Justin Timberlake has become an undeniably reliably strong host for Saturday Night Live, so much so that some would like to coax him into becoming a full-time member of the cast. Timberlake himself has even teased as much when answering questions from the entertainment tabloid media. But having him on once a year to host (and occasionally pop in for a surprise cameo here and there) plays much better, reminding us how well JT works with the cast, without overstaying his welcome.
So penciling him in as host for the 36th season finale was a no-brainer. As was booking Lady Gaga as the musical guest. Not only does she have a new album to promote this week, but the first time she performed on SNL, she fared admirably well in both her musical slots as well as multiple sketches.
Ready to go out big and go home? Let's recap!
We open with the big news of the week in the world. No. Not Arnold Schwarzenegger. We're talking about the IMF head, Dominique Strauss-Khan, accused of sexually assaulting his hotel maid before skipping out of NYC and America.
This was the big weekend openings for the lady movie comedy, Bridesmaids, and I know this because every single comedian with ladyparts who I follow on Twitter couldn't stop Tweeting about it. Which is why, certainly, Kristen Wiig would be hosting Saturday Night Live this weekend! Right?
Oh, wait. That's right. Wiig is still a regular cast member. Let's think ahead, then, to The Hangover sequel on Memorial Day weekend, or The Office finale this coming Thursday, or how about both, and get Ed Helms to host the show! Done deal. If last week's episode was focused mainly on the two tracks of bin Laden's death and Tina Fey's baby belly, then what would this week hold?
This weekend's episode of Saturday Night Live had a couple of things going for it, and I'm not talking about those things. Not that SNL could avoid the temptation of sexually-charged humor at the expense of host Helen Mirren's breasts. Although I suppose it's the smallest of victories that the show went that route and didn't point out Mirren's age? Like I said. Small victories. Take 'em where you can get 'em.
So. How many small victories did we win as audience members this time around? Let's recap!
We began auspiciously, then, when Fred Armisen opened the show cold once again as President Barack Obama. Sure. The government shutdown was supposed to take effect Saturday, and Congress reached an agreement with Obama just before the deadline. It's topical. It's unavoidable. And yet. I know, I know. They probably had to rewrite this at the last minute, too. And yet. The joke is that everybody is unhappy? Around halfway through, it just loses steam. Maybe it was the joke about the Congressman unhappy about being in a loveless marriage? If not then, then definitely with the penultimate dig at SNL. Yikes.
Helen Mirren's monologue went straight from a Queen joke to her sexy photos, to a musical number featuring all of the men in the cast in sailor suits. Light, upbeat, costume changes. All-around nice. But I guess they couldn't get the licensing figured out for South Pacific's "There's Nothing Like A Dame" to get this clip up online.
The streak of no fake ad continued.
This was the final SNL of the season before the federal tax deadline, so yeah, we get the return of Andy Samberg's Mort Mort Feingold, accountant to the stars. Lots of quick-hit celebrity impersonations, with jingles for Feingold separating them. Paul Brittain as James Franco: He laughed more at his fake jobs than the audience did. Oh. The Kardashian sisters are back (Nasim Pedrad as Kim, Vanessa Bayer as the other one and Abby Elliott as the other other one): Joke's on us. Taran Killam as Ricky Martin. Jay Pharoah as Will Smith. Both solid impersonations. Bill Hader as Tim Burton with Helen Mirren as Helena Bonham Carter, with a dream spider? OK. Bonus points for Brittain hustling back into the scene as Johnny Depp! And Armisen continues a streak of Gaddafi impersonations. Won't that guy ever leave? I'm talking about Gaddafi. What were you talking about?
The SNL Digital Short: Well. Um. Nasim Pedrad touches Helen Mirren's bosom and it's magic. And Kristen Wiig makes her first appearance of the night memorable, too.
Remember last spring, when not-quite spring chicken Betty White was going to host Saturday Night Live, and some people loved seeing the elderly actress do it, while others thought, isn't she a bit old to be hosting a 90-minute live TV show? Well, SNL figured out how to ease Betty White's burden by surrounding her with additional talent.
Now remember last week, when aging queen Elton John was going to host SNL and be its musical guest, and some people loved the idea, while others thought What Up With That? Well, SNL used the same formula for Sir Elton John, bringing in veteran SNL host Tom Hanks, bringing back Will Forte, and bringing in new New York Knick Carmelo Anthony just because, and also Jake Gyllenhaal because he had a new movie to promote, but that wasn't enough to give him the hosting gig. So. How did that all work out?
