***** – Classic
**** – Great
*** – Good / Average
** - Meh
* - Awful
OPENING: GOING CO-OP
-David Rockefeller announces that the Reagan administration has decided to make the United States a co-op, and the poor are being evicted from the country.
-Funny enough idea, and they did keep it fairly brief. I’ll give Rocket a pass for not attempting a Rockefeller impression because he’s not really that prominent a public figure (Phil Hartman actually did Rockefeller in a funny sketch from 1989 though). The audience was receptive to it too.
-This has got to be the most awkward segue into a LFNY ever: he says “…you’ll be…”, pauses for a second and does this exaggerated bug-eyed “Live From New York!”. It reeks of desperation (not to mention the implication that they really hadn’t figured out an ending to the sentence). I dock this bit a little for that.
-Ellen Burstyn mentions her 48th birthday being in a half-hour and explains that after all those intense movie roles, it’s time for her to lighten up.
-Quick, harmless monologue. Like last show it was more of a “talk” monologue but I did get a chuckle out of Burstyn describing her Exorcist character being the mother of a child with a slight personality disorder. Burstyn seemed pretty energetic though.
-As Ellen is coming down the stage, you can see the band through the window on the side of the stage. Guess they all stayed on that cramped looking musical guest stage throughout the show.
COMMERCIAL: ED MCMAHON SCHOOL OF LAUGHING
-Pitchman (Joe Piscopo) says an education in laughter skills leads to a fruitful career recording TV laugh tracks.
-This was actually pretty good, and Piscopo gets appearance as a commercial pitchman, something he always did well on the show.
-S-N-L.com message board poster TheLazenby pointed this out: at the beginning when it shows the four people laughing, Ann Risley sounds like she’s just saying “Ha ha ha ha ha”.
SHOW: WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT WITH PINKY AND LEO WAXMAN
-The Waxmans (Denny Dillon, Gilbert Gottfried) change the subject while interviewing Ellen Burstyn on their cable access show.
-Another strong sketch. I actually say this was actually the best Waxman installment overall, because they changed it up enough including having Leo Waxman flirt with Ellen. Gottfried and Dillon are good here, and Burstyn seems to be enjoying herself.
-This one had a lot of good lines, particularly Gottfried telling Burstyn that she was so convincing as Alice, he almost ordered a sandwich (it’s even funnier in the character’s Yiddish accent). I also enjoyed Gottfried’s “So you’re probably a bisexual, am I right?” and Burstyn’s “Multi. I’m multisexual.”
FILM: THE ROCKET REPORT – STATEN ISLAND FERRY
-Charles Rocket exposes the commuters’ secret: they were all constantly having sex in Manhattan instead of working.
-A step down from the other two Rocket Reports, but this had a funny enough concept, and there were some good moments, like the guy playing along with it saying he had “beaucoups” of sex, and Rocket backing away from the two co-workers.
SKETCH: VIDEO DATE
-New Jersey chemical plant worker Paulie Herman (Joe Piscopo) makes a tape for a video dating service with (Gail Matthius)’s help.
-I personally don’t care too much for this character, but Piscopo was able to bring the audience onto his side, and I can’t deny that “I’m from Jersey! *laugh* Are you from Jersey?” was a memorable hook.
-The punchline seemed a little obvious, though, and it felt like they were repeating jokes for the sake of repetition when Paulie kept going on about his date after finishing the tape.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: “UNITED TOGETHER” – ARETHA FRANKLIN
-The SNL Band (plus additional horns and a conductor) sounds great here. Aretha Franklin’s microphone sounded a little weird/mixed low at first, but this was a very good performance.
-The studio version is a little slower and orchestrated.
WEEKEND UPDATE WITH CHARLES ROCKET
-Best jokes: Heaven’s Gate, Secretary of Milk, Lillian Carter, Ed Koch/Abzug
-The Weekend Update set gets a slight change this week with a world map in the space between the screens. Charles Rocket seemed to be having a bit of a better night than he did the McDowell show, and the audience seems to be a little more generous than they were that night. There were some pretty lame ones still (like the colorblind Jews/Moses being colorblind one) but nothing super uncomfortable. Nothing amazing though, but the audience was probably awakened by…
-Eddie Murphy’s proper SNL debut: Piscopo’s Saturday Night Sports segment for the week, commenting on a story about race quotas on high school basketball teams. Piscopo is still not fully in his normal volume and pace yet but is already catching on with the audience. The real story though, of course, was 19-year-old Murphy who manages to get the biggest response of the night with his first speaking appearance on the show as Raheem Abdul Mohammed (still not with the character’s regular exaggerated angry voice). Right away, you know he’s got that something. It helps that the commentary (by David Sheffield) has some great lines like being a “junior going on seven years now” and speculating that the next black trend co-opted by white people would be going on welfare. By the time Murphy brings out the boombox, the show found its new breakout star.
