SNL Retro: Ralph Nader/George Benson (1/15/77)

Posted: August 11, 2010 by Brendan Wahl in SNL Retro Reviews
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by Brendan Wahl

(Season 2, Episode 11)

Well, we’ve seen quite a slew of hosts so far this season. We’ve seen some bonafide stand-up comedians (Steve Martin), witty quipsters (Dick Cavett), and even show creators (Norman Lear), but one thing we haven’t had yet is a consumer advocate. Yes folks, before Ralph Nader was thwarting the Democratic and Republican parties, he was working for the people to save them from the greed of evil corporate giants and the dangerous ingredients of various foods and chemicals used in hair dye and other similar products.

Joining the bastion saviour is musician George Benson, who I know very little about besides the fact that he is a jazz musician from the 1970s, who happened to be the musical guest on this edition of Saturday Night Live.

Well, let’s get goin’!

The Show:

1. Ralph’s New Image (3:02)

Ralphie arrives to the show a minute late and is greeted with some trepidation, but the consumer advocate is quick to inform one and all that he is there for one reason — to have fun! Of course, he can’t shut off the alert Ralph Nader and he criticizes the makeup for containing cancer-causing agents and Garrett’s hot dog for containing “rat excrement and rodent hairs.” With an amusing botched visual gag at the end of the sketch, this is a really fun way to open the show. It already gives me hope for Ralph as a host. A-

2. Monologue (1:09)

Of course, Ralph quickly attacks the RCA building that houses the show and NBC as well, so of course the network does their best to censor him. A decent, if thoroughly predictable monologue. B-

3. Long Distance (2:28)

Bill Murray! Yes, it’s the first appearance of Bill Murray (in old man get-up) as he awaits a phone call from his grandson so that they can play chess. It’s a funny play off the old phone company commercials and the dark turn that the sketch (and Murray in particular) take at the end puts it over the top. Terrific debut from Billy. A

4. Televised Execution Rehearsal (4:26)

In a role meant for John Belushi (but he suffered a broken leg, so he is absent for the show), Tom Schiller plays a death row inmate, Dean Slydell. The beauty of this sketch is that this whole thing is a rehearsal for the man’s execution and Bill Murray plays the director of this execution with the appropriate amount of Hollywood smarm. It is a role that Murray excels in and one that he would do many times on the show. A

5. Baba Wawa Talks To Herself (1:31)

Baba (Radner) herself is tired of interviewing boring celebrities so she has decided to interview someone she most respects…herself. In this piece, Baba hypes her interview special by promising “cwever rebawations and wepartee” and that she will make up for her last “cwummy” special. Gilda is wonderful, of course. B+

6. George Benson sings “Masquerade” (3:20)

Nader announces that Benson has just been nominated for five Grammys before George starts crooning. It’s a slow-moving beat with a jazzy tempo to it. Very smooth listen. A-

7. Confederate Takeover (4:48)

Ralphie straps himself securely to his chair before falling asleep and dreaming of an encounter with President-Elect Carter (Aykroyd) where he is allowed to let his suggestions be heard. The tables are turned, however, when Carter dons a confederacy outfit and swears that “the flagrant rape of the confederates by the Yankee war dogs is gonna be avenged.” Carter outlines his plan to punish the Yankees much to the shock of a shaken Nader. I loved the little details of this sketch like Carter offering peanuts, Nader using a seatbelt in his chair, and I especially loved Carter’s war cry. B+

8. Weekend Update with Jane Curtin (10:26)

Before Jane can get started, Belushi calls her up and says that despite his injury, he will be back next week. They discuss the new castmember Bill Murray and Jane hangs up before John can get violently angry. Bill Murray provides a commentary on Rosalynn Carter and talks about her attractiveness with some creepy undertones as he promises the next commentary will be on Amy Carter. Jane does a very funny story on the “Flying Fords” (the picture alone is worth it) and then a similar piece on the actress who played the flying nun. Laraine Newman interviews the Texxon chairman, Mr. Rigg (Nader), who gives three ridiculous demands for his company in an amusing bit. In a callback to Gary Gilmore, Jane announces that he will not attend the post-execution ball. Finally, Emily Litella (Radner) stops by again with an official correspondent job and discusses the notion of President Ford “making Puerto Rico a steak.” Great edition this week. A-

