inadvertently murders a co-worker, played by Laraine Newman, by putting Drano in her coffee in order to help her clear her sinuses. His boss (John Belushi) and other co-workers, including office bitch Jane Curtin and office gypsy Gilda Radner, as well as concerned co-worker Dan Aykroyd, happen upon this discovery and urge Steve’s character to make a full confession.  This sketch was also a non-starter; Steve affected one of his “doofus” personae, and Jane Curtin’s waspish jabs at the newly deceased, of which her character was not overly fond, were mildly entertaining, but mostly, the whole sketch suffered from weird pacing and the actors stumbling over their lines.  At one point, it seemed like Belushi totally forgot his.  I’m all for dark humor, but something was missing in this one – the comedy, mostly.

Most Valuable Not Ready For Primetime Players

(1st) Dan Aykroyd, for doing the heaving lifting (or hanging) during the cold open; for retaining his champion status during the “Jeopardy 1999!” sketch; and for his excellent beatnik cafe proprietor, which added something special to that sketch.

(2nd) Laraine Newman, for her spunky Jeopardy contestant; for her ethereal interpretive dance during the “Beatniks” sketch; and for being the unfortunate manslaughter victim by sitting still throughout the entire “Mary” sketch.

(3rd) Jane Curtin, for earning at least a small iota of Chevy Chase’s respect and a promotion to featured correspondent on Weekend Update and for being the funniest character in the “Mary” sketch, which is really saying something.

40 Years of Saturday Night Live! – Season Two, Episode Four (Karen Black)

Host: Karen Black

Musical Guest: John Prine

Cast: Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner – i.e. the “Not Ready For Primetime Players”

Highlights:

Karen Black, an actress who has appeared in films such as Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces, and who has been nominated for awards, served as host for this episode.  As a “legitimate actress,” she did not offer much in the way of comedy and did not infuse the broadcast with much energy, though she played some competent characters during her appearance.  I think that is the struggle for Saturday Night Live in general over the decades; some hosts don’t know how to cope with or field live/sketch comedy, so their appearances are more awkwardly executed than others who have more ingrained comedic talents.  She didn’t do a bad job; she just wasn’t very funny.

The “Wheelchair” cold open.  Jane Curtin announces Chevy Chase’s triumphant return to the broadcast after being out for injury for some weeks, and though she was getting rather accustomed to the Weekend Update chair (she started receiving letters, you know), she warmly introduced Chevy Chase who is then wheeled onstage in a wheelchair by John Belushi.  Without much ceremony, though, Belushi dumps him out of the chair and off the stage.  Unfortunately, they must have missed their marks, as there was a pregnant pause, and then Chevy said “Live from New York” in the dark. That’s why the name was changed to Saturday Night Live, y’all.

Karen Black’s monologue was supposed to be about mothers through the ages, charting the evolution of mothers through time while paired with absurd drawings that were Terry Gilliam-esque in appearance.  She brought her then-toddler Hunter on stage with her, though, and the darling boy stole the show, going for her breast, for obvious reasons, and climbing all over her, clearly as bored with her monologue as the rest of America probably was (including this futuristic viewer).

The “Baba WaWa at Large” sketch.  In this sketch, Gilda Radner dons her best Barbara Walters, with the scintillating speech impediment in tow.  During her show, she interviews Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India, played by Laraine Newman.  In this sketch, Baba didn’t want to focus on the serious issues affecting the nation of India but, instead, wanted to make slightly insensitive remarks about Indira’s clothing and body markings.  It wasn’t the best of these sketches, but Gilda’s impeccable execution of the Baba WaWa speech foibles as well as Laraine’s fastidious characterization made for a fun segment.

The “Debate ’76” sketch.  In a continuation of lampoons of the presidential election of 1976, begun during the Lily Tomlin episode, Chevy Chase, in his not so good impression of struggling then-President Ford, and Dan Aykroyd doing then-challenger Jimmy Carter, engage in a second debate.  Karen Black plays the moderator, Ann Wrabel, and our panel from the Lily Tomlin episode returns, including Jane Curtin playing Liz Montgomery, who reports on women in politics; John Belushi playing Marilyn Kraus, who reports on transsexuals in politics; and Garrett Morris playing Earl Rowland, who reports on blacks in politics.  The hands-down funniest moment of this sketch is when Ann Wrabel invites everyone to sing the national anthem.  The first triumphant notes of the “Star Spangled Banner” play over the loudspeakers, and Chevy’s Ford shouts that he can name that tune in four notes, though he waffles on the actual tune when moderator Ann refuses to acknowledge the game.  This debate was a bit tamer than the last one, considering that Chevy was allegedly injured during the last of these; he didn’t fall, for example.  Also, the questions weren’t as incisive in this go-round, but watching these two men perform these impressions is always good fun.

Folk singer/songwriter John Prine served as musical guest for this episode.  I had never heard of him prior to watching this show, and he reminds me of a poor man’s Bob Dylan, during the sixties when Bob’s entire repertoire was folk singing.  He sang “Hello In There” and “The Bottomless Lake” during this episode.