-Gilbert Gottfried’s commentary as Dr. Calvin Zuko, reporting that female orgasms don’t exist solely from first hand experience, was somewhat funny. Kind of dies off, though.
-There’s a tech issue between the Saturday Night Sports and Gottfried segments, where the Weekend Update graphic is bleeding through the pictures on the screens.
SHOW: OUR FRONT DOOR
-A suburban family (Joe Piscopo, Gail Matthius, Gilbert Gottfried, Denny Dillon) is eager to learn about a junkie’s (Charles Rocket) drug addiction.
-This was one of the sketches that Doumanian almost lost her job over. Standards and Practices fought the airing of this sketch, as well as the Planned Parenthood sketch that aired later tonight, and the “Virgin Search” film that was scheduled for this week but eventually aired in the David Carradine show two weeks later.
-That said, it wasn’t particularly great, and easily the weakest of the three contested bits, but I got a few chuckles from it. For some reason the visual of Piscopo with those glasses and the pipe in his mouth always makes me laugh a little, especially since it usually comes up in sketches like this with dark subject matter.
-The juxtaposition of the almost 1950′s sitcom-style family with a heroin addict was an interesting concept just didn’t yield the dividends it could have. Gottfried asking if Rocket has ever ODed and Rocket showing the family his tracks seemed more like forced shock humor. Denny Dillon asking Rocket if he knew Janis Joplin and Ginger Baker was a copy of her bit in the Amy Carter sketch the show before where she asks Reagan if he knew John Travolta and Kristy McNichol.
-Trivia: this is the first SNL appearance of Patrick Weathers, who plays the visiting sniper at the end.
FILM: “PEPE GONZALES” – LEON ICHASO
-A profile of the only bullfighter in New York City (Gilbert Gottfried), as he baits cabs and bicycles.
-After seeing it a few times, it’s one of those pieces where I can admire the conceit behind it but the actual execution doesn’t really do much for me. The footage of Gottfried fighting the various vehicles playing as he narrates the various injuries he’s sustained was interesting visually, but the humor really didn’t connect for me. The main thing I found funny was Gottfried chugging the bottle of Scope at the beginning.
SKETCH: PLANNED PARENTHOOD
-Vickie (Gail Matthius) and scared friend Debbie (Denny Dillon) get advice from a counselor (Ellen Burstyn)
-A much stronger sketch than the original Vickie sketch from the Elliott Gould show, because Matthius has Dillon to play off of. This also had some genuinely funny material, particularly the girls’ misconceptions about getting pregnant, and Vickie saying she uses her mother’s birth control pills to clear her skin, and replaces the missing pills with Saccharin.
-This sketch also has the night’s second reference to female orgasms (after Weekend Update) when Burstyn’s counselor character tries to explain what they were like, comparing them to the flock of geese. This also leads to the best exchange of the sketch, IMO: “Is it ever like ducks?” “Way too often!”.
-They reused the same set from Video Date here, but rearranged some of the furniture.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: “CAN’T TURN YOU LOOSE” – ARETHA FRANKLIN
-Another improvement over the too-slick Arif Mardin-produced studio version. An excellent, lively performance.
-You can see most of the SNL Band in this segment a little better. I think you can see Dr. John (sitting in the band that night according to the credits) in one of the very last shots during the applause.
SKETCH: THE LESSON
-Privileged English girl Mary Louise (Denny Dillon) is the Dr. Jeckyll to her sock puppet Sam The Snake’s Mr. Hyde as she terrorizes her tutor (Ellen Burstyn) and maid (Ann Risley).
-Not bad. I kind of like the whole trope of viciousness being filtered through puppets (like Mr. Hat on South Park and Bob Campbell on Soap) and thought Dillon did well with this. Burstyn did alright, but I thought Risley was trying too hard with the Cockney maid character.
-Speaking of the maid, when Dillon is attacking her for being so poor “she doesn’t have a pot to piss in”, I’m amazed they actually got that word on the air in that particular context back then. The show did use the word pissed in 1977 (and not without some backstage controversy either) but this time the word is used as a synonym for urination (even if it is part of an old saying). I wonder if there was any issues over that either.
SHOW: THE TONI TENILLE SHOW
-Toni Tenille (Ann Risley) thinks Jean Harris’ (Denny Dillon) claims of innocence are segues to discussing her hair and questions about weight loss.
