Classic SNL Review: March 7, 1981: Bill Murray / Delbert McClinton (S06E12)

***** – Classic
****   – Great
***     – Good / Average
**       – Meh
*         – Bad

-Bill Murray advises the cast not to worry about the negative reviews and comparisons to the original show.
-This was the first time the show openly acknowledged the bad press that they’ve been getting all season.  Later seasons with bad publicity tended to sour the mood of the show whenever they referred to how bad the show was, but I didn’t get that feeling from this opening.  While Murray does in a way playfully validate a bit of the criticism (Rocket copying Murray, Gottfried’s sad-sack demeanor), bringing up the criticism only to adopt an attitude of “it just doesn’t matter” helped a lot.
-A lot of the credit for the success of this segment rightfully belongs to Bill Murray, who just has a way of infusing a scene with energy.  The audience cheers the loudest it has all season for the Live From New York line here.
ADDENDUM: The whole cold opening is a reference to a scene in Meatballs, right down to the shirt Murray is wearing.

-A manic Bill Murray has the band play the theme again and picks up an audience member, nearly dropping her on her head.  Eddie Murphy rushes out to stop him, and the two declare themselves a new Pryor and Wilder by declaring “we bad”.
-Right away, Murray brings the energy in what is easily the most memorable of the season 6 monologues.  Murphy and Murray play off each other well, with laughs from Murphy saying “we terrible, gimme 15!” and dismissing Murray’s suggestion of the two doing an Irish jig as “bad and dangerous”.
-Murray is the first host to enter the home base set through the elevator instead of the stairs; the only time the elevator had been used all season was in the Gould monologue (he still used the stairs) and in the Handgun Association commercial from the Karen Black show.

-New Jersey chemical plant worker Paulie Herman (Joe Piscopo) is proud of his job and of where he’s from.
-I liked this a bit better than the other Paulie Herman bits this season for some reason; maybe its just that the pre-filmed aspect took a bit of the edge of his irritating qualities or that the character worked better in a documentary context.
-Nice little sight gag there with Paulie talking about how lunch tastes better at the plant before a bunch of white powder spills from his hat onto his food.

-While a writer (Bill Murray) makes revisions to his script, actors performing the scene behind him struggle to keep up with the changes.
-This was such a simple idea, but still so clever and so well done, that it’s a highlight of the season.  This escalated nicely and had a good ending.
-While Murray was the perfect choice to serve as the anchor of the piece, special mention has to go to the castmembers involved: they do all the comic business and mix their “performances” as Murray’s characters with great reactions to the last-minute changes he makes.   There’s a sense of fun to their performances here that seemed absent through a lot of the last few shows, especially the part where Matthew Laurance and Ann Risley struggle to hold their pose.
-I especially thought Risley had a good part in this, as the actress who is either removed from the scene or forced to be the pitiful, sickly maid.
Addendum: Ferris Butler informed me that this was a Billy Brown and Mel Green piece.

-Just-retired Walter Cronkite (Bill Murray) alarms wife Betsy (Denny Dillon) and Dan Rather (Joe Piscopo) with his obsessive experiments in drugs and isolation chambers.
-I have to give credit for the interesting concept (a parody of Altered States with Walter Cronkite) as well as the topicality of this sketch (this original aired the day after Cronkite’s last day as CBS Evening News anchor), even if it did stetch on a little long.  I still thought it was fairly well done if not hilarious, and ended on a strong note (with Cronkite turning into a test pattern).
-The trip sequences, while well-done, did feel a little like padding (although with excellent music choices, including Frank Zappa’s Uncle Meat Variations).  I’ve never been a fan of Piscopo’s Dan Rather, but Murray carries the whole piece anyway.
-One thing I noticed about 1980-81 is that they always seemed to try to squeeze in three segments between commercial breaks, excluding musical guests and Weekend Update, and usually not really late in the show.   I think the emphasis on doing a lot of shorter material ended up hurting the season in the long run: although longer sketches have the danger of seeming indulgent or tedious, a lot of the time I’ve been seeing underdeveloped ideas, and packing the show with so many sketches seems to make them seem longer.

-Bill Murray introduces McClinton as someone who once sang with Jake Blues, and mentions Bonnie Bramlett joining him tonight.
-Tight and energetic performance of McClinton’s only Top 40 hit, with SNL Band members Ronnie Cuber, Lou Marini, Alan P. Rubin and Tom Malone playing alongside regular McClinton saxman Robert Harwell.

