by Brendan Wahl
Saturday Night Live has always had an eclectic group of people to choose from for its guest hosts on the show. Sometimes you had the athletes (groan), sometimes you had musicians pulling double-duty as both the comic and the musical guest, and sometimes you had politicians (who were about 50/50 in terms of being successful funny hosts). When it comes down to it though, some of the show’s most successful hosts were actors. Plain and simple.
This week, we are graced with the presence of one of these actors…or in this case, an actress. Mrs. Sissy Spacek, who was nominated for an Oscar at the time of this episode for her performance in the film Carrie. Of course, she ended up losing in that category but to acquire a then-current Oscar nominee for the show in this stage of its infancy was pretty impressive and shows that the program had legs that more and more famous people in the media were starting to recognize.
With this episode, we also have the debut of a movie star as host. While Spacek would not be as big as, say, Richard Dreyfuss or Burt Reynolds in the consecutive years, she was arguably still the biggest star-to-date that had been on the show.
Joining Spacek is her musical guest, Richard Baskin. You may know him as the man behind the soundtrack for Nashville. But more than likely, you’ve never heard of him in your entire life. Interestingly enough, his sister is Edie Baskin, the stills photographer and designer of SNL‘s title sequence (at the time). I wonder if she had any sort of impact upon him gracing the stage of Studio 8H. I guess there’s only one way to find out.
Let’s just hope no one put that bucket of pig’s blood anywhere and let’s dive in!
1. Dave Wilson Is Dead (7:31)
We open on a light, upbeat note on the announcement that between dress rehearsal and the live show, Dave Wilson has…died. This forces Dan Aykroyd (in costume) to conduct a sort of last-minute mass eulogy involving the cast and their host. This allows us to get all sorts of insightful information regarding the director like how he enjoyed the mellow sounds of the Beatles and how he kindly warned Bill Murray not to drink some milk that had gone sour. It’s quite a lengthy opening but it’s one of the best ones so far from the whole season. A+
2. Monologue (2:57)
Sissy comes out full of joy for being on the cover of a publication, being nominated for an Oscar, and now being asked to appear on a live television show. Instead of going the obvious route with pig’s blood somehow being poured on Spacek, she gives her Oscar speech early on and then does some baton-twirling to showcase her talent for the Academy. It’s a halfway-decent monologue, but the baton-twirling was somewhat unnecessary. B
3. Burger Master (1:43)
It’s the restaurant that prepares your burger any way you want them! And they mean ANY way. The three servers (Morris, Newman, & Radner) serve their patrons with special requests like blowing their nose on the bun, stomping the burgers into a disgusting pulp, and putting used hairnets in the food. It’s a funny commercial piece with some great random-style humour. B+
4. Ask President Carter (4:56)
Bill Murray debuts his bang-on Walter Cronkite impression to host a call-in show with the President (Aykroyd) himself. The whole premise of the joke is that Carter has a ridiculous amount of useless knowledge to give out, such as when one of the callers calls during the midst of a nasty acid trip. Every caller’s rapport with the president is actually quite funny. Despite the sketch coasting on this one joke, it’s an inspired one and this sketch measures up as one of the greats during the early years. A
5. Amy’s Bedtime Story (3:46)
Immediately following the Q&A, President Carter (Aykroyd) leaves his daughter Amy (Spacek) with the ex-con nanny (Morris) of his. The nanny proceeds to tell little Carter an alternative version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It’s an amusing companion piece to the previous sketch and Garrett not even trying to hide his voice is pretty hilarious in its own. Spacek also does a hilarious ‘jive voice’. B
6. How Your Children Grow (2:54)
Jane Curtin hosts a one-on-one with Dr. Alan Ross (Murray), a man who can only say five words (‘That’s true, you’re absolutely right’). Early on, Murray almost blows the joke but it’s not as devastating as some have led me to believe. Somehow, this sketch ends up being hilarious even with Curtin asking Ross questions and him responding with the same five words every time. A-
7. John Belushi’s Dream (2:13)
Announcing that he is retiring from show business, Belushi shifts his career choice to working toward participating in the 1980 Moscow Olympics. It’s a piece that doesn’t go for pure laughs, but it’s an alright piece, I guess. B-
8. Weekend Update with Jane Curtin (7:12)
