Dan Aykroyd got off to a rocky start as a “Weekend Update” co-anchor. For a virtuoso comic performer renowned for his precision and gift for rattling off reams of incredibly precise, technical material at a machine-gun pace he fucked up an awful lot, blowing lines, staring into the wrong camera and missing cue after cue. But with four simple words everything clicked into place. Those words of course are “Jane, you ignorant slut”. If I’m not mistaken they were uttered first in tonight’s episode of Saturday Night Live. They would go on to become nearly as beloved an SNL catchphrase as “You likea da juice?” Incidentally, I get all my information about the relative popularity of Saturday Night Live sketches from the walls of the Hub’s in my neighborhood. I sure as shit don’t see elaborate, hideous murals devoted to other recurring characters there.
The “Point/Counterpart” bit brilliantly ratchets up the tension, animosity and barely suppressed hostility of televised debates while eradicating everything else. Curtin and Aykroyd exchange vicious personal attacks but it was Aykoyd’s succinct putdown that captured the public imagination, rightly so.
The introduction of that iconic routine was a highlight of a show bursting with them. The show got off to a strong start with a delightfully droll Christopher Lee monologue about the decline of the horror genre as epitomized by such unpromising recent efforts as The Creature From The Black…Studies Program, Frankenstein Snubs The Wolfman and Dr. Terror’s House Of Pancakes. I suspect that that last frightfest took place next door to Dr. Tongue’s 3-D House of Stewardesses. Actually, this entire episode had a pleasing SCTV vibe. SCTV gravitated towards the tawdrier, tackier recesses of trash culture. With Lee as host tonight’s episode followed suit with a plethora of horror-themed sketches.
Lee proved a hilarious host with a dry, deadpan delivery that squeezed every last ounce of hilariosity out of the above gags. Lee managed to look dapper while sporting a handlebar mustache that would have looked ridiculous on anyone else, Rollie Fingers included. He was every bit the proper English gentleman. He preserved an aura of class and dignity no matter how silly things got.
Lee’s aristocratic aura was smartly exploited in a My Fair Lady sketch that found Lee’s Henry Higgins taking on his biggest challenge: transforming Gilda Radner’s Baba Wawa into a proper lady. Instead of taming Wawa and ending her abuse of the English language Wawa ends up corrupting her would-be mentor. It was a rather hacky, high-concept premise saved by inspired execution, especially the performances of Radner, Lee and Dan Aykroyd as Lee’s pal.
Lee later played a Van Helsing figure intent on preventing a great horror from being unleashed on an unsuspecting world: Richard Nixon’s memoirs. The Nixon-as-Dracula metaphor was brilliant and Aykroyd did a terrific job amping the creepiness of Tricky Dick’s mannerisms and Ed Sullivanesque body language to monster-movie proportions but the sketch was never as funny as it should have been.
Lee made for a simultaneously dashing, intimidating, pathetic and comic Grim Reaper in a clever, funny, sneakily philosophical sketch that found the death-dealer apologizing to a little girl (Laraine Newman) for killing her dog before venting at length about his unenviable job while stealing the occasional swig from his flask. It was a quietly perceptive sketch filled with great moments and quotable lines, like when Newman chastises him for killing all her pets and he grouses, “So I hate small animals! You can't blame me for that.”
In sharp contrast with Lee’s restraint, musical guest Meat Loaf was a whirling dervish of mad, coked-up energy. He didn’t sing “All Revved Up & No Place To Go” and “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” so much as he acted them out, selling the songs with exuberant shamelessness and playing-to-the-cheap seats showmanship. There’s always been a lot of Broadway in Meat Loaf; he’s perhaps the rock star most indebted to the theatricality and cornball storytelling of classic musicals. During Loaf’s performances I found myself thinking, “That gargantuan butterball is mere second away from a massive heart attack.”
Richard Belzer pops up late in the show to deliver an uneven, sometimes inspired set of goofy physical comedy that ends with an absolutely dreadful impersonation of Bob Dylan as an old Jewish man croaking out his hits with exaggerated Yiddish inflections. On an even more random note, Stacy Keach starred in one of Gary Weis’ patented “I thought this was funny when I was high and inexplicably got the green light to pursue my half-assed idea” short films, in this case a headscratcher in which Keach is attacked in slow-motion by a sexy woman with “Cold As Ice” as its soundtrack.
Tonight’s episode was all over the place but Lee was a delight and the highs were very high. I was particularly fond of a fake trailer for a horror film entitled “The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave” that cast John Belushi as a nightmare houseguest oblivious to his host’s repeated prompts for him to get going. It was a sketch with a solid foundation in reality: Belushi was notorious for overstaying his welcome and crashing at people’s houses randomly. He was affectionately called “America’s guest” due to his propensity for showing up at the doorsteps of strangers in the midst of epic benders and asking if he could crash on their couch and sleep off whatever drug happened to be coursing through his system at the time. Apparently very few people turned him away. I know I wouldn’t.