by Brendan Wahl
(Season 2, Episode 7)
After the Buck Henry/The Band episode, things were in a bit of disarray. With no more Chevy Chase to do the lion’s share of sketches, the writers would have to turn their attention more to the rest of the cast. Now by no means was the rest of the cast alienated by the writers. It’s just that Chevy had clearly been the star and the rest of them were still coming into their own. It’s not even CLOSE to the alienation that people like Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Janeane Garofalo, and Casey Wilson suffered.
For reasons unbeknownst to me, Elliott Gould was originally scheduled to host this episode but backed out shortly before. Thus, Lorne called in previous host Dick Cavett to fill in for the lanky star of M*A*S*H. After watching Cavett’s hosting appearance in Year 1, it is clear that Dick is no Elliott Gould. In Cavett’s previous hosting stint, he played himself no less than FIVE times in sketches throughout the night. While he was a trooper and was a decent host, the versatility needed was clearly not a factor for him.
Joining Dick is musician Ry Cooder (promoting an album called Chicken Skin Music). Known for his slide-guitar work, Cooder specialized in blues and roots music but also, much like Prine, collaborated and inspired tons of musicians from around the world, some of whom are still around today.
And we begin!
1. Chroma-Trak (:50)
Gilda appears on a man’s (Morris) new television, pointing out the colours on the screen that clearly don’t match up with reality. After giving the television a few good whacks, Gilda falls down and gets to say LFNY for the first time! She looked absolutely giddy doing that but the sketch itself was only okay. C+
2. Monologue (4:43)
Dick brings up the fact that Elliott dropped out to do the Olivia Newton-John TV special (looks like he’s right!) and therefore, he handed out cards to the audience at the beginning to inform them of the host changes. Dick answers some of the questions in a very humourous and droll fashion, making for a fairly entertaining monologue. B+
3. Puppy Uppers & Doggie Downers (1:29)
One woman’s (Radner) dog is lacking pep, so she begins to give him Puppy Uppers. But fear not! As her friend (Newman) informs her, there’s also Doggie Downers to bring them right back down! Pretty funny commercial parody. B+
4. Blonde Ambition (9:11)
The story of John Dean (Cavett) and his involvement in the Watergate Scandal. Aykroyd shows off his spot-on Nixon impression and Belushi holds his own as Henry Kissinger in this well-written extended sketch. In the piece, Nixon attempts to catch Dean saying something incriminating with some hidden tapes by getting him to talk into a lamp in a very obvious way. This is a good part for Cavett, requiring a sort-of droll straight man to play opposite Nixon’s crazed maniacal self. A-
5. Ry Cooder sings “Tattler” (4:01)
“Tattler” is a slow-moving blues-rock with a sort of Tex-Mex sentimentality to it. It’s the type of song you don’t hear that often on Saturday Night Live anymore, but it was pretty enjoyable nonetheless. B+
Gilda pops in to announce that Paul Simon will host next week with a special appearance from George Harrison.
6. Weekend Update with Jane Curtin (Part I) (5:44)
To begin, Jane rehashes an old joke about the stamp commemorating prostitution in the US. As her official takeover of Weekend Update begins, Jane doesn’t have the strongest material to work with this time. The highlight is definitely her story on Sally Field’s performance in Sybil and the various voices that Jane effortlessly goes through, while the death of Smokey the Bear is just an excuse to shell out some punny jokes and make an obvious joke about forest fires. Though the image of Gene Shalit in a Smokey hat is quite amusing.
7. The Marines (:50)
A parody of those recruitment ads that sees a marine (Morris) going around to “pick up” possible candidates. I guess this was a vague gay joke or something. C
8. Weekend Update with Jane Curtin (Part II) (total: 6:26)
Jane wraps things up with a “Good Samaritan” piece on a Vietnam veteran who tried to save a rape victim, but just got stabbed by the rapist anyway, who then continued with his crime. It’s cruel but slightly funny. Still not enough to save this below-average edition of Update this week. C+
9. Crossroads (4:30)
A reverend (Cavett) presents a story about a young man (Belushi) informing his family (Aykroyd, Radner) that he wants to quit school and become a construction worker, but he constantly gets smacked by both parents and then eventually, the reverend himself. This sketch lacked oomph and a point despite Belushi’s best efforts. C–
10. Mobile Shrink (2:37)
A filmed commercial piece for a new NBC show that was clearly cut from some previous dress rehearsals as Chevy Chase is in this as the title character. As Chevy follows various people at their jobs, he unravels the source of their unhappiness. There’s a reason this was cut. C
11. How Things Work (2:50)
Jane hosts a fairly simple talk show with her guest there to discuss pressure groups. The twist is that the letters sent to Curtin requesting this guest was all part of a hoax by Merle (Cavett). It’s an amusing little piece with an effortless segueway into the film by Gary Weis. B
12. Film: The Paramount Novelty Store (3:22)
This is a repeated Weis film from the first season with a kindly old woman showing our cameraman around her joke shop. I guess some might find it quirky and interesting, but I just found it somewhat dull and drab. C
13. The Bee Heritage (7:50)
A young bee’s grandparents (Belushi & Newman) tell him of their hardships of emigrating into “a country run by WASPs”. The sketch is an obvious play on the tough lives of immigrants who arrived to Ellis Island en route to New York. Everything is covered from the bees’ names being changed to more WASP-like names. Cavett plays a sweatshop owner and essentially plays a crueler version of himself, but he still does a swell job. The sketch is not terrible and is actually quite watchable, but it moves so damn slow. C+
14. Ry Cooder sings “He’ll Have To Go” (4:46)
Cooder comes out for his second tune (and still sporting an awesome shirt) and it’s just about as good as the first one. With pretty much the same pacing and style as the first song, this one features a pretty cool accordion section. B+
15. Mr. Mike’s Least-Loved Bedtime Tales (1:42)
The second edition of this dark recurring segment involves the story of a blind chicken being devoured by an alligator, which is then “just mashed” by a hovercraft. A-
16. Funny Word Survey (4:47)
Writers Franken & Davis come out as scientists to do a survey on which words the audience may find funny. This is an example of what was to come from this brilliant writing duo and though this was not one of their stronger pieces, it still manages to entertain. B
Dick is told that he has to waste some extra time they have left at the end of the broadcast (“If you’re driving, why the hell are you watching television?”) so he kills it and thanks everyone before the credits roll.
Well, this was an uneven show if nothing else. Despite being a last-minute replacement, Cavett still held his own during the show and did a better job hosting than he did the first time. I enjoyed the fact that Cavett didn’t play himself in damn near every sketch and even though he didn’t really change his voice or acting style, he held his own and looked like he was at least putting forth an effort and not staring at cue cards for 90 minutes.
Ry Cooder was an entertaining musical guest as well and provided two songs that were very enjoyable if a little bit slow overall. The cast seemed to enjoy being liberated for once and not having to worry about Chevy Chase stealing the spotlight but they also didn’t exactly hit a home run with all the material presented this week. Aykroyd’s Nixon is brilliant and the sketch he was in was a lot of fun, but the highlights in this episode were few and far apart. With a strong opening and a good finish, the episode sagged in the middle and it hurt the quality a bit.
Host Rating: B
Musical Guest Rating: B+
Show Rating: C+