SNL Retro: Steve Martin/Jackson Browne (9/24/77)

Posted: November 24, 2010 by Brendan Wahl in SNL Retro Reviews
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by Brendan Wahl

(Season 3, Episode 1)

Greetings, readers! All five of you. I have finally made a decision to go back in time for these juicy retro episodes of Saturday Night Live after a 3-week absence. I thought I was going to take a longer break, but I decided to go back to it now and begin to delve into the third season of the long-running comedy show. So what is new? What is the same? What can we expect?

Essentially, nothing has changed from the end of the second season to the start of the third. The entire cast is still in tact and now with a fresh start, Bill Murray can start his own legacy rather than continue with his moniker as “Chevy Chase’s replacement. The rest of the cast are back in full force and the only major changes have to do with some of the writers being snipped from the show. That is to say that castmembers Belushi and Murray are no longer credited as actual writers on the show.

Headlining the season premiere is cast and crew favourite Steve Martin. After two good episodes last season and superb performances by Martin, he makes his return at the beginning of the third season most likely because he is loved at 8H and because everyone wanted someone easy to work with at the start of the new year. Martin was a consummate professional during anything he did (at least back in the seventies), always proving to be on the brink of something new and outrageous but giving the whole situation a self-referential wink at the same time.

Joining Steve is a first-time musical guest in the form of country-rock sensation, Jackson Browne. Throughout the years, Browne would be known for his many hits like “Runnin’ On Empty” but mostly because he has had the SAME haircut for THIRTY FREAKIN’ YEARS. In all seriousness, I’ve always enjoyed his music so this should be a fun combination.

Season 3 – GO!

The Show:

1. National Express (1:43)

Saying goodbye to political disgrace Bert Lance (Belushi), President Carter (Aykroyd) gets weepy and walks away, leaving Lance to advertise for National Express “because a lot of people don’t recognize my face.” This really threw me for a loop as I expected a lengthy topical opening here that delved into a silly credit card spoof. Still, not a bad way to start the season although slightly underwhelming. B-

2. Monologue (4:38)

After doing a positively quirky bit involving a classic Bobby Darin song (“Oh, the shark bites!”), Steve-O talks about being a ramblin’ guy and how he goes from town to town starting a new family and then dumps them when he moves on. One of his best jokes involves Farrah Fawcett-Majors and some relatively blue humour that I am surprised made it into the show.  Martin is on an absolute roll with his monologue though, as he requests a pair of cat handcuffs and makes a number of bad feline-related puns. A

3. Royal Deluxe II (1:30)

The newest 1978 model is such a smooth, safe ride that the spokesman (Aykroyd) for this product offers a sensational example: he has a rabbi perform a circumcision in the backseat while they drive down a particularly bumpy road. It’s a classic commercial parody. A+

4. Festrunk Brothers (6:46)

Yes, it’s the debut of the wild and swingin’ Czechoslovakian brothers! In the first edition, Georg (Martin) and Yortuk (Aykroyd) crash a ping-pong game with two “foxy American babes” (Curtin & Radner) in the basement of their new apartment building. This is where the recurring sketch gets its start; from the broken english, the misuse of grammar, and their terrible attempt at trying to impress the girls by playing ping-pong themselves. You can tell that Gilda is pretty close to cracking during the sketch, but everyone manages to keep their composure in this amusing introduction to the two characters. B+

5. Jackson Browne sings “Runnin’ On Empty” (4:15)

Donning his seventies haircut (in the 70s, so I guess its okay), Jackson sings his biggest hit to date about a musician’s life on the road. Jackson is a talented crooner and this is a really enjoyable song. He doesn’t have the most charisma in the world, but it’s still a good performance. B+

6. Weekend Update with Dan Aykroyd & Jane Curtin (11:14)

Danny joins the Update team to give us the first solo anchors for the segment. Danny does well, talking about a story linking fire and third-degree burns. Laraine Newman is our first guest, discussing her trip to China to celebrate Rashashana and her merchandise from the funeral of Chairman Mao. It’s more than a little cruel, but it’s still amusing. The weather promises the pits as far as the air quality goes and firestorms later in the week in a funny bit, but then Bill Murray shows up and hits a home run with his first movie review. This week, Bill reviews The Deep and after showing a very quick clip of the film, decides that he is giving it a negative review after running down the actors in it. Bill throws it right over to Garrett, who discusses Muhammad Ali defending his title and says that Ali will win. The real moment from Garrett though comes from a Hank Aaron record-breaking moment as a baseball player from the Tokyo Giants gives his victory speech. The subtitles are clearly written by Garrett as they disparage the young Asian athlete and paint him as a very lucky individual. Finally, John Belushi comes by to talk about his trip to Durango, Mexico to talk about his journey to find a worthy student to award a scholarship to. Of course, in Mexico, he was persuaded by something else that a “student” was able to provide. It’s a funny bit by Belushi, but he looks a little “out of it.” There’s also a great closing joke involving a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. Great commentaries and lots of good jokes result in a strong first edition of Update. A

