After the last of the original Not Ready for Primetime Players split Saturday Night Live, things looked bleak. The sixth season of SNL was considered painful despite only having 13 episodes. The lowlights were numerous, topped by Charles Rocket getting in major trouble for cursing on air. The sole highlight was the arrival of Eddie Murphy. Almost missing out on getting a spot, as producer Jean Doumanian wanted Robert Townsend (Meteor Man) instead, he wouldn’t get any real action until episode four. He quickly became the only reason to stay up late. Saturday Night Live: The Best of Eddie Murphy collects his finest moments during a rather unsatisfying era.
“James Brown’s Hot Tub” is legendary. Murphy mixes music and motion with the Godfather of Soul debating whether to get in the hot tub to host his talk show. “Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood” is a spoof of Mister Rogers Neighborhood relocated to the ghetto. His slumlord wants him evicted. Robinson’s word of the day turns out to be Scumbucket. “Buckwheat Sings” revives the member of The Little Rascals. The grown up star butchers the hits with his speech issues. “White Like Me” disguises Eddie as a white guy. He learns how the other race lives in New York City. How white people live when there’s no minorities around. This sketch led to his numerous make up movies.
“Velvet Jones” recruits women to take his course in “How to Be a Ho” commercial. This is another classic worth quoting in non-mixed company. “Ebony & Ivory” takes us inside Murphy’s Stevie Wonder duet with Joe Piscopo’s Sinatra, noteworthy as this was also Piscopo’s last hurrah. “Black History Minute” gives the true story of George Washington Carver. Murphy blows his lines, but recovers well in his black militant character. Who knew Carver was ripped off by two peanut butter giants? “The Little Richard Simmons Show” combines two icons in one extremely gay character that would eventually become a staple of reality TV shows. His voice is the same as tone as RuPaul. He lures the whole studio audience into the fitness routine. “Jesse Jackson” does a musical number to apologize for a Jewish slur about New York City.
“Buckwheat is Shot” is a special report about the child star’s death. The poor guy gets gunned down outside 30 Rock. They have a sponsor for the breaking news of Buckwheat’s tragedy. Alfalfa shows up at the hospital. It’s a great satire of how the media covers a celebrity homicide or Paris Hilton going to jail. “Prose & Cons” discloses that tomorrow’s great writers are coming out of prisons. A penitentiary is converted to a writer’s workshop. Murphy gives us the classic lines, “Kill my landlord. Kill my landlord.” “Career Corner” makes Murphy the Tooth Fairy in a tutu. He wants to change jobs.
“Gumby” hangs out at a Jewish deli with his old showbiz pals. He’s Gumby, dammit. The old guys are played by Martin Short, Billy Crystal and Christopher Guest. “The 5th Beatle” takes place on a talk show where Murphy claims he created the Beatles and wrote their songs. He has proof that Lennon and McCartney ripped him off. “Buckwheat is Dead” lets the world mourn for the star. They keep rerunning the death footage. When Buckwheat’s killer gets shot down, the network news turns him into a star. It’s less a satire and more ironic foreshadowing of what the 24 hour news channels will do during horrible events. “Solomon & Pudge” let Murphy and Piscopo riff as an elderly guy and creaky pianist in a dive bar. It tries to be a heartwarming sketch, but comes out as the weakest material on the set. “The Stevie Wonder Story” has the real Stevie Wonder impersonating himself. Murphy shows him how to do it right. This is just a snippet from the sketch.
The strange thing was that at the time Eddie and Piscopo were considered co-headliners of the show. Eddie’s routines are still funny. Gumby, Buckwheat and James Brown are timeless impersonations. Piscopo is a relic of the times. His Sinatra plays like a schlock Vegas legends act. Does anyone think there’s a DVD worth of the The Best of Joe Piscopo?
Eddie’s run on the show was rather short as he quit in the middle of season 9 after gaining cinema success in 48 Hours. He’d go on to be become the biggest star in Hollywood for a significant amount of time, now he’s more notable for his social life and forgettable family-oriented films. Saturday Night Live: The Best of Eddie Murphy takes us back to a time when he was a lean and hungry comic willing to push things to get a laugh. He truly gave viewers his best on SNL.
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfer looks fine for something taken off early ‘80s videotape. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The show was recorded live so there’s a few time the mix go weird.
Extras includes several great sketches. “Monologue” is from when he emergency hosted when Nick Nolte couldn’t make it to promote 48 Hours. He talks about the ghost in his new house. Two “Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood” sketches bring back the fun including the Christmas special. “Hairdressers” features Flip Wilson as Geraldine. “Gumby & Letterman” – Gumby visiting “Late Night,” with Piscopo as Letterman. “Velvet Jones: Be a Pimp” now promotes the other side of the game. “Guardian Angel” demonstrate how to protect your gold chains. “Focus on Film” reminds director Ron Howard that he’s still Opie Cunningham. Ron sill had hair at this point in his life.
Outtakes (5:05) highlights the flubs. Shame they couldn’t give us the whole “Opie Returns to Mayberry” sketch.
Photos are a dozen of stills from the show.
Saturday Night Live: The Best of Eddie Murphy reminds us that before he became a bloated movie star in fat suits, Murphy was funny. The Death of Buckwheat saga is better than 90 percent of the duds he released from Hollywood. The bonus sketches are as fine of a selection as those in the main special. It’s always good to have more visits to Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood. This DVD is the perfect way to enjoy Eddie Murphy without tolerating the deadweight of a normal episode from this SNL time.
Lionsgate Entertainment presents Saturday Night Live: The Best of Eddie Murphy. Starring: Eddie Murphy, Joe Piscopo, Billy Crystal and Stevie Wonder. Running Time: 66 minutes. Rating: Unrated. Released on DVD: September 28, 2010.
Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.