About as well as you might have expected. Meaning: Sort of. Sir Elton John did a really great job of standing in one spot and looking at his cue cards. The show made use of his personal and professional life to find plenty of jokes about gay people, rich people, the Royal Family, and Broadway. Yay?
But any good recap begins at the beginning, so let's get to it.
We open with The Lawrence Welk Show, or rather, the Judice show, in which Kristen Wiig plays the fourth sister (other three sisters may vary due to cast changes) with tiny hands, a big forehead, and an isolated personality. Fred Armisen as Welk does much better in this cold open than he ever does as President Barack Obama. Elton John is on the piano. Abby Elliott, Vanessa Bayer and Nasim Pedrad are the "normal" singers. And as Judice...wait a second. Hold on now. What's this? I'm just receiving word from the NBC.com description of the video that Wiig's character name is Dooneesee? When did this happen? Nevermind. Because it's not really all that important. All that matters is that Wiig's fourth sister is supposed to be a freak we laugh at. Got it? Good. Now forget about it.
Elton John's monologue. He's rich. He's gay. He's chubby. He has gay sex! And he made that same crack about getting rich off of royalties earlier last week when he was a guest on Fallon. I do wonder, though, who he keeps glancing over at during the monologue.
It's been awhile since they did a fake ad after the monologue, and they skipped it here, too.
Hey, they brought back ESPN Classic team of Twinkle and Stink! You know what that means...Will Forte is back alongside Jason Sudeikis! And the audience reaction was...nothing? Nada. Zip. Not enough a recognition laugh. It's like they didn't know that Forte had left the cast this season. What gives, audience? Don't you realize that this season of SNL has been missing Will Forte? But there was more, much more, in this sketch. The audience did clap and hoot for Carmela St. Knix, aka Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks as Wiig's shot-put competition. This week's ESPN Classic sponsor, K-Y Jelly, gives Suds and Forte plenty of chances to make sex jokes, and lookie here, it's Tom Hanks as Forte's brother, Greg Stink. The sex jokes are easy, of course. But it was something to watch as Suds and Hanx held that pause after Suds went for the taco rhyme. And then the audience applauded before the end of the sketch when Hanks exited offstage (an exit unseen on camera)!?! You've got to work on your live audience skills, live audience.
Wasn't anywhere near a TV when Saturday Night Live brought Zach Galifianakis back to host for his second time on the March 12, 2011, episode, so I'm just catching up with it now in full. Well, then, let's get started!
The cold open is not overtly political, playing off of that week's "Selection Sunday" for the NCAA men's basketball tournament on CBS, with Kenan Thompson as Greg Gumbel and Jason Sudeikis playing Jim Nantz. But wait. They've taken basketball's March Madness and combined it with the world's "Actual Madness." Good call. Interestingly, when they reveal the brackets, they substitute Fred Armisen's face for Libya's Gaddafi, but keep the real faces for Egypt's Mubarak and the others in North Africa. I guess it's so as not to confuse the dummies watching on TV when they cut to Armisen as Gaddafi on set, being interviewed by Nasim Pedrad as CBS sports correspondent Tracy Wolfson. The D.C. bracket gets in both politicians and TV anchors, then cuts to Andy Samberg as Dick Vitale. Um, OK. You know that everybody who has ever watched college hoops has a Dick Vitale impersonation (and in the past few years, developed a Gus Johnson voice, TOO!!!!). The Hollywood bracket fits in all of the wacked-out celebs. Kristen Wiig keeps delivering Melissa Leo's Oscar speech. And Bill Hader is back as Charlie Sheen broadcasting live online. They fit a lot in the first five minutes, didn't they? Hoping these leaves room for plenty of absurdist stuff with Galifianakis.
For his second stint as host, Galifianakis already seems a little bit more comfortable at the top of his monologue as he took in the audience cheers and applause. What's so great about Zach, among many things, is knowing that he writes his own monologues. And that he's willing to take risks with it on live network television. He took at least three here. Can you spot them? Yes. Yes you can. And that was before he broke out into lip-sync song.
In great moments in odd timing, the first TV ad break during SNL on this night begins with AFLAC, otherwise known as the company that fired Gilbert Gottfried as its talking-duck spokesduck because he made jokes at the expense of Japan's ongoing catastrophe in the wake of earthquakes, a tsunami and nuclear meltdowns. Was this his last ad for them?