7. Mike McMack, Defense Lawyer (5:09)

During a sexual harassment court case, criminal lawyer extraordinaire Mike McMack (Martin) lambastes the victim (Radner) on the stand by bringing up meaningless past sexual experiences to try and paint her as a woman of ill repute. Steve’s performance is what stands out in this hilarious character piece as Murray provides good foil for our host as the opposing lawyer. McMack hitting on the poor woman afterwards makes the whole sketch that much funnier. A-

8. Keypunch Confession (3:31)

After not having made a confession for several years, one man (Morris) notices the tremendous advancements in technology when returning to the church. The priest (Aykroyd) introduces the Trinity 3000, which tells the confessor how he can pay for his sins or if his so-called sins are actually sin-worthy. The twist at the end is good too making for an amusing sketch. B

9. Great Moments In Rock & Roll (5:54)

A young junkie, Alice Sloan (Newman), tells the story of her relationship with Roy Orbison (Belushi), a singer who always stood perfectly still when he sang and always wore dark glasses. Laraine is good in her role as a 1960s hippie and Belushi does a pretty good Roy Orbison (especially when he sings) with the joke essentially being that Orbison is so still and wooden that he repeatedly falls over and needs to be held up by his manager (Murray). Still funny, though. B

10. The Franken & Davis Show (9:26)

Hosted by the famously homophobic Anita Bryant (Curtin), Franken & Davis present a beauty pageant if it was composed entirely of men. The two finalists are Mr. California (Davis) and Mr. Arkansas (Franken), who participate in a number of ridiculous contests to determine the winner between them. The rest of the cast participate as various other contestants and Mr. Martin himself shows up as “last year’s winner,” Craig Rasmussen. This sketch is spot-on in its satire from the hilarious interpretive dance by Mr. California to the Hollywood-phony answers provided for questions from Ms. Bryant. A-

11. Jackson Browne sings “The Pretender” (5:36)

It’s time for song #2 from JB, which ends up sounding quite a bit different from the first. This one’s more of a somber, slow-moving tune that has some excellent lyrics and showcases Jackson’s voice a bit more. All in all, it’s about on par with the first tune. B+

12. Kromega III (1:43)

Introducing… the new watch that’s so complicated to operate it will actually take 2-3 people just to make it work. Ridiculous commercial parodies like this are always so delightful. This one’s no exception. B+

Steve thanks Jackson and everyone in attendance before slow-dancing with Danny for a few seconds. Aykroyd then steps off the stage while the rest of the cast wave goodnight to everyone.

This was a pretty strong premiere. There were a few top-level sketches and not a bad one to be found thanks to a newly-energized cast and a strong ringleader in Steve “arrow-through-the-head” Martin, despite his lack of appearances tonight. Besides his leading role in the Festrunk Brothers sketch and as Mike McMack, Martin was absent in a number of sketches and the cast stood front and center. Of course, that may have been intentional on Lorne’s part so as to make the cast the stars of the show and make sure the premiere featured them as much as possible as the show was gaining more and more momentum.

Jackson Browne provided ample sound on this episode and was a good addition. There’s not much to say about Jackson that I haven’t already said except for his STUPID HAIRCUT and his talented crooning.

Notes:

It was funny how the Festrunks were talking about “big American breasts” to Jane & Gilda, both of not-particularly-large mammaries.

“Nick Nolte, you look like a Denver cop.” “Robert Shaw, you disturb me.”

“How do you feel about playing Anita Bryant?” “Not only am I a great fan of hers, but we’re also ex-lovers.”

“Kromega III: It’s like asking a stranger for the time.”

I think this was a stronger premiere than last year’s. Not one sketch was bad.

This episode starts a short-lived trend of all the Update commentators meeting at the desk just before Weekend Update begins.

Host Rating: A

Musical Guest Rating: B+

Show Rating: B+

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Comments
  1. […] Steve Martin/Jackson Browne […]

  2. Keith Baker says:

    This was indeed a classic episode of SNL. Jackson Browne’s performance of “Running on Empty” was very good but the general public wasn’t familiar with the song. The mini-tour behind “Running on Empty” was completed album wasn’t released until December 6th.

    • Lawrence Blayne says:

      Find it very interesting that your review appears to be from the actual live episode. All repeats and even on the box set of season 3, have an extra skecth from season 1, I think: Lorne Michaels talking directly to the camera upping the ante for the Beatles to appear on “Saturday Night”.

      Appearently that was an isssue during the original live broadcast that a couple of skits ran late, and they did not have enough time to show the “10 to 1pm” sketch, so instead they ran two additional minutes of commercials that night, and all repeats have the aforementioned above skit to fill in the time.

      Odd, though, that the box set shows the Michaels sketch, but also has the Don Pardo voice over telling us about the next live show, host…etc. Kind of like, we are watching the actual live show again, but mixed in with the repeat, extra sketch.

      Any insight would be awesome, just like your revies.

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