Have I ever mentioned how much I Love Game Shows? (*OFF SCREEN VOICE WHISPERS*) I have? (*MORE WHISPERS*) Twice? (*MORE WHISPERS*) Three Times? (*STILL MORE WHISPERS*)…Well, everybody is entitled to at least one obsession—SNL and Game Shows happen to be two of mine, so at the very least this list is gonna be a fun one. There’s very little to cover in terms of rules—“Non-Recurring” obviously, though stay tuned to the Very end of the list after I reveal #1 & the Honorables. Other than that, if they make me laugh, or it’s unique, it’s in there. So, let’s begin…
- CAST MEMBER OR ARCADE FIRE (9/28/2013) – In 2013, when Hader, Armisen, Sudeikis and Seth Meyers a few months later made their exits, the show realized “Oh, Crap! We gotta get more talent!” The result was hiring an unprecedented Eight cast members in a single season (9 if you count Leslie Jones’ late-season, non-credited appearances). 6 of these cast members were introduced in the 2013 season premiere, and of the 6, 3 of them get their chance to shine in this sketch…which probably would’ve been less awkward if they didn’t look like a bunch of interchangeable indie rockers. The ending with Lorne not knowing who Kenan is was a near-classic joke. Overall, the next time SNL hires anybody new; there should be a LOT more “Get to know me” pieces…as long as we actually get to know their names.
- OLD FRENCH WHORE (2/28/1998) – When Garth Brooks first hosted the show, some of us SNL fans were a little skeptical—after all, this was a Country music star that had seldom acted before, so we didn’t know what he would be capable of (A thought pattern that would go into hyperdrive when Justin Timberlake hosted his first time, but that’s ANOTHER story). Sure enough, not only was Brooks capable, but there were times when he was downright Fearless—This being one of those times. The premise is a simple one: Old French Whores team up with Honor students in order to win fabulous prizes; it goes about as well as you think it does, but Brooks totally runs away with it by delivering a monologue worthy of an arthouse film about how his Whore character had ambitions to be a Scientist, but couldn’t do so in Paris back in the day. So he/she runs to America hoping to seek better luck, only to wind up pleasing factory workers…and then back to normal after that, no rhyme or reason. Further, I know I’ve been teasing a major takedown of Chris Kattan (*THUN…No, no need for that)……anyway, I’ve been teasing that for a while now, but I have to give him credit for probably one of the funniest line readings I’ve heard in the 22 years I’ve been watching this show…”I think my Whore is Dead”, said in the most deadpan of ways, so, yay for him. Anyway, it’s been almost 20 years since Brooks made that appearance, and thanks to a bad-taste joke from Tina Fey years later, he has not come back since. Unless Brooks is a Scorpio, I hope that water goes under the bridge more sooner than later; because anybody who’s a “Good Ol’ Boy” and does a sketch like this deserves to be on the show more often.
- JEOPARDY 1999! (10/23/1976) – A list of SNL game show sketches would be incomplete without mentioning one of the first (if not THE First—I gotta double check). In the seemingly far distant year of 1999, Afros are Back in style, people’s last names are replaced with serial numbers, Sex is a recreational hobby that ISN’T scrutinized by the prudes, and America’s favorite Answer/Question game is still being played (Keeping in mind, when this first aired, Art Fleming was more synonymous with the show instead of Alex Trebek—who didn’t quite make it big just yet as of 1976, but I’m getting ahead of myself). SNL has “Predicted the Future” in a number of ways since this sketch, but this is one of the more “Far Fetched” examples (Except maybe that clue about then-departing cast member Chevy Chase). The question/answers are weird enough (“Young Republicans hold city for Ransom w/Nuclear materials”), but what puts this sketch on the list aside from the 4th wall Chevy joke are the Sponsor tags for all sorts of dystopian items (I personally could use a “Dial-A-Blank”). Not as effective in predicting the future as 2011 Jimmy Fallon in 1998, but it’s still campy enough to enjoy.