9. Andy Kaufman (8:15)

Frequent special guest Andy Kaufman does his “Foreign Man” character (a precursor to Latka on Taxi) and then delves into a number of very similar impressions. Of course, the icing on the cake is when Andy goes all-out and imitates Elvis Presley and performs a couple of songs. It should be noted that Elvis was still alive at the time. Another great Andy Kaufman appearance. A

10. Doll Testing (3:46)

During an interview with Ralph Nader, the interviewer (Morris) is somewhat creeped out by all the inflatable party dolls strewn about his apartment. Though Nader claims that they are all merely for experiments and research, it is clear that his deep connection to the dolls is harbouring a sick sort of fascination. It’s an enjoyable sketch if only for Ralph putting his image on the line. B+

11. Film: Garbage (3:40)

It’s a repeat from the Ron Nessen/Patti Smith Group episode with a bunch of garbagemen talking about the strange things they find in the trash. It’s actually one of the better Weis films as his subjects here prove to be more interesting than usual. B+

12. The Coneheads At Home (6:50)

Ahh, it’s the first appearance of the Coneheads! Beldar (Aykroyd) and Prymaat (Curtin) deal with their daughter’s (Newman) insecurities with the shape of her head and her general awkwardness at school. In this first edition, Connie waits for her date, Ronnie Getsetter (Murray). The majority of the sketch is some exposition from Beldar but it also contained some great straight-man work from Murray and the “mass consumption” scene is worth it alone. Wonderful. A+

13. George Benson sings “Gonna Love You More” (2:43)

The second tune from Benson is more of a bouncy, peppy song with some nice lyrics and another soulful performance from the singer himself. B+

14. Youth Asks The Questions (3:29)

Ralph opens himself up to questions from some young Americans, Sherry (Newman), Gerard Aldini (Murray), and Rhonda Weiss (Radner). This has drawbacks though as their questions pertain to asking where they can get great stereo equipment or if he’s ever met Ricardo Montalban. The performances from the three questioners are fun, while Nader does a good job of playing straight man to the lunacy. B+

15. Ambassador Training Institute (1:43)

They must’ve ran short on time because this is a repeat from Candice Bergen/Esther Phillips with Andrew Duncan advertising a program that allows anyone to become an ambassador for a foreign country. It’s a mildly amusing ad parody. C+

Ralph and the gang throw out some peanuts to the audience that are left over from the Carter sketch and then wish everyone a good night, bringing the show to a close.

While I was expecting a somewhat lackluster show following the Christmas break, what we got instead was a very fun show with a definite non-actor at the helm and despite that fact, he still managed to be entertaining (despite playing himself in all but one sketch) and was limited to what he could easily do. Nader brought a goofy charm to his performance on this week’s episode and didn’t mind putting his own image on the line in a couple of sketches, particularly the one involving inflatable party dolls. Overall, he was an effective host.

Despite my lack of knowledge about George Benson, he proved to be quite entertaining with his two musical numbers and they differed enough from each other to prove that the man had some versatility in his repertoire. As far as other guests go, you can’t go wrong with Andy Kaufman coming back for the fifth time and finally unleashing his pitch-perfect Elvis Presley impression among the SNL fanbase.

Even with John Belushi out for the week, the cast pulled through and put together a slew of great performances but special mention should go to Bill Murray, who proved in his first episode that he was going to be a force to be reckoned with on the show. Unfortunately, this would sizzle for a while after this episode but he would still become a great castmember in seasons to come.

Host Rating: B

Musical Guest Rating: A-

Show Rating: A-

EDIT: I just noticed Dan Aykroyd is not in the goodnights here. Anyone know if there’s a particular reason for that?

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