With the week that Charlie Sheen had in all of the media, you'd have to be an idiot not to know that Saturday Night Live would capitalize on it from the get-go. And despite the efforts of some to push Jimmy Fallon back into SNL as Sheen's doppleganger, the show looked within its own cast to find Bill Hader as a Sheen impersonator for the cold opening, which imagined Sheen hosting his own show, Duh! Winning!, even though Sheen himself had just hosted his own show an hour earlier in real time online via Ustream. Which sucked, by the way.
Let's examine the evidence. At least the SNL version offered an opportunity to burn through everyone else who was having a bad PR week in the world. As far as Hader vs. Fallon as Sheens, I'm not sure I liked one that much better than the other. Mostly because I'm sick of seeing anyone (even Charlie Sheen) being on Charlie Sheen. Enough already. So an entire sketch devoted to similar train wrecks? Egad. Abby Elliott played the sidekick role as Christina Aguilera, while Sheen's guests included Nazi sympathizer John Galliano (Taran Killam), Libyan dictator Muammar Muhammad al-Gaddafi (Fred Armisen) and Lindsay Lohan (Miley Cyrus).
Look. I know some people were wondering how a young woman would do hosting SNL, when all she has to her credit is several years working on TV comedy programs and singing in front of large audiences. Turns out...she's going to be OK doing TV comedy and singing on TV!
At 18, Miley Cyrus had the chance to show her "adult" side, as Lohan herself did when she hosted a few years back. This wasn't that. But in her monologue, Cyrus took aim at all of her accusers in song by declaring "I'm Not Perfect." It's all relative, right? Wiig and Moynihan helped out in costume. In its own way, this is perfect for her and the show. Because for everyone who accuses SNL of being off or not quite right, maybe we need to be reminded that SNL isn't perfect, either. Really?!? That was Seth and Amy asking. Not me.
For the first ad spoof, they brought back "Baby Spanx."
And before the first real ads, we had a nice conceptual talk-show sketch hosted by apl.de.ap and Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas. You know. The two people in the quartet known as the Black Eyed Peas that you never hear about. I feel like it would've been stronger without the reminders from Fergie (Cyrus) and Will.I.Am (Jay Pharoah). They kept the concept strong by having as their guest the least of the Kardashians with Khloe (Abby Elliott).
Any episode of Saturday Night Live that opens with Jason Sudeikis supposedly playing Bill O'Reilly (when Suds was so good at Glenn Beck, who is completely different), well, that's going to be problematic.
Fred Armisen also still is pretending to be President Barack Obama, and there's that. Nasim Pedrad is super hot as O'Reilly's assistant, though, so there's that, too, right?
Oh, so Russell Brand is the host of this week's episode, and far be it for me to be the only person to think that his outsized personality and size might be problematic for fitting in with the cast (and also, he's British, so he speaks that way). Brand played off of his stand-up act here, in which he acknowledges that he's still more famous in the United Kingdom than he is in the United States.
Since NBC has gotten so much better at putting buzzworthy clips from SNL online, it's made me less eager to recap the full episodes. Or perhaps it's just ennui from this season in transition. Either way, it's given me a chance to catch up with the past few episodes later, and see if I have a fresh perspective on them.
With Dana Carvey hosting, you knew he'd bring back some of his classic characters, because he had done so before. What you didn't expect was that he'd do so right off the bat in the cold open with Mike Myers returning for a "Wayne's World" reunion. Wayne's World! Excellent! Party time! They even wrote the script to include a callback to their other reunion, which happened not on SNL or even NBC, but at the MTV Movie Awards in 2008. You can see the clip and my first impressions of the Wayne's World reunion on SNL.
The monologue was a little different, because Carvey gave a shoutout to his two teen-aged sons in the audience, who he said had never seen him when he actually was on SNL as a cast member. A mini moment of poignancy. And then he got funny sincere by talking with pride about his cast (1986-1993) being the best SNL cast, because as everyone knows, when it comes to SNL, people have their favorite seasons and casts and say the show hasn't been funny since then. The crowd applauded for Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, more for Andy Samberg, and then even more when Jon Lovitz stepped onstage. "What are you doing here?" That was Carvey asking, for the record.
For the first ad spoof, they went back to the "black noise" well voiced by Jay Pharoah as Kenan Thompson slept, which first aired in episode #36.2 with Bryan Cranston. Just seems "edgy" for the sake of being "edgy."