-The news segment gets another major overhaul for the third time this season, split into three shorter segments spaced throughout the show’s middle third: no Pardo voiceover introducing any of the segments.
-This was amusing and kept short; it reminds me of the Dr. Jack Badofsky segments Tim Kazurinsky would do in the following seasons: both featured a guy with an exaggerated nerdy voice displaying jokes on cards.
-Too many places list this Mark King as the same one that was in Level 42; this is the Mark King appeared on Cheers about two seasons later as a nerdy scientist character Carla fools into thinking he’s the father of her baby.

-Autograph seeking girls (Denny Dillon and Gail Matthius) find that Dr. J., Sammy Davis, Jr. (Eddie Murphy), John Kenneth Galbraith (Joe Piscopo) and Roman Polanski (Gilbert Gottfried) have adopted “ChapStick” as their surnames.
-This is a spoof of the ChapStick commericals (“Suzy ChapStick” is the best known example, but the version with “Dr. ChapStick” was airing at this time; this is a parody of that commercial).  I chuckled at the absurdity of the girls getting excited over Galbraith, but the Roman Polanski part with the girls going in with him just felt a little tasteless (though I though Matthius wailing “Roman Polaaaaanskiiiiiii” was funny).
-Who was playing Julius Erving?

-Murray bringing back his “Oscar Nominations” board for the fourth year in a row went over well with the audience, and after his usual “nobody cares” remark about supporting actors.
-More notable for the sentimental quality of nominating his former castmates than anything funny, although the big “Caddyshack” magnet slapped on the board for Best Picture was funny.

-Aboard a riverboat paddling down the Mississippi, lounge singer Nick (Bill Murray) and pianist Paul Shaffer entertain a crowd including a former hostage (Yvonne Hudson) and some Mary Kay representatives (Denny Dillon and Gail Matthius).
-Another sentimental favorite brought back.  Murray carries this, and he and Shaffer get the audience going with their version of “Celebration”.
-Neil Levy plays the magician at the beginning, and costume designer Karen Roston can be seen among the lounge patrons, as can Patrick Weathers.

Best joke: Welles / Winters
-Still nothing great, but Rocket seems comparatively toned down this week, despite still adopting a Bill Murrayesque delivery.  I wonder how this would have played out if they kept him on.
-Piscopo’s bit seemed a little weaker than usual.  Dom Irrera and Dennis the recurring extra are the two hockey players.  Rocket pokes fun at his F-bomb in the last show by asking “Did you say Puck?”

-A florist (Bill Murray) tries to find just the right flower for an exacting customer (Brian Doyle-Murray).
-This was directed by the show’s associate producer, who was Murray’s sister-in-law at the time; Murray’s then-wife is credited with the idea for the short.
-I thought this one had a good payoff, and it looked and sounded significantly better than a lot of the films that ran this year.  Very nice use of tight closeups.
-This was shot at the Associated Cut Flower Company on West 28th St. in New York; incidentally, they are wholesale only and do not sell to retail customers as depicted in the film
-Looks like Dennis the recurring extra is in here as well (he’s the first person you see in the film).

-Despite leaving Bendix for Seagram’s, Mary Cunningham (Gail Matthius) still can’t get away from executives making suspiciously specific denials that they sleep with her.
-This is another topical sketch based on a real story at the time: Mary Cunningham resigned from a corporate position at Bendix due to speculation that she was promoted because of a relationship with the CEO, and had just gotten a new position at Seagram’s at the time of the show’s original airing.
-Basically a one-joke premise, with the executives all denying affiars, but decent performances from all (Rocket seems very reigned-in), especially Matthius with her non-verbal mortified reactions.  Gottfried (as the janitor) gets the biggest laugh from me with his “I think she’s frigid” comment after his denial.
-Dennis the recurring extra is Jim Deacon, and has one line (“No”).

-Frustration rises as Richard (Bill Murray) and Marilyn (Ann Risley) struggle to remember the name of their friend Ron’s (Matthew Laurance) cat.
-This feels like a sketch that could play in any season, largely getting laughs from how universal the situation would be.  Murray gives good energy and carries the whole scene, but I also thought Risley did alright here.  I wonder how she would have played if she was used more like Kristen Wiig was in the earlier years of her tenure.
-One observation: they establish it to be a female cat earlier on but the name ends up being Herman.