- (TIE) HOLLYWOOD BINGO (2/21/1977), WHAT DO YOU…? (12/9/1978), SNAP DECISION (2/3/1989) & SUPER BUZZERS (3/2/2002) – I put all FOUR of these together, because they are (in theory and in essence) the same sketch… Actually, let me amend that a little, it’s not so much “4 identical sketches”, but rather “Two sets of 2”—one pair has the convoluted rules, the other pair has “Too many Cooks” so to speak. Each with their own flaws and advantages that eventually cause things to even out, but the basic plot is the same—a game with so much introductory material, whether it be complicated rules, or introducing the members of an oversized panel, that they never get to the actual game itself (except for “Snap Decision”; where they actually play, but the rules trip everybody up)…which also makes me wonder if George Carlin ever got a royalty check whenever this trope was revisited. We know what’s similar, so here now is what makes each of them stand out:
*BINGO – Pretty much the Entire Cast, Steve Martin, (special guest) Lily Tomlin AND SNL’s Writing Staff get some camera time…also, the name “Gern Blanston”; which, if you Google the name, you’ll see has taken on a life of its own.
*WHAT DO YOU…? – Eric Idle practically carrying 99% of the convoluted dialogue while Gilda & Tom Schiller squeak out a “Hello” & “Goodbye”.
*SNAP – The gameplay is so confusing that I’m honestly amazed (host) Leslie Nielsen didn’t blow his lines.
*BUZZERS – Not only was it a nod to “Panel” shows like “Match Game” or “To Tell the Truth”, but this sketch also marked Chris Parnell’s return to the show after a brief mis-understanding (to put it lightly).
In the words of Demitri Martin, “These are Sames & Opposites, my Friend…”
- WHO WANTS TO EAT (12/4/1999) – Almost forgot about this one; as the “Millionaire” phenomenon reached a fever pitch around this time, so did Millionaire parodies—This is probably the best known of them because unlike the others, there is a major deviation from the default. Instead of playing for money, people from 3rd world countries play for food…which also makes me wonder if Danny Boyle was watching this sketch one night and thought “Oh, I HAVE to make a movie about this!”—but I’m sure that’s just a coincidence. Although I can’t find any documented record of there being any, apparently this sketch gained controversy when it aired on a number of counts—one being the exploitation of hunger victims, the other being Darrell Hammond wearing “Brownface” while doing a variant of his famed Regis Philbin impression…To which I say, “Oh, Please! Do you really think SNL is THAT Stupid?” The parody is solid, they seem to want to go whole hog (or Goat in this case) with it, Christina Ricci is cute as a button playing a refugee, and the sketch is still funny despite pushing the envelope a little…and that’s my Final Answer.
- WHO’S ON TOP (9/24/2011) – Speaking of envelope pushing, this was probably one of the more “Ballsy” premises for a game show sketch; Trying to figure out who would be the dominant figure in a same sex relationship…Even if the people in question were straight. Two things make this sketch worth watching; one being Jason Sudeikis’ knee-jerk reaction to the rules, and then bolting away from the set. The second would be just how competitive future “Match Game” host Alec Baldwin & Vanessa Bayer are, and the third being the increasingly odd/random/sometimes insane combinations of male couples they are being presented with…To say nothing of the punchline to the sketch, which I’m not gonna ruin here. Premise aside for a second, ya’ gotta hand it to Bill Hader—He probably played more (or perhaps an equal amount of) Game Show hosts than Phil Hartman did, and he did it with equal parts charm & smarm.
- (TIE…Sort of) GAME BREAKERS (12/10/1988 & 10/6/1990) – By all outward appearances, these should look like Two entirely different sketches that share the same name; and in a sense, they are (Even though they both use the same opening graphic). But the overall theme of the sketches are remarkably similar—they try to get a game in, but real life (or at least life outside the game) winds up seeping through. While I don’t have any footage/transcript of the 1988 version, I can still recall it vividly. In that sketch (host) Kevin Kline is emceeing a typical quiz show when we get to the part where the host interviews the contestants. Unfortunately, he seems to want to do that a little too intimately with one of them (Victoria Jackson) while the other contestant (Nora Dunn) is left wondering what’s going on. They go a step further when Kline takes VJ out to lunch DURING the show, only to have an awkward encounter with Kevin Nealon as a former contestant as though he was an ex of some kind, only for Nora to catch up to all three of them by the sketch’s end. That sketch is actually subtle compared to the 1990 version which finds (host) Susan Lucci’s “Erica Kane” as a contestant on the show. This time around, the relationship that blooms between her and Phil Hartman as an emcee becomes more soap operatic as time marches on; throw in Jan Hooks’ semi-recurring, semi-reliable “Marge Keester” as her confused opponent, PLUS an appearance by an Actual Game show legend in the form of “Match Game’s” Gene Rayburn to lay down the exclamation point—his appearance alone as one of Lucci’s ex-Husbands is worth bonus points. Whether the plot was subtle or more outlandish, these two deviations from the norm was a pretty good way to think outside the box.
