***** – Classic
**** – Great
*** – Good / Average
** – Meh
* – Bad
COLD OPENING: GAIL & ELLIOTT & CHARLES & ANN & JOE & GILBERT & DENNY
-Elliott Gould wakes up in bed with the new SNL cast and regales them with tales of the original cast and their drug use.
-This confronts the “legend” of the original five years head-on and it did have some moments. It served its purpose as a way to introduce the new cast one-by-one and also worked as a shout-out to Gould’s role in “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice”.
-The actual “comparisons” were interesting…for example, Gail Matthius was a Jane Curtin/Gilda Radner cross, Charles Rocket was Chevy Chase/Bill Murray, Ann Risley was Laraine Newman/Gilda, etc. Gilbert Gottfried got the funniest one just because it seems so improbable now: John Belushi / “that guy from last year who did Rod Serling, nobody remembers his name” (Harry Shearer).
-In a way, though, this was a mistake because not only were the cast set up as replacements for the originals, they were also pigeonholed into roles that may not specifically fit their particular strengths. (Denny Dillon was more the Gilda of this cast than Ann Risley ever was). Apparently Jean Doumanian was inviting these comparisons behind the scenes, though…
-They tended to milk the whole “drug use at NBC” angle a bit too much but the audience enjoyed it, and there were some funny lines like Gene Shalit in an elevator all ‘luuded out. The whole Belushi coke-fiend bit seems a little less funny in retrospect.
-Denny Dillon has the honor of saying “Live From New York…” for the first time this season. She seems genuinely excited to do it.
-The montage this year is videotaped as opposed to filmed, and was done by Dolphin Productions, whose other work includes some early computer-animation station IDs. Lights in still pictures are animated to shine, and there are paintover transitions between each picture. Still photos of the main cast appear in front of a white background with small black dots on a grid, with a black band featuring the castmember’s name in lowercase white letters animated to appear over the second still in the sequence. Featured players do not appear in the montage yet.
-There is a brand new theme song this year. I always thought it was a good opening theme and one of the catchier ones the show’s used.
-“Comedy magician” Mel Croft is announced as a special guest during the montage but does not actually appear.
-Elliott Gould explains how he’s honored to host the first show of the new season as SNL is like home to him. He proceeds to show something very special to him: his collection of old diapers and underwear. He finds a fellow collector in new cast member Denny Dillon.
-I liked the home base set this season (somewhat of a Grand Central motif, similar to the 2003-present set), with the working elevator and the staircase. They never seemed to really use the elevator for the entrance, though. In this show, the elevator comes down empty and Gould races down the stairs to open the door and “pretend” to come out of the elevator.
-Elliott’s line of how SNL is always like home to him may have been a way to try to legitimize the new cast but it seemed to backfire, and it came off as a backhanded compliment more than anything. Gould also invites comparison to the original cast again when he makes a brief mention of dressing as a Bee (getting a laugh from the audience).
-The “meat” of the monologue, Gould showing off his underwear collection, really doesn’t seem to have much of a point to it aside from forced crudeness. When he pulls out the especially dirty pair (the one he wore before learning you have to change your underwear), I heard a hiss from the audience. The sniffing was a bit much.
-Denny Dillon makes a second appearance as herself tonight and is getting more of an established personality on the show. This appearance really does seem something like Gilda would do in the original cast.
COMMERCIAL: HIGHWAY EDUCATION
-Drivers now have the option of reading on their journey thanks to books posted on sequential roadside signs a la Burma Shave.
-Walter Williams (of Mr. Bill fame) directed this commercial parody, which was very well done and clever. The audience seemed to think so too.
-The actor who played the truck driver looks familiar…is he the same guy who plays the network president in the Virgin Search film?
SKETCH: WHITE HOUSE
-Rosalynn (Ann Risley) and Amy (Denny Dillon) try to cheer up a depressed Jimmy Carter (Joe Piscopo) by telling him losing the election was a good thing. Rosalynn, in particular, is glad Jimmy can finally let out those lustful thoughts…
-This had an okay concept, but here is where it seems to be relying more on outrageousness than actual humor, from Jimmy Carter being described urinating in the hallway to Carter actually saying he hated the Jews for not voting for him (you can hear the audience start to turn), not to mention the overt sexuality of the second part of the sketch.
-Denny Dillon seems to walk away with this sketch with her Amy Carter impression, getting the line I always remember from this sketch (cheerfully adding “Like the slaves!” when Rosalynn tells Jimmy that losing the election actually set him free), as well as “But mama, I wanna hear!” when Rosalynn starts getting hot and horny.
-Joe Piscopo did a decent Jimmy Carter impression, an early sign that he would be the dominant impressionist in the years to come. Ann Risley did an adequate Rosalynn (not a particularly tough impression for her to do), but she seemed to be overselling the horniness.