After the break, we saw the return of Carvey's "Church Lady," who also had a surprise guest in Justin Bieber. He was there without warning, but he had his own movie to promote, and the kids (well, the girls) seem to love him, so why not, right? And oh yeah, Nasim Pedrad as Kim Kardashian (with her sisters) and Bobby Moynihan as Snooki. Sometimes, it doesn't really matter if it's perfect, because these two are perfect in their own ways.
After another break, we're treated to a Vh1 spoof called Celebrity Teen Crisis Center, with celebs answering phone banks for teens. First up, Hader as Alan Alda. Next is Carvey as Mickey Rooney (another of his SNL callbacks), giving bad advice to Paul Brittain. Of course, when this episode aired last month, did we know Rooney would come out publicly to admit that he'd been mistreated in elder care? Fred Armisen gives Ice-T a try. Man, they love having Armisen pretend to be black, don't they? Abby Elliott is Anna Faris giving bad advice to Taran Killam. Of course, this all feels like it was just a build-up to seeing Pharoah do Eddie Murphy. But do you think he botched that last line, or do you think it was written like that? Debate it or don't.
OK. That film trailer spoof of Single White Female which was The Roommate, but with Samberg and Bieber? Still felt phoned in. The fact that Samberg says the name of the movie in the trailer and then declares himself to be a famous actor? I. Don't. Know. Let's move on.
Having already posted two big SNL sketches from last weekend on Saturday night, I wanted to step back from the show and come back to it later. So here we are. Later.
Within a few seconds of watching Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann's alternate response to President Obama's State of the Union address last week, I knew immediately that Saturday Night Live would be putting Kristen Wiig in the cold open to ice this crazy lady and then some. And there she was. But how would SNL play it? They decided to try giving Bachmann (Wiig) a second shot at her response. Oops, she's doing it again. It gets a little absurd at the end, but I came away from it wishing it had gone for an even weirder, less, well, straight-ahead take. The original already was ridiculous enough. Still, this is much better than most of the show's previous political cold opens. So. Good start.
Our host, Jesse Eisenberg, is bustling with energy, isn't he? My thoughts on the Eisenberg monologue, with Andy Samberg as Mark Zuckerberg, and Mark Zuckerberg as Mark Zuckerberg.
More and more, SNL is relying on cheap sexual visuals, and this ad for Estro-maxx is no exception. Look at the man-boobs on Bill Hader and Fred Armisen. Look at Paul Brittain and Bobby Moynihan in drag. I get it. We all get it. First, pubic hair for wigs. Now it's man-boobs. Aren't men with lady parts funny? That's the premise, set-up and punchline here. The only real variation came in the reading of the small print by Wiig, but I don't think many people were paying attention, because they normally don't.
If they're going to continue to do sex jokes, then it's better when there's a sense of playfulness to the affair, which is what we saw in the peek inside Nickelodeon's vault of old "Mr. Wizard's World" episodes. Hader plays Mr. Wizard, and his students (Nasim Pedrad, Eisenberg, Kenan Thompson, Abby Elliott) learn about static electricity by rubbing balloons on themselves and each other. The way Chris and Claudette (Eisenberg and Pedrad) learn the new excitement of rubbing each other, as it were, while the other students and Mr. Wizard are stunned and shocked, is amusing. Things escalate from there. "I want to learn science in the shower."
Next we see an episode of the game show, Don't Forget The Lyrics, with Jason Sudeikis as host Mark McGrath. Eisenberg plays 22-year-old contest Kenny from Rhode Island, a part-time student who got in trouble at his job at Domino's. First up: "I Love Rock N Roll," by Joan Jett. He's jumpy but did, indeed, forget the lyrics. Sudeikis as McGrath cracks about being on a 2 p.m. show on Vh1. "It's all happening." Kenny doesn't remember McGrath's band's song, "Fly." Instead, he blurts out the fact that he has an extra testicle? Or that he gets a boner at the movies? Somebody's writing staff has sex on the brains, y'all.
Gwyneth Paltrow has hosted before. Remember when everyone made a big deal because Ben Affleck made a surprise cameo, and when we learned that Paltrow and Maya Rudolph were besties? Well, in 2011, Affleck isn't walking through that door, and it's doubtful that Rudolph is walking through that door, either. We were reminded more than once by everybody that Paltrow had sung Cee-Lo's 2010 hit, "Fuck You" -- er, I mean, "Forget You"? -- in a recent episode of Glee, so we were to fully expect her to sing this in a duet with Cee-Lo. You know, because she also was in the movie musical, Duets?! Whenever you're told to expect something, lower your expectations. That's what I say.