- STAND UP AND WIN (4/18/1992) – Warning: I’m about to be incredibly biased here, but hopefully, this one is your personal favorite as well. I mentioned several times before how a “Starmaker” VHS of an episode Billy Crystal hosted was the first SNL related item I ever owned, and was one of the things that helped kickstart my fandom…Billy was the first tape I owned, but the second one I owned (and the first I bought with my own money) was Jerry Seinfeld’s episode from 1992; which happened to have this sketch—and at a young age, impressionability goes a long way, especially when you see something as imitatable as Seinfeld & 3 top sketch performers amp up their best “What’s the Deal With…” voices (a voice that Seinfeld, ironically, helped pioneer). What makes this particularly worth watching is not just the rapid fire set-ups & punchlines, but there is also a part which—unless you’ve seen a number of game shows in your lifetime—you probably never noticed before that pushes the sketch over the top in my eyes. If you watch a number of Quiz shows (particularly Q&A shows, or even Jeopardy), something the host does whenever an incorrect answer is given is reveal the answer, but then the host repeats it in a way that I can only describe as a cross between stern, condescending and contrarian, but also knowledgeable. Seinfeld does exactly that in a way only a Seinfeld-esqe comedian could read it (watch that bit about “The Clapper” to see what I mean). Not only that, but it gives relative newcomers Adam Sandler & Rob Schneider a chance to do something beyond the one-dimensional stuff they were doing at the time (Sandler with his Update pieces, Schneider with that insufferable Richmeister). There are many marks in what makes an SNL sketch memorable; Being funny is a given, having a good premise is a plus, having something that’s quotable as hell is another one. But when all three combine, you’ve got something special—and that’s what “Stand Up and Win” is all about…that, and “WHO ARRRRRRRRRE THESE PEOPLE!!” (We also would’ve accepted “Who are the Ad Wizards who came up with this one?”)
NAME THE BATS (1979) – Michael Palin imploring his contestants to name a roomful of rabid bats…not name them by Genus, give them proper names…Hilarity ensues.
CRISIS GAME ’83 (1983) – Another one mentioned previously (see: 8/2/2016)…Twice (see also: Political sketches) Solid game, but also further proof that the Ebersol years could’ve dug into politics a little deeper than they did. Speaking of Jesse Jackson…
THE QUESTION IS MOOT (1984) – This was less a game, and more a chance for the Reverend to get on a soapbox and bash Reagan (Which did have its moments if you knew the context)…on the plus side, at least this sketch taught me what the word “Moot” means—I used to think that was the name of a Fraggle on “Fraggle Rock”, but I digress.
JACKIE ROGERS JR.’S $100,000 JACKPOT WAD (1985) – I was thinking to myself whether to count this one or not—after all, it has an “Official” recurring character in it (Billy Crystal’s “Sammy Davis Jr.”), and this was actually the 2nd time (out of 4) Martin Short’s Albino Lounge singer made an appearance Outside of SCTV. But then again, the “Steinbrenner Season” of the Ebersol era was such an anomaly that it felt like every conceivable rule had been broken by that point. So y’know what, Fuck it, they’re spoofing “Pyramid” anyway so at the very least this has to be worth mentioning.
ETERNITY (1990) – Christopher Walken…and that’s all I really need to say.
SABRA PRICE IS RIGHT (1992) – “Go Disco (disco)…GOOD! Go Disco (disco)…GOOD!” “President Circus Peanuts” would probably take one look at this sketch and pass out from high blood pressure, but this is still quotable as hell.
THE JAPANEESE GAME SHOW (1994) – Still another one I mentioned previously, but despite Farley looking like a deer in the headlights for most of it, am I the Only one who wishes there were subtitles? It probably would’ve put a lot of elements in better context—but then again, I can’t afford a copy of Rosetta Stone, so what do I know?
CLARA TURLEY’S BIBLE CHALLENGE (1995) – The show was still trying to get back on its feet after the previous year, but you could tell they were trying to get back into the right direction…Having said that, my primitive brain didn’t quite get the idea of the sketch when I first saw it; but later, I realized it was Norm being his usual D.G.A.F. self.
NAME THAT DOG (1998) – This sketch is Similar to “Name the Bats”, only this time you actually have to GUESS the dog’s name instead of assigning one…Hilarity Ensues once again.
