by Brendan Wahl
(Season 2, Episode 2)
So I’ve decided that to give this recurring column some regularity, these reviews will be posted every Wednesday until season 2 is done and then after a break, I will continue with the following one. While last week’s premiere was a hit, this episode doesn’t exactly have an established comedian to act as ringmaster.
Established television producer Norman Lear has brought tons and tons of classic sitcoms to the small screen over the years. From The Jeffersons to All in the Family to Maude, Lear made his name known throughout the seventies and eighties and was known throughout social circles as one of the more humble men to work behind the scenes in showbiz.
Joining Lear is Boz Scaggs. While never a long-lasting commercial success, Boz would be promoting a 1976 album (Silk Degrees) here that did make it to number 2 on the US charts and spawned hit singles. Scaggs was an interesting musician and it appears as though he would have made a perfect musical guest for the show as his target audience would have been teenagers and young adults.
1. Chevy’s Telephone Fall (4:08)
Remember the excellent “Debate ’76” sketch from the week before? Well, during the dress rehearsal version of said sketch from last week, Chevy pulled a groin muscle. Because of this incident, Chevy is unable to make it to the show this week and instead, Gilda opts to take the fall instead. Thankfully, Mr. Chase calls in though and offers a unique alternative. It felt a little egotistical for Chevy to still be able to say the opening line despite being off the show, but the cold open was somewhat clever all the same. B
2. Monologue (2:27)
Saturday Night Live’s kindly grandfather for the night, Norman Lear, looks a little nervous as he fumbles through his opening monologue for a bit before the “ABC facilities” drop his audio for a while (as a now-dated reference to something they did during the first Ford-Carter debate). C
3. Film: Norman & His Actors (5:47)
As introduced at the end of the monologue, Norman approaches various actors in the sitcoms he produces including Sherman Helmsley, Bea Arthur (who would later host in Season 5), Jean Stapleton, and Richard Crenna (among others) all playing themselves. Offering him their honest opinions of what they think about his character, everyone is very kind to his face. Behind his back is a different story. Hence, it’s pretty much the same joke repeated over and over but it’s still quite amusing to see the very liberal Lear having Helmsley and Isabel Sanford wearing ball and chains. I also like how Lear gets somewhat more cocky as the film moves forward. B-
4. Paid Political Announcement (2:25)
Governor Carter (Aykroyd) speaks to the people about “a time-honoured Democratic tradition — sexual performance in the White House.” As Danny maneuvers himself through this very clever piece in which Carter references other sexually active presidents, admits to wearing women’s clothing, and unknowingly quotes a Beach Boys song. A
5. Boz Scaggs sings “Lowdown” (4:56)
Somewhat uncharacteristically, the musical guest makes an appearance quite early on in the show and sings his way through his number-two hit, “Lowdown.” It’s easy to see why this was a hit as it has a catchy beat and Scaggs is a talented musician. B+
6. The Snakehandling O’Sheas (6:26)
Lear himself discusses his very personal relationship with Writer #456 (writer Tom Schiller), who discusses the new sitcom pitch with him. “The Snakehandling O’Sheas” features a union organizer father (Belushi), his boss/wife (Curtin), a nun for a daughter (Newman), and gay state trooper of a son (Aykroyd). Also, they’re all practicing snake handlers. This is a clever sketch and I also enjoyed how it didn’t turn Aykroyd into a stereotypical lispy gay character. A-
At this point, Gilda announces (with Eric Idle tearing up newspapers behind her) that Eric Idle will be next week’s guest host with musical guest Joe Cocker.