Now here's what I recap.
We open cold on FOX News and the title card says the network is "Embracing Civility." Ooh, I wonder what that looks like. Won't have to wait long to find out, as Kristen Wiig appears as Greta Van Susteren to anchor the special. Hold on. Have to up the volume on my TV to hear as Wiig's Van Susteren is barely audible with her lips moving from side to side like that. OK. Better now. Bobby Moynihan plays Sean Hannity. Nasim Pedrad shows up as Michelle Malkin, and Jason Sudeikis returns to portray Glenn Beck once more. Beck doesn't want to be part of this, at all. Since they're having such a hard time toning down their rhetoric, they also invited someone from CNN: Democrat James Carville (Bill Hader). Yeah, that should do the trick. Looks like Jim Carrey has more than rubbed off a little bit on Hader, as his version of Carville tonight completely resembling and impersonating Carrey's character in The Mask. Wouldn't everyone agree? Everyone is agreeing. Moving on. Oh, Abby Elliott is here, too, as Rachel Maddow, using Beck's chalkboard.
Was Paltrow's monologue full of goop? She notes what has changed since she last hosted: She has moved to Britain, and starred in the movie Country Strong, and sang her song at the Country Music Awards. And then she made fun of country music. Wait. Sudeikis strolls onstage as Kenny Rogers to test her knowledge of country music. Duet time! "Islands in the Stream." She doesn't know her lyrics. Wiig shows up midway for a walk-through cameo as Dolly Parton. Cee-Lo even shows up to interrupt. Yes. We all know and have gone on the Twitters and the Facebooks to say how his size is proportionately disproportionate to other people's proportions. We get it. SONG PARODY COUNT: 1
SNL decides next to poke fun at NBC's own promos for new show The Cape with promos for spin-offs. Which. Wait a second. I know at least one person in my Twitter feed already did this. If only Twitter could let me search easily to find that person. In the meantime, Pedrad portrays "The Scarf," Hader gets "The Scarf," Andy Samberg is "The Leg Warmer," and Kenan Thompson in "The Sleep Mask," Wiig in "The Bolo Tie," Fred Armisen in "The Water Bottle Holder," Sudeikis in "The Scrunchy," and Moynihan in "The Spanx." It's all based on the visuals, you know. Used to be about the ball bearings. But that was before you were born. Not it's all about the visuals.
After some ads...
The first new SNL of 2011 arrived just hours after a tragic shooting that dominated the national conversation. It also happened to be the week that the GOP regained control of the House of Representatives in Congress, which normally would be fodder for a sketch on SNL, potentially even the cold open. Would the show need to scrap any jokes it had planned about Congress? With Jim Carrey hosting, that's kind of a silly question. It has merit. But let's get physical. C'mon and get physical. Let me hear Jim Carrey's body talk.
First, though, the cold open. They went political, though borrowing the famous Tip O'Neill mantra of all politics being local, kept within the five boroughs of New York City with a message from Mayor Mike Bloomberg about the city's poor response to the post-Christmas blizzard. Featuring Fred Armisen as Bloomberg. I bet you didn't know Bloomberg was black. Wait. Armisen isn't black! He does, however, impersonate both biracial President Barack Obama and now former New York Gov. David Paterson. It's all very confusing times in 2011, where anyone of any race can impersonate anyone of any other racial identity. Let's focus on the important points, shall we? For one thing, can people who don't live in NYC relate to this blizzard issue? Though I live in the city, I wasn't anywhere near it when the blizzard happened, and the shutdown of New York (and particularly its airports) impacted everyone's local news. OK. That's one thing. But was it funny? More like hit-and-miss, as it landed some solid laughs on the more absurdist takes (questions about snow, putting boroughs in their place) than on the specific political take on the city's Sanitation Department.
As host, Jim Carrey was great. Of course he was. You knew he would be. Even if you had forgotten about him, you remembered that he was a real pro in both stand-up and sketch comedy. And he took a monologue that could have been completely cold and stiff -- as it involved audience plants -- and made it seem both real and ad-libbed. I know that the object of his proposal was related to an NBC employee, and yet, it seemed quite real, didn't it?
