by Brendan Wahl

(Season 2, Special Episode)

Saturday Night Live was known for breaking their own format several times throughout the early years of the show. There was the second-ever episode, of course, that essentially served as a concert for Paul Simon & Friends, there was Andy Kaufman doing some groundbreaking stuff in his first few appearances, and even one episode was entirely devoted to how “inept” the host (Charles Grodin) was. Nothing would touch the insanity of the idea behind this SNL special ever again though. Instead of Saturday, this would take place on a Sunday and in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, the party central of the country, instead of the usual stand-by: New York City.

I don’t want to mention too much in the pre-amble here because I will explain most of it in the contents of the sketch-by-sketch review.

Enjoy!

1. Carter at Mardi Gras (2:25)

El Presidente (Aykroyd) addresses the state of the nation atop a statue of a horse, of which Rosalynn (Newman) warns him to get off. And after bellowing out a battle cry, Carter obliges. C+

2. Randy Newman & The New Leviathan Orchestra sing “Louisiana 1927” (2:54)

Newman opens the show strongly with a stirring rendition of a New Orleans favourite on an absolutely amazing-looking stage. He also gets quite the ample support from a very capable orchestra in the background. A

3. Bacchus Parade (2:32)

Buck Henry appears out of nowhere to join Jane Curtin to discuss the upcoming parade about to pass through before showing some footage from the “Hit Al Hirt In The Mouth With A Brick” contest. Hirt (Belushi) manages to play some sax and avoid of the few bricks, but eventually is sent on his way. Throwaway bit. C

4. Quarry (1:57)

A repeat from 11/20/76. B+

5. The Wild Bees Motorcycle Club (3:58)

Starting off with an awkward moment from Penny Marshall (“I can’t see the cards!”), Sherry (Newman) and Rhonda Weiss (Radner) join her in waiting to see when the guys will show up. Eventually, the bees (Aykroyd, Belushi, & Murray) show up with hogs in tow and pick the girls up, driving away with them. (Edit: It seems like it was actually Gilda (in character) who said “I can’t see the cards!” before the sketch began) B

6. Fats Domino As Sung By Garrett Morris (1:30)

Just like it sounds. Garrett points out the similarity of all of Domino’s songs by playing the same chords for every single song. Not a bad little piece. B

7. Randy Newman & The New Leviathan Orchestra sing “Marie” (2:57)

Randy Newman is and was an absolute powerhouse of a singer and this is another song that is no exception. I only wish he didn’t devote most/all of his time to Pixar films now, as good as those songs are. A-

8. Film: Cemeteries (1:46)

AHHH! Gary Weis invades New Orleans! This time, a rambling old man paints tombstones and talks about whatever in one of the more pointless Weis films to date. I understood maybe two words he said. Seriously. C-

9. Tomorrow (4:40)

Emanating from Bourbon Street, Tom Snyder (Aykroyd) interviews the proprietor of a top & bottom-less bar (Murray). We also get to meet one of the dancers, Velocity (the lovely Cindy Williams), who Snyder does a humourous back-and-forth interview with as well. Bill holds his own against Aykroyd’s Snyder impression and Cindy Williams has a funny part. B

10. Baba Wawa At Large (4:42)

Baba Wawa (Radner) presents a filmed interview with the Fonz himself, Henry Winkler. What appears to be a grounded, down-to-earth man turns into a deluded schizophrenic who believes that the Fonz is literally a part of his personality. Henry also tries to help Baba appear cooler than she usually does, but to no avail. B+

11. Mussolini Re-enactment (2:53)

After a few clever quips from Curtin & Henry, Ricky Mussolini (Belushi) re-enacts his grandfather’s commencement address and tells everyone to have a good time. What was the point of that? C-

12. Crowd Reaction (3:39)

Wasting more time before the parade arrives, Jane & Buck make some more jokes before sending it over to Eric Idle, who covers the crowd reaction. However, he announces that the cameras are a bit too late because all that’s left is one drunk guy passed out. Idle’s charm and wit kills here. B+

