SNL: S21E16... HOST: PHIL HARTMAN... DATE: MARCH 23, 1996

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A Special Night With The Late Favorite,

Phil Hartman

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As I mentioned in yesterday’s review, I either have a really bad cold or a typical flu, though I’m not really sure if I know the difference. Either way, I was very happy to have this episode for today’s viewing. I’ve been really lucky in the fact that the shows I’ve had to review while sick have all been really good because I couldn’t imagine being sick and having to sit through a slump of a show at the same time.

As with every SNL fan, I’ve always loved Phil Hartman, not just because he was part of the show for so long but because he’s the definition of a utility player. Though he may not have been the star of every scene that he was ever in his characters always seemed to add value to any sketch even if he was just in the background do nothing but giving reactions.

This type of cast member can often seem under-appreciated while on the show because they are also often the ones to play the straight man. I used to feel that this was the case with Phil Hartman, not that I thought he was disliked but it wasn’t until his New Radio role that I remember people starting to really acknowledge his genius.

The start of tonight’s episode led me to rethink this idea because the audience’s reaction to his opening entrance was the loudest that I’ve heard in quite a while and this was only one year into his News Radio career which I think is too early for this to be and bandwagon-based reaction. Then again, I might just be confusing my assumption with how I felt about straight man characters in the realm of comedy where I simply saw them as not fun instead of being a key ingredient to making the joke that much better.

I had the same sort of childhood reaction to Jane Curtin, where during my youth I thought she could be funny but was mainly just a killjoy. Now I see her as one of the most important members of the original cast who doesn’t really get the credit that she deserves. I wouldn’t say that my views on these utility players are all that new, but I would say that they’re new when compared to how I felt when these shows originally aired.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, it’s time to talk about the actual episode that was super fun because Hartman jumped right back into the game as if he were still a member of the cast. That’s what I like about this new approach to alumni cast member hosts, they no longer seem too good for the new cast to the point where they actually feel like their part of the cast, instead of coming across as hostile witnesses who just use the show for promotions.

There was a seamless merger of Phil Hartman’s characters as he interacted with the current reoccurring characters. This made the show extra fun because it didn’t feel like they were just rebooting old routines making the show feel contemporary and classic at the same exact time. Hell, with Hartman’s involvement, I even enjoyed the Leg Up routine, which is a segment that I’m not usually a fan of.

Alright, this review is growing to be pretty long, and my cold medicine riddled head is unsure if I’m making sense or just rambling, so I’m going to cut this off right here.

With that, it’s now time to shift gears in order to share what I actually saw during the viewing, as I give you...

The Wicker Breakdown:

  1. This week's show started with Phil Hartman as Charlton Heston who gave Advice To Bob Dole while attempting to give him an image makeover in an effort to improve his chances to win the ’96 Presidential Election. Mainly Heston efforts are to get Dole to act more natural even though his own delivery is over-the-top while referencing several of his movies. Of course, with this being the opening  
  2. Phil Hartman then officially opened the show with a monolog about how his history with the show, having worked on it for eight years in a total of one-hundred and fifty-three episodes. He then went on to talk about how tuff the monolog is and how it ended up ruining many of host from the past. He then announced that he was going to show everyone how it’s done and how excited he was to finally act as himself. Moments into this official start to the monolog Hartman quickly realizes that the years he’s spent impersonating others has led him to lose any sense of his real identity. This causes Hartman to run from the stage and it took Tim Meadows encouraging pep-talk to get him back.
  3. This was followed by a repeat of the BugOff sketch from earlier in the season which was a roach motel that tortured the bugs, complete with a viewing window for sadistic people to watch on.
  4. Leg Up returned for another installment where this time hosts “Debbie Reynolds” and “Ann Miller” have on Phil Hartman as Frank Sinatra in order to talk about the good old days of Hollywood.
  5. Phil Hartman then played the teacher of an Acting Class who is very arrogantly abusive to his student while constantly name-dropping a bizarre list of actors who he claims to have worked with. He also shares some acting techniques that are quite unusual as well.
  6. The classic Roxbury Guys then made their show debut to Bob their heads to the song What Is Love by Haddaway while aggressively trying to pick up on ladies at a very popular dance club.  Only this was before they developed their trademark moves and the introduction of their trademark song.
  7. Once again, Norm MacDonald gave us the news. This week, Phil Hartman dropped in a Frankenstein to discuss the latest batch of US budget cutbacks. Darrell Hammond then stopped by to point out how black actors and actresses are constantly snubbed at the Academy Awards.
  8. Gin Blossoms then took to the stage to perform Follow You Down.
  9. You're The Man was a black and white sketch from the ‘50s where Phil Hartman play a cop trying to arrest Chris Kattan, who was trying to rob a local diner. Hartman’s approach to reassure Kattan that he was the man in control in order to keep him calm while trying to take him down. This technique works as Hartman was able to pull his gun and fire off all the rounds while Kattan still felt like he was in control. None of the bullets hit but more importantly, Kattan didn’t do anything dumb.
  10. Spade In America returned for another installment that was more of an extended Hollywood Minute where David Spade ripped on popular movies from the time.
  11. Phil Hartman then revised his Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer character in an effort to use his naiveté to defend a very powerful tobacco company.
  12. Gin Blossoms then returned to the stage to perform Memphis Time.
  13. Mark McKinney then played talk show host Taddli whose show shared his name where he would continually chastise his pot smoking guests.
  14. We then got a repeat of the Fuzzy Memories sketch from earlier this season where Jack accidentally knock a passing dogs head off while they were both in passing cars with their heads sticking out of the windows.
  15. Finally, Phil Hartman closed the show by thanking the audience and saying his goodnights.

Though this was a super fun show as a whole, I was surprised to discover that it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would have been to come up with this list of my three favorite moments of the night. First, I loved the opening sketch where Charlton Heston Gives Advice To Bob Dole because Heston and Dole are two of my favorite impersonation from Phil Hartman and Norm. Next, I really liked the Acting Class sketch because it reminded me of the weird discussion that I’d hear from actors and actresses about acting technics back when I was working in film. Finally, I was a fan of You’re The Man because I couldn’t help but think of how fun it must have been in the writing room during the development of this scene.

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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.