You know what’s awesome? Watching Michael Palin trying to shove two cats into his pants at the same time. Actually “awesome” doesn’t begin to do justice to that stunt. And these are no doped-up kittens or anything. We’re talking two full-sized, adult cats going down Palin’s trousers simultaneously. The cats were understandably none too pleased about the journey. No animals may have been harmed in the making of today’s episode of Saturday Night but two cats were mightily irritated, if not downright apoplectic. I hope Palin was wearing a protective cup and the cats were declawed. Otherwise he was in for a whole world of genital pain.
That glorious event occurred early in the show, during Palin’s monologue. Palin came out as his manager, a Cockey carny type who apologized for Palin’s lateness, then discoursed on the various C-list acts he represented and talked about how developing variety acts helped pass the time during WWII. But it was all just a preamble to the glorious, glorious moment when Palin had two monumentally annoyed felines shoved down his slacks. The cat lover in me said, “No! Those poor, poor cats! They are so not going to like that!”, the comedy geek in me was all, “Yes! This is awesome. There is no way they could get away with something like that today without invoking the wrath of Cat Fancy (you do not want to fuck with those people)". Then the Arnold Jackson inside me was all, “Whatchu talking bout, Willis?”
It was the show’s second terrific bit in a row. The cold open spoofed Vannessa Redgrave’s controversial, pro-PLO Oscar acceptance speech by having Jane Curtin’s dead-on Redgrave accept the Oscar, attacks evildoers everywhere, then hand the spotlight over to her good friend Yasir Arafat (John Belushi) who in turn hands it over to Garrett Morris’ Anwar Sadat, who then hands it over to Dan Aykroyd’s Jimmy Carter, who scolds an earlier Oscar winner for using his Oscar bully pulpit to thank his collaborators. “I’m sick and tired of people using The Academy Awards to recognize achievement in the field of motion pictures.” grouses Aykroyd. It’s a funny, savvy satire that pushes the strident awards show sermonizing of show-biz lefties to a ridiculous extreme.
Though I quite liked Sean Penn and Dustin Lance Black’s Oscar-night pleas for acceptance and the repeal of prohibitions against gay marriage it was a sketch that nevertheless felt timely and evergreen.
Not surprisingly, the episode had a distinctly Monty Pythonesque bent, especially an agreeably absurd sketch with Palin as an escape artist/actor who has himself locked inside a trunk that is then hauled onto the set of a production of The Seagull so he can escape in time for his character’s entrance. It was an awfully long, involved set-up but the sight of Palin writhing around in a sheet on the ground while Bill Murray and Jane Curtin attempt to perform a straight version of Checkov was very funny. Murray, who by this point had grown into a fairly polished performer after a rocky, flopsweat-addled and fuck-up-ridden start, was clearly struggling to hold back laughter as Palin writhed and contorted at his feet.
Palin and the drug references beloved by early SNL writers and viewers take center stage in a clever Sherlock Holmes parody that casts the Pythoner as a coked-up super-detective driven half-mad with paranoia and sleeplessness and so coked out of his gourd that he’s flummoxed by the appearance of a blood-soaked handkerchief with the initials S.H on it. The show also showcased the song stylings of former Chi-Lites frontman Eugene Record, resplendent in a cotton candy pink suit with a giant butterfly collar, a big bushy mustache and a feathery perm. It’s a look only a seventies soul star could pull off. Record performed “Have You Seen Her” and indulged in one of my pet R&B tropes—the long, drawn out spoken word intro that makes you wonder if the singer will ever get around to actually singing.
Dan Aykroyd—who Eric Idle famously praised as the only other comic performer worthy of being in Monty Python—was particularly sharp here, excelling as a grim IRS auditor investigating Palin’s Priest and as the Jack Webb-like announcer of “Danger Probe”, a Dragnet spoof involving an altercation between Palin’s eighteenth century fop and a pair of roughneck greasers, one of whom was played by a tattooed, sideburns-sporting Senator Franken (I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to those words).
Palin also played a lecherous piano teacher opposite Gilda Radner and Bill Murray’s Nerds. The Nerds are a one-joke bit whose joke inexplicably hasn’t worn out its welcome yet because of the love and affection Murray and Radner bring to the characters.
The problem with opening with two killer segments is that the leave no place to go but down. Accordingly, the show wasn’t able to sustain the comic inspiration of its opening bits but it was nevertheless an extremely funny, solid show. It’s always a pleasure watching the very different but complementary universes of Monty Python and early Saturday Night Live unite to form a Voltron of comedy-geek awesomeness. At the risk of being controversial that Palin guy proved himself to be a pretty swell sketch-show performer.
—Eugene Record has to rank among the most obscure musical guests on the show to date.