By the Former "Heystu," The Incredible Three-Month-Old Amateur Critic
The tenth season of SNL, the last of the Dick Ebersol era and far away the funniest since Year 5, was a watershed year for the show and its tight cast. With five first-year cast members, a former exile, and a handful of Murphy/Piscopo era leftovers, the ten-piece cast was, looking from the long run, very well rounded despite the fact that some actors received more screen time than others. While already-proven stars like Billy Crystal and Martin Short hogged the limelight, future stars like Jim Belushi and Julia Louis-Dreyfus were given very little to work with. One cast member named Rich Hall was a late bloomer, playing mostly thankless roles only to become a late night talk show favorite almost twenty years later.
Tonight's host is Michael McKean, one of only two actors who host SNL, then later become a cast member himself. You see, when his "Spinal Tap" and "A Mighty Wind" partners Chris Guest and Harry Shearer agreed to join ship, Mike Mack said no thanks, though he changed his mind late in the 1993-94 season. He is, however, hosting at the insistance of his partners in crime, with former Rufus caterwauler Chaka Kahn providing the music.
Let's boogie down to a sketch-by-sketch analysis:
COLD OPENING: Geraldine Ferraro (Gross) and "The Mon-dells" sing a Motown-esque boogie about the Reagan's pending victory in next week's election. Note that this is one of four episodes that aired that season where nobody quipped the traditional "Live, from New York..."
OPENING CREDITS: An under-construction Statue of Liberty and the ten cast members towering over NYC are what makes this amusing. This is probably the best of the Ebersol era, and the most interesting to watch of this decade.
MONOLOGUE: McKean recites Shakesphere, but a heckler (writer Larry David) keeps calling him by his "Laverne and Shirley" character Lenny. While the whole Bard thing had been done before, it was good to see something besides the host rambling about such-and-such current projects.
"Young Christians for Reagan": Of the six actors who played Ronald Reagan during the tumultous eighties, my favorite may very well be Harry Shearer. After all, he was the only one who looked or sounded anything like the real thing. Anyway, Dutch addresses the country on a recent visit to a grade school in New Jersey, then inadvertantly makes a bias towards Jews and Muslims. It's an accurate depiction of a great leader who obviously needed some sensitivity training.
"Baby Double": A mock movie ad that closes with an infant playing with a knife. How cute.
"Fernando's Hideaway": What made "Hideaway" so amusing was that it was one of the few aspects of the show that was almost entirely ad-libbed. In tonight's edition, Barry Manilow cancels at the last minute (not a lie), and one of the cameramen fills in for him. Watching a heavyset fifty-year-old from Jersey with slight camera-shyness singing "I Wrote The Music" can actually be quite entertaining.
"The Folksmen," Part 1: Pamela Stephenson, a poster child of budding great talent being underused by the show with proven and familiar stars, introduces a five-minute documentary of the reunion sessions between the fictional early-60's folk-bluegrass trio. If they look familiar to you, that's because they were one of the "subjects" of the aforementioned "A Mighty Wind."
"The Folksmen," Part 2: The trio performs their greatest "hit," the cheery "Old Joe's Place."
"Buddy Young Jr. is Back!": This pre-filmed ad first appeared in the Jesse Jackson/Andrae Crouch episode two weeks before. It is funny, though, and it's worth mentioning that this inspired the film "Mr. Saturday Night."
"First Draft Theater": This recurring sketch, in it's first appearance, was a revisionist look at some of the great literary works of the last half-century. Tonight, a botched lunch order serves as the "original" conflict in Reginald Rose's "Twelve Angry Men." Also, check out Billy Crystal's imitation of the guy who played Tattoo on "Fantasy Island."
"Madonna Navel Accessories": Madge dances to "Lucky Star" with a face painted on her torso. You might say that this filler sketch was "Borderline" funny.
"PBS Pledge Break": The emcee of a "Pledgebration" (Shearer) introduces a more-than-enthused Vincent Price (MM), who discusses his favorite public television shows. McKean's dead-on Price impression is outstanding.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: That swingin' jazz-funk chanteuse wants to let you know that "I Feel For You."
"Rabbi's Advice": A borderline-senile teacher of the faith (Crystal) gives incoherent advice to a man (Short) with marital problems. So funny, it's kosher!
SNL NEWSBREAK: Edwin Neuman is the latest anchorman to fill in for the miscast Chris Guest. In his third appearance in the segment (the first two were in Year 9), the newsman looks at the strong similarities between the bland state songs of Massachusetts, Mississippi, and Idaho. Also, Jeane Kirkpatrick (Louis-Dreyfus) contemplates the social scene.
"Mondale's Strategy": Fritz' campaigners (Stephenson, Hall, MM) try to explain to the hapless candidate (Kroeger) that he battle's been lost and that in order to save face he should focus squarely on Minnesota and "whoever's gonna vote in the Great Lakes." It's dated political satire, but you can still get the joke.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: Chaka is sublime, but the band isn't in "This Is My Night."
"SNL Fashion Report": David Byrne of Talking Heads (Hall) performs a spoof of "Once In a Lifetime" quite similar in style to the concert film "Stop Making Sense." And you may ask yourself, how do you write a halfway decent song spoof?
All in all, it was a pretty standard show for this particular year. What made this season so great (and yet strangely underrated) was that there were no bad shows. McKean fit like a glove with the cast, and Chaka Khan's voice carried a bland backing band. The cast is top-notch, with Billy Crystal and Harry Shearer shining through, though the presence of Jim Belushi (who was filming a movie, then returned the next week) is somewhat missed.
Sketches That Will Probably Be Edited Out, When and If This Gets Repeated: "Baby Double," "Madonna," "Newsbreak," and "This Is My Night."