The problem, perhaps, is that Cavett seems far too convinced of his own cleverness. He boasts the self-satisfied smirk of someone forever enjoying a private joke at the world's expense, quite possibly one he shares with his good friends Woody and Groucho. I don't mean this as a diss. I like Cavett tremendously. I just habitually find him wanting in the yucks department.
Though he dabbles in acting, stand-up comedy, writing and even magic Cavett's true artform is the conversation. He is one of our culture's preeminent conversationalists. Throughout his venerable career, Cavett has tried to elevate the talk show from a cynical tool to sell ads for toothpaste and deodorant and publicize films and television into a sort of public salon for prominent intellectuals and artists. Sometimes he even succeeded.
Cavett became synonymous with both smart television and smarty-pants television so it's none too surprising he popped up fairly often during Saturday Night Live's early years. In today's episode however Cavett is merely a substitute for another man. As he apologetically explains in his opening monologue the show was supposed to be hosted by Elliott Gould but he dropped out, leaving Cavett to pick up the pieces. Maybe that's why today's episode feels so flat and uninspired.The Good: There isn't much in today's episode that's egregiously wrong but there isn't much that's egregiously right either. There isn't even much that's egregiously egregious. Incidentally, now might be a good time to admit that I've been receiving pay-offs from the National Society For The Advancement Of The Word Egregious. On the plus side I was strangely exhilarated to see Gilda Radner yelling "Live From New York it's Saturday Night Live for the very first time. She howls the words with a palpable sense of joy that's utterly infectious. All hail the dawn of the post-Chevy Chase era! Apart from that however the show's high points were few and far between. A fake commercial for "Puppy Uppers" and "Doggy Downers" was good for a laff and a half and Michael O'Donoghue's Least Loved Bedtime Story was both funny strange and funny ha-ha but mostly this was an episode full of amusing ideas limply realized or halfway funny conceits stretched beyond their breaking point. Even the musical guest, Ry Cooder, was a bit of a snooze. Early SNL trafficked pretty extensively in what I like to call XRT Rock after a Chicago radio station beloved by boomers: lots of sensitive scruffy, singer-songwriters with guitars and stories to tell. The Bad: A Gary Weis short film and an endless Franken and Davis bit? Boy I must have died and gone to time-filler heaven. Al Franken, God bless em, simply wasn't much of a performer in SNL early days. His bits always have a College talent show vibe to them. I can just imagine Franken and Davis hounding Michaels all week long for a chance to perform and being rebuffed week after week until something semi-calamitous happens and Michaels relents, throws up his hands and huffs "Fuck it, Gould's out. You can do your stupid fucking bit. It'll kill time as well as anything else I suppose".
Today's episode was a chockablock with bits that just didn't work, from a labored bee skit in which the earthy, ethnic bees are oppressed by the snooty, white bread WASPs to a mildly amusing but crazy padded John Dean Watergate skit where Aykroyd's Nixon tries to outwit Cavett's Dean with predictable results. A clearly mortified Jane Curtin stumbles her way through Weekend Update. It's not encouraging that her biggest laughs come from ad-libs after she looks into the wrong camera several times. Weis' short film about an old woman who runs a joke shop and shows off some of her wares somehow manages to be quirky and bland at the same time. No small feat.The Final Verdict: Today's show found the Not Ready For Prime Time Players suffering some serious growing pains. Cavett proves a game host but the jokes and laughs just aren't there and the cast seems to feel Chase's absence acutely. He was the show's franchise player up to that point and li'l Billy Murray hadn't yet come along to take his place so I'm going to give this bad boy points for effort and an overall Grade: C Stray Observations: –Is this a temporary downturn or does it bode ill for the season as a whole? –Does anyone know the full story behind Gould dropping out?