13. Film: Gary Weis Down South (:50)

A SECOND Gary Weis film?! This one was even more pointless than the first, just showing off the Dixie pride in New Orleans. C

14. The New Leviathan Orchestra sing “Rebecca” (2:20)

The wonderful back-up chorus get their own time to shine and sing a tune about some gal named Rebecca. The singer in the group has a pretty unique voice and the instrumental sections only enhance this goofy, enjoyable number. B+

15. Apollo Ball (2:37)

Penny Marshall takes about twenty seconds to realize the camera is on her as she watches on during the Apollo Ball. She clearly seems awkward and nervous around the cross-dressing taking place in the ball and for some reason, Cindy Williams got lost before getting there. This was as close to dead air as you can get. D

16. Stella! (2:08)

Stanley (Belushi), of A Streetcar Named Desire fame, yearns for his Stella, but the resident (Morris) wakes up to tell him that he’s at the wrong house. The police sirens in the background were the only interesting things happening during this brief, silly bit. C

17. Paul Shaffer and Mr. Mike sing “The Antler Dance” (3:28)

In a rehash from the season premiere, “The Antler Dance” (complete with goofy hand motions) is performed but at least this time, they have Paul Shaffer singing it and not botching it like Lily Tomlin did it. Like everything else though, this was pretty suspect and a waste of time. C+

18. Weekend Update with Jane Curtin & Buck Henry (7:25)

Surprisingly, they still run an edition of Update despite a hostile crowd below and a botched parade so far. New Orleans resident Garrett Morris is given the combination to the city by Mayor Moon Landrieu, who promises to change it back shortly after. Laraine Newman interviews one reveler (Belushi), who shows her that one of the new kicks is to tape white mice to one’s face just above the eyelids. Emily Litella (Radner) interviews a “liverboat” captain (Murray), who of course corrects her by telling her that it’s a RIVERboat. The highlight of Update is Jane trying to deliver a story on a possible presidential assassination, which Buck constantly interrupts with matters that are slightly less pressing. A little jumbled, but it had its moments. B

19. Randy Newman & The New Leviathan Orchestra sing “Kingfish” (2:40)

Thanks to Newman’s little pre-amble, I can tell you that this song is all about Huey P. Long. It’s another enjoyable Newman tune, but not as much so as his other two. B

20. A Visit With Jean Lafitte (5:06)

We get a look back at Jean Lafitte (Murray), the ultimate pirate who took exception to being called one by all of those around him. Murray’s performance here is pretty good and he is starting to show signs of improvement in the show. An enjoyable sketch with a good sight gag ending. B+

21. Apollo Ball (1:15)

This time, Cindy Williams joins Penny Marshall and does most of the work. Just as pointless and drab as the first part. D

22. Randy Newman & The New Leviathan Orchestra sing “Sail Away” (2:44)

Due to protests from the crowd (apparently), Randy Newman performs one more song, his classic, “Sail Away.” It’s definitely one of the best songs in his repertoire. Really nice way to close the show as well. A+

For the goodnights, Randy Newman thanks everyone in the audience and then sends it to Jane Curtin and Buck Henry to close out the show. Due to the parade’s no-show, Curtin announces that “Mardi Gras” is simply a french word meaning “no parade.”

What. A. Mess.

This was the very definition of a trainwreck. While not as bad as the debacle that was the Louise Lasser-hosted episode from Year 1 or the upcoming Malcolm McDowell/Capt. Beefheart episode from Year 6, it was one of the more disorganized, sloppy moments in SNL television history. Barely any pieces in the whole episode were fully-concocted sketches and a lot of them featured some very lazy writing and unruly crowds. Weekend Update and the Jean Lafitte sketch held up well enough, but there was an awful lot of underwhelming and just plain boring material. Did we really need the Apollo Ball stuff?

