SNL Retro: Fran Tarkenton/Leo Sayer, Donny Harper and the Voices of Tomorrow (1/29/77)

Posted: August 25, 2010 by Brendan Wahl in SNL Retro Reviews
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by Brendan Wahl

(Season 2, Episode 13)

Every show has its milestones. Last week we had the oldest host to-date in SNL history. This week, however, another accomplishment of the show is reached. This episode marks the first ever athlete to take over the reigns of the venerable comedic institution. I say that though not with eager anticipation but with a sense of dread for this episode’s sake. It’s no secret that athlete hosts are usually terrible at emoting and amazing at making the world pay attention to their cue-card reading. I don’t know the reason for Lorne Michaels deciding that getting an athlete in the first place would be a good idea, but here you have it.

The sports star in question is former Minnesota Viking Fran Tarkenton, who had either just been inducted or was about to be inducted into the Hall of Fame that very same year. Fran, unfortunately, has just lost his father the previous year to a heart attack right in the middle of one of his most humiliating losses. Tarkenton is regarded as one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history so that definitely translates into being a fantastic comedian, right? I think so.

Joining Tarkenton is the king of the falsetto (or queen?) Leo Sayer. Equipped with a giant afro and dance moves that induce vomit all over the country, Leo would thankfully not be the only guest this week. Also joining Sayer is Donny Harper and the Voices of Tomorrow. Now normally I would say a few words about them, their style of music, a little background, etc. There is a problem though. I have no idea who they are and apparently most of the internet is unaware as well.  So let’s just move on.

The Show:

1. Locker Room (4:47)

A football sketch? What?! John Belushi plays coach to the entire team of SNL castmembers plus their star, Tarkenton, of course. The whole thing acts as a comedy lesson for Tarkenton and he turns to the coach, who then turns to the teammates, so that they may offer him some sound advice. It’s a decent way to open the show, but nothing spectacular. B

2. Monologue (3:47)

Running down to a stage with a football field painted on it, Fran mentions an embarrassing Superbowl loss he endured in the past week, but says that the Vikings WILL return to the Superbowl next year as well. Seemingly not worried about embarrassment anymore, Tarkenton grabs a microphone and proceeds to sing “Feelings,” much to the disgust of Belushi and the befuddlement of a play-by-play commentator (Murray). Garrett interrupts under the disguise of helping out the team, but once he throws Fran to the sidelines, he decides to finish the song himself. Not a bad monologue, if a little bloated. B-

3. Swiss Army Gun (1:46)

A motormouth spokesman (Aykroyd, of course) introduces Rovco’s Swiss Army Gun! With a fish scaler, hunting knife, nail file, and yes, a .38 calliber revolver. There are more ridiculous parts to this device and Aykroyd completely sells it. B+

4. Amy Carter in School (3:21)

A pair of secret service men (Aykroyd & Murray) stand by while Amy Carter (Newman) completes a test on American History. When the president’s daughter has trouble with her answers and one girl (Radner) accuses her of using the secret service to help her cheat, the two men almost snuff her out with a desk before being stopped by the teacher (Curtin). It doesn’t sound great, but it is a pretty funny sketch that makes a couple of statements about the government at the time. B+

5. Sports Injury (1:47)

Belushi pulls a player (Aykroyd) off the field to scold him and after it’s revealed that his arm has been torn off, Murray tapes it on and sends him back out. Tarkenton is briefly in this as well only to get sent to the stage to announce the musical guest. This was essentially some filler material before introducing the musical guest. C+

6. Leo Sayer sings “When I Need You” (4:02)

Toning it down a notch, Sayer does an decent job with this song. I bet he was singing it about a man though. Hah. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. B

7. Black Perspective (2:56)

In the best piece of the night, Garrett Morris hosts a show on race relations and Fran Tarkenton plays himself (again) to comment on his effort to help these relations within the NFL. When questioning Fran about the myth that black people don’t have the mindpower to call defenses, Fran responds that those myths are absolutely factual. This sketch really pushes the envelope (even for 1977) as Fran says that all they can do is dance in the endzone for the most part. A-

