Just as the issue of whether "Saturday Night Live" could be saved was becoming more tired than Sen. Hayakawa, the program sparked itself back into the realm of the living. Saturday's premiere on NBC, the third attempt at rebuilding the show, clicked, rattled, rolled and steadfastly refused to flounder.
No, it wasn't the Old Show, but then, the Old Show took America by surprise; now the problem is living up to great expectations engendered by ancestors. What the successors did Saturday was deliver a fairly solid 90 minutes that was occasionally as playfully naughty and bitchily funny as TV satire in the lazy '80s probably can get.
For awhile, it was pow pow pow. The show opened with two or three bull's-eyes, including "The Little Richard Simmons Show," with Eddie Murphy as a witty combination of an effeminate exercise show host and an epicene rock star; it was boisterously amusing.
Then came a mock preview of a new film from America's most rigorously overrated director, Brian De Palma: "The Clams," a plagiaristic "homage" to Hitchcock's "The Birds." An announcer told moviegoers De Palma would once more "pick a dead director's bones and give his wife a job." This is the kind of cheeky, sassy stuff Saturday nights seem to have been made for.
Joe Piscopo contributed a very funny lampoon of Andy Rooney, the zealously homespun poet laureate of "60 Minutes" ("Ever notice how annoying my voice is?"), soon followed by another choice film piece, "Prose and Cons," which looked askance at the unfair advantage enjoyed by convicted felons who want to write books.
Time and again, Murphy was the galvanizing, take-charge presence in the sketches. In "Prose and Cons," he was a nothing-if-not-militant black poet who recited from behind those cold cold bars a poem called "Kill My Landlord," which went, "Kill my landlord, kill my landlord, C-I-L-L my landlord." It's too bad, though, that every role assigned Murphy seems to rely on one black stereotype or another.
Writer Brian Doyle-Murray, looking as uncomfortable as a naked mannequin, stiffly co-anchored the "Weekend Update" segment, now called "Newsbreaks," with newcomer Mary Gross, whose major talent appears to be making goo-goo baby talk like Georgia Engel. The exceedingly photogenic Christine Ebersole, another new addition, didn't get to do much but ask viewers for home movie contributions.
The first "home movie" was yet another self-glorifying dissertation on the emotional state of herself by the great lady of suffering, Yoko Ono, who has made mourning her career (isn't this the kind of thing "SNL" should be spoofing, rather than encouraging?). A much-too-long slice-of-life sketch about a woman besieged by an idiot one-nighter, was a failure, but a well-acted one.
Executive producer Dick Ebersol and his umpteen writers made "Saturday Night Live" a hip Ed Sullivan show, bringing in Rod Stewart, Tina Turner and engaging juggler Michael Davis as diversions. A hip Sullivan show is certainly preferable to a pseudo-hip "Hee-Haw," which is what ABC has in "Fridays," its witless, drug-obsessed imitation of "SNL." Meanwhile, "SNL" itself could clearly become NBC's token success once more.