SNL Retro: Ruth Gordon/Chuck Berry (1/22/77)

Posted: August 18, 2010 by Brendan Wahl in SNL Retro Reviews
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by Brendan Wahl

(Season 2, Episode 12)

We have reached a milestone. Or at least what used to be a milestone. Because you see, until the episode hosted by Betty White at the end of the most recent season, our host this week was the oldest host in Saturday Night Live history (although some might contest that Anyone Can Host contest winner Miskel Spillman held that record). A true comedy veteran, Ruth Gordon, at 80 years old, takes the reigns of the comedy juggernaut this week despite being in a completely different age bracket. For God sakes, she’s Garrett Morris’ (the oldest castmember) senior by 43 years! Whether it’s Harold and Maude or even thrillers like Rosemary’s Baby, Gordon had found her footing in the acting world long before SNL was around and it must have been surprising that she accepted the hosting invitation.

Joining Ruth is another legend, albeit from the music world. Chuck Berry was best known for such hits as “Johnny B. Goode,” “Maybellene,” and “Roll Over Beethoven.” After his fame throughout the 1950s and 60s, he began to fade a little bit during this decade and during his tours and live performances, he was notorious for the way he dealt with the local bands that would back him up. Without giving them a set list, Berry would expect them to be able to follow his lead after his guitar intro and thus, his performances became more and sloppy and erratic as time went on. Is this going to be the case on this week’s episode?

With two legendary performers taking the helm, what kind of show will unfold?

Start it up!

The Show:

1. Injured John (1:19)

After last week’s injury, Belushi’s doctor pleads with Lorne Michaels to put John on the episode in the opening, despite being in a vegitative state. Belushi was the worst of the cast as far as drugs go, but he was known to be able to snap completely out of it when it came down to show time. This real-life scenario is mocked here when his doctor threatens to cut off John’s drug supply and Bluto himself perks up to open the show. B

2. Monologue (:45)

Well, I guess you could call this a monologue technically speaking. All Ruth says is that she is happy to be there (you could’ve fooled me!) and that the show is going to be great. Well, thanks for wasting 45 seconds of my time. C-

3. The Marines (:50)

A repeat from Cavett/Cooder. C

4. Me (3:56)

The love of Linda Richman’s life, Barbara Streisand (Newman) sings about herself and in particular, the film A Star is Born. Though she starts with an attack on the critics, Babs then turns the attention to herself and sings about how she is well off no matter what the jealous plebians have to say. A powerhouse performance from Newman and some good writing. B+

5. The Litella Sisters At Home (4:09)

While Emily Litella has been cute and funny in small doses, especially during Jane Curtin’s tenure on Weekend Update, this is the tipping point for me. Emily (Radner) and her sister, Essie (Gordon), discuss the possble topics for Emily’s editorial on Update this week and in the process of doing so, make a lot of “cute” misconceptions about what the other is trying to say. The one high point in this sketch is when Emily corrected Essie but in an incorrect manner. Otherwise, the sketch was bogged down by Gordon’s over-the-top performance and the weak concept. D

6. Tomorrow (6:29)

Whenever Aykroyd got to do his Tom Snyder impression, it was a marvel to behold. This time is no exception. This week, Tom welcomes King Kong producer Dino De Laurentiis (Belushi) to wax philisophical about his newest opus: the dreaded King Kong remake with Jeff Bridges. Belushi’s caricature of Dino reminds me somewhat of the director of Troll 2 in that he absolutely believes in the quality of his own film despite what the critics have to say. This was an entertaining segment, but it was slightly long in the tooth. It should be noted that this is Belushi’s only other sketch appearance of the night and he is also confined to a wheelchair. Clearly, the injury was still there. B

7. Chuck Berry sings “Johnny B. Goode” (2:50)

Well, the coordination is slightly off between Berry and the band, but Chuckie himself still does an admirable job and he definitely has some amazing moves for a fifty-year old man. B

8. Weekend Update  with Jane Curtin (Part I) (Total: 5:50)

Unfortunately, this segment starts off slow because of Ruth Gordon invading as Lillian Carter being interviewed by Laraine Newman. It’s not brutal or anything, but not as funny as it could have been with someone else in the role. Curtin takes a funny, but crude shot at Billy Carter and then a much funnier bit involving Indira Gandhi’s claim that the election in India will not be fixed.

