A Review by "HelloStuart," Amateur Critic and Defunct Soviet Republic
The seventeenth season of SNL brought along a noticeable sea change to the show's dynamic. The previous season marked the beginning of a gradual rebuilding of the show's cast, the result of the beloved late-80s ensemble's decision to move on with their careers. Within fifteen months, half of that cast was gone; only Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, Victoria Jackson, Mike Myers and Kevin Nealon stuck around to mentor the next generation of stars. This new wave of cast members was about ten years younger than the old standbys, and they brought a raw, youthful energy that hadn't been seen on SNL in years. They were a fine cast in their own right -Chris Farley, Tim Meadows, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider, David Spade, and Julia Sweeney- and they carried the show until about mid-decade. With the largest ensemble in SNL history (18 repertory and featured players), what could've been a monstrous and awkward transition turned into one of the strongest seasons in the show's history.
One notable episode from 1991-92 was hosted by comedy legend Steve Martin, who was in his record-breaking 12th stint hosting the show (14 total as of 2007). The musical guest was adult-contemporary troubadour James Taylor, who was in his fifth of six appearances on the show.
COLD OPENING: An offhand reminder of his distant past inspires Steve to make a full effort, and his newfound motivation proves contagious to the cast and crew. The end result is an ambitious musical number, complete with a kick-line and confessions of lackadaisical work ethics.
MONOLOGUE: Steve promotes the early-90s remake of "Father of the Bride," then explains that he wanted to wear the bride's dress, too. Basically, he makes a few wry one-liners, and then sets up a joke that doesn't quite explode with laughs.
"Schmitts Gay A spoof of an old Miller Lite ad campaign, where two house-sitters (Adam, Farley) receive an embarrassment of phallic riches. The skit stops before it approaches any gay stereotypes, a type of reticence you don't see on the show nowadays.
"Suckerpunch": Under the guise of a game show, a man (Steve) keeps punching his oblivious "contestants," who were all standing in line for "Tonight Show" tickets. The one-joke premise goes about as far as it can, but it's way too thin to carry the sketch.
"Theatre Stories": In the first appearance of a recurring sketch that popped up intermittently in the early 90s, Kenneth Reese-Evans (Myers) has a hard time squeezing out insightful antidotes from two crazy British hams (Steve, Sweeney) and a self-pitying Mickey Rooney (Carvey). Martin carries the sketch, but the Mr. Potato Head story was the icing on the cake.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: White-funk horns and bland smooth-jazz styling make "Stop Thinkin' About That" a forgettable late-period Taylor piece.
WEEKEND UPDATE: It was not a savory task to step into Dennis Miller's shoes, but Kevin Nealon's three-year stint was diligent in its own right. Tonight, Too-Tall tosses around a few one-liners about the collapse of the Soviet Union and the William Kennedy Smith trial. Adam Sandler's commentary about Walt Disney World (he spent the trip in his hotel room and at McDonald's) was cute but highly disposable.
"Live with Regis & Kathie Lee": Regis (Carvey) keeps bringing attention to himself as he rants on and on about how he's doing a cooking segment with Mr. Food. In the process, he ignores his first guest (Steve) and compares his wife to a block of wood. I'll admit that Regis is an over-the-top personality, but Dana's impression of him pushes it beyond the edge of obnoxiousness.
"Deep Thoughts": I still get a good laugh whenever I see or read any of Jack Handey's weird musings. The fractured philosopher had three tonight, and they were all hits. I can't really describe any of them without ruining the joke, but there are archived "Deep Thoughts" online for you to enjoy.
"Backstage": Farley admits to having the willies before an army-themed sketch, so Steve slaps him, than goes on a "Patton"-esque slapping frenzy. Even Phil Hartman, the epitome of stoicism, can't stop him. Blatant time-filler.
"The Dark Side with Nat X": Tonight on the show, the blackest man on television (Rock) answers viewer mail and has a tense chat with a pre-sex offender Michael Jackson (also Rock). It's a shame that Chris was never used to his full potential on the show, because sketches like these are mere snippets of the comic genius that he would become.
"Grandma Pugga": A man (Farley) and his girlfriend (Cahill) visit his grandmother (Steve), whose apartment is surrounded in cat hair. The darling young couple appear to be oblivious to the rampant shedding in the house, which downplays the internal conflict (if any) in this sketch. It was interesting to see Steve in drag, though.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "Shed a Little Light" has a promising harmonizing-with-piano intro, but it delves right back into the monotony of his previous song.
"Creepy Doormen": Outside a ritzy apartment building, two doormen (Nealon, Schneider) express their love for wearing women's underwear. A lot of people don't realize that the doormen were recurring characters, but this installment lacked a certain energy compared to the other ones.
"The Energy Brothers": Steve introduces a comedy duo (Adam, Farley) that doesn't rely on material or much else besides destroying a dinner table. Yep, more time-filler.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: JT admires his nephew and complains about driving on I-90 in his 1970 hit "Sweet Baby James."
"Feliz Navidad": The show closes with Tarzan (Kevin), Frankenstein (Phil), and Chris Farley mangling the old Jose Feliciano standard. Tonto, where art thou?
After a fast start, the episode went through a string of forgettable sketches, nothing particularly bad but far from exceptional. Martin was expected to carry the show and he did it without fear; Chris Farley logged in the most screen time and even played the straight man in a few sketches, which is almost unheard of. The cast's presence is evenly split between old and new; Carvey and Nealon have just as much time in the sun as Sandler, Schneider et al. James Taylor was largely unsatisfying as the musical act, failing to provide any substance to his reputation until the last ten minutes of the show. Overall, the Christmas show from 1991 was unbalanced in spite of a comedy legend's golden touch and the full-blown exertion of an overpopulated cast.
(Note: I wrote this review on the weekend of December 22nd, 2007, when this episode was repeated in the regular 11:30/10:30c slot during a lengthy writers' strike. The sketches were reviewed in the order in which they aired on that particular night. "Creepy Doormen" and "The Energy Brothers" originally aired in the first half-hour of the show, and "Theatre Stories" aired after Update.)
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