WHEEL OF FORTUNE (2006) – Why Let Will Ferrell have all the fun with Merv Griffin related properties? Tom Hanks plays a put-upon Pat Sajak who is trying his best to keep his composure while a bunch of dullards can’t solve the puzzle with just one letter left. I gotta give ‘em credit for at least putting together a decent replica of the WOF wheel for the sole purpose of this sketch, but it seems kinda wasteful if you think about it.
MEET YOUR SECOND WIFE (2015) – Well, this is starting to turn into a “Sketches I already mentioned-palooza!” (see: 9/12/2016), but it bears repeating that part of this sketch’s appeal is the number of twists they add to it—everything from how young the “Wives” are to how the first wives meet their doom are as creative as they are uncomfortable.
SPECIAL HONORABLE MENTION:
CELEBRITY JEOPARDY (1996-2015) – Finally, This list would simply be impossible to write if I didn’t mention a thing or two about (arguably) one of the most popular recurring sketches the show ever had. A sketch originally “created” by Steve Higgins & Norm MacDonald thanks to getting permission from Eugene Levy—whose idea it Truly was in the first place thanks in part to the “Half Wits/High-Q” sketches on SCTV (or at least that’s Norm’s story according to his Twitter). And really, that’s what these sketches have always been—an expansion on that original idea taken to its nth degree; only instead of having “normal” people with half a brain come on, it is the stars who play that have half a brain…or at least that was the intention when these sketches began, in later years the main “plot” of the sketch morphed into Hammond’s Sean Connery pretty much fucking around with Will Ferrell’s “Alex Trebek” for fun & lack of profit. I mentioned this a few months ago, but it bears repeating—one of the hardest things for a recurring sketch to do is to maintain its levels of originality; they don’t want to wind up too repetitive, but at the same time, they have to stay fresh. CJ! Is one of the rare times in SNL history where you’re not only guaranteed a good laugh, but they keep Upping the ante at the same time. Take for example, their “Mispronounced category” gag—In the beginning, “’S’ Words” was “Swords”, then “Therapists” became “The Rapists”, “Foreign Flicks” somehow became “Foreign Fucks” thanks to the block letter font, and my personal favorite “The Pen Is Mightier” becomes “The Penis Mightier”, and so forth. The same evolution applies whenever they get to “Final Jeopardy”; it starts out with a few dumb but harmless wrong answers (like Jerry Lewis tracing his hand), eventually evolving to a stick figure Connery taking a dump on Trebek’s Grave—same joke, but they elevated it each time. Despite a few “Dated” jokes, Celebrity Jeopardy is just one of those sketches that stands the test of time; and no matter who the stars are that are playing the game, one thing will be clear…They’re all a bunch of idiots, Connery is the biggest one, and yet we’ll still love them for being idiots—we wouldn’t have it any other way. So, before I sign off this week, here’s a mini list of my TOP 5 Favorite CJ! Episodes…
5. CONNERY/BURT REYNOLDS/JERRY LEWIS (12/8/1996) – The first one isn’t the worst one; but to be fair, we had no idea a classic was in the making at the time.
4. CONNERY/ROBIN WILLIAMS/CATHERINE ZETA JONES (12/16/2000) – Notable for Fallon’s Williams impression, full review of the sketch Here.
3. CONNERY/REYNOLDS/FRENCH STEWART (10/23/1999) – The birth of “Turd Ferguson”
2. A WHOLE SLEW OF GUEST STARS (2/15/2015) – From the 40th anniversary special, Brilliant, as always…especially with more “Turd Ferguson”, Jim Carrey’s McConaughey and the Cosby Punchline.
1. CONNERY/KATHIE LEE GIFFORD/THE ACTUAL TOM HANKS (5/16/2009) – Not only was this Darrell Hammond’s last show & (until the 40th) the last time he would play Connery; but Tom Hanks took things to a whole new level of stupid and helped give the sketches the Exclamation mark it deserved.
Considering just how many Honorables I mentioned, I’m certain I left some out (Hell, I didn’t even get to the recent “Black Jeopardy” with Tom Hanks). I know I say this a lot, but I encourage you to chime in on what some of your favorites are—so if you have any I missed, feel free to buzz in on the comment section…it gets quiet around here sometimes.
NEXT WEEK: I did promise another “Retro Review”—This time, probably the ONLY time I ever reviewed an episode on St Patrick’s day during my “fetal” years…this despite being a week behind by the time we get to it.