9. Crazy Frank (1:20)

Playing a motormouth pitchman, Aykroyd talks about some insane prices for stereo equipment, televisions, and other various electronics. The twist of the sketch is that the actual owner, Crazy Ernie, ran off with Crazy Frank’s girl and in a bitter plot of revenge, Frank is selling off Ernie’s supplies for ridiculously low prices. Fun conceptual sketch with a great performance from Aykroyd. B+

10. Weekend Update with Jane Curtin (Part II)

As if the earlier sketch didn’t already make me tired of Emily Litella (Radner), she shows up again this week on Update and this time, she has nothing to report on. The banter between Jane and Gilda is still good and at least this was better than the Litella Sisters piece. A truncated Update this week with few highlights. C+

11. Film: Night Moves (3:03)

After a stumbly-bumbly introduction from Garrett Morris, he presents this week’s film by Gary Weis. Essentially a music video for the aforementioned Bob Seger tune, the video focuses on a very attractive “ex-girlfriend” of Garrett’s. Aesthetically, this is a well-made video but it didn’t feel like there was too much substance found within. B-

12. Little Old Ladies Of The Night (4:50)

Dan Aykroyd plays a police captain in the geriatric division on the prowl for elderly street hustlers and together with his partner (Murray in his first appearance), they proceed to catch one unfortunate octogenarian (Gordon) directly after her employment begins. The sole highlight here is Danny’s exaggerated yelling that starts out soft and sympathetic but eventually gets ridiculously over-the-top and hilarious. C+

13. Chuck Berry sings “Memphis Tennessee” & “Carol” (5:07)

Instead of a couple of surefire classics, Berry sings an enjoyable song about the city of Elvis Presley and then a second one about some chick named Carol that is not quite as good. Berry seems to like to riff and the backup band doesn’t seem like they’re quite ready for it. B-

14. Sex Talk (3:16)

A young girl (Radner) watches television with her elderly babysitter (Gordon), who switches it off before a dirty show is able to start. Irate by this decision, the girl has her babysitter tell her about the birds and the bees but her interpretation mixed with Radner’s curiosity makes for some interesting misconceptions. I am really not liking Gordon as the host this week; she drags down everything around her. B-

15. Home Movie: The Mr. Bill Show (2:31)

The third appearance of Mr. Bill sees Mr. Sluggo eating Bill’s dog, injuring Bill in a series of intentionally mangled magic tricks, and then Mr. Hand catapults him into oblivion. It’s funny still but this segment would eventually get a bit tiresome. B-

16. Ricky Jay (5:18)

Entertaining magician/character actor Ricky Jay performs a quick montage of card tricks before calling on two volunteers so that he may read their minds. Very good talent showcase for Ricky Jay as well as a hilarious performance. A-

17. The Last Days Of Howard Hughes (4:39)

During the final days of Howard’s (Newman) life, a repairman (Morris) comes by to fix the projector while Howard’s two Mormon assistants (Aykroyd & Murray) assist with his nutrition and exercise. This is a brutally unfunny sketch despite the best efforts of all involved. D

18. World of Adventure (1:55)

The first appearance of E. Buzz Miller (Aykroyd) sees him interviewing an elderly lady (Gordon), who shows footage of her exploits over in Africa. The proverbial poop really hits the fan though as Miller has cut the footage together himself to only highlight the native tribes in their various forms of undress without actually highlighting any of the social issues that his guest tried to bring to the forefront. Miller isn’t as good here as he would get in future appearances, but he really tries to save this segment and almost succeeds. C

19. Mr. Mike’s Least-Loved Bedtime Tales (2:06)

After petting a stuffed flamingo, Mr. Mike calls on his maid, Fifi (Radner). This time, Mike tells the story of Willie the Worm, who was mashed by a large truck and could no longer crawl. Despite learning how to crawl again, Willie got mashed by a second truck and died. Oh, Michael O’Donoghue. Your cheery anecdotes have brightened my day again. Although this one felt a little weaker than his other ones. B

Ruth talks about “the bare-ass changes” she was making behind the scenes between sketches, but thankfully the cast joins her on stage and interrupts that before it got too graphic or descriptive.

Well now, that wasn’t so good, was it?

Ruth proved herself to be quite the mismatch for this sort of comedy forum as her eyes were glued to cue cards, she made Carrot Top look subtle and nuanced in his performances, and she was just clearly not enjoying herself throughout the entire episode. What could have been a wonderful blend of the old and new generation meshing together and benefitting off each other’s talents turned into quite a mess of the new generation trying to remind the old generation that the times, they are a-changin’.

On the other side of the coin, Chuck Berry held up rather well in his performances despite some obvious miscommunications between members of his back-up band. Berry still had some pretty nifty moves for a (then) fifty-year old man and he clearly seemed to be enjoying his nostalgic appearance.

The cast tried their best this week, but Gordon was just not cooperative and it didn’t help that she ruined nearly every damn thing she was a part of in this episode. Aykroyd and Radner stand out this week as the home-run hitters, but they could not save this show from being a bit of a stinker.

Host Rating: D

Musical Guest Rating: B-

Show Rating: C-


Garrett Morris sure did flub his line something fierce in that “Little Old Ladies Of The Night” sketch.

Holy crap! Was that O.J. Simpson in the crowd?

I’m pretty sure Ricky Jay was an extra in that “Little Old Ladies Of The Night” bit. I wonder why they bothered putting him there instead of a writer or something.

Gilda Radner was so hot in that maid outfit. Wow.

I still have yet to see Harold and Maude. I’m told I must.

Next week’s show doesn’t look too promising either.

  1. […] Ruth Gordon/Chuck Berry […]

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