by Brendan Wahl
The last three episodes of SNL haven’t exactly been up to the classic standards that most people fondly remember the comedic institution’s first few years as being. Granted, Tarkenton’s episode was an average affair, but Gordon/Berry blew it and the Mardi Gras episode was a disaster. It should come as no surprise to anyone than that Lorne Michaels and co. decided to go with a sure-fire safe bet in Steve Martin making his second appearance as host. After an enjoyable/mildly disappointing (only to the point where it should’ve been an absolute classic) first appearance, Steve returns to helm the show again and by this time, his fame had grown a little bit. In fact, Steve got to guest-host The Tonight Show a number of times before doing this stint and his stand-up comedy albums were getting more and more popular. He still wasn’t THE Steve Martin yet, but boy oh boy was he getting there.
Steve’s musical guest this week is the Kinks, which marks the second time his musical guest has been someone with the word Kink in his/their name. Trying to tell us something, Steve? The Kinks were very popular at this time but even more so a few years prior to this when they had a gaggle of number one hits. Interestingly, there is another guest this week and that is Lily Tomlin. A credited special guest, Lily decided to drop by to promote her broadway show (whatever it happened to be, I have no idea). The idea of a “special guest” will likely never occur again, but it was a fairly recurring thing back in the early years right through to the early nineties.
Onwards and forward!
1. Nobody Likes Steve (2:45)
After exiting his dressing room, Steve is confronted by Gilda about being a changed man ever since guest-hosting The Tonight Show. Our host smooth-talks his way back into her heart though before being confronted by three of the male castmembers (Belushi, Morris, & Murray), who don’t like the way he’s treated Gilda, one of their own. John is the more violent of the three and dear old Steve pays for it. An enjoyable opening. B
2. Monologue (4:55)
Steve “Ramblin’ Man” Martin does some of his usual, albeit very original material. After displaying some authentic Native American music, Steve shares his small, easy-to-accomplish goals with the audience (like being the master of time, space, and dimension). My favourite part of the entire monologue though is definitely Mr. Martin talking about “getting small” with a new drug on the market. Not as amazing as the monologues earlier in the season, but still a lot of fun. B+
3. The Coneheads At Home (5:43)
After the success of this sketch during Nader/Benson, the Coneheads get bumped up to the first proper sketch of the night. This time, Connie (Newman) prepares her cone for a Peter Frampton concert, IRS worker Eli Turnbull (Martin) arrives to update their records (“you’ve only been filing since 1968”), and the Coneheads debut their “Consume mass quantities!” catchphrase. Martin is perfect foil for the Conehead family and it proves that Steve could easily play the straight-man as well. A-
4. Garrett Morris sings “Nur Wer Die Sehnsucht Kennt” (2:51)
In what first appears to be an odd diversion for the comedy program, it is quickly revealed that Garrett (in clamdiggers) requested to perform this song as he came back to try and prove to this girl that he met in Jamaica that he is, in fact, Harry Belafonte. Garrett has a heck of a singing voice and the scrolling text is quite amusing, so it makes for an entertaining little piece. B
5. Celebrity Weightlifting (3:36)
A reporter (Murray) reports on a battle between the Russian bear, Vasiliy Alekseyev (Belushi) and Jackie Onassis (Radner). It reminded me of a tamer version of a piece that appeared on Update during the 80s (I think). Most of this depends on Gilda’s physical comedy and she does quite well. The idea of the sketch is absolutely ridiculous, but I liked that aspect. B+
6. The Kinks sing a medley of “You Really Got Me,” “All Day and All of the Night,” “Well-Respect Man,” and “Lola” (4:38)
I really enjoy medleys, so this was a great way to offer a nice cross-selection of the Kinks’ biggest hits and most enjoyable classics. The band is in good shape here too as they go from song to song with effortless perfection. There was an amusing little goof near the end, but it didn’t take away from the entire performance. A
7. Weekend Update with Jane Curtin (Part I) (Total: 5:48)
After making a clever reference to her bra-flash from Tarkenton/Sayer, Harper (“Not tonight, I have a headache”), Curtin kills with a lot of her jokes this week particularly with a nasty dig at Johnny Carson, an even meaner one (but justified) directed towards Anita Bryant, and then she deems living in Cincinatti a punishment. In one of the funniest moments during the entire segment, Jane fumbles a joke and then stops to go back to the beginning and read it all over again.