-A more laid-back tune this time.  Good performance from McClinton and Bramlett.

-Divorced couple Bubba (Bill Murray) and Fayetta (Denny Dillon), still sharing their laundromat after marriage has ended, snipe each other about their new significant others.
-A slower character piece that has some surprising emotional moments towards the end: good work from both leads here.

-Bill Murray announces that next week’s show will be Robert Guillaume with Ian Dury & The Blockheads, and apologizes to the old cast for appearing on the show.
-The cast gives him a one-sided group hug.  Murray seems more interested in bonding with Murphy, who hugs Patrick Weathers as well.  Charles Rocket wears horrific pink pants.
-No Don Pardo credit voiceover; judging by the runtime of the Comedy Network version, the show must have run long and had the goodnights cut off on original broadcast.

Final Summary:
The Jean Doumanian era ends on a high note; while Karen Black’s show had a few more peaks, Murray brought an energy that seemed to erase the combination of defeat and panic that lingered over the last few shows.  Rocket’s over the top tendencies were reigned in, Risley seems to find her niche, and everyone seems to be having fun again.  The reduction in the number of sketches seems to have also helped tonight.  Most importantly, I didn’t have a feeling of “this may be our last show”; if the show had continued with the same cast, writers and producer, I wonder if they would have come up with for Guillaume / Dury.  NBC would fire Doumanian the next week, and when the show returned the next month, Rocket, Risley and Gottfried were no longer in the cast, and the writing staff was now without Larry Arnstein & David Hurwitz, Ferris Butler, John DeBellis, Brian Doyle-Murray and Leslie Fuller.

-The Writer
-Nick Rivers
-Dressing Room
-Bubba’s Wash, Fayetta’s Dry

-Newsline (Rocket/Piscopo segment)

Bill Murray

Denny Dillon: 6 appearances [Dressing Room, The Writer, Altered Walter, ChapStick, Nick Rivers, Bubba’s Wash Fayetta’s Dry]
Gilbert Gottfried: 3 appearances [Dressing Room, ChapStick, No Sex With Mary]
Gail Matthius: 4 appearances [Dressing Room, ChapStick, Nick Rivers, No Sex With Mary]
Eddie Murphy: 4 appearances [Dressing Room, Monologue, ChapStick, Nick Rivers]
Joe Piscopo: 6 appearances [Dressing Room, Formula For The Good Life, Altered Walter, ChapStick, Newsline, No Sex With Mary]
Ann Risley: 3 appearances [Dressing Room, The Writer, Cat’s Name]
Charles Rocket: 4 appearances [Dressing Room, The Writer, Newsline, No Sex With Mary]

featured players [none credited in montage]:
Yvonne Hudson: 1 appearance [Nick Rivers]
Matthew Laurance: 3 appearances [The Writer, Altered Walter, Cat’s Name]
Patrick Weathers: 1 appearance [Nick Rivers]

Ronnie Cuber: 2 appearances [Monologue, “Giving It Up For Your Love”]
Lawrence Feldman: 1 appearance [Monologue]
Tom Malone: 2 appearances [Monologue, “Giving It Up For Your Love”]
Lou Marini: 2 appearances [Monologue, “Giving It Up For Your Love”]
Chris Palmaro: 1 appearance [Monologue]
Leon Pendarvis: 1 appearance [Monologue]
Karen Roston: 1 appearance [Nick Rivers]
Alan P. Rubin: 2 appearances [Monologue, “Giving It Up For Your Love”]
David Spinozza: 1 appearance [Monologue]
Buddy Williams: 1 appearance [Monologue]

Bill Murray: 9 appearances [Dressing Room, Monologue, The Writer, Altered Walter, Newsline: Arts & Leisure, Nick Rivers, Cut Flowers, Cat’s Name, Bubba’s Wash Fayetta’s Dry]
Delbert McClinton: 2 appearances [“Giving It Up For Your Love”, “Shotgun Rider”]
Bonnie Bramlett: 2 appearances [“Giving It Up For Your Love”, “Shotgun Rider”]
Mark King: 1 appearance [Newsline: Science Break]

Not repeated on NBC.

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.

2 thoughts on “Classic SNL Review: March 7, 1981: Bill Murray / Delbert McClinton (S06E12)

  1. I love these summaries of episodes from the non-Lorne years, especially the shrouded-in-mystery ’80-’81 season. Thanks for putting in the time to write them up!

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