SNL Retro: Madeline Kahn/Taj Mahal (10/8/77)

Posted: December 1, 2010 by Brendan Wahl in SNL Retro Reviews
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by Brendan Wahl

(Season 3, Episode 2)

Back in the first season, there were a number of hosts who had some delightful episodes but it was never really expected that they would be invited back. Anthony Perkins did a wonderful job helming a really fun episode with a great Psycho parody and several other memorable sketches in which he essentially played the same role, but still had fun with it all the same. Desi Arnaz also had a memorable episode with lots of odes to his beloved I Love Lucy and The Untouchables while participating in a number of musical performances and entertaining sketches with the cast. Madeline Kahn was another host that season who had a really fun episode. While she was not a legend like Desi or Perkins, she still had her well-established fame by that point and did some really fun bits like the Bride of Frankenstein musical number, a sharp turn as Pat Nixon, and a well-written sketch involving the discussion of sex among her and the female castmembers.

It comes as somewhat of a surprise that Kahn was invited back but its a pleasant surprise at that and its one that the cast was probably satisfied with as well, particularly Gilda, who seemed to click the most with her. Kahn definitely has the vocal talent as well that will no doubt come into play with this episode much like it did with the previous one.

Joining Kahn is singer Taj Mahal, a well-known blues singer from the 60s and 70s predominantly. Mahal is somewhat obscure by today’s standards though and is our first oddball musical guest (but definitely not the last) of the third season. Taj was also known for changing the blues and mixing it with Caribbean and South Pacific influences to give it more of a unique sound rather than the same old tired strain of Miles Davis et al.

Go! Go! Go!

The Show:

1. The Trial of Lee Harry Oswald (1:26)
-Aykroyd, Belushi, Murray

In September 1977, ABC aired a controversial mini-series regarding a what-if situation revolving around Lee Harvey Oswald’s trial had he not been shot by Jack Ruby. Hence our cold opening this week acts as a spoof with “Lee Harry Oswald” (Murray) being led down in front of the press (after shooting John F. Curry). Oswald is then attacked with a pie! Yes, that was the whole thing. C

2. Monologue (1:41)

Madeline keeps it rather simple this time by saying she has no idea what to expect from this crazy rag-tag group of Not Ready For Primetime Players and the only sure thing is that everyone will die. She throws in a couple of semi-amusing barbs but this is a pretty pointless monologue. C

3. Swill (1:19)
-Murray, Newman

A classic commercial parody. The spokesman (Murray) for a brand-new mineral water introduces one that comes directly “from the lake to you.” The reveal of the water slowly pouring into his glass is a work of comedic brilliance and Murray really helps sell this over the top. A+

4. Bad Opera (3:39)
-Kahn, Aykroyd, Belushi, Morris, Murray, Newman, Radner

Opportunity #1 for Madeline to sing tonight. This time, Leonard Pinth-Garnell (Aykroyd) introduces an eternally awful German opera. The quirk this time is that the note that one woman (Kahn) gets to sing is so terrible that it causes larynx lock and forces the singer to continuously sing that very note without being able to stop. This is not one of the better “Bad…” sketches, but Kahn is game here as she pretends to be taken over by a dreaded affliction and is taken away by EMTs. C+

5. Anyone Can Host (2:13)

Lorne Michaels himself announces a new contest where anyone can host Saturday Night Live and if they win, they will be selected to host the show’s Christmas episode. Lorne amusingly stumbles through some of this non-comedy bit here but I can’t really rate this.

6. Bianca Jagger And Three Or Four Of Her Close Personal Friends (5:29)
-Kahn, Belushi, Curtin, Murray, Newman

Bianca (Kahn), best known for being the wife-at-the-time of rock star Mick Jagger, hosts a dinner party in her “home” (a TV studio) with three other quirky celebrities in the form of Truman Capote (Belushi), Margaret Trudeau (Newman), and Princess Grace (Curtin). They exchange strange and awkward conversation regarding strange sayings from Bianca herself. They discuss their significant others’ talents and odds and ends as well, which makes for a bizarre sketch that didn’t really do a whole lot for me despite Bill Murray’s amusing deadpan introductions and Curtin’s turn as Princess Grace. C+

7. Taj Mahal sings “Queen Bee” (3:48)

Wearing some tribal get-up, Taj belts out a very interesting and unique tune that I can barely even attempt to describe. Let’s just say that it’s an entertaining song that almost doesn’t fit into a genre in particular. Well-done. B+

8. Schiller’s Reel: The Acid Generation – Where Are They Now? (1:14)

The debut of Tom Schiller’s films is a humourous trip down memory lane as we get a number of interviews with children of the 60s (who all look about eighty years old now), who all talk about the number of drugs and activities they partook in during that wild hippie movement. It’s a pretty quick film, but it’s a nice change of pace from Weis. B

