Previously on This List, a bunch of sketches nobody remembered—except for maybe one or two of them.
And now, Part 2; AKA “The Good Stuff”!
- CLINTON AT McDONALDS (12/5/1992) – There’s a difference between building an impression over a period of time (Carvey, I’m looking in Your direction), and hitting the ground running with one—a couple months before this aired; Phil Hartman not only hit the ground running with his soon-to-be signature impression, but he may as well have hit the ground running on a high speed treadmill. By the time we got to Clinton getting elected, Hartman’s impression was almost perfect, but it still felt like something was missing…say, a hole that needed to be filled with Food (Which reminds me, I gotta see my Psychologist next week). Anyway, Bubba’s visit to Mickey D’s tackles a number of Clinton Targets in one fell swoop; His Jogging, His love of McDonalds, even his Sordid past can be summed up in one well-timed line from Phil (“There’s gonna be a LOT of things we don’t Tell Mrs. Clinton, Fast Food is the Least of our problems”). Not to mention all the nuanced times Clinton just takes food from the customers, and Nobody seems to bat an eye towards it. What else can I say, it’s a Signature Hartman performance.
- FINAL DAYS (5/8/1976) – As much as SNL was still fine-tuning their political game during the early years, this might’ve been one of the few times (with the exception of #4) where they almost got it perfectly back then. Taking on the Nixon Years for the first time, this is probably one of the most “Atmospheric” pieces of satire SNL put together (having most of the action shot in Dark Shadows certainly lends to that atmosphere.). Narrated by the late, great Madeline Kahn as Pat Nixon, we find the first lady writing in her diary lamenting in a self-deprecating way about the days before Nixon Resigned. From there, we cut to Aykroyd giving a powerhouse (if not mustachioed & slightly over the top) performance as Tricky Dick wondering out loud just where exactly he went wrong; culminating in a Portrait of Lincoln telling him that he’s a Dip (Though it was rumored that when this first aired Live, Lincoln called him a Putz…I don’t know for sure, considering I wasn’t born back then). Just about everybody else delivered at least one good moment here; from Belushi as Kissinger, to a seemingly random Garrett as Sammy Davis Jr., and even Chevy plays it meek instead of his usual arrogant as David Eisenhower. This honestly would’ve been a little higher on the list if it weren’t for a couple choice moments of Political Incorrectness (JEWBOY!), but then again, it was the 70s.
- COURIC/PALIN (9/27/2008) – Another Time saver, but this one is a little more detailed. Sure, just about Every time Tina cranked up the Wasilla in her voice, it struck gold. But this one in particular might’ve been the most blistering time—and as I (via others) mentioned in another place & time, this one sketch (if not the actual botched interview itself) may have been the final nail in the Coffin for the McCain Campaign. Proving once again just how Influential SNL would be when the fire is lit under them.
- PEROT & STOCKDALE (10/24/1992) – Here’s a story; when I was a kid, I used to watch a cartoon version of the comic strip “Dennis the Menace”; It was simple, innocuous entertainment for a child of 6 years old. Later on, the show came back on the air in light of the movie of the same name being made; so as a slightly older child, I thought the show was more cheesy than funny, but I still liked it for all the times Mr. Wilson got the brunt of Dennis’ mischief. What does this have to do with Dana & Phil together on a Road Trip where Phil says things in a way that would make Ollie Williams proud? Well, if you listen to Stockdale speak, followed by Mr. Wilson, you’d swear they were kindred spirits………………..OK, that really has little to do with the sketch, I just wanted to point out that Phil’s Stockdale is SO TOTALLY his “Mr. Wilson” voice because he played both parts…I’ve gone off the rails, my apologies. Back to the sketch itself, It’s the dynamic between Stockdale & Carvey’s Perot that makes this work—Granted, Perot does 90% of the talking and Hartman’s Stockdale acts like he’s on the Verge of having Tourettes, but maybe that’s the point. Something so perfectly mis-matched just works the way it does; especially when Perot tries to Ditch Stockdale in the end. The sad thing, however, is that the Real James Stockdale acted NOTHING like this. Yeah, he famously said “Who Am I, Why Am I Here?”, but in a Far more mild-mannered way than Hartman did. No matter, SNL is the place where you get lampooned—sometimes unfairly.
