You are probably wondering right now why I am doing a review of Saturday Night Live from the first season and the answer is this: I used to do these on my own personal MSN blog but instead of that go-nowhere venture, I decided to occasionally post one on here as this seems to garner more traffic and comments.
Unfortunately, since I left off at a certain point in my reviews, I start off with this “gem” of an episode. Louise Lasser was one of the more notorious hosts in the show’s history and ended up being the first one banned coincidentally. According to several sources inside the show at the time, she was currently going through a lot of personal problems and relied heavily on the crutch of narcotics and other various substances to help her make it through her daily schedule.
Not only did the drugs have an effect on how awkward and stumbling she was, she also was an apparent chore to work with and planned on not even doing the show at the last minute until the producers threatened that if she didn’t, they would do an entire show using Bill Murray (who was not a castmember, but rather a small-time comedian in the audience that night) to play her parts with a wig on. Finally, she relented but demanded she only be in sketches with Chevy and also that a short film that was deemed unwatchable by most be shown instead of a much better piece that was scheduled to run.
The reviews of Saturday Night Live (both past and present) will be slightly different than my usual ones. I will delve into each sketch one-by-one and talk about it a bit. That means there will be some semblance of structure. Huzzah! Also, I will be using letter grades instead of ratings out of ten because…I wanna!
1. John & Chevy’s Handshake
At this point, the show had just come back from a brief summer vacation and there had been rumors regarding a tumultuous work relationship that had developed between John Belushi and the obvious star of the show, Chevy Chase. John then confirmed this in public by actually stating that he was tired of Mr. Chase getting all the publicity. This cold open attempts to summarize all that in one swift motion. In the piece, the rest of the cast attempts to settle things between John and Chevy with a little reconciliation. It doesn’t go exactly as planned. C+
Louise Lasser makes her first appearance in the episode for the traditional monologue and makes a wonderful first impression by looking absolutely coked out to the power of infinity. The idea here is that she acts all faux-nervous, but the actress’ real fatigue, depression, and anxiety shines through and makes the monologue really uncomfortable to witness. There’s also a backstage bit towards the end of the monologue in which Lasser is eventually goaded out of her dressing room by a few members of the cast (Aykroyd, Chase, and Radner), but the set-up was so painful that it fails to make an overall entertaining segment. D
3. Venereal Disease: Nothing to Clap About
Garrett Morris makes his only other appearance of the night (he was briefly in the cold open) and does his impression of General Idi Amin, the lovable dictator from Uganda. But don’t be fooled because this is not a politically-inclined sketch at all. Instead, Amin talks about getting syphilis and how it has only eaten away the weaker parts of his brain, leaving it to resemble a thin slice of Swiss cheese. This was pretty much an excuse to use several “hilarious” terms for genitalia. Although I did like his comment that “it’s too bad that venereal disease doesn’t just strike Jews.” C-
4. Sven & Inger
Oh, here are Louise’s terms coming into play. In this strange piece, a couple (Chevy & Louise) stare at each other while Death narrates in a foreign language. I didn’t really know what to make of this whole piece other than to say it was a half-assed attempt at some type of Ingmar Bergman homage, I suppose. The ending was pretty stupid too, so no salvaging here. C
5. Human Hair Potholders
Most people are probably too young to know who Squeaky Fromme (portrayed by Laraine here) and Sandra Goode (Curtin) are, but in short they were two followers of Charles Manson. Fromme was also known as a woman who tried to assassinate President Ford and failed miserably. Here, the two women speak from their jail cell and advertise human hair potholders. Curtin’s insistence at hurting herself for the slightest little error is the highlight in this bit that just continues the mediocrity. C
6. Woman & Dog
Now we get to the truly ridiculous and brutal material. This sketch involves Louise sitting at a table and talking to a Golden Retriever just as a jilted lover would talk to their spouse. It didn’t even seem that Louise was reading off cards, which leads me to wonder if she just decided to do this and talk to a dog for four minutes about whatever came across her mind. If so, that would explain this sloppy, unnecessary and poorly-written sketch. D-
7. Tribute to Television.
Finally, the first GOOD sketch of the night. Instead of going for broad ha-ha-type laughs, this bit relies in the fact that this musical tribute to television contains so many obscure technical references that “only eight people in the world” truly understand them. Dan is a little bit more mellow than usual as a TV spokesman, while Jane, Gilda, & Laraine lend their voices and fun performances to the sketch. B+
8. Weekend Update with Chevy Chase
“I’m Chevy Chase and boy are you glad to see me.” Truer words have never been spoken. While you could never count on every single sketch working in a given episode, Chevy was pretty reliable for getting yuk-yuks on his delivery of the news. This week, Chevy’s guests include John Belushi interviewing Olympic hopeful Olga Korbut (Radner) commenting on Nadia Comaneci in a not-so-friendly way. In a great anti-climactic ending, Chevy gets a phone call “live” from the Democratic Convention, but it’s already taken place so he just quickly asks for the results and closes out the segment. B
9. Boy Talk
Jane and Gilda (playing younger versions of themselves with the same names, I guess) sit around the living room while Gilda intently listens to Jane’s stories about her boyfriend and their various sexual escapades. This is another sketch that gets laughs (much like “Tribute to Television”) but rely on broad tactics and instead is presented as a well-written sketch. This is what SNL fans refer to as a “Miller piece.” That is in reference to one of the show’s then-writers Marilyn Suzanne Miller, who wrote more of the subtle and more nuanced sketches during her tenure. B+
10. Film: The Diner
Talk about taking a nose-dive. This has to be one of the most incoherent things to ever air on Saturday Night Live. In this film, Louise Lasser and her lover (I guess) sit in a diner as she tries to break off the relationship with him. The only problem is that she keeps “forgetting” her lines and needs to be reminded by fellow extras around the set. Lorne makes an appearance here and so does future host Michael Sarrazin. Simply awful. F
11. John Belushi’s Wardrobe
You would think that the perennial charm of John Belushi would be able to cover for weak writing, but not in this case. In this bit, JB offers to sell the very clothes that he wears day-to-day in order to cover his financial losses. C
12. Carter’s Campaign
Dan Aykroyd debuts his wonderful Jimmy Carter impression, but for some reason it’s not as good here as it would get in the next season. At least it seems like that to me. Again, the writing is the culprit here as we really only get a rundown of Jimmy’s mannerisms and then the sketch ends kind of abruptly. C+
13. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band performs “Panama”
I’m sorry, Van Halen fans. This is not the “Panama” song you think it is. In fact, it’s a jazz instrumental piece. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band has had a rich history and all, but I guess jazz just isn’t my type of music. I’ll be fair and go with a B-
14. Louise’s Year
Oh hoorah, more from our wonderful host! Louise offers her most incoherent performance of the night (okay, maybe aside from that filmed piece) and just rambles on and on…and ON about her life for the past year. She actually had a few moments during this where she looked completely lost and that made it only more painful to view. F
It is evident that the cast is maintaining their distance from Louise during the closing credits as she pets the dog from the earlier sketch and waves goodnight to one and all.
This had to be one of the worst episodes of Saturday Night Live during its entire run (well, except for most of the sixth season, but that’s an entirely different beast).
Host Rating: F
Musical Guest Rating: B-
Show Rating: D-
PS: If you’re interested at all in classic Saturday Night Live, don’t let this episode be a representative of the entire season. Do yourself a favour and pick it up at Amazon. It’s only $18.99 for the first season right now!