9. Weekend Update with Dan Aykroyd & Jane Curtin (10:39)
-also: Bill Murray

Dan Aykroyd was fairly good in his Update debut last week but man oh man, does he ever mess up this week and he really seems very uncomfortable. At first, he misses his cue to start the program and then goofs up several other cues to keep reading stories and almost throws over to Jane. Still, he manages to get a few good jabs in, particularly a nasty one involving President Carter and a young  African-American girl. After the revelation is revealed that “violence in real life makes for more violence on television,” Jane reveals a deep secret about herself in an amusing moment. We also have the first appearance of the Dancing N with an urgent bulletin regarding a medical saying that has been changed. Dan gets caught doing a voiceover for an old film showing the launch of Sputnik in another amusing moment. Finally, Bill Murray stops by to do a commentary on Marie Osmond and in his typical smarmy fashion, Bill gives Marie some career advice that basically boils down to this: stop dressing like Cher and go back to normal. Overall, despite Danny’s slip-ups this is still a fun edition of Update. B+

10. Silver Balls & Golden Pins (5:11)
-Kahn, Murray

A pastor (Murray) narrates a story of a bowler while making some biblical allusions as well, not to mention while a singer (that’s two times for Kahn now) sings a tune complete with bowling references while standing atop of a trophy-like structure. It’s a strange sketch that doesn’t quite play for laughs, but this O’Donoghue-penned piece (I think) is well-written and one of my guilty pleasures. A-

11. Reverse Discrimination (4:42)
-Aykroyd, Belushi, Curtin, Morris, Murray

The setting is a dean’s office and two students (Belushi & Morris) await a committee’s decision on which of the two will be accepted into law school. The poor, blind African-American has worse grades but it is also pointed out that his Art Appreciation grades probably brought him down. The ending of this sketch is what saves it from being one-note and predictable and Garrett’s performance is inspired. B-

12. Gary Weis Film: Autumn in New York (2:13)
-Kahn

Our host skips and prances around the city, singing about fall with the accompaniment of a harmonica. She proceeds to sing to some construction workers and in one case, just appears in the middle of a crowd. The placement of Kahn in the different settings is amusing and makes this Weis film better than I anticipated than it would be. B+

13. The Pink Box (1:14)
-Newman, Radner

Spoofing those women’s products commercials, two women (Newman & Radner) discuss the Pink Box, a new product that’s so personal even they don’t know what it is. A-

14. Hercules Dub (3:43)
-Aykroyd, Belushi, Morris, Murray, Radner

Inside a recording studio, a legendary dubbing master (Aykroyd) works on the newest European picture in the form of a silly Hercules film from Italy. There’s not much to this sketch even though Aykroyd’s effort is there and his goofy voiceover is pretty amusing. Belushi, Morris, and Radner put forth a fun effort too as the actors starring in the foreign film in question, but everything just doesn’t add up to an entertaining sketch for some reason. C

15. Guest Performance: Dame Edna Everage (4:50)
-Kahn, Barry Humphries

Popular comedian from Australia, Barry Humphries, stops by in drag as one of his most popular character performed during his stand-up act. This segment mainly serves as a plateau for Barry’s collection of sex jokes and inappropriate humour. Clearly Kahn is very uncomfortable during this whole segment as Edna cracks stupid quips and a couple of clever puns to a mostly dead audience reaction. C+

16. Pocket Pal (1:02)
-Aykroyd

Introducing the newest product for those with a fear of flying. The Pocket Pal lets you know seconds before of your impending doom. There’s nothing you can do about it, but it’s nice to know beforehand I guess. Another fine commercial parody. B+

17. Phone Call (7:52)
-Kahn, Radner

Continuing a semi-tradition from the first few years on the show, we close with a really intelligent slice-of-life piece involving a young woman (Radner) waiting for a phone call from a man she met. Her doubts grow though as the hours tick by and the Vodka & Tabs pile up. Despite this, her best friend (Kahn) attempts to keep her spirits up with anecdotes and several conclusions that she comes to based on the philosophical theories this mystery man came to when discussing The Patty Duke Show. Another Marilyn Suzanne Miller classic. A

Madeline doesn’t get much time to say goodbye and only manages to thank Barry Humphries before the credits appear and the music begins.

Well, that was underwhelming. After a really strong showing in Year 1, Madeline was a bit more listless this time out as she coasted from sketch to sketch without really making much of a change in her performance or ever really giving 110% in the sketches she appeared in. I will give her credit for at least being a competent host but when compared to her first hosting stint, she was somewhat disappointing. She was also given the opportunity to sing on three different occasions and that was a little distracting in itself. Taj Mahal was a welcome addition as the musical guest and even though he only got one song (why?!), he more than proved his worth and showed his multitude of talent for the impressed NYC crowd.

The episode as a whole can be classified as uneven as there were several pieces that worked really well (Swill, Phone Call, most of Update) but a lot of stuff was just very unnecessary like the overlong Bianca Jagger sketch or the odd Hercules dubbing piece. Still, throughout it all, Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray proved to be the dominant players this week with a number of strong performances in some very mediocre sketches.

Notes:

Belushi looked full of flop sweat in this episode. It was hard to see; he didn’t look too good.

I really wanted to see Taj Mahal get another performance. Could’ve cut the Jagger sketch.

“Having it solves the problem of being without it.”

Host Rating: B

Musical Guest Rating: B+

Show Rating: C+

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