Chevy Chase triumphantly returns to Weekend Update as well.  He begins to do an impression of Jiminy Cricket for his lady friend over the phone by singing “When You Wish Upon a Star” before he realizes that the camera is upon him.  He introduces the segment by saying, “I’m Chevy Chase, and I don’t like you.”  Many of the jokes center on the swine flu, including the unintended deaths caused by the vaccination for this disease.  This was apparently quite the health scare in 1976.  In any event, Chevy reports that Spanish officials have requested a vaccination for Generalissimo Francisco Franco, though he is not as worried about the possible side effects of said vaccination.  At one point during the segment, Chevy Chase delivers an entire story to the side camera, even though the front camera is what is active.  The jokes were a bit mild during this Update, but it was nice to see him back behind the desk.  He’s much more of a mug for the camera; Jane Curtin was so conservative and deadpan, at least in these early runs.  She got better.

The “Mr. Bill Show” film featuring “Mr. Bill Goes to a Party.”  Mr. Bill always makes me laugh, but I think it’s a callback to childhood for me, since he became something of an omnipresent character, sort of like the Muppets.  Mr. Bill is tortured by Mr. Hands again while getting ready for a party.  The punchline, though, is when he arrives for the party, the host opens the door to look for him only to have inadvertently stepped on him.  The next we see Mr. Bill, he is flattened and stuck to the host’s shoe.  “Oh noooo.”

The “American Coinage” performance, which features Garrett Morris, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, and John Belushi singing odes to American coins.  Garrett Morris sings “Pennies from Heaven” a la Sammy Davis Jr.; Chevy sings about nickels; Dan about dimes; and Belushi sings a soulful ballad to quarters while overlay credits suggest that Belushi may be robbing everyone of their loose change.  It was mildly absurd, otherwise harmless comedy with a slightly acidic twist.  Like lemon.  Unfortunately, it also stood for the closing moments of the show; the credits did not feature a live sendoff with the cast standing onstage.  It was a little weird.

Less Successful Moments

The “Green Cross Cupcakes” commercial.  In this commercial, Karen Black plays a housewife who serves her husband, played by John Belushi, some cupcakes with green crosses on them.  She proceeds to inform him that the cupcakes have been tested on rats and determined to be cancer-free, leading Belushi to decide to eat as many as he wants by stuffing whole cupcakes into his mouth.  A scientist, played by Chevy Chase, appears and deadpans that there is no scientific evidence linking cupcakes to cancer, but Karen’s housewife simply opines that with so many scary things in the world, it’s nice to know that “cancer free can be so delicious.”  There was something off in the delivery here, and if it weren’t for John Belushi doing something sort of trademark John Belushi, it would have really been lost.  Karen’s housewife was a little creepy, and there was a moment showing a laboratory with rats in cages and guys in radiation suits.  The punchline landed flat for me.  Also, I don’t like rats.

The “Love Russian Style” sketch features Karen Black as Empress Catherine the Great of Russia.  Dan Aykroyd plays her aide, Gregnovich.  First, John Belushi appears as a peasant who goes on and on and on and on about being a peasant in Russia.  Boring, though Dan Aykroyd sings a melancholy accompaniment to the tale to set the mood. Then, a servant played by Gilda Radner tells the Empress that her secret lover is in her bedchamber.  Well, as it turns out, her secret lover is a horse named Snowball who talks like Chevy Chase talking like Mr. Ed.  Again, I think it crossed the line of being too absurd, and I did not want to see anyone making out with a horse.  Poor horse.

Most Valuable Not Ready For Primetime Players

(1st) Chevy Chase, for making a triumphant return to the broadcast by falling, playing President Ford not so well, and sitting behind the Update chair as well as for his decent Mr. Ed impression, despite the creepiness of the sketch that featured it.  He also has a lovely singing voice when making melodies about nickels.

(2nd) Dan Aykroyd, for his equal-to-the-task Jimmy Carter; for his also lovely singing voice featured in “Love Russian Style” and “American Coinage;” and for his fascinating if not entirely funny characterization of a grown-up high school nerd/loner in the “Reunion” sketch, which found him catching up with a former cheerleader/homecoming queen, played by Jane Curtin, at a Woolworth’s lunch counter and trying to convince her to remember him as the President of the AV Squad.  It was one of those sketches you can’t really laugh at, but he was so immersed in the character, you couldn’t not watch.

(3rd) John Belushi, for being unafraid to toss Chevy Chase out of a wheelchair; for his lackadaisical questioning during the “Debate ’76” sketch; for inhaling cupcakes in the “Green Cross Cupcakes” sketch and saving it from infamy; and for his smooth and dulcet song stylings about quarters in the “American Coinage” sketch.

Honorable mention:

Garrett Morris, not to be left out, for his Sammy Davis-esque rendition of “Pennies from Heaven” (since we all know the man can sing).  The men have it again.