I'm looking forward to completing my collection of the original-cast series. The Season 5 episodes are always bittersweet for me to watch because it reminds me of the dread I was feeling at the time, knowing that the original cast would be leaving for good. I missed Belushi and Aykroyd (although Belushi does put in a short cameo, via séance, during one of the cold openings), and boy, in retrospect their absence is glaring. Just a few highlights/recollections:
1. The quality of the show definitely begins to wane here, although come 1980-81, it was easy to render this season brilliant by comparison. With the Not Ready for Primetime Players pared down to five, heavy reliance upon Harry Shearer, Fr. Guido Sarducci (Don Novello), Franken & Davis, Mr. Bill (Walter Williams) and Paul Schaffer grows. Although all talented in their own right, they don't quite fill the void. Gone are the beloved Festrunk Brothers, The Coneheads, The Bees, Point Counterpoint, the Samurai, The Blues Brothers and the brilliant Olympia Café. The good news is that Bill Murray becomes a major powerhouse/focal point, returning with the ever-engaging Stargazer, Nerds and Nick the Lounge Singer bits. Gilda Radner is also a force, bringing back classics like Judy Miller and Rosanne Rosanadana.
2. Highlight sketches - the trademark, vintage SNL style is still firmly in place, and the show (unlike today) wasn't afraid to showcase quieter, ensemble, subtly comedic, human interest pieces, such as a teacher's union meeting sketch from the Martin Sheen episode, or "Aunt Judy's Basement" from the Bea Arthur show (premise: grown, adult "kids" forced to eat at the "children's table" during a family gathering). It was always a treat when Steve Martin hosted, and there are some strong sketches, such as "The Vandals", a historical comedy piece similar in tone to the two "Theodoric of York" bits from previous seasons, as well as the seemingly improvised time-filler "What the Hell Is That?" with Murray. The "Black Shadow" with host Bill Russell is sure to garner laughs with its now-very-un-PC racial humor, not to mention the sick joke that is Buck Henry's "Uncle Roy." Andy Kauffman begins his phase wrestling women, outrageously playing the sexist baddie role to the hilt, so much so that feminist Bea Arthur feels compelled to comment on it. A trend begins in this season, imo, of the show trying too hard with political humor, such as the obtuse presidential campaign sketch which opens the Terri Garr episode. It goes on way too long, and seems to be trying to cram as many references as possible, mostly at the expense of generating laughs. This problem persists with the show today.
3. Chevy Chase - As in the past, the return of prodigal son Chase is wrought with the bizarre. Chevy was going through a musical phase at this point (he even released an album!) and fancied himself a blues man a la Ray Charles. Let's just say his take on "Sixteen Tons" is an acquired taste. To make matters worse, this show included two songs from Marianne Faithful, who in my view is like listening to a cat getting its neck wrung. This show also opens with "The Bel Aires", a twice-tried take on an OPEC version of the "Beverly Hillbillies." I remember the original airing of this one well because Don Novello paints private parts onto a Venus de Milo statue at the beginning. In subsequent airings, this is always censored/deleted, but the statue is clearly visible in the background. It'll be interesting to see if it's restored here.
4. Music - Wonderfully eclectic as usual. With this season, we're made well-aware of the approaching `80s new wave and its disastrous accompanying fashion trends with such bands as Desmond Child and Rouge (who are so "Totally 80s!" its actually funny) and Gary Numan. The David Bowie appearance is perhaps the most bizarrely theatrical of SNLs history; I remember actually feeling frightened when I watched the marionette superimposed on him during Boys Keep Swinging. It was all just too weird for a kid to see. Although I'm not a fan, you'll likely find yourself drawn in by the electric performance of the B-52s' "Rock Lobster." I'm not sure how well the tune was known at this point, but you'd be hard pressed to find a band that garnered as deafening a reaction from the studio audience. Infectious and energizing, the studio microphones seem on the verge of overload by the end. It's also great to see what must have been one of the last few performances from Sam & Dave, and Chicago (still recovering from the suicide of member Terry Kath) are quite solid with their classic "I'm a Man" (previously a classic by Spencer Davis), as well as the disco-tinged "Street Player" (yes, even these guys fell prone to the fad!).
5. Side Comment - like the other SNL releases, I'm sure this one will not include the wonderful photography of Edie Baskin, which was always used for the commercial bumpers. I really miss them, and it aggravates me no end that Universal feels they "aren't part of the show" (although they do include that last bumper before the credits).
If these releases continue, I think I just may skip season 6. The largely-forgotten, oft-maligned Eddie Murphy/Joe Piscopo years are extremely underrated and I hope to see those eventually as well.