So perhaps it should not come as a surprise that while today's episode has all the components of an all-time great–a legendary ringer well-versed in sketch comedy in the host slot, a legendary skit, a neat overarching premise that veers into SCTV territory, a performance of a Rutles song and a Gary Weis film that's actually both funny and clever–something about it feels just a little bit off.
Eric Idle, of An Alan Smithee Film: Burn, Hollywood, Burn and "Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python" fame, is the estimable ringer doing hosting duties while concomitantly leading a telethon to raise money for Great Britain alongside special guest the Queen (professional Queen impersonator Jeanette Charles). In his opening monologue, Idle explains that Great Britain has everything–culture, history, class, etc, etc–except money, something the U.S has in abundance. So the show doubles as an extended plea to raise money for our hapless former oppressors. It's an extraordinarily clever concept marred by shaky, intermittent execution.The Good: Titans, cultures and comic icons clash during a sketch lampooning Richard Nixon's famous marathon interview with David Frost, a historic meeting that inspired a Peter Morgan play that in turn inspired a forthcoming Ron Howard movie. Yes, Ron Howard movie). As Frost, Idle is all nervous, manic energy and endless self-congratulation while Aykroyd once again plays the preeminent heavy of American Presidential politics (pre-W at least) as a brooding, scowling sentient black cloud of a man. Aykroyd's Nixon subjects Idle's Frost to pointlessly elaborated childhood memories of eating cereal and similarly mundane pursuits but when he opens up about Watergate his entire sordid confession is bleeped out.
Though still a little shaky at times–an opening bit where he plays an imprisoned Irishman would have probably have been just a tiny bit more convincing if he didn't seem on the verge of a giggle fit–Murray continues to come into his own as a Not Ready For Primetime Player, most notably during a wonderfully warped "Weekend Update" monologue where he delves deep into traumatic childhood memories. Here's a clip.
Creepy, no? Yet somehow sweet at the same time. Other highlights include "Plain Talk", a skit where comic virtuosos Idle and Aykroyd (watching this episode it's easy to see why Idle has said that Aykroyd was the only comic performer he'd worked with worthy of being a Pythoner) talk absolute gibberish to each other, yet give it the rhythm and cadence of natural speech, Pootie Tang-style, and a sketch about an airplane where everyone is packing heat, a curious phenomenon that makes it awfully hard, if not impossible, for stewardess Laraine Newman to reject their requests, no matter how brazen or unreasonable. All this, plus Ron Nasty performing the Rutles classic "Cheese & Onions". Actually, looking back, there was a lot of funny stuff in this episode. Maybe I'm the one afflicted with Spring Fever.The Bad A sketch called "Heavy Wit Champion" turned on a groan-inducing bit of wordplay as boxers/humorists Idle and Belushi pummeled each other with one-liners, zingers and quips. It's a sketch that quickly wore out its welcome despite the brio and enthusiasm of the performers involved. And I really don't need to see another Emily Litella bit for as long as I live. Talk about the flagellating an expired equine contender. A parody of veddy British World II films that centers on a series of amusingly banal flashbacks, was tiresome, then kind of funny, then tiresome, then funny again. Final Summary: I originally gave this a B- but looking back, I realized I had underrated it. It's some solid, solid comedy but it had the potential to be downright transcendent. Of all the Monty Pythoners, Idle was the only one who seized on Saturday Night Live as both a great forum to introduce new characters and material (most famously The Rutles) to a big, receptive audience and as a way of sucking up to the future titans of American comedy. He's always struck me, and the rest of the world, as the most pragmatic of Pythoner, but his fling with early SNL was a win-win proposition for everyone involved, audiences included. Grade: B Stray Observations– –Well, it is official–I am definitely doing SCTV for TV Club Classic, starting with "Volume One" next week. As much as I love old SNL, I'm excited about doing something a little different –I'm still planning on covering "Saturday Night Live"'s third season but I might take a little break before plunging into it, as I'm feeling just a little burnt out on SNL –Did anyone see "Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python" onstage? Man, that was some depressing shit. Keith was so dispirited by it that he left during intermission. It was a little like Ringo Starr reuniting the cast of "Beatlemania" and trying to pass them off as The New, Improved Beatles. Idle sure did do a lot of tacky, tacky shit (An Alan Smithee Film, that atrocious cash-in Rutles sequel, "Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python) before Spamalot revived his career. –I'm sorry I didn't post a Saturday Night Live Classic TV Club post or a Silly Li'l Show-Biz Book Club entry last week. I was at my great uncle's funeral.