SNL makes an even nastier jab at Johnny Carson this week, stating that his show will no longer be live because of California’s euthanasia law that states that people are entitled to die rather than suffer. And Lorne wonders why Carson never accepted the offer to host. Laraine Newman interviews the Heavyweight Champion, Muhammad Ali (Morris), who proceeds to insult Rocky and Sylvester Stallone in the style of poetry. It’s amusing, especially with Laraine’s final comment. Jane almost makes herself crack up before introducing Emily Litella (Radner) to comment on “endangered feces.” The formula for Litella changes slightly every week, but not enough to keep this schtick from getting old now. With Curtin telling Emily that she’s wearing thin, this makes Emily’s appearance slightly more entertaining this week. B+
9. Richard Baskin sings “One, I Love You” (3:03)
Performing one of his songs from the film Nashville, Baskin slowly sings about this thing we call love before being joined by Sissy in a nice little duet. A lot more bearable than I expected. B+
10. Improvisation (4:05)
Writers Tom Davis and Al Franken come out for a bit of improv, but when they receive some suggestions from the audience on what to do they can’t figure out anything to perform. Instead, they perform a mock newscast from the future where World War III has occurred. It’s a great satirical piece by the masters of political humour and a couple of great performers in their own right. A
11. Gidget Goes To Shock Therapy (2:31)
A trio of precocious, obnoxious grown women (Spacek, Newman, & Radner) are observed by a straight-faced spokesperson (Curtin), who talks about a way of curing this horrible affliction. “Really enough to make you want to puke your guts out,” says Curtin, who is revealed to have been formerly afflicted with this disorder. B+
12. White Trash Romance (7:33)
A couple (Spacek & Belushi) argue with each other over the husband’s inability to “perform” and then delve into a discussion of fruitslaw. This is another Miller piece, which like all the others, is more of a one-act play and it focuses on the caricatures by both actors. Not only is this an extremely well-written sketch and the best one of the night, but it proves that John Belushi could hang with great performers like Sissy Spacek and still look fantastic. A+
13. Gary Weis Film: The Baton (1:37)
A David Bowie song plays while Sissy Spacek twirls a baton for about 90 seconds. Yes, that’s it. Mr. Weis, why must you waste my time? C
14. Bad Playhouse (3:29)
The debut of Leonard Pinth-Garnell (Aykroyd)! This week, he presents a terrible play featuring Death (Murray) with a woman in his arms (Spacek) slowly chasing a couple (Belushi & Newman) around a big wheel. Yeah, it doesn’t make any sense but that’s kind of the appeal of this. Although this was not the strongest “Bad …” piece, some classics would be yet to come. B-
15. Richard Baskin sings “City of One-Night Stands” (4:15)
While clips from the film Nashville play on the stage, Mr. Baskin croons about love again but this time, it’s not that enjoyable and the song actually slows things down to a halt. C
16. Home Movie: Outtakes (2:17)
This time, the home movie is by Robert Altman, who presents a series of outtakes and clips from the films “Three Women” and “Welcome to L.A.” It’s more filler, but it wasn’t as annoying because it’s Robert Altman presenting something of substance rather than someone twirling a freaking baton. B
Sissy does the stereotypical southern greeting by telling everyone to “come back now, ya hear?” before the cast presents her with a big duffel bag of stuff. Hm.
Was Sissy the host? Really? All joking aside, despite appearing in quite a bit of the program this week, Sissy stepped back for most of the cast to shine and she relegated herself to a few sketches, a couple of films, and a duet with the musical guest. Unfortunately, what should’ve been Bill Murray’s break-out moment (the How Your Children Grow sketch) did not end up occurring that way and Murray would have to wait a bit longer to finally blossom as a performer.
Richard Baskin was okay and his performance reeked of schizophrenia. Whereas his first song was an enjoyable larf (while not anything tremendously sophisticated), his second tune was a bore and a drawn-out sentimental groan-fest. It was obvious why Baskin wasn’t invited back.
The cast was on their a-game as well tonight with several strong performances from a number of them, particularly John Belushi in the Marilyn Suzanne Miller-penned sketch. In fact, Belushi shines as the performer of the night with his presence making several pieces that much better.
Wonderful show this week.
I particularly love Spacek’s explanation of how she chose her current husband over another prospective suitor. By the way, anyone ever had fruitslaw?
Aw damn, what was in that duffel bag they gave to Sissy? Stu, help me out, brutha!
Bill Murray kinda blew it in the one sketch, but his Walter Cronkite impression was pretty fantastic.
Was anyone else surprised that Update was in one portion this time instead of being split in half with a commercial parody in the middle?
Host Rating: B+
Musical Guest Rating: C+
Show Rating: A-