8. Home Restaurant (6:58)

In a conceptual bit, the proprietors (Aykroyd & Radner) of a restaurant located directly in their home play host and hostess to their two customers (Curtin & Murray). Their daughter’s (Newman) playing of the recorder is an attempt to cover up noises made by the domestic abuse going on in the kitchen, but it is still clearly audible. The sketch starts out funny but it is way too long and the same joke just keeps getting hammered into the viewer’s head. A big misfire. C-

9. Sugar-Frosted Anabolic Steroids (1:35)

Fran advertises a new cereal chock-full of delicious steroids that are “slightly sweetened and mixed with marshmellow magnesium bits.” Fran blew a couple of lines in this sketch and cracked up, but can you imagine any athlete-host doing this sketch today? For what it’s worth, Jane Curtin’s beard was really the highlight. C+

10. Weekend Update with Jane Curtin (Part I) (total: 6:08)

Before the jokes start, Curtin addresses some criticism directed towards her for Update not being as good as it was when the “sexy Chevy Chase was on.” Therefore, Jane rips her shirt off, exposing her bra and screams out some empty threats towards Connie Chung. In an amusing bit, Jane shows “footage” of a cruise missile test set to some old-timey footage. It works better than any of those “artist’s rendering” pieces that Chevy did.

11. Community Appeal (1:17)

Tarkenton makes another appearance tonight to ask for support for John Belushi, who is so warped by drugs now that he can only name three countries (“Belgium, Belgium, and Kansas City”). It’s a pretty funny piece, if not made slightly darker now due to the obvious circumstances surrounding John’s death in 1982. B+

12. Weekend Update (Part II)

“I believe in the one-president system.” One after another, each joke kills especially a take on Roots and Alex Haley’s greed following its success. Curtin does a funny “Update Correction” piece as well and then reports on sixteen people freezing to death after taking a dip into a lake. Good stuff this week. B+

13. One-Night Stand (4:50)

Once again, Fran plays himself in another sketch and this time, he arrives to a hotel with a chick (Newman) he picked up after the Superbowl. The only problem is that she just won’t stop talking while all Fran wants to do is just get down to bidness. The football team recurring gag is repeated here with Tarkenton calling a time-out to consult with Coach Belushi and Danny, while Murray calls the action. C

14. Wrigley’s (:32)

A repeat from the first season. B

15. Grand Stand (4:14)

Lee Whitehead (Murray), the commentator that’s been providing us with insight throughout the whole episode joins Brian Gumbo (Morris) for an interview with Fran Tarkenton, but unfortunately he can not hear them the whole time and so they have to waste time by showing a musical playing on ABC followed by Howard Shore and his band doing a bit of marching. They show some footage from earlier in the show of Tarkenton performing in sketches but fail to mention how wooden and boring he was. C

16. Leo Sayer sings “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” (3:43)

Wow. Not nearly as painful as I was anticipating. Despite his horrible dancing, the performance is still somewhat enjoyable and I didn’t vomit once! B

17. Film: Small Worlds (2:29)

Gary Weis’ slice of life comes out of a pet store this time located somewhere in New York. It’s actually a fairly amusing one this time, as animals can provide some pretty solid entertainment. The frog at the beginning is my personal favourite. B+

18. French Liquid (:56)

Mr. Mike himself narrates a commercial piece involving a perfume that smells different on every single woman. A throwaway piece, but it was still funny to hear O’Donoghue say “on her, it smells like warm rabbit pellets.” B

19. Donny Harper and the Voices of Tomorrow sing “Sing a Song” (3:07)

After a botched introduction from Tarkenton where he announces them as the Voices of America, the band more than holds their own with a really good performance. It’s not a brilliant song or anything, but it’s a well-written and very well-sung performance. B+

20. Credit Card Counseling (4:40)

Rhonda Weis (Radner) makes her second appearance on the show in a piece to highlight the quirks of a pair of typical New Yawk gals. The plot is fairly simple; one woman (Curtin) is evaluating Rhonda’s credit card history and informs her that the card has to be suspended because of her ridiculous spending. The laughs come out of the chit-chat between the two as they try to one-up each other with talk of sales that they’ve taken advantage of. B

Fran doesn’t have time to say goodnight because the show is running long so some of the cast just carry him above thier shoulders and then they all stand around for the little bit remaining in the show while the credits roll.

