SNL Retro: Shelley Duvall/Joan Armatrading (5/14/77)

Posted: October 27, 2010 by Brendan Wahl in SNL Retro Reviews
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by Brendan Wahl

(Season 2, Episode 21)

As we approach the end of the season very soon, one has to look back at this point and decide what this season managed to accomplish for the cast and crew of Saturday Night Live. The Chevy era of Season 2 was a fairly solid period while the transition to Bill Murray as a replacement was a little shaky. The show did manage to have a great recovery after that though despite a few bumps in the road. Since then, there has yet to be one castmember that really comes through as Chevy’s replacement as the go-to guy. This is because the show was starting to mature. They didn’t need one guy to rely on for great comedy because they had people like the Not Ready For Primetime Players that were more than up for the task, despite certain members being underused from time to time.

Anyway, I will discuss that more in the next episode review but right now we come to one hosted by Olive Oyl herself, Ms. Shelley Duvall. You might also know her as Mrs. Torrance, the poor woman who is trying to escape her deranged and cabin fever-stricken husband in The Shining. Just before this episode however, she would have been the star of a little movie called 3 Women and she also had a part in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall that came out about a month prior to this episode. Shelley has been known for her very unique features in that her face looks like a mouse. That’s not even a particularly negative thing, but it is quite obvious that her look is very different from the average Hollywood actress.

Accompanying Ms. Duvall is Joan Armatrading on the musical end of things. This British singer/songwriter was perhaps best-known for never actually covering anyone else’s songs and instead using her own material 100% of the time. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing is a moot point, but it makes Ms. Armatrading stand out from the rest as an original. Her biggest hit at the time was definitely the Top 10 hit, “Love & Affection,” so there is a pretty good chance she will play it.


The Show:

1. Programming Change (3:46)

Due to the high cost incurred by NBC because of the one-minute Norton/Bobick fight (note: Norton DECIMATED him), the network is forced to re-air the fight before every program starts. Unfortunately for Belushi, this means the Flight of the Bumblebee sketch is cut. Afterwards, the ladies (and the host) argue cattily in the dressing room and even make a crack about Shelley’s cartoon mouse face while Belushi yells the opening line on a TV in the background. This was a pretty neat idea and a funny way to make fun of the boxing match. B+

2. Video Vixens (4:07)

Instead of the traditional monologue, Shelley and the girls sing a pop-punk number about dominating television in a sort-of aggressive ballad. There’s lots of funny lines here and the whole thing brings the girls together in a solidarity against traditional comedic presences like Helen Hayes, Carol Burnett, etc. This is basically the show’s way of saying that they are tired of that old, banal type of comedy and this is now their generation! At least that’s what I got out of it. Did I look too much into it? A-

3. Bank Robber Disguises (5:06)

One man in an insect costume (Aykroyd) initiates a nasty bank heist with his associates (Belushi, Morris, & Radner) but all the teller notices (Duvall) is the shoddy job that the gang leader did with his costume, especially when compared to his colleagues. The funny thing is even his partners-in-crime get more concerned about his appearance as well while completely ignoring the job they’re doing. The whole thing eventually gets turned into a costume-judging contest as well in a ridiculous, but funny conclusion. A-

4. Joan Armatrading sings “Love & Affection” (4:20)

Joan has an amazing voice, which is the first thing that really sticks out for me here. She also plays a mean guitar and has a knack for writing some absolutely heartbreaking lyrics. This is definitely a very fine performance. A+

5. Continental Men (5:20)

In a classy joint, Ricardo Montalban, Cesar Romero, and Fernando Lamas (Aykroyd, Belushi, & Murray) interrupt a trio of ladies (Duvall, Newman, & Radner) and ask them to help figure out which one of them is which because they are so damn similar. The same joke is repeated several times throughout the sketch about different trios of celebrities that are similar to each other, but it’s all for naught. The sketch is somewhat banal, but at least it was kept short. C

6. Weekend Update with Jane Curtin (Part I) (Total: 5:26)

After an amusing phone conversation, Jane discusses a contract that Duane Bobick signed with NBC… seconds before the Norton fight. More Patty Hearst goodness this week as well mostly for the picture they chose to show while Curtin told her joke. The material this week isn’t the strongest, but Jane tries her darndest especially with the bit on Watergate conspirators becoming members of the Mickey Mouse Club.

