We could call this the week that everything old is new again. Because it is! In a good way? Let's see in the SNL recap...(videos added when available)
COLD OPEN: Tracy Morgan on video describing the energy from being in Rockefeller Plaza on a Saturday night. He came in 12 years ago as a puppy and left as a man! "This is my building! This is my home!" Cue the problems getting into back into his home. As someone who recently watched Morgan host a TV special, I can see why they didn't even attempt to do this live -- for one thing, the building has so much activity going on during the day that'd it be tough to shoot; and for another, Morgan's opening speech probably took a couple of takes. That said, it's not a political sketch! We already have established an early victory tonight, and this is before anyone has said, "Live from New York, it's Saturday night!" OK. Where were we? In the NBC lobby/foyer/security area. Berserker! Tracy starts clobbering his way into the building, past security, past fans in the elevator, past the NBC page who's really SNL writer and humorous book author Simon Rich! But can he get past pro rassler John Cena? And...now we're live. Tina Fey cameo!?
Let's get this party started!
THE MONOLOGUE: "Thank you, white people!" Right off the bat, Morgan makes a so funny because it's true statement that reflects the surreality of the situation. In tonight's show, he'll likely appear in more sketches than he did during his seven-year run in the SNL cast! He clarifies his fish tank apartment fire, making fun of how the mainstream press portrayed his accident. Does this slideshow look ghetto? Morgan calls Lorne Michaels "my Obi-Wan Kenobi." Interesting to see both Michaels and Seth Meyers holding glasses of wine, because, well, isn't the show on the air right now? They just couldn't wait until 1 a.m., I suppose.
AD SPOOF -- CHEWABLE PAMPERS: They've recycled ads in past years, so it's not as if I can fault them for it now. Or can I? (No, I cannot) Stars Kristen Wiig and Jason Sudeikis.
BRIAN FELLOW'S SAFARI PLANET: And one of Morgan's SNL characters gets first dibs tonight, with voiceover introduction from Darrell Hammond. Fellow's first guest is a baby cow (with Sudeikis as the calf's owner). Something about having live farm animals on live TV (and not on a talk-show with professional handlers) tends to led to unexpected funnies. A red-tailed halk (on Andy Samberg's arm) makes Fellow say his catchphrase: "That's crazy!" And some silly questions. Fellow gets distracted by imaginary conversations with animals. It all plays perhaps a bit funnier than before simply because Morgan has established such a reputation for crazy during his 30 Rock phase that we hear his line readings differently now. At least that's my first impression of it.
THE VIEW PARODY: ABC's The View was indeed broadcasting live this past week from Walt Disney Studios, and SNL goes there for another stab at the "Hot Topics" quartet. This time, though, they finally have a Sherri Shepherd (Morgan) to round out the cast (Kenan Thompson as Whoopi Goldberg, Fred Armisen as Joy Behar, Wiig as Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and Michaela Watkins as Barbara Walters). Whoopi took the bus all the way to Burbank. Barbara gets an Eeyore statue confused for Qaddafi, Joy has to roll around in makeup in the morning, and Sherri doesn't know who Rush Limbaugh is, which upsets Elisabeth. I haven't gotten much out of watching The View recently, and SNL captures all of this nonsense accurately enough. But is it funny enough?
SCARED STRAIGHT PARODY: Since the cold open, every sketch has been a repeat offender, so why not keep the streak going with a return of the sketch that has Sudeikis playing a cop trying to teach some juvenile delinquents (Bill Hader, Bobby Moynihan, and Samberg) important life lessons. This time, Morgan joins Thompson as a pair of inmates who speak in non-sequiturs and movie plots. Someone somewhere is seeing something in this sketch that I am not. Wait a second. No so fast. This time did go differently near the end as Thompson and Morgan start poking at Hader's lips and face, prompting him into a giggle fit that he tries to squelch. And when Sudeikis hops up onto his desk and bobs about, the other guys fight off additional laughs. They're clearly enjoying themselves, and that makes for at least a highlight.
DATELINE NBC: Another returning sketch premise, with Hader's impressively creepy NBC News correspondent Keith Morrison narrating real-life crimes, creeping out victims played by Samberg, Abby Elliott and Thompson, and Morgan. The "ooohs" and "ahhhs" come quickly enough to make this effective on the repeat viewing.
ASTRONAUT JONES "Come in, Earth." Morgan is an astronaut on a cold, dead, planet. Morgan's Jones breaks into cool jazzy song. Another of his SNL characters gets brought back into our thoughts, and he talks over Samberg's alien woman threats. What you say, Earth man? He says "green dugout" is the new euphemism, people. Make a note of this when you go into work on Monday!
