by Brendan Wahl
Hollywood has had its fair of crack addicts, cokeheads, heroin junkies, and all other sorts of drug-addled people, but never have they had anyone as noble as the alcoholic. Oh yes, there have been some great alcoholics in the history of Hollywood. From current ones like Lily Allen and Colin Farrell to previous offenders like Robin Williams, Peter O’Toole, and many, many others. One you probably don’t remember or are too young to have even heard of is Broderick Crawford.
The star of a black-and-white serial from the 1950s called “Highway Patrol,” Broderick was known to take a few swigs of liquid that purports to “put hair on your chest” from time to time. Let’s not forget that at this point in time, Broderick was well into his sixties and was still an unreliable drunk. I remember back to the last episode I covered with an unreliable drunk helming an episode (the forgettable Kris Kristofferson (7/31/76) episode) and it also reminds me that his singing definitely saved his own performance rating that night.
Speaking of singing, joining Broderick are two sets of musical guests. First up are the Meters, who were cut from the Mardi Gras episode earlier this season. The second is the RCO All-Stars, which consist of a pretty awesome lineup of talent. Dr. John, Levon Helm, and Paul Butterfield make up this great trio and if Broderick bombs like Kris almost did, it looks like the singing will have to save this episode as well.
1. “Goodbye Saccharine” (5:22)
Hot off a then-announcement that the FDA put a ban on saccharine because of its cancer-causing ingredients, Rhonda Weiss (Radner) and the Rhondettes (Curtin, Newman, and Linda Ronstadt (!)) sing a tribute to their beloved dietary delight. The banter between Gilda and Jane is funny and it reminds one of the Curtin/Litella back-and-forth, especially when Radner calls her a bitch. Much like last week, this is another fully-concocted hilarious opening. A
2. Monologue (2:18)
Broderick strolls out to sit in a big comfy chair and speaks of his experience working as an actor in an old NBC radio serial. The story, while not gut-bustingly hilarious, is amusing and it’s well-told by our rotund host. The last line in the monologue is the real kicker though. Broderick makes reference to himself sitting back and enjoying the show, so I don’t think we’ll see too much of him tonight. B
3. Samurai Hitman (6:03)
The don (Aykroyd) of a mob syndicate has his assistants (Morris & Murray) come up with a plan to rid New York of his two opposing Dons: Kirshner and Cornelius. Of course, it’s the lovable ol’ Futaba (Belushi) himself. This sketch thankfully switches up the samurai formula a bit more than usual and sports quite a few highlights like the Samurai becoming repulsed at the idea of having to kiss his victims first, his whole demonstration of how he’ll perform the hit, and the joke of how Cornelius and Kirshner are mob heads. B+
4. Gary Weis Film: Broderick in New York (4:01)
The name that usually haunts my dreams. Whereas Gary’s work is intermittently entertaining and mostly smug and annoying, this week’s film is a pleasant surprise. Broderick walks around New York, visiting his old hang-outs and such while meeting up with some local fans and old friends. It’s a heartfelt tribute to old memories and to the former state of the then-decrepid New York City. A-
5. Mel’s Hide Heaven (:48)
Our old pal from the first season, Mel (Aykroyd) advertises his new leather shop where you stun and kill your own cow and make into the perfect leather vest. Danny’s delivery kills here. B+
6. The RCO All-Stars sing “Sing Sing Sing” (3:33)
All I could think during this whole song was ‘man, whoever is the lead singer for this group has got one hell of a cool, hipster voice.’ Anyone know which of the three was actually performing the vocals? Either way, this was a fantastic performance. A
7. New Kid (3:10)
This is a classic. Bill Murray does a straight testimonial from the same set as “Samurai Hitman” and tells everyone that he doesn’t think he’s making it on the show. With that, he alludes to his great need for financial assets due to his large family and his mother’s dependence on him for support. It’s a great self-deprecating piece by the up-and-comer and this really cements Murray’s place as a worthwhile castmember who would come up with terrific sketches and pieces very, very shortly. A+
8. Lucy’s New Job (4:31)
It’s the first day at the job for Lucy (Radner), but this time the assembly line consists of a number of nuclear warheads. As her boss (Aykroyd) explains the whip cream/cherry procedure, Gilda does her pitch-perfect Lucy impression. What follows is Lucy trying to pile the nuclear warheads on a ledge and having the usual hijinx occur, culminating with a great, ridiculous ending. Another terrific, classic sketch. A
9. Weekend Update with Jane Curtin (Part I) (Total: 8:20)
Starting off the news, Jane announces the kinky apparel she is wearing underneath her suit and then since she has already shown her bra, moves on to her panties. Garrett Morris reports on a Black Governor’s Conference but of course, no one has shown up (for the third year in a row). After Garrett discovers that there’s no black governors in the US, he gets angry and tells her that this isn’t cool. Jane’s little crack after that segment was amusing too. Following a deliciously crude Roman Polanski joke (he’s opening a babysitting service), she alludes to Idi Amin joining the Harlem Globetrotters.
