SNL: “The Land of Gorch” #12-16

Chevy Chase covers for Gorch.

Chevy Chase covers for Gorch.

As I spoke about in the previous Land of Gorch post, by the time these sketches were in production, Lord Lew Grade had already greenlit The Muppet Show, and the first two episodes had filmed in London, meaning that Gorch was on its way out at Saturday Night Live. In the meantime, however, these strange alien characters made a few final appearances in a series of sketches that were actually about them being “fired” from SNL. While their lack of popularity on the show had come up before on the show itself, Gorch goes entirely meta in this last burst of sketches, producing some of the cleverest material they ever had, taking the opportunity to even get a bit existential as these puppets begin to actually grapple with what it means to be a puppet who’s about to be shelved for good, adding a surprisingly melancholy undertone to these comedic scenes. After all, for Gorch, this is a literal apocalypse (if you want to see these sketches, the first and second seasons of SNL are up on Hulu and Amazon, or you could buy it on DVD).


Ironically and perhaps fittingly, given their overall treatment on the show, the last time we see the Land of Gorch itself on SNL, the Gorch characters actually aren’t there at all! On February 28, 1976, Jim Henson and the Muppets were at the Grammys (unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any footage of that online), and so in a pretty amusing conceit, Chevy Chase “went on” for them instead, sticking up his hands, curved into mouth shapes, and acting out a scene in which a wife cheats on her husband with a milkman. While not really a Gorch scene other than the fact that it’s done on their set, it does indicate the strongly meta framework of the Gorch sketches to come, while also giving an underlying indication of the SNL creative team’s frustration with the Muppets’ spot on their show. It’s funny on the surface, but if you know about the backstage drama, you can’t help but detect the slightest bit of nastiness (John Belushi notoriously referred to them as the “Mucking Fuppets”), mocking the art of puppeteering by reducing it to a guy making stupid voices and flapping his hands around.


On the very next episode–which aired March 13th–Ploobis and Scred were back, but Gorch itself was gone forever. As guest host of the week, Anthony Perkins, walks backstage, the Muppet king and his minion approach him, complaining about the fact that, while they were away in England filming a show (obviously referring to The Muppet Show, although (a) the Gorch characters weren’t actually in it, (b) it was actually filmed two months before, (c) we saw the Gorch set in the previous episode, 2 weeks before, and (d) this conceit ignores them having been at the Grammys), the SNL crew had destroyed the Gorch set! What’s worse, they no longer even have a dressing room anymore. When they went over to where it used to be, they discovered the Bees (another SNL sketch, which I explained in the last post) playing blackjack in there!


Scred interrupts Anthony Perkins' sketch.

Scred interrupts Anthony Perkins’ sketch.

Ploobis regally demands that Perkins, as the star of the show, fix it, but he explains to them that he’s the wrong person to talk to about it. He’s only the star this week. But Ploobis persists, explaining that they’re big stars themselves, Scred backing him up: “They write letters in about us!” Perkins tries to convince them that that’s just how showbiz works. One week, you’re hot, the next, you’re out in the cold, but in the end, he agrees to help them out if they go wait in his dressing room, clearly blowing them off so he can get back to the show.


This method doesn’t prove particularly successful, however, because later in the episode, Scred actually interrupts him mid-sketch! He pops up in a restaurant scene, referring to him as “Mr. Merkin,” and tries to plug himself. Just like when he showed off his Weekend Update impression to Gilda Radner a bunch of episodes back, here he shows Perkins his version of a classic Gilda character, Emily Litella, an old lady character who would mishear things, make long-winded complaints about them, and then finally, after being corrected, respond with a sing-song-ish “Never mind!” Classic examples include her complaining about the Supreme Court’s decision on the “deaf penalty,” rather than the “death penalty,” and her asking, “What’s all this fuss I hear about violins on television?” rather than “violence”. Here, Scred, putting on her voice, complains about going to a diner and hearing that there were “Toasted English Muppets” on the menu!


Afterwards, he treats Perkins to an example of his erm lovely singing voice, when Ploobis arrives and, not wanting his king to realize that he’s trying to advance without him, Scred lies that he’d just been telling Mr. Perkins about Ploobis‘s great voice! Again, Ploobis demands satisfaction from Perkins, who once again directs him back to his dressing room, directing him to “warm up his voice” for when he finally gets them on the show…and Perkins is good to his word. He does finally introduce them onstage. But the catch is that it’s in the last few moments of the show, and as soon as Ploobis opens his mouth to speak, the SNL house band drowns him out, and the closing credits begin to roll!


And things get even worse for the former denizens of Gorch in the ensuing weeks. The next time we see Ploobis and Scred, it’s over a month later–April 24th–and we learn that the guard wouldn’t even allow them in through the front door. They had to sneak into the building! Soon, they come face-to-face backstage with that week’s host, Raquel Welch, whose beauty distracts Ploobis and Scred for a while as they begin to rather creepily flirt with her, Ploobis telling her that she hasn’t experienced real lovemaking till she’s “made it with a Muppet” (again, as I have in the past with previous examples, I direct any people who complained about sex talk on ABC’s The Muppets to this sketch)! Despite the rather sexist tone here, however, Raquel smoothly sets them straight, telling them that they’re just puppets, meaning they “don’t exist below the waist,” though Scred does insist that, regardless, he’s “pretty good with [his] hands”! Cue me scraping my jaw off the floor.


Scred and Ploobis meet Raquel Welch.

Scred and Ploobis meet Raquel Welch.

Just then, Chevy Chase–who had so dismissively mocked them a few episodes back–arrives, informing them that they’re not on the show this week and apologizing to Raquel for their harassment. And then, in the surest sign that this was a 1970s show yet, right after he basically chases them away, he then suggests that Raquel take off her shirt, a “punchline” that didn’t even seem to land particularly well with that audience. It is pretty incredible in a time capsule kind of way to see what was apparently acceptable humor back then, but this behavior (scripted or not) is also even more deeply creepy coming from a human than a puppet, particularly since he essentially set himself up as her protector when he dismissed the Gorchians and then turned it around, basically making the entire sketch about her as an object of desire and overshadowing the fun meta angle surrounding the concept of Ploobis and Scred trying to sneak back onto the show they’re clearly not wanted on.


They course-correct later in the episode, however, when a follow-up sketch finds Scred and Ploobis running across the Grand Flavog, neglected and covered in cobwebs in the backstage storage area. “The Land of Gorch is gone forever,” Ploobis cries, as Scred continues: “They burned our scenery!” And when Ploobis then wails, “They said we’re puppets! What do we do?” the Grand Flavog responds with his brand of wisdom: “Don’t look down.” Ultimately, however, his advice is to give up and pack it in. He tells them that they are indeed puppets. They aren’t even real, and so they might as well just climb into a nearby storage trunk. And then, with some next-level meta, he disregards their fears of getting in the trunk and being forgotten by telling them that none of it’s real, not even their emotions: “Puppets don’t have feelings,” he explains.


Pages: 1 2