The jury is still out on a lot of the teenybopper-friendly recent Saturday Night Live hosts (I’m looking at you, Hugh Laurie) but many of the show’s early hosts brought an awful lot of iconic baggage with them, some good, some bad. But most left a fairly indelible mark on pop culture. That isn’t necessarily the case with journeyman actor Michael Sarrazin, who modest fame in the sixties and seventies thanks to movies like The Flim Flam Man and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, only to watch leading film roles dry up in the ensuing decades as he gravitated to television.
The last film Sarrazin appeared in was 2002’s Feardotcom, a film that has a curious place in my heart. A few years back I was eating breakfast at some sunny place in Beverly Hills and I couldn’t help but overhear the very loud, very deluded nearby conversation of the director of Feardotcom, who spoke of his film as reverently as if it was, I dunno, The Shining or Dr. Strangelove. He seemed to biding his time until he was asked to tour the world dissecting the nuances of Feardotcom with adoring international audiences.
Sarazzin did little to distinguish himself as host but today’s episode of Saturday Night Live was great all the same. And crazy idiosyncratic. Has any other episode ever devoted time to three extended jazz instrumentals? During musical guest Keith Jarrett’s performance the audience was spellbound. Or deeply bored. One of the two. While Jarrett performed you could hear a pin drop, as well as various audience members snoring.
Two jazz instrumentals would be more than enough for any other episode but today SNL ended things on a horn-heavy jazz freakout courtesy of Gravity. Audiences could be forgiven for mistaking today’s episode for a televised edition of NPR’s Piano Jazz.
Ah, but it wasn’t all about solo piano jazz. No, the episode roared out of the gate with a cold open in which Dan Aykroyd’s Jimmy Carter makes a modest proposal to fight inflation. Since inflation is caused in no small part by too much money in circulation Aykroyd/Carter asks Americans to do their part to take cash out of circulation by burning eight percent of their money. It was an incisive, succinct burst of political satire. Aykroyd was very clearly on the verge of corpsing (killing a sketch by laughing, other pseudonyms that would work are “Falloning”, “Sandlering” and “following in the footsteps of that fat sack of shit Horatio Santz when he kills the whole fucking show with his amateurish hyena-like braying”) the entire time but, ever the professional, never lets a goofy grin devolve into a giggle.
Sarrazin’s totally adequate monologue was followed by an endless yet shockingly funny sketch about a fake medical show called John Ramsey, VD Caseworker. In it, Sarrazin played Peter Fonda playing a compassionate VD educator who goes out of his way to inform promiscuous teen Laraine Newman’s boyfriend, family, school and community about her gonorrhea. It was a sketch that should have worn out its welcome quickly but somehow never ran out of steam, in part because of the performances of Aykroyd and Radner as Newman’s enraged parents. Aykroyd imbues a line like “How could you want to marry a girl you’ve had sex with? My mother once told me, ‘Why eat garbage on your wedding night when you can eat steak?’” with an almost frightening level of rage and indignation.
Then again, I do find the names of venereal diseases inherently hilarious and very much enjoyed the deadpan way Sarrazin delivered the line, “You can’t play game with venereal disease! It’s a loaded pistol pointed straight at your crotch!”
I have not been a fan of Aykroyd sleazeball E. Buzz Miller in the past but I really warmed up to the character in “E. Buzz Miller’s Exercise World”, a sketch in which Aykroyd’s gum-smacking pervert-American has Laraine Newman’s sexy strumpet perform a series of leeringly sexual thrusts and squats. In her skintight leotard Newman was a dead ringer for the scantily clad vixen whose illustration accompanies the Playboy Party Jokes.
Incidentally has anyone in the history of the world ever repeated a Playboy party joke in a party-type situation? I’m thinking not, just as I suspect that no one has actually used the advice of the Playboy Advisor.
Newman generally doesn’t get much to do in these episodes but this was a good showcase for her tawdry sexuality and ditzy persona. She was the focus of a very clever sketch called “Archeologicus” as a TV host of the future who applies the jargon and techniques of anthropology to examine the curious customs and ways of a twentieth-century old Jewish guy from Florida and played herself in a “Weekend Update” bit plugging her new movie American Hot Wax.
I love Gilda Radner, as do all good Americans, but I could have done without the episode’s Judy Miller sketch. Improvisers and sketch comedy professional love to tap into the mugging, unself-conscious manic energy of childhood but a little of Radner’s “Aren’t kids spazzes?” shtick went a long way.
On the other hand, I would happily watch a film version of La Dolce Gilda, a beloved, rightly revered tribute to La Dolce Vita that beautifully replicates the look, sound, aesthetic and carnivalesque madness of Fellini despite being awfully low on jokes. As lovingly written and directed by Tom Schiller as part of his “Schiller’s Reel” collection it’s less a parody than a straight up homage. It’s a sort of dual love letter to Radner and Fellini. I’m really liking Schiller’s stuff so far. I wish his directorial debut wasn't permanently out of circulation.
The pairing of Sarrazin and Keith Jarrett promised little but sometimes a good-enough host can lead to a legitimately great show. That was certainly the case today.
—Next week: Steve Martin and the introduction of the Blues Brothers.
—Only three more episodes left!
—Also funny: point/counterpoint and a very Canadian hockey sketch that felt a lot like SCTV.