Well, that was a step in the right direction at least. While this wasn’t a very strong episode, it was definitely better than last week’s thanks to a willing cast to work around their host’s weaknesses and a couple of decent musical performances, particularly from Donny Harper. The cast was in full-force this week and they pulled out the best show anyone could possibly pull out with an athlete-host like Fran Tarkenton. Setting the bar for future athlete-hosts, Tarkenton was stiff, stumbly, and just appeared very awkward for the entire broadcast. He also had his eyes glued to the cue cards, of course.

Like I mentioned, the cast held their own this week and Jane Curtin was especially good, appearing in more sketches than she usually does and doing a pretty damn good job with her roles as well. Granted, she appeared as the “straight” character in one of them, but she was one of the best at playing those roles and did so with aplomb. You might say Belushi was a major player tonight and while he was, he mainly played one role all night. Congrats, Janey.


It’s funny that Belushi mentioned that their last ‘play’ was sloppy in the football cold open, almost as if he is referring to last week’s mess of an episode.

There aren’t too many hosts who played themselves in every single sketch, but there you have it. Fran Tarkenton had a rough time playing Fran Tarkenton tonight, I guess.

Jane Curtin was in quite a bit tonight. More than normal. That bra-flash makes her this episode’s MVP by far.

So does ANYONE know who Donny Harper and the Voices of Tomorrow/America are?

Host Rating: C

Musical Guest Rating: Leo Sayer – B-

Musical Guest Rating: Donny Harper – B+

Show Rating: B-

  1. rachel says:

    Just want to say I’ve been enjoying reading these. As someone who wasn’t born yet when they originally aired (I know!!), I’ve been getting really into them through the Netflix instant watch feature. If they ever take them down I might have to break down and buy them. So it’s fun to read your take on the episodes.

    Love this whole cast and while I adore Gilda and company, I always felt Jane was completely underrated in terms of her contribution to this show. Maybe because she so often played the straight woman or maybe because for the most part she chose to continue her career on the small screen. But she did same really good work here.

    Surprisingly, I kind of like the Tarkenton episode. I agree with you that they pretty much did the best they could with his limitations and despite the fact that he wasn’t particularly good, at least he seemed to be having a good time being there which is more than I can say for some other hosts.

    • Brendan Wahl says:

      “I always felt Jane was completely underrated in terms of her contribution to this show.”

      I agree on Jane Curtin. I’ve always thought she was the glue in a number of sketches and she seemed to be the calm center of the entire cast.

      “I agree with you that they pretty much did the best they could with his limitations and despite the fact that he wasn’t particularly good, at least he seemed to be having a good time being there which is more than I can say for some other hosts.”

      That’s true. While Tark wasn’t great, he certainly wasn’t the worst athlete-host ever. That honour would be bestowed upon Michael Phelps.

      “Surprisingly, I kind of like the Tarkenton episode.”

      It was a decent show, which is way more than can be said for last week’s doozy.

      • rachel says:

        True. The Ruth Gordon was was beyond awful. Though it still wasn’t anywhere nearly as awful as the Louise Lasser one.

  2. Brendan Wahl says:

    Haha yes. And then there’s the interesting experiment coming up on Wednesday: SNL in New Orleans.

  3. […] SNL Retro: Fran Tarkenton/Leo Sayer, Donny Harper and the Voices of Tomorrow (1/29/77) August 2010 4 comments […]

  4. […] Fran Tarkenton/Leo Sayer and Donny Harper & The Voices of Tomorrow […]

  5. Russell says:

    okay does Gilda get her hand smashed in the desk during the Amy in school skit. but it just seems that Gilda pulls the attention of the audience for that brief moment in a way that wasn’t her character. Also in the Swiss army gun skit you can see the grenade go flying off stage, funny goof.

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