Last night Eddie Murphy reprised one of his most familiar Saturday Night Live roles — the cheerful, pedantic and shifty Mr. Robinson — in a fan-service-filled sendup that is timely in light of the Fred Rogers biopic, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, in theaters now.
Robinson slips on his cardigan, red sneakers (and this time, a graying afro wig) to explain to children the phenomenon of gentrification, which has significantly upgraded Mr. Robinson’s neighborhood but not his own home. He maintains that by the adverse possession of real property, commonly called squatter’s rights.
As for that, the set looks like a virtuoso recreation of the apartment from the original skits, (including the black-light tiger poster by the stairs). When there’s a knock at the door and Murphy invites the children to greet the visitor, everyone over the age of 40 knows what’s coming next. It’s the most familiar bit of Murphy’s Mr. Robinson character, the second-most familiar bit being the window escape that always concludes the sketch.
Murphy played Mr. Robinson in nine sketches from 1981 to 1984, placing him in the pantheon of great Eddie Murphy characters alongside the foul-mouthed variety show host Gumby, the incoherent hot tub enthusiast James Brown, and the fast-living, assassinated Buckwheat. Fred Rogers himself was said to have enjoyed the parody, even visiting Murphy in his SNL dressing room to say so.
Murphy joined Saturday Night Live in 1980 for the five-year interregnum after creator Lorne Michaels left the show, taking most of the cast with him. Widely regarded as the No. 1 or No. 2 greatest Not Ready For Prime Time Player ever (behind, if anyone, John Belushi), Murphy is also credited with keeping the show alive until Michaels returned in 1985. By then, Murphy was a bona fide superstar, and left the show in 1984 for a lucrative career in Hollywood.
Murphy is most recently the star and producer of the critically acclaimed Dolemite is My Name, which premiered in September and is airing on Netflix. It is a biographical feature about the comedian and blaxploitation film director Rudy Ray Moore.