KELLY CLARKSON's first song is her new hit single, "My Life Would Suck Without You." Is it possible this sounds and looks better on the SNL stage than it did earlier in the week on American Idol? That's quite a feat to even consider, considering a couple of recent musical guests have sounded less than themselves on SNL (you know who you are).
WEEKEND UPDATE: Who offered up opinions and commentaries this week? Actor John Malkovich (Bill Hader) was one of Bernie Madoff's billion-dollar investment scam victims. Hader does a good impersonation, but why that facial hair choice, exactly? And the wardrobe. Wow. Meyers does his best to get Malkovich sufficiently riled up.
There's a premature camera switch when a Brooklyn assemblyman's proposal to tax strip club patrons entices Morgan to wheel in and hijack the Update desk's Really!?! segment. His version is really simple and really to the point.
It's Barbie's 50th birthday this week, and Wiig gets the honor of playing the doll, resurrecting the animated voice she used -- coincidentally -- in an office sketch earlier this season with John Malkovich! Wiig does a good job of keeping her body and arm movements to a minimum, because, after all, she is a plastic doll, and this gets put to the test as she tries to pour herself some whiskey. Things with Ken are rough, her dream house is in foreclosure, and she cannot hold a steady job.
BIG LOVE PARODY: HBO's Mormon polygamy drama gets skewered, with an opening credits sequence showing Sudeikis as Bill Paxton, Wiig as Jeanne Tripplehorn, Elliott as Chloe Sevigny, and Casey Wilson as Ginnifer Goodwin. Bill introduces a new wife to the equation, Fantasia (Morgan), who cannot wait to join the church of "More Man." Uh oh.
SNL DIGITAL SHORT: Hader and Samberg are at a lame house party, and make fun of the other party-goers. Literally. Moynihan's dude = nice shirt. Wilson and Elliott = winners. Third time's the charm in formula comedy writing..."Look at these Jokers!" Mr. Personality (Thompson). There's Numb Nuts (SNL writer and 30 Rock portrayer of writer John Lutz!), a Turd Burglar, and into the rabbit hole we go....Armisen is an a-hole, Sudeikis decided to show his face, John Mulaney gets another second or two of screen time as a mofo, Will Forte is a cereal rapist, and of course, they have to face the facts themselves. Survey says, nicely done.
SUPPRESSEX: Very quick cut to the next live sketch. Elliott plays a high-school cheerleader getting picked up at school with friends by her Uncle Jack (Forte). "This is no time for an erection," says Uncle Jack. And Morgan's doctor character agrees, which is why he has created Suppressex, the only pill to make an erection go away. Hader gives a testimonial as a shopping mall Santa. Eh, alrighty then. I suppose it'll do.
HIGH IQ: It's a quiz show for people who are smarter than you. Morgan hosts as a junior-high teacher, while Hammond, Sudeikis and Watkins play the professor-type contestants. We jump into the scene at the final question, in which our contestants much provide answers as mathematical proofs. The music distracts them, however, as does a woman who enters and dances (Wiig) to entertain Morgan, because he was bored. Elliott and Samberg enter in egg and bacon costumes, respectively, and Wilson shows up looking like Mary Poppins. Hader's stuck on roller skates in the 1970s. Thompson is in a Harry Potter get-up. Armisen is a wacky chemist. Moynihan is Cupid? Forte is Neo from The Matrix? It's all very silly and chaotic. Like a Del Close Marathon version of Match Game before the explosions. Very HIGH IQ, indeed. Hmmm.
KELLY CLARKSON's second song of the evening is the uptempo "I Do Not Hook Up." If you have not yet heard it on your radio, you will.
FAMILY FLIX: Wiig plays the host of this movie review show, with Morgan as the writer/director of Rocket Dog. He laughs way too much at her first pun. The clip shows Samberg as a kid with a dog toting a jet-pack. Rut-ro! "Houston, we have a dog!" Is the clip a spoiler?! You be the judge. Next clip shows Samberg and the dog trying to outrun a train. Rut-ro Redux!! How many dogs did it take to film this movie? PASS! Moynihan and Forte also fill in with roles. I think the "Life is a Highway" chorus helps make it that much funnier. I want to watch Rocket Dog. And also his next movie, Scuba Pig.
GAS-RIGHT: Looks like we're ending the night with another rebroadcast, the ad spoof from the inventor of Breathe-Right nasal strips applying his innovation to accidental farting.
Overall, I have to say this weekend's SNL kinda flew down the safe middle, because they brought back so many sketches and left little room for original diversions to make us laugh. That also meant there weren't any outright duds. A few truly crowd-pleasing moments kept this episode worth watching until the end.