7. Black Educational Conference (1:13)

As footage is shown of the Bobick/Norton fight, Duane himself (writer Tom Davis) voices his opinion on getting more education for blacks for the sole reason being so that they stop beating up on white folks. Another funny piece related to the fight. A-

8. Weekend Update (Part II)

Mr. Fire Extinguisher will take care of those defective Mr. Coffees but no refund, of course! Jane gets around to introducing Emily Litella, but she’s nowhere to be found so our newswoman calls her up. The answering machine bit that follows is a clever play on the usual Litella routine. Update was decent this week. B-

9. Viva Las Vegas II (5:36)

While attempting to make a comeback, Elvis Presley (Belushi) does a different type of movie moreso because of the advice from his agent, the Colonel (Murray). The scene being filmed includes some rich sleazeball (Aykroyd) on a date with a pretty little thing (Duvall). Of course, his advances are interrupted by the King playing a busboy but instead of busting a move, he performs a scene from Hamlet. Unlike the “Continental Men” sketch, this didn’t pound the same joke into the ground but unfortunately the sketch moved at a slow pace and didn’t really seem to go anywhere other than offering the odd juxtaposition of Elvis doing Shakespeare. C+

10. Baba Wawa At Large (4:03)

The woman with the “adowable” speech impediment, Baba Wawa (Radner), returns with her usual egotistical self and this time, she interviews stage actor Richard Burton (Murray) who has an odd speech impediment of his own. Burton mentions his return from rehabilitation and lashes out at the reporters printing out negative stories regarding him and his reputation as a Hollywood partyboy. Of course, the subject switches to Liz Taylor and Burton breaks down so badly that he loses his accent. Well, this was an improvement over the previous sketch. B

11. Film: Brides (2:53)

Spalding Gray narrates a film by Sharon Sacks regarding the innate subtleties of brides and what the true meaning of marriage is. It’s hard to explain the contents of the film without giving away a lot of information, but let’s just say that the types of weddings that Gray discusses is probably my favourite part of this intelligent short. A

12. Bad Ballet (4:41)

This week, Mr. Pinth-Garnell (Aykroyd) looks at a Soviet ballet that was written by two people who collaborated… by mail. The ballet, entitled “Swan,” features some really terrible choreography and a scary image of Garrett Morris in a tutu. This is the one and only time Garnell joins in on the fun too and he performs as a mailman. Duvall was a rather small part of this sketch, but she has still been in almost everything tonight. Another hit for Leonard and his parade of poop. B+

13. Night of the Moonies (6:00)

Echoing the plot of Night of the Living Dead, Sun Myung Moon (Belushi) and his gang of moonies attempt to infiltrate a remote cabin where a number of deprogrammers (Aykroyd & Morris) attempt to convert one moonie (Duvall) back to normal. The whole thing is more clever than outright hilarious, but Aykroyd’s transformation into a moonie is the highlight and Duvall makes a convincing moonie as well. B+

14. Joan Armatrading sings “Down To Zero” (3:18)

Still in her Moonies makeup, Duvall introduces Armatrading for another number. This one sounds very different from her first and has a nice twang sound that comes through around the middle of the song. More soulful lyrics and more wonderful singing from our musical guest. A

15. Van Arguments (7:38)

A Miller piece to close the show? I’m down. As a couple (Duvall & Aykroyd) pile food items onto their trays, the argument starts to flow from the wife regarding her husband’s knack for caring more about his van than any other thing in his life, including his own spouse. All she really wants is the soundtrack for A Star is Born, but all Aykroyd can talk about is his van and his design ideas for it, thus confirming her accusations. It’s more than that though because it all stems from their trodden-down lives that she’s looking to change. B+

The goodnights are fairly short this week as the show was running long, so all Shelley has time for is to say that she really enjoyed it before the cast surrounds her with adoration.

Well that was a lot better than expected. While Duvall never really stretched or played any difficult roles, she was a capable host that was willing to roll with the punches despite a couple of below-average sketches where she basically had nothing much to do. Her most impressive showing was probably in the “Night of the Moonies” sketch or the performance during the opening “Video Vixens” number. Duvall is one of those hosts that comes by, does some good enough work, and is probably not invited back afterwards.

Joan Armatrading, on the other hand, was far from above average. She brought a certain powerhouse quality to her performances and much like the McGarrigle Sisters, Armatrading’s music was like poetry and was extremely bittersweet and touching. It seems like there was a tradition on the show where if the musical guest was not a major act, they really struggled to make a great impression on their first (and unfortunately, usually only) appearance on the program.

Overall, this was not the classic like the last couple of weeks brought forth for the show, but it was a solid episode with a masterful array of performances by Dan Aykroyd in particular, as he appeared in pretty much everything on this night.


“Baba Wawa makes you feew so good!”

How did Aykroyd read the cue cards in that bug costume? He had oranges almost directly above his eyes.

Hey, Chevy Chase was in the audience!

I bet it wasn’t hard for Aykroyd to act so devastated about losing his power tools in the Night of the Moonies sketch. That guy is a total gearhead. In a good way, of course.

Host Rating: B

Musical Guest Rating: A

Show Rating: B/B+

  1. […] Shelley Duvall/Joan Armatrading […]

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