10. Puppy Uppers & Doggie Downers (1:29)
Repeat from 11/13/76. B+
11. Weekend Update with Jane Curtin (Part II)
Jane does an amusing bit from “that great new writer,” but it is only the appetizer for John Belushi’s classic escalating rage-fueled rant on the luck of the Irish. While he stays on topic for a bit, Belushi eventually starts discussing his dumb friend who got locked up for being a junkie (“2 kees of slam”). John is perfect for this and Curtin plays his foil quite well as she continuously tries to interrupt his crazy rant to get back on topic. A perfect edition of Update this week. A+
12. Highway Patrol (6:23)
Finally, Broderick Crawford appears in a sketch! He does a fairly good job too, playing his old role from the classic fifities TV show. First off, Broderick has a confrontation with a young rebellious Jack Kerouac (Belushi). After an amusing goof by Aykroyd, the two cops face off with a pair of Siamese twins with one threatening to kill the other if their demands are not met. To even the odds, a pair of Siamese twin priests (Belushi & Murray) are hired to fix the situation and some funny banter between all the twins ensues. Although this runs a little longer than necessary, it’s still a funny parody of a show I’ve never seen before. There’s not enough show-specific material referenced here anyway to be really obscure. B+
13. Baba Wawa At Large (3:49)
This time, Baba interviews Godzilla himself (Belushi), who proves to be quite the flirtatious lizard with our speech-impaired egotistical host. The reason this works despite the silly nature of the sketch is because its handled just like any phony-baloney celebrity interview (except of course for Baba asking him how he and his wife “do it”). Godzilla acts like any air-kissing phony celebrity and it proves to be another fun performance from John Belushi. The ending was a little weak though. B+
14. The RCO All-Stars sing “Ain’t That a Lot of Love” (3:25)
Another performance from three very talented performers with the drummer taking over the vocals this time. This is even better than the first song with some great vocals, instrumental work, and it all equals out to be one of the great performances in the season so far. A+
15. The Huston Plan (5:16)
On June 27, 1970 President Nixon (Aykroyd) enters J. Edgar Hoover’s (Crawford) house through the window with Julie (Newman) standing by. Tricky Dick informs Hoover of his new plan to spy on people (particularly left-wingers like Joe Namath and Shirley MacLaine) and also brings up the fact that it would take a real idiot to get impeached as president. It’s another funny sketch here, while not up to par with most of the material tonight though. B
16. The Meters sing “I Got To Get My Name Up In Lights” (3:22)
The band formerly scheduled for the disastrous Mardi Gras episode make an appearance here to make it 3-3 for great performances this week. The Meters deliver an entertaining jazzy rock rendition of a really fun song to begin with thanks to the great instrumental work. This episode has definitely had one of the best sets of musical performances. A
Broderick thanks everyone for coming and says goodnight before the cast crowds around him and gives the lovable ol’ grandpa a big hug. Oh, and Danny and Billy hold Linda Ronstadt up in the background as the credits roll.
Well, this was a much, much better episode than one would expect from an aging alcoholic and a couple of left-field musical guests. Broderick proved to be a decent host in the few bits he appeared in, but basically played himself throughout the night with slight variations. Broderick also helped to deliver one of the more entertaining Gary Weis films thus far this season so you certainly can’t fault him for that at all. There really isn’t too much to say about our portly host here as he was fairly invisible for the duration of the episode.
The musical guests, however, were a wonderful pleasant surprise. The RCO All-Stars were the main attraction and I’ll be damned if they’re not in the upper tier of musical guests in the second season. Levon, Dr. John, and Paul Butterfield delivered the goods with some outstanding vocals and instrumental work. The songs themselves just had a really fun vibe as well. The second group to perform on the show was the Meters and despite the fact that they were only given one performance spot, they made the most of it and also delivered a hell of a show.
This episode was all about Bill Murray’s speech though. That speech really broke Billy out as a Not Ready For Primetime Player and it was the beginning of Bill’s successful run on the late-night comedic institution. Bill’s segment was not the only highlight in a show filled with them, but it was a great way for him to do some self-deprecating humour in order to swing the audience around to his side.
All in all, this is another very strong episode.
Has there ever been a breakout moment for a castmember on the scale of Bill Murray’s speech/apology?
Sadly, Broderick is not even the least involved host in the show’s history. Robert Blake comes to mind. Or Ed Koch.
Apparently, Dan Aykroyd lobbied hard to get Crawford to host the show as he was a big fan of Highway Patrol. Hence the spoof on the latter-mentioned show.
For an old drunk, I will give Broderick credit for not having his eyes glued to the cards in the two sketches he did appear in.
To close Weekend Update, Jane Curtin says “Goodnight, Mary Richards.” The Mary Tyler Moore Show aired its final episode that night.
MADtv was on while I was finishing this review up. God, that show is awful.
Host Rating: B
Musical Guest Rating: The RCO All-Stars – A
Musical Guest Rating: The Meters – A
Show Rating: A