Our old pal Eliot Glazer recently alerted us to the virtual treasure trove of classic Saturday Night Live episodes that can now be found on Netflix Instant Watch. In fact, they’ve made available nearly every episode of the show from its tumultuous 35 year history (although, it should be noted that episodes only feature “selected” sketches, and the musical performances have been excised for obvious licensing reasons). Upon learning of this bounty, what was of most interest to us were two seasons in particular. The first was the 10th Season, which boasted Billy Crystal, Martin Short, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer (and an opening credit sequence that inexplicably contained giant flying hot dogs); basically a group of ringers brought into the save the show after the departure of budding superstar Eddie Murphy (and, to a lesser extent, the exit of soon-to-be-punchline Joe Piscopo). The second season we were most curious about was the subsequent year, in which Lorne Michaels returned to the show after a five year absence and replaced the seasoned veterans with a group comprised mostly of young novices, including Anthony Michael Hall, Robert Downey, Jr. and Joan Cusack. The show suffered dismal ratings and a critical beating, but since it staved off cancellation and experienced a renaissance the following season with the arrival of Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey, Jan Hooks and Kevin Nealon, the 11th Season has become something of a footnote in SNL history. However, after years of darkness, we can finally shed a light on this forgotten season.
And what did we find upon closer inspection? You bet, an episode from April of 1986 hosted Mr. Tony Danza, who was just beginning to earn the greatest praise of his career for his early work in Who’s the Boss?* Clearly though, Danza was not meant for sketch comedy, as his Russian accent in one sketch is just barely perceptible for much of the scene, and absent for the rest of it. Much like in his roles on Taxi and Who’s the Boss?, Tony just can’t help being Tony, and his genuine upbeat, gregarious, often laughable, personality shines through no matter what character he attempts to portray. Which is why inserting Dazna in this boxing sketch was a smart move. Just like the producers of Taxi recognized, it’s best not to let “Tony” stray too far from Tony. And then on top of Danza doing what he does best, and what comes naturally, you have Anthony Michael Hall probably turning in his finest work since The Breakfast Club (until 1988’s Johnny Be Good,** of course).
Hard to believe that scrawny little guy turned out like this.
*We’re making this up and assume it to not be true.