SNL Classic Review: Louise Lasser/Preservation Hall Jazz Band (7/24/76)

Posted: January 28, 2010 by Brendan Wahl in SNL Retro Reviews
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Hello one and all!

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+

2. Monologue

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!

  1. Jaybot says:

    Your review of this episode is spot on. I recently read “Live From New York” and have taken it upon myself (and subjected my children in the process) to watching some of the great train wrecks detailed in the book. Although the Lasser episode only gets a brief mention in the book, it has to be the worst episode I’ve seen of the first five seasons. Even the Milton Berle and Mardi Gras fiascos pale in comparison to this one, because those episodes did have some genuinely funny moments.

    As a side note, I really enjoyed the Carter sketch, because it was insightful into Dan Aykroyd’s process for honing his impersonation of Jimmy Carter. He basically explained how he would impersonate the soon-to-be President, which was interesting. I’m not sure the material was worthy of a sketch, though.

    • brenw23 says:

      Thanks for commenting! I’ll be continuing them every now and then so stay tuned. I’ll be reviewing current SNL as well!

  2. Rick says:

    You are absolutely correct on all accounts. This is an awful episode highlighted by Lassers atrocious performance. WOW…we had a hard time watching this one and actually had to forward through the Film scene…

    • Brendan Wahl says:

      What’s sadder is that there are actually sketches WORSE than the diner film on the Malcolm McDowell/Captain Beefheart episode from Year 6

  3. W.B. says:

    On this episode, the teletype sound effect heard on “Weekend Update” was the same as used at the time by New York’s WNEW-TV on their “10 O’Clock News with Bill Jorgensen.” (Specifically, “Teletype Receivers Battery” from the Thomas J. Valentino/Major Records library.) It was the first time since the April-May 1976 episodes that a teletype SFX other than NBC’s own was used.

  4. The episode IS dismal by classic SNL standards. I did like the Swedish film spoof, however, in light of recently watching the Girl With The Dragon Tatoo trilogy it’s even better…still trying to figure out who played death and spoke what appeared to be authentic Swedish, he looks a bit like Bob Balaban.

  5. Kevin says:

    The Swedish film (Sven and Inger) was hilarious actually. The words being translated on the screen are hysterically bizarre.

  6. Dghours says:

    Anyone else grossed out about how she kept wiping her teeth with her hand? What a crack hound

  7. Mark says:

    I saw this episode when it first aired and I came across this review of it the other day, so I went to Amazon and purchased the episode to watch online just so I could be sure of what was being said about the show. I disagree with the above review on Louise Lasser on SNL.

    First off it should be said that unless you were familiar with the character of Mary Hartman, and all her quirks, then you’re not going to “get” why she was acting the way she was on SNL. On her series, her character Mary Hartman, had just had a nervous breakdown and the whole nervous/rambling/incoherent mannerisms she showed on SNL were an extension of her Mary Hartman character. You either “get it” or you don’t. It was a “bit”. Some people actually thought that whole opening where she has a meltdown and goes running into her dressing room was for real. Come on now. You don’t know a “bit” when you see one?

    The Ingmar Bergman parody bit she did with Chase was brilliant. Again, unless one is familiar with the style of his Bergman’s films, then this too is something the viewer won’t “get”.

    The bit where Lasser is having the conversation with the dog is also very good even if though it could have had a better ending, but blame the writers for that, not Lasser.

    The “film” of her in the diner with her lover wasn’t very good and didn’t seem to go anywhere. There were parts where she’d be forgetting her lines and was asking the extras what the next line was. Some people actually thought this was for real. Again, it was intentional -you either “got it” or you didn’t. Remember Andy Kaufman? More people took him seriously than those who realized it was a put on.

    The ending piece where she is talking about the year she had was both sweet but rambling. It’s Louise and Mary Hartman interwoven again. that’s all.

    I understand Louise Lasser was the first person to be “banned” from SNL following this, which I think was very rude of them. Some had said she was on drugs at the time, but hey it was the 70’s, who wasn’t?

    • Brendan Wahl says:

      It wasn’t just that she was on drugs. She would crawl around the floors of 8H BEGGING for drugs and was just an absolute wreck the whole week. She also had suffered a very REAL nervous breakdown not too long before the episode, not to mention that she requested to only do sketches with Chevy Chase. She didn’t even want to do the show five minutes before it went to air until they threatened that they would run the show anyway with Chevy Chase playing all of her parts with a wig.

      • Dylan Baldwin says:

        You didn’t read the review, did you? He mentioned all of the drugs and stuff, and it was Bill Murray who was going to play her parts, not Chevy Chase. I do think that the Golden Retriever sketch is funnier than he said, but the rest was kind of uncomfortable, and I have seen Ingmar Bergman’s films and get the references. I just don’t think that most of the episode was very well written, and Lasser’s performance is very uncomfortable to watch, regardless of her taking drugs before.

    • DJ says:

      I agree with you. It really was a “bit”. When she ran away after during the monologue, I thought “So this is the erratic behavior they were talking about”. But as it went along, with Gilda, Dan, Chevy and the Shark, I realized the whole thing was planned ahead. It was actually quite clever.

      I was familiar with Mary Hartman Mary Hartman and if her incorporating the character to her own personality during the show was a good idea, I don’t know. But I think the episode should have taken with a grain of salt.

      I actually enjoyed the episode. I don’t think she was actually banned from the show. They were hosts much worse than her who even came back. The weirdness of the whole thing is right up my alley.

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