8. Dr. Breadloaf’s Quick Loss Diet Book (1:54)
The doctor (Radner) in question advertises her new weight-loss book where, in fact, all you do is devour the dieting book itself. It’s an odd joke, but Radner makes it work somewhat. C+
9. Weekend Update with Jane Curtin (Part II)
Laraine Newman interviews the maintenance officer for the Executive Command Flying Post, but he gets a little flustered when Newman simply challenges the safety of the vessel from heat-seeking missiles. Pretty funny one-joke bit. Jane’s jokes in the second half don’t make as big a splash as in the first half, but she still delivers some steady chuckles, particularly one involving airline food. A-
10. Broadway Baby (3:58)
After some chit-chat between Steve and Lily, the aforementioned special guest performs a number with Jane, Laraine, and Gilda that is light on laughs but high on entertainment value. I particularly liked the choreography and quick costume changes during this number. Steve is basically a non-factor in this musical sketch, though. At least Tomlin’s singing skills are better here than during the premiere. B+
11. Accidentally Pull The Plug (3:52)
As Buddy (Belushi) lies in a coma, the doctor (Martin) first tries to lighten things up for the parents (Curtin & Murray) before informing them of the cost of keeping Buddy alive on the machines. After finally coming to an agreement, the doc has to “accidentally” pull the plug but has a hell of a time doing so. Buddy waking up and being slightly perturbed is the highlight of the sketch as the whole thing just seems like a reason for Steve to do his “EXCUUUUUUUUUUUUSE ME!” catchphrase. The build-up to it was a lot of fun though. B+
12. Gary Weis Film: Buster Holmes’ Restaurant (1:47)
A New Orleans staple, Buster Holmes shows off his soul food restaurant with several customers talking about how terrific it is. The food looks delicious, but the film is sorely lacking like many Gary Weis films. C
13. Hollywood Bingo (4:07)
The host (Martin) of a celebrity-packed show takes forever to introduce all the contestants and in fact takes so long that by the time he gets through them all, there is no time left to play the actual game. Most of the impressions are pretty hilarious, but I particularly loved Rose Marie, as played by Jane Curtin, who acts like a sexed-up drunk. Some other highlights of this great sketch include Farrah Fawcett (Tomlin), Robert Blake (Belushi), and a joke about a dead celebrity (“And Charlie will be appearing…nowhere”). Some of them are clearly not even celebrities, but the host runs through them all at breakneck speed. Easily the best sketch of the night. A
14. Home Movie: From The Big Orange To The Big Apple (3:27)
This “home movie” is from “the friends of Lily Tomlin” and features Lily performing as a number of her characters like Judith Beasley, Ernestine, Edith Ann, Tess DiSenzio, and Crystal. It’s a pretty funny “ensemble” (starring one person) that makes reference to Lily heading for Broadway. B+
15. Roots II (5:32)
Alex Haley (Morris) turns the tables on the original Roots after being offered a large amount from NBC to produce a second part to his critically-acclaimed sequel. Steve Martin does a good job as a slave owner, but it’s John Belushi who really shines as a character named Bop-Shoo-Wop whose character traits more than vaguely resemble Kunta Kinte. This sketch has some bite to it and one of its kind probably couldn’t be produced today, but it is a little more boring than it should’ve been. C
16. The Kinks sing “Sleepwalker” (3:41)
Out for round two, The Kinks get to perform one of their current hits (well, at that time anyway) and hit this one out of the park as well. I’m still amazed that this band still managed to hold it together for their live performance (take note, future hosts Rolling Stones). A-
17. Singles Bar (3:11)
A man (Martin) and woman (Radner) share stories with each other on a first date and discover that they share so many similarities with each other, you’d swear they were personality/lifestyle clones of each other. This is an absolutely adorable sketch with tremendous chemistry between Martin and Radner. B+
Steve thanks all his guests and has a humourously awkward moment with John Belushi before wishing one and all a goodnight.
Well, that was a nice change of pace. After two disasters and one so-so episode, SNL gets back on track with a stellar episode hosted by one of the greatest hosts they’ve ever had — Mr. Steve Martin. From the beginning of the episode, Steve was on his A-game and brought forth a buttload of effort throughout the entire night whether he was just playing himself, a slave owner, a terrible doctor, or even a motormouth talk show host (his most impressive performance, IMO). Martin showed in this episode why he keeps getting invited back time and time again to helm this great show.
The Kinks were a very welcome addition to the show and proved that even though you may be a big superstar who sells millions of records, it doesn’t mean you have to slum it when it comes to live performances. They delivered 100% and then some, knocking it out of the proverbial park. Lily Tomlin was also a pleasant addition to the show as she also had a fun appearance in an additional sketch besides just being there to solely promote her broadway show.
Out of the cast, it’s hard to pick a stand-out but if absolutely forced, I would go with Gilda this week. She shined in everything she appeared in…and she was in quite a bit. Whether it was a goofy performance as Jackie Onassis or a more subtle, nuanced one in the final sketch, Gilda portrayed her beautiful comic timing and range quite vividly in this episode.
Gotta credit Matt Jennings at Uncle Critic for designing my new logo. If you want to visit his site (and you should), there’s a link in the Blogroll.
Leave it to Steve Martin to rescue the season during a three-episode slump, eh?
It looked like poor Billy Murray was getting ignored during the goodnights and Laraine didn’t look too thrilled that his arm was around her either. Don’t worry Bill, your day to shine is coming.
I don’t know why people consider this worse than Martin’s first gig. I think this episode is actually slightly better than the episode he hosted in October.
The Coneheads are on a roll, but man their sketches would get long and a bit more intricate as the characters continued to appear.
What do you guys think? Is Steve Martin THE greatest host of all-time?
Host Rating: A+
Musical Guest Rating: A-
Overall Show Rating: B+