Murray, of course, would go on to become King Awesome, the inspiration for generations of melancholy smartasses while Chase is now widely viewed as history’s greatest monster. Considering the high spirits, insane competitiveness and drug abusage of the show’s early days it’s probably surprising that more conflicts didn’t explode into screaming matches and fistfights.
Chase was the instant superstar who’d gone Hollywood. Murray was the young Turk eager to prove himself and put Chase in his place. The gloves were off. While Billy Joel crooned onstage Murray and Chase got into a shouting match and then engaged in fisticuffs before while John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Michael O’Donoghue and Tom Davis tried to restrain them.
Murray may not have won that particular battle but he won the war. “Medium talent!” Murray shouted in a fit of rage, a snap judgment history would vindicate. Chase has called leaving Saturday Night Live the biggest mistake of his career, followed closely by everything he’s done over the last two decades.
It’s safe to assume that the melodrama behind the scenes was a whole lot more fascinating than what made it to the airwaves but the show, bad vibes and all, wasn’t bad at all. The episode begins with Chase reprising his Gerald Ford bumbler routine to comment on the Suez Canal. It was the same old shtick but it’d lost its potency. Was anybody really dying for Gerald Ford humor in 1978?
The show had moved on but Chase seemed stuck in the past. In his opening monologue Chase says what he misses most about Saturday Night Live is the applause of the audience, so he hits as many sure-fire applause generators as possible, shouting out just about every street corner and neighborhood in New York. It was a mildly amusing idea botched by bad timing and sleepy execution.
At his best, Chase radiated a sort of sublime Zen detachment, a too-cool-for-school deadpan understatement that later devolved into lazy sleepwalking. There is a thin line between savvy under-playing and just plain not trying Chase crossed more than once in today’s episode.
A machine-gun Dan Aykroyd commercial parody chased the monologue, followed by my favorite sketch of the day, an SCTV-style slice-of-life vignette with Chase and Gilda Radner as lovers stumblingly getting to know each other after sex. It’s a wryly observational bit where Radner tells a disappointed Chase that she doesn’t realize she’s had an orgasm until weeks or months later, explaining, “Well, you see, it's like this - I never really feel them immediately. It's sorta like they, uh..kind of store up, and then I feel them all at once, usually, on the first day of Purim. A lot of girls are like that.” The idea of storing up all your orgasms for the first day of Purim makes me happy.
It’s funny but it’s also tremendously observant, more than a little sad and even a little tender. It exposes a soft, vulnerable, seldom-explored sweet side of Chase. On “Weekend Update” Chase tricks Aykroyd into abandoning his post so he can take over for him and joins Emily Littela in calling Jane Curtin, the show’s foremost ice queen, a bitch.
Two subsequent sketches are rooted in comic obliviousness: Chevy Chase plays a neophyte customs official who hassles Garret Morris for TWB (traveling while black) while letting John Belushi and Laraine Newman board with a fur coat and suitcase all but exploding with Bolivian Marching Powder and Marijuana.
In a suspiciously similar later sketch, Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd play Nazi soldiers passing as Americans who answer Belushi’s questions about American culture vit thick Teutonic accents. “You can’t be too careful mit dose Krauts” empathizes Aykroyd.
Tonight’s episode marks the Saturday Night Live debut of an impossibly young, scruffy Billy Joel, who looks like a substitute teacher gone to seed in his sport jacket, tie and mountain-man beard as he performs “Only The Good Die Young” and “Just The Way You Are”. Joel hadn’t become a cliché yet. Neither had Chase, who peels back the fourth wall on the episode-ending “No Funny Ending” sketch.