Randy Newman and the New Leviathan Orchestra were the main highlights as they provided some wonderful music throughout the entire episode. Newman acted as an anchor of sorts, but that’s not to take away from Jane Curtin and Buck Henry, who pretty much controlled the reigns of the entire broadcast.

In short, this was not a good idea.

Notes:

Lots of notorious back-story here: Penny Marshall was almost kidnapped by a biker moments before the Bees sketch, Gilda was mauled right after her bit with Bill Murray and still in her Emily Litella costume, people tried to climb to the stage where Jane and Buck were sitting several times, and the parade never arrived because a reveler was crushed and killed by one of the floats earlier in the night. Anyone else care to contribute?

Randy Newman is a pretty funny guy. His little introduction to the entire show and brief interludes throughout the show were naturally funny.

This was the most awkward episode of Saturday Night Live ever. Just sayin’.

Anyone else enjoy the wonderful new opening sequence they put together for this episode only? Only good thing Gary Weis did in this whole episode.

I heard the Meters were cut out of this episode as well as a “Roots” sketch with Garrett Morris. And yet they left the Apollo Ball crap in and the two pointless Weis films that shamelessly pandered to the city.

That character Bill Murray played in the Tomorrow sketch seems like a precursor to his groundskeeper character in Caddyshack.

Show Rating: C-

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Comments
  1. goof_how says:

    Ah, the best years of SNL. No one has surpassed Belushi and Murray. Nobody!

    • rachel says:

      I was just reading up on some of the backstory from this episode and I know times were different, but it amazes me that SNL thought they could get away with this production wise without having any sort of official security. Even if our celebrity culture was different in those days, it was still Mardi Gras. They stuck Buck & Jane out in the crowd of drunk people (or over the crowd) without one bodyguard/cop/security person. From what I understand they had to eventually find a retired cop to get them down.

  2. Brendan Wahl says:

    Yeah, this was an ill-advised move from the beginning. Everything about the episode is sloppy and mistimed and the cast have a deer-in-the-headlights look of fear for a majority of the episode, particularly poor Penny Marshall.

  3. Al Breeck says:

    I swear I saw some of the Buck Henry and Jane Curtin on the review stand on televison, not DVD.
    Possible 2 minutes of the special made a SNL highlights show?

    I also remember one of NBC’s SNL best-of primetime shows included the 1977 “American Dope Growers Union” song so anything is possible.

    • Brendan Wahl says:

      Maybe a brief snippet of Update from this special made it in, but I find it hard to think that Lorne ever wanted any of this to even see the light of day again.

  4. Hans says:

    I was in the Navy stationed in Jacksonville Fl in 1977 and went to Mard Gras with eight other sailors in an old VW van.We had the best time and saw the SNL cast through out the day prior to the program being filmed.My most memorable skit was of Belushi doing Mussolini in a flagged draped balcony.As the skit ended,he shimmied down a downspout within reach of the balcony and leaped on the back of a three wheel police motorcycle where we in the standing audience watched as he was taken away raising a wine bottle in the chilly nite air.sa

    • Brendan Wahl says:

      That’s amazing, dude. I love to hear stories from people who were actually in attendance for spectacles such as this.

  5. Carl says:

    I saw this for the first time ever earlier today. It’s quite bewildering, both because the sketches are so…bad, and also because of the strange freewheeling atmosphere that allows for totally random moments like Laraine Newman’s Valley Girl character to mingle with Rhonda Weiss and…Penny Marshall.

    That drag ball with Penny Marshall was just hilariously awful. It is something SCTV should have spoofed over and over.

    I read that the Antler Dance stuff with Michael O’Donoghue was actually very terrifying, as people threw bottles and were trying to knock him off the balcony.

  6. […] Rob Reiner a boost when he hosted episode 3; She was one of the few people who made the infamous “Mardi Gras” episode worth watching; and thanks to teaming up with Donald Trump’s favorite punching bag in […]

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