- ASK PRESIDENT CARTER (3/21/1977) – Like I said, Political Humor in the Early years of the show was very much experimental—aside from Chevy not giving a shit playing Ford, and a couple of “Update” jokes, the soil remained fertile and untouched…”Final Days” began the sprouting process, but this sketch was the plant in bloom. Years ago on the “SNL in the 70s” documentary, they made a specific point that while Chevy’s Ford is portrayed as a bumbling fool, Aykroyd’s Carter would be portrayed as a so-called “Detailed Genius”; and at least in this sketch, I see that. Alongside then newcomer Bill Murray as Walter Cronkite, a series of callers…well…asks President Carter a series of seemingly trivial but well meaning questions. But to those familiar with the sketch, the front-and-center highlight is when a young caller (voiced by Tom Davis) tells the President that he just took a lot of Acid. Try to imagine the Real Jimmy Carter doing what Aykroyd did next as you’re watching the sequence…you can’t, can you? Of course, the One drawback this sketch has against itself is Ayrkoyd’s mustache—Not only is it distracting, but it totally ruins the illusion that he’s playing Carter (no matter how well he gets the voice down). Fortunately by Fall ’77, He & a Remington become better acquainted.
- DUKAKIS AFTER DARK (11/5/1988) – As I mentioned a few days ago, one of the signs SNL would have a lackluster Election year, is if the Election itself aims towards an anti-climactic conclusion (I.e Dole V. Clinton). While the 1988 Election had its moments of bitterness, it was actually a little closer than most remember—unfortunately for the Dukakis Camp, it wasn’t close enough for them to wave the white flag, but they still had a feeling it wasn’t gonna end well. Enter Jon Lovitz as the former Massachusetts Governor who pretty much telegraphs the same sentiment, and decides to use what’s left of his fund-raising money and say “Fuck It, Let’s have a Party!” And in the spirit of 1960s Playboy, Dukakis does his best Hugh Heffner impression and works the room full of his supporters. This gets points not only for being sharp political satire, but if you’re a fan of Classic Television (as I am), you’ll better appreciate the subtle nuances and homages to the program “Playboy After Dark”…….Of course, it also helps that Hartman scores again with a Ted Kennedy that’s well above the legal limit of Alcohol consumption. Sidebar: They tried to do a similar sketch in 2008 when Barack Obama ran for President, but because Fred Armisen was playing him AND the “After Dark” aspect was lost, it just wasn’t the same. No matter, the difference between this and the other is that Dukakis lost—but did so with Dignity.
2. PALM BEACH (12/8/2000) – I honestly couldn’t believe how hard it is to find PICTURES of the sketch, let alone video of it…but whatever. It bears repeating that when I was a still-developing teenager who was still developing interests in non-Porn related things, it was also the time in my life that I became more interested in politics…and the 2000 election was fertile ground. So much so, that the shitstorm of the recounts turned out to be a gift SNL kept on getting—not unlike this year with Cinnamon Hitler. So dramatic was the aftermath, that the writers were looking to make a different kind of drama out of the whole thing…..A Daytime Drama. Pretty much Every soap opera cliché you could think of takes place here; Extreme close ups, Dramatic Music Stings, Tawdry affairs, Over-exaggerated reactions on everybody’s faces, the works. At the same time, the stupidity of Ferrell’s Bush reached critical mass by this point—even going so far as to having Ferrell break out his “Play with a Ball of Yarn” routine from his audition. If it were Any other year, this sketch might’ve been lost in the shuffle with a completely different context altogether—Thank God for Hanging Chads.
