Saturday Night Live (Classic): "Karen Black/John Prine"
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Saturday Night Live (Classic): "Karen Black/John Prine"

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Saturday Night Live (Classic)

"Karen Black/John Prine"

Season 2, Episode 4
Opening segment: I wrote earlier that the cast and crew's resentment of Chevy Chase provides an endlessly fascinating subtext for the show's first and second season. In this brief cold open it officially went from subtext to text as Jane Curtin resentfully introduces the return of Chevy Chase (Yay! Hiss! Boo!) and John Belushi promptly rolls a dazed, wheelchair-bound Chase onstage with a Richard Widmarkian gleam of malice in his eyes. Sure enough, Belushi promptly pushes Chase and his wheelchair off the stage. Cue pratfall and "Live From New York It's Saturday Night!"

Monologue: I was warned by a commenter last week (well two weeks really,since I took last week off) that tonight's episode was trainwrecktastic. So I was pleasantly surprised by Black's performance. I'm starting to suspect that what people say on the internet may not, in fact, be one hundred percent reliable. In her monologue Black offered a satirical "history of motherhood" that doubled as a parody of the industrial revolution and the inexorable march of progress. But the real attraction of the monologue was a squirmy newborn babe intent on upstaging dear old mom. In blatant defiance of every parenting book known to man, Black held the baby up to her ear like a telephone, but not before it pawed hungrily at Black's bosom, earning nervous titters from the audience (pun at least partially intended). After taping I would imagine she probably had to fend off various cast-members and hangers-on hungrily pawing at her bosoms as well.

Host: Karen Black, who reigned as either one of the seventies' creepiest-looking sexy women or one of its sexiest creepy-looking women. Though she seemed a little spaced out Black acquitted herself nicely in a handful of skits and later offered a breathy, dramatic, surprisingly affecting version of the old Rodgers and Hart standard "10 Cents a Dance". She didn't elevate the show like an Eric Idle or Lily Tomlin (Steve Martin's first episode looms tantalizingly in our future next week) but she didn't embarrass herself, even in a dignity-unfriendly Catherine The Great/Mr. Ed spoof. Unlike a certain Raquel Welch she did not subject audiences to a wholly unnecessary and wildly incongruous dance number either. Good on you, the voluptuous horror of Karen Black.

The Good: Though Belushi seemed to be wrestling with a cold and seemed largely distracted the skits were largely, if not uniformly solid, from a fake-commercial for cupcakes guaranteed not to cause Cancer to a typically strong Carter/Ford debate skit where Chase's Ford goes through the entire skit with an unexplained hypodermic needle jutting out of arm. It's hard to believe that our fine country was once ruled by a man who wasn't particularly bright and constantly mangled the English language. In a riff on Carter's controversial Playboy interview (the one where he conceded that he had lusted in heart for other woman) Aykroyd's Carter tells Jane Curtin's pretty female journalist ""At this moment in my heart I'm wearing a leather mask and breathing in your ear". Having just seen Aykroyd don a leather mask in Exit To Eden that comment seemed eerily prescient. A seventies cop-show parody called A*M*I*S*H (an acronym for Active Moralists In Search of Harmony) was a supremely dumb idea smartly executed. The sequence where the rule-following trio patiently wait in line at the bank while pitch-perfect seventies cop-show wah-wah guitar plays in the background was fairly genius. Even the lesser skits had eminently quotable lines like "Three kings and a barber, not so bad" and "Here's a picture of the locusts raping my sister."

The Bad: Gary Weis' low-key slice-of-life bite-sized documentaries continue to be mildly amusing at best, dull as dishwater at worst. Here Weis sleepily trains his camera on a nightclub owner who discusses his wide assortment of nervous tics and tells a bad-taste anecdote involving one of his comedians absolutely killing before an audience made up entirely of "adult retarded people". An epic, episode-closing "musical tribute to coinage" appears to be little more than a time-waster until a final hilarious twist reveals that the whole exercise was nothing more than a way to get John Belushi to stop stealing spare change and much, much more from the good people of 30 Rock. ""The writers, actors, crew etc. have overlooked much of what John does outside the show out of respect for his privacy, and a genuine fear of his Rastafarian friends." goes a particularly brilliant onscreen graphic and it was kinda neat seeing Belushi battle his way through "One For My Baby". The Mr. Bill home movie is characteristically one-joketastic if mildly amusing.

Musical Guest: John Prine, the kind of musical guest that'd be unthinkable on SNL today: a seriously untrendy man accompanied by nothing more than an acoustic guitar singing literate, uncommercial folk songs while wearing a shirt that looks like ugly wallpaper. Today's SNL seem to be chosen by picking the name at the top of the RIngtones chart.

Weekend Update: Chase returns for more incisive political jokes and pop-culture non-sequiturs, as when he notes that "Pretty actress Leslie Caron, who created a sensation when she broke into films in Hollywood, had nothing really very interesting happen to her this week." There's also a callback to the last episode's running gag involving Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz's career-destroying remark that "the only thing the coloreds are looking for in life are tight p - - - - , loose shoes and a warm place to s - - -". This of course is horribly offensive. I mean, come on, who called Negroes "coloreds" back in '76? Free your mind, man, free your mind.

Final Verdict: All in all a solid episode that showcased the show's comic range, from deadpan absurdism to a Second City-style, character-based sketch with Dan Aykroyd as a high school geek and Jane Curtin as the unattainable prom queen who meet ten years later at a Woolworth's lunch counter (ah, the seventies) and find that nothing much has changed. Incidentally the A.V Club is always looking for new slogans and this skit introduced a real contender when Aykroyd fondly looks back on being "Captain of the Audio Visual Squad: seven guys who really gave a damn if the mikes had feedback in the gym and auditorium". Says it all, doesn't it?

Grade B+

Stray Observations–

-Someone inquired last week if this blog had been discontinued. All I can say is "Hell no!" I would never think of quitting something for something as minor as widespread indifference.

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