SNL: S11E14... HOST: OPRAH WINFREY... DATE: APRIL 12, 1986

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or...

An After School Special On A Saturday Night

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When I first saw that Oprah was on the list of SNL hosts, I have to admit, I was at least a little intrigued. Though I was never a real fan of the Oprah show, the fact that this episode took place in the mid-'80s had me hoping that there might be more of a Jerry Springer vibe to her appearance the same way her original show sort of mirrored that Jerry tone.

Then today came and started my viewing when I quickly found out she was hosting the show due to her The Color Purple Oscar nomination and I knew right away this was going to be a boring one. Not because the movie The Color Purple was boring but because even the open sketch was a statement on race relations which is a hard pill to take from a show that had Billy Crystal in blackface almost every single episode just one season ago.

Yes, that did take place before Lorne returned to the show but SNL has always had a bit of an opportunistic history when it comes to race, playing into stereotypes as long as the host is willing. If the host doesn't seem willing they switch to more of a self-righteous tone while taking a few jabs for some of their racial content from the past.

So not only did we get a "racism is bad episode" from a show that otherwise doesn't stray a way from racial humor (note that I said racial and not racist though intentional or not sometimes the show lands in the latter but for the most part I feel their intentions are good at least considering what was acceptable at the time of the airing,) but also Oprah is just not funny so we also got more melodramatic bits that felt more like after school specials than comedies.

More than once in the night, I wasn't quite sure if I was missing something or if the sketches were intentionally not funny as if the show was switching to a dramatic genre. Other than the lack of comedy, for a dramatic episode, the performances weren't all that bad and I didn't really feel like I was being tortured like I have during these serious themed episodes in the past.

Alright, so now that the Oprah bashing is out of my system, it's time to move and share what I saw as I give you...

The Wicker Breakdown:

  1. This week's show started with Lorne knocking on Oprah's dressing room door to ask her why she is not getting made up for the Aunt Jemima sketch, to which, Oprah puts her foot down and refused to participate in any sketches that would put her in any sort of stereotypically black role. Lorne seemed confused by this as Oprah closes the door on him and before you know it Danitra Vance shows up talking like a slave to offer her boss some tea. Lorne then asked Danitra for advice and the answer she gives is to "Beat Her." Since he was given an okay by his, now, only black cast mate after Damon was fired, he entered the dressing room and we heard a struggle from behind the door, only to have Oprah emerge from the dressing room with Lorne in a headlock to announce, "Live from New York..." 
  2. Oprah Winfrey then officially opened the show with a monolog about her night at the Academy Awards and the fiasco that went into her getting into her outfit for Oscar night. The Pathological Liar then joined her on stage to give her an "award" of his own. 
  3. Lookin' At America Through John Cougar Mellencamp's Eyes was a fake ad for a video cassette that shows you the would not only through John Cougar's eyes as he sings but also through his hair is it constantly seems to be in his face. 
  4. The Pat Stevens Show the returned for another installment of the same thing, Nora Dunn answering a letter from the audience before interviewing Oprah as herself, in a way that is almost too real to be all that entertaining.
  5. Cabrini Green then returned but instead of doing more of a one woman show type performance she plays a pregnant cheerleader who has to go home from school to break the new to her mom who is played by Oprah Winfrey, in a sketch that feels more like an after school special than something that supposed to be viewed as a joke.
  6. Joe Jackson then took to the stage to perform Right & Wrong.
  7. Once again, Dennis Miller gave us the news. This week, Robert Downey Jr. and Anthony Michael Hall then got a segment to do a book review where all of their criticisms are made through various types of fart noises, then went on to make fun of Dennis Miller for being such a stuffy reporter, and A. Whitney Brown got another one of his Big Picture segments where he continues to subtly make fun of America for bullying the rest of the world.
  8. The Wart Hog was a detective show sketch where we started at a crime scene with regular detectives who can't solve the crime at hand so they call in the Wart Hog. At first, it sounds like this may be a nickname but no, it's Randy Quaid playing a character who is half wart hog and half man. When he first arrives he keeps highlighting how ugly he and yet is still the best detective in the land. None of the other detectives agree so they take him to another set for an impromptu contest that ranks men's look where he gets awarded the Ugliest Man Award. Then we go back to the crime scene which has now been solved and something else happens but it was so anticlimactic that I stopped paying attention to the screen.
  9. Danitra Vance then sat in her makeup chair getting ready to play the maid in Gone With The Wind and get a five-minute warning until she is needed on set, which sends her into singing a song called I Play The Maids.
  10. Actors on Film is a public access type show where Robert Downey Jr. and Nora Dunn discuss film. The focus this week was Steven Spielberg and his film The Color Purple, which I assumed would eventually lead to a drop in by Oprah but instead, these two just rambled on about whatever seemed to come to their character's minds including how smoking is acting and other movie talk that ended up going nowhere.
  11. Craig Sundberg, Idiot Savant then returned for another segment where Craig talks like an idiot while discussing topics that would take a genius to understand. This week he has to go to Washington D.C. to invent a super alloy that would end apartheid for some reason that makes zero sense but that only adds to the humor of the sketch. 
  12. The Cute Shop was a sketch that took place inside a shop that sells cute things where Oprah goes to get a gift for her new born niece and all that happens is Oprah and Joan Cusack both overreact to items because they are cute. This whips Oprah into a cute frenzy which gets Joan to send out her goons to trap her and lock her in a room.  Before the goons could do anything Oprah pulled out a gun claiming to be a part of a police sting as she released the captive prisoners from the room next door.  
  13. Joe Jackson then returned to the stage to perform Soul Kiss. 
  14. One-Shoe Emma was a sketch that took place in a diner where Danitra Vance plays a waitress who only wears one shoe and treats it like it's a disability because it's not that she can't afford shoe number two. Dennis Miller then showed up as a prince and it turns out this whole thing was a Cinderella scenario where not even Danitra believes that it's real which is too bad because I was loving the non-Cinderella story that I was building up in my head that I thought this sketch was building to.
  15. Finally, Oprah Winfrey closed the show by thanking the audience and saying her goodnights.

For a not so funny show, this episode still gave birth to these three favorite moments. First, I loved I Play The Maids song sung by Danitra Vance because not only was it a good performance, the visuals from the piece made it a very moving moment that felt like one of those end of the night sentimental sketches that I really really like. Speaking of really liking, next, I really liked this week's Craig Sundberg, Idiot Savant sketch because I'm just a fan of the character. Finally, I was a fan of the One-Shoe Emma sketch though I would have liked it a whole lot more if it didn't have the Cinderella twist. 

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Matt Bunker

I started out with a goal of becoming a paid screenwriter. I had no interest in any other aspect of filmmaking. I received and scholarship to The Vancouver Film School's Writing for Film and Television program where I graduated in 2005. I fell in love with being on set during my first non-school produced short, . I loved being around all the creative people, seeing people having fun while working. The whole liking your job was a new world to me, so I decided to give it a shot. I volunteered for any project I could, doing what ever was needed. The set was my Film School this time. While working as a PA on a feature I was informed that the DP wanted the three tallest PAs to help out in the grip and electric department. That is when I found the department that felt like the best fit for me while I continued to write.