-The ending fakeout with Jimmy walking out just short of doing it with Rosalynn on the desk to shoot Billy wasn’t great but it didn’t strike me as any worse an ending than usual.
-(Ann Risley’s) religious parents shame her and her live-in boyfriend (Elliott Gould) through a moralizing musical messenger (Charles Rocket).
-This sketch was written by Terry Sweeney according to an interview he did with Advocate.com.
-I always liked this sketch. The premise was a little thin but they kept it short and executed it well enough to make sure it was funny. Charles Rocket’s sketch debut (not counting the opening) is a little bit of a scenery-chewer, but I admit the exaggerated southern accent and intonation kind of made the sketch for me. (“Repent on your birthday, praise-uh JE-sus!”)
COMMERCIAL: AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY
-TV censorship hinders the spokesperson’s (Gail Matthius) demonstration of proper self-examination technique.
-Gail Matthius’ solo sketch showcase has the unfortunate distinction of having her flub one of her lines on air (“especially on taboo- an TV”). She acquits herself well after this but doesn’t have much to work with. It’s clear she is trying to make it work, though.
-Not particularly offensive unless you’re all up in arms about the implied toplessness. What’s more worrying is that this one joke doesn’t really go anywhere. Pardo’s ending voiceover about the “Service for Public Service Announcements” fell flat.
–[Addendum: This sketch was written by Patricia Marx, according to her interview with The Hairpin]
SHOW: WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT WITH PINKY AND LEO WAXMAN
-Talkative, Streisand-loving middle-aged Jewish couple Pinky (Denny Dillon) and Leo (Gilbert Gottfried) derails Elliott’s attempt to promote The Last Flight of Noah’s Ark on their cable access show.
-The first appearance of the Waxmans, who are the first potential recurring characters of the season. SNL message board reviewer TheLazenby mentioned that these sketches seem to be the spiritual predecessor to Mike Myers’ “Coffee Talk” sketches.
-Gottfried and Dillon have good chemistry here, and the audience is enjoying the sketch. It helps that they were developed enough with the mention of the daughter, and while the “talk show where the guest gets sidelined” would be done to death in later seasons (notably with “What Up With That”), there’s enough to make this worthwhile, particularly Gottfried’s “Who cares about Barbra Streisand? *ptui*” and not being aware there was a movie of M*A*S*H before the series. Also enjoyed Gottfried concluding Gould was “a very hostile man” when he started to bristle about not being allowed to speak.
-side note: the SNL band plays “Pick Up The Pieces” as the sketch fades out, a song that they would play quite a bit that year. A comment on the show’s situation, perhaps?
SHORT SHOT: “FOOT FETISH” – RANDAL KLEISER
-A student film by the director of “Grease” and “The Blue Lagoon” features stop-motion shoe sex on the beach.
-This was the best part of the whole night. Unlike the White House sketch, the film actually gets away with the raunchiness thanks to a good idea and clever execution.
-Once you realize what’s happening when the male shoe’s tongue pops out and the female shoe’s lace starts massaging it up and down, you have to wonder how it got past Standards and Practices. Maybe Bill Clotworthy just thought it was too funny not to air.
-in the transition to the musical guest intro, Gould is seen sniffing a shoe.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: “MISTER SOFTEE” – KID CREOLE & THE COCONUTS
-When I first saw this performance I thought it was a little too cheesy (at one point I described the band looking like Lou Bega with the Spice Girls as backup singers) but now I’ve come to appreciate how good Doumanian’s musical guest instincts were. Very tight and dynamic performance.
-This isn’t the regular SNL musical guest stage, which is a shame because I always liked the way this one looks better.
-According to IMDB, Coati Mundi (the bald guy playing the xylophone) was master of ceremonies at Charles Rocket’s NYC memorial.
WEEKEND UPDATE WITH CHARLES ROCKET
-best joke: Cary Grant/Chevy Chase, no frills sex.
-Most of the jokes in this edition were pretty bad, with some that were just pointless and unfunny (the rings of Saturn recording), some where you can see them try to be pointed at the recent conservative victory but come off as artless and mean-spirited, and some where they’re just being tasteless for tastelessness’ sake (the ethnic joke in the plane crash, the Anita Bryant joke which just died). Photo gags were pretty common too but those were no worse and no better than what came after for Brian Doyle-Murray’s SNL Newsbreak. According to writer Ferris Butler, Doyle-Murray was in charge of WU that year so that may explain that.
-Don Pardo introduces tonight’s edition by referring to Rocket as “Charlie Rocket”. Rocket then says “Good evening, I’m Charles Rocket”. If this was supposed to be a running gag (I think it was because Gottfried and Rocket do the same thing later on) it wasn’t best way to warm the cast to a new Weekend Update anchor.
