Between 1989 and 1993, Toonces the Driving Cat appeared on NBC’s Saturday Night Live in a grand total of 15 sketches, ranging from “Urban Toonces,” in which Toonces gets drunk and drives a car over a cliff, to “Toonces & Martians,” in which he crashes a flying saucer into the Washington Monument. Perhaps no recurring character is as beloved as the cat who could drive a car, and Saturday Night Live treated him well, giving him a prime-time special but sparing him the indignity of a feature film. Ranking all 15 Toonces sketches will take a generation or more, but after years of crunching the numbers, Slate’s army of statisticians is finally able to release some preliminary results: the relative rankings of four of the Toonces sketches. Coincidentally, these happen to be the four Toonces sketches that are currently embeddable from NBC.com. After the jump, then, is Slate’s definitive ranking of four of the 15 Toonces sketches; further updates will be posted as soon as they become available.
4. “Flippy, The Flipping Chihuahua” (April 11, 1992)
This is not so much a Toonces sketch as a Toonces cameo, even if it does have Sharon Stone. Forcing Toonces to share screentime with three other cats, much less a Chihuahua, is the kind of catastrophic misstep that should get entire SNL casts fired. A disappointment on every level.
3. “Dateline: Apologies and Toonces Cold Open” (Feb. 13, 1993)
Feb. 13 was unlucky for Toonces, and for SNL audiences, as the amazing cat was relegated to the very end of a cold open that was about scandals then besieging NBC rather than the far more interesting story of a cat who could drive a car but who could not drive it very well. Only the fact that Toonces gets to introduce the show makes this better than Flippy, the Flipping Chihuahua. F-.
2. “Toonces the Driving Cat: Revenge” (May 19, 1990)
Finally, a Toonces the Driving Cat story that is primarily about cats and driving. This sketch introduced Spunky, Toonces’ archenemy. Like Holmes and Moriarty or Colmes and Hannity, Toonces and Spunky were perfectly matched, cats whose ability to drive cars made them worthy opponents. Toonces and Spunky spur each other on to the performance of a lifetime, particularly in the famous “Report Card” scene. And the shocking conclusion, which shows how a quest for revenge poisons all who embark on it, will move all but the most heartless viewers to tears.
1. “Toonces the Driving Cat: Driver’s Test” (May 20, 1989)
But the greatest Toonces adventure will always be his first. It isn’t even Toonces’ best performance, but Steve Martin brought a hard-edged realism to the role of Toonces’ owner that Dana Carvey was never able to match. As Martin spits out a cynical, “I guess I just assumed he could drive,” it’s as though he already knew the years of suffering his cat’s poor driving would cause him.
Those are Slate’s rankings, scientifically proven and not open to further discussion. However, if you’d like to defy scientific tradition, we do have a comment section.