SNL: S04E20... HOST: BUCK HENRY... DATE: MAY 26, 1979


Saving The Second Best For Last 


First off, congratulations are in order for Buck Henry becoming the inaugural member of another exclusive club as this episode marks the Eight-Timer's/Ten If You Count Co-Hosting Duties On Special Episodes Club!!!

Now that that's out of the way let's talk about the actual episode. This show started out so strong that I felt it was going to end up being good enough to compete with some of my favorite episodes from the first three seasons before I had to low my bar of expectations at the start of season four.

Everything was there. The show started with a fun Mr. Bill sketch instead of some generic jab a Carter leading into the opening announcement. Then when the actual show started, Buck Henry hit the stage with such comfort that he felt like a long lost cast member and not just some celebrity reading off of cards.

The next several sketches continued on with this very playful tone. This was when I came up with the "Save The Best For Last" subtitle because it was lining up to be that by far. Then, right after the news, Buck Henry's creepy uncle character returned to the show and ruined the entire episode.

Once again, this creepy uncle is a straight up child molester that I'm willing to bet came out of the mind of Mr. Mike. There are no jokes of misinterpreted actions of this creepy uncle resorting to being a kid, nope, this sketch had the "kids" digging through his pockets to find candy, falling for inappropriate tickle tricks and ends with him having the girls bind and gag him with their socks and ballet leotards and there was no comical cringe.

This sketch really bummed me out because it's not a satire of the situation and feels like a way of justifying that this type of act just “is what it is.” It doesn't help that the actors go along with this so easily. I know it's adult roleplay, but that's no excuse for the normalization of abuse, even for way back then.

I said this before in past reviews of similar Mr. Mike style sketches, but the most disturbing part to me is how the audience doesn't gasp or cringe. No, you hear both men and women burst out into laughter minus any hesitation even as this creepy uncle character takes Polaroids of these women who are supposed to be children that he tricked into pulling their sleepers up over their heads. 

Even though these laughs may be triggered by discomfort, it doesn't come across that way without that gasp that I've come to expect whenever comedy dips its toe in the dark end. The straight up laughter makes it seem like this type of action wasn't a big deal at that time which bummed me out to the point where I was taken out of the rest of the episode, despite the fact that there were several sketches that I would have enjoyed if only I still had the wind.

So, this is how this episode became the second best of the season when it should have been far ahead of the first. Now that I've explained my reasoning, it's time to share what I saw as I give you...

The Wicker Breakdown: 

  1. First, the show starts with a Mr. Bill sketch where he gets tickets to see the final episode of season four then ventures over to Rockefeller Center to join the audience, getting abused all the way, of course. He gets to his seat just in time to announce, "Live from New York..."

  2. The opening credits then start to roll but then are almost instantly interrupted by Jane who is angry that a piece of Play-Doh was allowed to make the opening announcement before she was despite the fact that she has put in four years with the show. Belushi comes in to defend her only to steal her thunder and make a second announcement of, "Live from New York..." to officially kick off the show.

  3. Buck Henry then hits the stage for the tenth time as some form of host considering he’s also co-hosted and pretty much hosted the Anyone Can Host special. His opening monolog is about how great he feels to break through via SNL despite being a behind the scenes entity throughout the rest of his career. He then points to a section of the stands where audience members have electrodes attached to their heads. The idea is that this technology will cause the screen to grow or shrink depending on how much interest they have in what is being said. Every time Buck starts his smart talk, the screen begins to shrink, then when he switches to simpleton humor the screen returns to the standard size. I was hoping that this effect would come into play throughout the episode, but it ended up being just an opening joke.

  4. The next sketch was a fake ad for a getaway camp called Ray's Disco Roller Fishing Park which is a place where campers can take advantage of all three activities as you disco dance in roller skates while trying to reel in a fish.

  5. Being that this is a Buck Henry show, we need to have a Samurai sketch. This time the two interact in Samurai Bakery as Buck places an order for his brother's wedding cake and the Samurai is up to is usual antics as he tries to help out.

  6. Next, they play at least a full minute from a mini-series called Blind Ambition where Rip Torn played Nixon, and they take on his tendencies to tape every conversation that he had while working in the White House. We then pull back from the TV to see Aykroyd as Nixon watching the show with his family. Nixon claims that this series is based on the transcripts of his tapes and they totally missed the tone of the conversation. We then cut to a reenactment as Nixon explains how he and Buck, who plays the campaign manager, were just joking in an attempt to get a laugh making the tone of the reenactment much sillier than the context of the conversation.

  7. Bette Midler then hits the stage to perform Married Men which was performed just last episode by Linda Ronstadt and Phoebe Snow.

  8. Once again, Jane and Bill anchor the news. At this point, I forgot how awkward Bill was during his early days behind the desk, now he's a real pro. This week Garrett Morris gets a segment to discuss whether or not The Rolling Stones were racist based on a line in their latest album about how black women just want to have sex all night. It turns out, Garrett just wants to know where these black women are. We also get a segment with Roseanne Roseannadanna where she starts out talking about the struggles of holiday travel during the gas shortage only to end up rambling about an incident she witnessed with Jane getting sand in her bikini when the two had a run-in at the beach.

  9. Then the show falls apart for a segment with the return of Buck Henry's creepy uncle character that I've already mentioned above, and whether or not he actually wrote this, I blame the disturbing failure on Mr. Mike.

  10. Franken and Davis then do a routine about Franken becoming a Hare Krishna. He claims that despite having more of a flowery delivery, this change hasn't affected his comedy. Davis however disagrees and seeks revenge by chopping off Franken's Krishna man bun which gets a very violent reaction.

  11. 11.  We then head over to The Olympia Cafe which is only taking to-go orders as they work around the mess of what appears to have been a fire. It's hard to tell whether or not this is supposed to be an insurance fraud sketch, but Belushi is definitely trying to take advantage of the situation adding items to the claim any time the claims adjuster makes the slightest of question/suggestion. It then turns out that the policy is void when they admit that Murray lives under the sink. Just when it seems like Belushi is about to snap, he announces that he's Greek, so his solution is to dance, and dance they do.

  12. Bette Midler the returns to the stage to sing Martha.

  13. This week's short film was a pretty entertaining mini-mockumentary about the cloning of human babies.

  14. Not For Transsexuals Only is an interview show hosted by Jane where she interviews a couple that switched genitalia as if this were a transplant situation instead of reconstructive surgery.

  15. Finally, Buck Henry hits the stage for the traditional goodnights, only to introduce Mr. Mike who does another one of his dumb impersonations of celebrities getting needles jammed into their eyes. This week it's Elvis, but that doesn't really matter because it's the same dumb joke either way.

Though I had a lot of negative things to say about this season, there were a lot of funny moments. My biggest problem was that this season, the commercial breaks seemed to set up the structure of the show rather than writing to meet the needs of the content. Either way, I'm excited to move on to the next season.

With that, here are my favorite moments of this final episode of the season. First, I loved the opening sketch with Mr. Bill because there is a scene where Belushi stabs him in the back as he dots the "i" in his signature. The way he does it and the look on his face totally reminds me of the scene when Arnold Schwarzenegger does the same exact thing when signing his contract in The Running Man. Next, I liked the mockumentary about cloning human babies because it's one of the few that feels like a legitimate short film and not just a glorified home movie. Finally, I was a fan of Ray's Disco Roller Fishing Park because with Bill and the wheel it reminded me a lot of Meatballs. 


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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.