- REAGAN THE MASTERMIND (12/6/1986) – If any/all of SNL’s political sketches have something in common, it’s that no matter what party you belong to, nothing is sacred, and everything is fair game (unlike this year where the target is the size of an oil tanker). Nowhere is the “Nothing’s Sacred” element more noticeable than in this sketch that takes an otherwise genial figure in American history, and totally upends everything for the greater good. For years, whenever someone were to impersonate Ronald Reagan, all they had to do was say “Well…” with a bit of weariness & doddering confusion in their voice, and they were set. This was the first/last/only time the complete opposite was done—at least until certain TV movies were made about Reagan decades later. This is another one of those “What can be said that others haven’t” kind of sketches, because…well…what else can be said? It’s probably one of Phil Hartman’s best performances, if not the performance that put him on the map as a cast member during a rebuilding season. The constant shifting between sweet & doddering and cold & calculating just goes to show how much of a chameleon Hartman was.. As a bonus, we also get the debut of Dana as (old) Jimmy Stewart; and as a further Bonus, Hartman even slips in a Pee-Wee/Jambi reference. What’s more, the fact that they never portrayed Reagan this way after this sketch aired is one of the Few times SNL learned to leave well enough alone. Not only is this the Perfect SNL Political sketch, but it earns that title by doing the one thing thousands of other sketches have refused to do– Go in, Take the Shot, Take a bow, Walk away.
THE CLINTON/LEWINSKY SCANDAL (1998-1999): Believe me, if this were a Top 40 List, I’d have room for some of these…But then, I’d be writing until the year 2027. For now, let’s just say the 3-way call between Bill, Monica & Saddam Hussein was my favorite of these (Anything with John Goodman as Linda Tripp is a close 2nd).
BUSH SR’S LAST NEGATIVE AD (1988): Noteworthy for not only being one of the Rare times the Commercial Parody is a Cold Open, but also a rare “child actor” appearance by a then 7 year old Kirsten Dunst—something she would mention when she hosted the show some 14 years later.
THE REAGAN “POV” SKETCHES (1981-82): Again, Piscopo’s impression was just OK, but the fact that a series of sketches were done from a first person perspective was somewhat unique—Granted, it would be almost a Decade until a “First person” sketch would be done the Right way.
GARY HART (1987): Seeing the late, great Jan Hooks go through the anguish she did kinda made me hope she did more “dramatic” acting in her Post-SNL career—truth be told, she kinda reminds me of Goldie Hawn in “Deceived” here.
THE PEPSI SYNDROME (1979): I’ll talk more about this classic in the future, but for now I want to say this was 90% Movie Parody/10% Political thanks to Aykroyd’s Carter—A dose of Dangerfield also helps.
BUSH CHOKES ON A PRETZEL (2002): Low Hanging Fruit, plus it was Jimmy Fallon’s First LFNY…that’s gotta count for something.
And yes, as usual, there’s a VERY Good chance I missed a Lot of Good ones, but once again, that’s what we have the “Comment” box for…maybe by Inauguration/Apocalypse Day, I might do a second one of these with your help.
From what I understand, they have done away with the “Vintage” episodes on Saturdays in Prime Time, and have regressed to airing episodes from the previous season…Or, at least that’s what I THINK has happened considering we’ve had 2 weeks in a row of “Recent” shows airing; so being Mr. Worse Case Scenario, I’m just gonna go ahead and assume the worse. Forget what I said, “Vintage” is indeed Still on. (In fact they just aired the Jennifer Lawrence episode from 2013 just this past weekend–11/12/2016). The thing that bothers me is that they don’t announce which episode they’ll air UNTIL it airs since TV Guide, ScreenerTV & any other place with TV Listings won’t tell me. So with that, “Vintage” sketches will now appear on Sundays. Commentaries will still appear on weeks there’s no show at all…which gives me time to put together the next editorial; a long overdue look at a long neglected aspect of the show…Until then, I would like to repeat the thing I wrapped up the “Debates” list with. It was a quote Julia Sweeney made at the end of the 1991 “Race to avoid being the guy who loses to Bush”:
“When you don’t take the time to vote for the candidate you find the least offensive, you run the risk of electing the candidate you find the most offensive.”
And BELIEVE ME, Nothing Matters MORE Tomorrow (Unless [or Especially] you’re one of my Canadian Readers eagerly awaiting future defectors). Good Luck, America!