-A spoof of Toni Tenille’s real short-lived talk show (a KNBC station ID from my recording of the Gould show actually promotes this) and one of Risley’s better performances of her entire 12-show SNL tenure. It holds up well enough as a proto-Pat Stevens without knowledge of the real Tenille show or the Scarsdale Diet murder, even if overall it was just an alright sketch.
FILM: “FISH HEADS” – BILL PAXTON, ROCKY SCHENCK, BARNES & BARNES
-An edited version of the music video for Barnes & Barnes’ 1980 novelty single.
-When I say edited, I mean edited. Most of the first two minutes of the full video are cut as well as a number of the repetitions of the chorus. There’s a particularly awkward cut right before the “drinking cappuccinos” verse.
-Never minded the song at all. The film’s an amusing break.
SKETCH: BLAME THE KIDS
-Divorcing parents (Charles Rocket and Ann Risley) tell their children (Mitchell Kriegman and Gail Matthius) that their breakup is actually their fault.
-Kind of a nasty sketch but the audience responded well to it. I thought it was an interesting idea execution well.
-This is the only live sketch appearance of writer Mitchell Kriegman, who normally appeared in his taped bits. Kriegman would be one of the first writers disposed of by Doumanian.
-There is a boom mic visible at one point in the sketch.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: “B.I.G. T.I.M.E” – KEITH SYKES
-Good tune. Kind of retro-ish power pop.
-This is one of the times they don’t use the regular musical guest stage. I think this is just on the other side of the main set that the regular stage is on.
SKETCH: LONELY OLD LADY
-Dared by her friends, a little girl (Gail Matthius) comes face-to-face with the scary old lady that lives alone in the neighborhood (Ellen Burstyn).
-Easily the non-Eddie Murphy highlight of the night, and one of 1980-81′s few outright victories, with a throwback to the semi-dramatic pieces of Marilyn Suzanne Miller. This one had a mix of gentle humor (the old lady’s story about her son wanting to be a robot for Halloween but her hearing “rabbit”, the little girl’s misconceptions of the old lady) with some of the saddest moments in a SNL sketches (particularly brutal: the lady going to the door and asking “someone there?” Burstyn sells the hell out of those two words).
-Gail Matthius’s little girl in the bunny outfit was very Gilda-esque, right down to the phrasing. This is one time when I would say that a comparison is apt, and favorable.
A definite improvement over the infamous Malcolm McDowell show. While a lot of the material wasn’t amazing, there weren’t any huge missteps (at its worst, Pepe Gonzales was just dull) and the cast and writers were able to come up with a more consistent show. Burstyn was a decent host who didn’t have to do a lot of heavy lifting but had a few good moments. Joe Piscopo seems to be getting bolder and developing more of a connection with an audience. The Old Lady sketch is a highlight of the season. But the real story of this week is Eddie Murphy’s Weekend Update debut, which had a boldness and confidence that stood out among the other cast members, still begging to be accepted as the new faces of the show.
-Saturday Night Sports segment on Weekend Update with Raheem Abdul Mohammed
-Lonely Old Lady
-What’s It All About
-Our Front Door
CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN:
Denny Dillon: 6 appearances [Ed McMahon School of Laughing, What's It All About, Our Front Door, Planned Parenthood, The Lesson, The Toni Tenille Show]
Gilbert Gottfried: 4 appearances [What's It All About, Weekend Update, Our Front Door, Pepe Gonzales]
Gail Matthius: 6 appearances [Ed McMahon School of Laughing, Video Date, Our Front Door, Planned Parenthood, Blame The Kids, Lonely Old Lady]
Joe Piscopo: 4 appearances [Ed McMahon School of Laughing, Video Date, Weekend Update, Our Front Door]
Ann Risley: 4 appearances [Ed McMahon School of Laughing, The Lesson, The Toni Tenille Show, Blame The Kids]
Charles Rocket: 6 appearances [Going Co-Op, Ed McMahon School of Laughing, The Rocket Report, Weekend Update, Our Front Door, Blame The Kids]
Yvonne Hudson: 1 appearance [The Toni Tenille Show]
Mitchell Kriegman: 1 appearance [Blame The Kids]
Eddie Murphy: 1 appearance [Weekend Update]
Patrick Weathers: 1 appearance [Our Front Door]
The SNL Band: 2 appearances ["United Together", "Can't Turn You Loose"]
Ellen Burstyn: 5 appearances [Monologue, What's It All About, Planned Parenthood, The Lesson, Lonely Old Lady]
Aretha Franklin: 2 appearances ["United Together", "Can't Turn You Loose"]
Keith Sykes: 1 appearance ["B.I.G. T.I.M.E."]
January 31, 1981
Additional screen captures from this episode not posted above are available here.