7. Weekend Update with Jane Curtin (5:43)
Substituting for Chevy is Mrs. Curtin, who does such a good job that it almost makes one forget about how great Chevy was at this segment. Curtin makes another joke regarding those ABC facilities during the debate, albeit a more clever one. Jane kills with joke after joke though from a Patty Hearst bit involving group sex, Elton John admitting his bisexuality to two separate magazines, and a hilarious story on Speedy Alka-Seltzer committing suicide (“fatally effervesced.”) Also, Laraine Newman reports from Times Square for Rosh Hashanah but of course the streets are empty. A+
8. Chevy’s Girls (3:24)
After confessing that something is missing from this week’s show due to Chevy’s injury, Lear realizes what it is after taking a fall. We then get the real treat – Jane, Laraine, & Gilda singing a delightful musical tribute to Chevy complete with admitted murderous intentions towards his then-girlfriend. Pretty catchy too. A-
9. The Metric Leisure Week (4:00)
Having already covered the move from the alphabet to the convenient but confusing decabet, Joseph Franklin (Aykroyd) now introduces the metric leisure week, which will simply feature three days during the week allowing for more things to be done. Lear and Radner take part in a humourous dramatization, especially when Gilda drops the newspaper on his lap. B
10. Film: Yankee Doodle Slapstick (1:45)
Weis’ film this week features the director himself on the phone with a friend humming the Yankee Doodle tune while several castmembers (Aykroyd, Belushi, Curtin, Morris, Newman & Radner) take part in a number of slapstick activities. This felt like filler to me. C+
11. The Violent Attorney (4:34)
While directing his client (Radner) on how to conduct herself in a domestic abuse court case, her lawyer (Belushi) becomes impatient with her lack of emotion and starts to become comically violent. Even his boss (Lear) can’t change his attitude. The ending felt tacked-on. I guess it was okay overall. B-
12. Boz Scaggs sings “What Can I Say” (3:37)
It’s an even catchier tune than the first one! With some tremendous back-up vocals and a stunning performance from Scaggs himself, this is a great song and live performance. A-
13. Rhodesian Peace Talks (6:41)
Moderating the peace talks between Ian Smith (Aykroyd) and Joshua Nkomo (Morris) of Rhodesia, Henry Kissinger (Belushi) must use several unorthodox methods including organizing a sing-a-long. Lear plays Kissinger’s assistant but doesn’t really do much in the sketch in the long run. Unlike the earlier political sketch, this one is not quite as clever but there are a few funny jokes strewn throughout. C
14. Norman’s Joke (3:12)
Much to the approval of the audience, Lear prepares to tell a joke but ends up meeting several complications when his audience member volunteer fumbles through her lines. Of course, it’s his daughter. Cute bit. B
15. Home Movie: Spanish Peanuts (2:15)
Sent in by SNL viewers, these home movies were often very hit-and-miss and this week’s would seem to fall into the latter category more than the former as it was rather pointless. C
Norman, Kate, and the cast wave goodnight and send some get well wishes to Chevy Chase. Also, slow dancing.
While not as strong as the premiere, this was still a decent episode of Saturday Night Live but one that you could definitely tell where something was missing. That something was Chevy Chase. While Chevy’s imminent departure would not have a long-lasting negative effect on the show, it is clear that he was still used as a major player at this point and his absence was more noticeable.
Despite this, Norman Lear was better than expected and despite not having anything really that challenging to do, our host did an amiable job and looked like he enjoyed being there. What was most appealing about Lear was that the man was not a stiff and he was only more than willing to poke fun at himself and his own image as a kindly liberal producer, especially with the film early on and the “Snakehandling O’Sheas” bit.
Boz Scaggs was a fun musical guest and despite his good performances not making me want to start a Boz Scaggs collection, I still enjoyed him thoroughly and were I Lorne, I would’ve invited him back at least once or twice more.
Except for Chevy of course, pretty much everyone in the cast was given some decent parts to do. Okay, maybe not Garrett. Jane shines this week with her excellent handling of Update in place of Chevy but really, Dan and John handled the brunt of the sketch work and it was a precursor to the vast amounts of exposure they would soon receive.
Host Rating: B
Musical Guest Rating: B+
Show Rating: B