-Gail Matthius’ remote with Piscopo as an unknowingly-defeated John B. Anderson was actually pretty funny, largely thanks to Piscopo’s impression. I’m still trying to identify a lot of the extras in this bit because I’m not familiar with what a lot of the writers from that season look like compared to the other eras. If anyone has any idea who some of the people are please comment. (I think I see longtime SNL extra Andy Murphy behind the gate and talent booker Neil Levy with the camera, though). [Addendum: 1980-81 writer Ferris Butler identified the people in the screengrab above: Kenny Vance (music director) is the tall man with the sunglasses behind Piscopo, the shorter brunette woman is Mary Pat Kelly (associate producer), and the tall redhead on the far right is Liz Welch (talent coordinator). He also remembers the man in the blue jacket as Dennis, but not his last name. Dennis appears in other sketches and has a speaking role in one.]
-Charles Rocket’s “Rocket Report” is the highlight of this Weekend Update and one of a few for this show as well. You can see Rocket is fully in his element in these segments, and is considerably more engaging here than behind the Update desk, which is ironic considering Rocket’s actual experience as a local TV news anchor. The audience thought so too because there was a huge wave of applause at the very end of the film, but as the live segment continued, the laughs became more and more sporadic.
-The segment with the old lady talking about the youngsters gathering around the building seeking autographs took on a more chilling subtext in the wake of John Lennon’s murder.
-On that topic, this episode was one of the few Doumanian-produced shows to get a network rerun. Since the rerun aired after Lennon’s murder, I assume they would have taken this segment out. I wonder what they would have filled the time with.
-The segment where Barry Grosscup (Gilbert Gottfried) explains that President-elect Reagan is already dead had a silly enough concept that I liked (particularly the photos of “dead” Reagan) but wasn’t able to expand on the premise enough. It ran out of steam when it got to the point about the young Welsh actor in makeup playing Reagan, which seemed little more than a vehicle for the punchline about “some actor” being the president.
SHOW: AT ONE WITH
-Sgt. Steve Brick (Joe Piscopo) demonstrates homosexuals’ fitness to serve in the military with a member of The Gay Brigade (Charles Rocket).
-Another good showcase for Piscopo and Rocket and one of the funnier bits of the night, despite the groan-worthy nature of some of the jokes. You can hear an audience member go “no!” when they reveal the brigade is stationed at Fort Dix.
-I’m surprised they got away with “I won’t go down on anyone / Uncle Sam is the only one” during the march.
-Gould seems to be the outsider here, filling in another “nothing” part from a writing staff that didn’t have the benefit of familiarity with his strengths on SNL to be able to utilize him better. He seems to be a little off here.
-Great callback to the Weekend Update joke about Cary Grant suing Chevy Chase for referring to him as a “homo”.
FILM: “HEART TO HEART” – MITCHELL KRIEGMAN
-Mitchell can’t shake the feeling that his girlfriend’s changed over their relationship.
-The first of three short films by SNL writer Mitchell Kriegman, who later went on to create “Clarissa Explains It All”. It was more of a “cute” idea but he managed to execute the changing of the actress between cuts quite skillfully, to the point that several viewers including myself completely missed the first change.
MISCELLANEOUS: SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE ALL SPORTS NETWORK
-Joe Piscopo presents the Nose Wrestling championship fight between James-James Walker (Charles Rocket) and Scotty Buchman (Elliott Gould).
-The first appearance of Joe Piscopo’s sports commentator persona, played straight and much more subdued here as opposed to his eventual evolution towards more energetic, clipped short sentences.
-This is more an idea played for the concept than actual hard laughs but Gould and Rocket (and referee Gottfried) committed to the dialogue-less action well.
-Thought the line about the sport being previously dominated by Italians and Jews was a little cheap.
-Apparently, the tall brunette model extra in the blue t-shirt is a young Wendie Malick. Definitely looks like her going by the face alone. Andy Murphy, the old man extra, is visible. Looks a little like Neil Levy with the camera again.
SKETCH: THE DATE
-Forty year old Mark (Elliott Gould) has a particularly uncomfortable dinner date with teenage Valley Girl Vickie (Gail Matthius).
-Here’s where the show starts to drag. Gail Matthius would have better Vickie sketches once they paired her off with Denny Dillon as a foil.
-It doesn’t work either as a slice-of-life, softer relationship sketch or as a more “played for laughs” piece. Part of it is a lack of chemistry with Gould, but also the premise is a little odd (is it ever explained why these two are on a date together?). It ends quite awkwardly as well.
