Saturday Night Live (Classic): "Elliot Gould/The McGarrigle Sisters"
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Saturday Night Live (Classic): "Elliot Gould/The McGarrigle Sisters"

Elliot Gould was the ultimate seventies guy, a lanky, incorrigible smartass whose whole laconic vibe said "I'm just here for the party". He was the original Dude, just as The Long Goodbye was the original Big Lebowski. He was handsome in a quirky, non-threatening way that men and women found eminently approachable. In an age of everyday movie stars, he was a top box office attraction college kids could reasonably imagine sharing a bowl with.

As such, he was the quintessential New Hollywood leading man and a perfect Saturday Night Live host: already popular to the show's core audience, laid-back yet up for anything and a consummate trooper to boot. Heck, he was even adept at the old soft-shoe. It had become a tradition for Gould to kick off shows with a song and/or dance and today he outdid himself by performing "The Castration Walk", a long-forgotten dance song blessed with lyrics like "Well, I went to the Rabbi?and he sent me to the mohel.?But the mohel was clumsy?and he made me a goil!". Ah, they just don't make mohel jokes like they used to.

The Good: It was pretty much wall-to-wall goodness this time out. When I reviewed the Tina Fey-hosted return episode of Saturday Night Live a while back a commenter gave me shit for criticizing the choice of Carrie Underwood as musical guest. Wasn't she a popular and well-known singer, after all? What more did I expect at this point? I guess watching all these old Saturday Night Live has spoiled me. It's filled me with wistful longing for the days when the show was a tastemaker instead of a follower of ephemeral trends, when it would rather expose audiences to something new and exciting and authentic than simply book whoever had a hot single at the moment.

A good example would be tonight's musical guest, McGarrigle Sisters (or as they are perhaps better known today, Rufus Wainwright's mom and her sister). I can't imagine they were a big favorite of the Saturday Night Live audience but they delivered performances of absolutely heart-stopping beauty and crystalline clarity. "Heart Like a Wheel" and "Kiss & Say Goodbye" attained a sort of sad-folk rock majesty. Obviously SNL has to cater to its audience but if I can slap on my pie-eyed idealist hat for a moment here, it'd be neat if it still went out of its way to introduce fans to artists they should know instead of ubiquitous pop stars they're probably already sick of.

Today's episode was a straight up classic. On the recurring character front, the Coneheads returned for some yucks and we were introduced to Bill Murray's signature SNL character: Nick The Lounge Singer, a schmaltzy crooner shamelessly recycling show-biz clichés while ensconced in a bubble of protective self-regard. There's something hopelessly sad about the character and the rinky-dink show-biz world he represents, a sordid little universe of dumpy dives, cheap motel rooms and indifferent if not outright hostile audiences. The pathos came through in the sketch as strongly as the humor.

I'm rooting for Murray but he sure does make his share of mistakes. He stumbled all over himself during "You've Come A Long Way, Baby", a genius sketch about a public affairs show with the guts to finally speak up for an oppressed and stigmatized group: men. It does so by highlighting men's oft-overlooked contributions to fields like music, painting and cooking. To say the sketch was in questionable taste is an understatement: I can't imagine the show's current incarnation doing a bit about a rape hotline that caters to rapists (who, the sketch points out, face all kinds of hassles both from society and law-enforcement types). It was great idea brilliantly realized.

Other highlights include an especially funny and incisive "Weekend Update" with Bill Murray handling some of the gags and a brief yet indelible appearance by Gilda Radner as Howdy Doody's frenetic widow and an utterly creepy skit where face-transplant recipient Garret Morris has the face of a little white girl. Oh dear Lord is that a creepy image. Like, nightmare-inducingly creepy. Murray and Morris, the two most error-prone members of the cast, headline a trippy, funny skit about an ATM that fucks relentlessly with their minds.

The Bad: I know bag on Gary Weis a lot in these blog posts and I'm gonna do it again. Weis' short film fruitlessly juxtaposed Ray Charles singing "America The Beautiful with footage of sports fights to make the point that, like sports are fascists or something. I didn't think it was possible but Weis found a way to make grown men in ridiculous costumes beating the shit out of each other seem boring. Final Verdict: Saturday Night Live just doesn't get much better than tonight's episode, from a cold open where John Belushi's Leonid Brezhnev angles for a slot on NBC to a show-ending bit where Dan Aykroyd helped fill sixty seconds of air time by asking viewers for a specific part for his motorcycle (I'm guessing he wasn't joking). This season has had its ups and downs but today was pretty much all peaks. Grade: A Stray Observations– –Hey, I just got in season three on DVD. Sweet! –I'm seriously thinking of doing SNL Season 3 and SCTV once 30 Rock and The Office conclude for the season.

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