-Matthius did get a few good lines, particularly here delivery on “Ohhh. *pause* Wow” after Gould explains the difference between his securities and the burglar alarms she thought he dealt in.
SKETCH: THE ACCORDIAN KILLER
-Chuck Levinto (Charles Rocket) kills his dates with polkas as the police (Gilbert Gottfried and Elliott Gould) try to stop him.
-This segment felt a little underwritten to me. There was the silliness to the whole concept that worked in its favor and a nice punchline with the bagpipe players being used against the killer, but it seems like there wasn’t enough development of the idea beyond that. The police station scenes between the killer scenes don’t really mesh too well.
-Gilbert Gottfried can be seen in the glass of the door waiting for his cue at the very beginning.
-One thing I noticed about this season is that they had a lot more use of the cast’s real names in sketches, for example, Gail Matthius playing a character named “Gail” in this sketch, and Charles Rocket playing a “Chuck”.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: “THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD GO I” – KID CREOLE & THE COCONUTS
-This is a cover of a song by August “Kid Creole” Darnell’s prior band, the funk disco outfit Machine, in a completely different arrangement. Well performed like the first song.
-Gould seems pretty pissed off/annoyed in his introduction.
SHORT SHOTS: “GIDGETTE GOES TO HELL” – JONATHAN DEMME
-A music video for Suburban Lawns’ new wave song in which a surfer girl gets eaten by a shark.
-Amusing novelty. The audience responded to the shark fin.
-The sound seems pretty muffled on the film. More an issue with the show’s telecine and sound system than anything I think.
COMMERCIAL: SPEED LISTENING
-A cultured speedreading enthusiast (Denny Dillon) listens to the great music in little time with little effort.
-Good, simple idea that was executed pretty well. My favorite part was all the pop songs with one-second “speed listening” lengths, except for “Stairway To Heaven” (2 seconds) and the inclusion of Manilow in the list of “great composers”.
-There seems to be a bit of an error with the graphic, where they had the second disc advertised of pop music from the 1950s to today but the graphic shows an EP or single of the complete works of several composers that were already name-checked in the main “World’s Great Music” album.
-Elliott Gould introduces each individual cast member by their first name, and says “We’re gonna be around forever…”
-Mama Coconut (Lori Eastside?) puts a hula hoop over Elliott’s head.
-Credits cut off early in the original broadcast for an NBC promo for the season premiere of “The Facts Of Life”. What I find funny is that they’re still emphasizing the show being a spinoff of Diff’rent Strokes at this point when that was actually the episode that started the retooled format that added Jo to the cast.
A mixed bag for the opening show of the season. Rule number one of SNL is that the season premiere is not necessarily the best show of the season to begin with but it should set the tone for the season. There are several things to be impressed with, but a lot of the best material was outside material (the “Short Shots”, former SNL writer Walter Williams’ education film). The cast still seems to be finding their way (which would be rougher going once the attack dogs went out) but showing signs of promise. The writing has a tendency towards thin premises stretched too far and good ideas that are underdeveloped, but the things that really don’t work are the ethnic jokes and general raunchiness, which seem to be awkwardly shoehorned in at times for the sake of competing with “Fridays”. The negative response to the show is a bit much, though. Once the atmosphere started to sour, though, it would permeate the sketches.
-The Rocket Report segment on WU.
-At One With
-What’s It All About
-Most of the Weekend Update jokes
Denny Dillon / Joe Piscopo
CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN:
Denny Dillon: 6 appearances [Gail & Elliott…, Monologue, White House, What’s It All About, Weekend Update, Speed Listening]
Gilbert Gottfried: 5 appearances [Gail & Elliott…, What’s It All About, Weekend Update, All Sports Network, The Accordian Killer]
Gail Matthius: 5 appearances [Gail & Elliott…, American Cancer Society, Weekend Update, The Date, The Accordian Killer]
Joe Piscopo: 5 appearances [Gail & Elliott…, White House, Weekend Update, At One With, All Sports Network], 1 voice-over [Speed Listening]
Ann Risley: 5 appearances [Gail & Elliott…, White House, Billy-Gram, The Date, The Accordian Killer]
Charles Rocket: 6 appearances [Gail & Elliott, Billy-Gram, Weekend Update, At One With, All Sports Network, The Accordian Killer]
Mitchell Kriegman: 1 appearance [Heart To Heart]
Andy Murphy: 2 appearances [Weekend Update, All Sports Network]
Elliott Gould: 8 appearances [Gail & Elliott…, Monologue, Billy-Gram, What’s It All About, At One With, All Sports Network, The Date, The Accordian Killer]
Kid Creole & The Coconuts: 2 appearances [“Mister Softee”, “There But For The Grace Of God Go I”]
January 3, 1981
Additional screen captures from this episode not posted above are available here.