Then SNL pulled out its multi-played ad parody of Bosley Hair Restoration. Hmmm. Interesting. But then again, how many times did they repeat that "Taco Town" ad parody in Season 31, right? Or is our collective memory being Incepted? Moving on.
Now that everyone in America is within driving distance of a cinema playing "Black Swan," it's time to tackle one of the year's most talked-about movies. Especially since Carrey can channel a former In Living Color character to inhabit the black swan herself. Oh, yes. There were SNL cast members in this sketch, too. Nasim Pedrad played Swan Lake's Queen. Bill Hader took on the creepy ballet master, Kristen Wiig was there as a decoy, and newbie Taran Killam provided featured-player color as a foil for Carrey. Good god. You really get the idea that Carrey still has enough in the tank to jump back into a weekly sketch show, don't you?
In the fake talk show, "Finding Your Power," Jason Sudeikis played host Zach Weinfeld, who helped expose the insecurities of his guests (played by Andy Samberg, Vanessa Bayer and Carrey) by calling their bluffs. Nice job on the third beat.
Grady Wilson (Kenan Thompson) revealed in his ad for his new sex-position tape, "Tantric N Tasty," that he learned his moves from a spiritual guru played by Carrey.
And then there's the "Soul Train" full collection infomercial, hosted by Coughy Robinson (half-brother of Smokey, played by Bobby Moynihan). This is no Deep House Dish. Nope. Hey, look, it's Jay Pharoah as some random black singer dude. Samberg isn't rapping, but pretending to disco. Thompson gets a bunch of extras to join him in The Maxwell Family. Wiig plays Triangle Sally. Killam and Paul Brittain get to play a parody of Devo called Bro-Botix. And Ocean Billy is no Jon Bovi. Sorry, Sudeikis. Oh, Carrey had a role in this one, too.
The Black Keys played a song that sounded like a song I've heard a bunch in TV or movies, or maybe both. Having just watched Tuesday night's edition of The Colbert Report, I realize it was a song in three different national TV campaigns. That explains that.
On Weekend Update, head writer/anchor Seth Meyers didn't shy away from political jokes, opening with the change in House leadership and a joke that even hinted at violence. "Look out Nancy, he's got a hammer!" The desk also welcomed Wiig and Hader to play out the House Speakership transition from Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner. And Hader managed a fake-cry, or was it his take on Bobby Moynihan's Snagglepuss impersonation?
Speaking of Moynihan, here he was again as Second-Hand News correspondent Anthony Crispino. I hear second-hand news and I cannot help but think of SNL writer John Mulaney's routines about the New York Post. I also cannot help but laugh when Moynihan looks to the side as if someone might catch him telling stories out of turn.
You hear about the birds falling out of the sky? How about hearing the story from Cameron the Red-Winged Blackbird, aka Andy Samberg? Notice how Samberg's lips don't move when he squawks about the A-flock-alypse. And Taran Killam gets to jump in with an alternate theory about the Apoca-fish. And they're a couple. Sure. OK. Why not. It's almost 2012.
As for the amusement park ride gone awry sketch, The Merryville Brothers. It featured Carrey, Killam and Hader as animatronic characters who spook out riders Thompson and Wiig for good reason. Great physical comedy on the part of Carrey, Killam and Hader. But something seemed off on the live broadcast. Did they skip over something? Did I skip over something? Trusted sources tell me it went over beyond great during the live dress rehearsal.
Weirdly, people who don't know each other are all visiting a tarot card psychic who claims to speak to the dead. Bayer, Pedrad and Sudeikis are the clients. Carrey is the psychic. Who also was a former celebrity impersonator in the 1980s! Makes sense. Makes total sense. Cue the impersonations! Jimmy Stewart. Billie Holiday. Alan Thicke. Surprisingly, the audience recognizes the voice of Alan Thicke more than Jimmy Stewart. Miss Piggy. Kermit. Charles Bronson. Sudeikis' character loves it. Pedrad doesn't. Fun twist when Bayer's character wants to talk to her dead relative, Marlon Brando. Oh, and Sammy Davis Jr. Look out, Billy Crystal.
For the second song from The Black Keys, they played something that hasn't been in three TV commercials yet. But it's still early in 2011.
And in another of a series of sketches that pits tourist views of New York City with the "real" NYC, Hader welcomed the band "Taste of New York" to an audience that had a front row of Bayer, Samberg, Brittain and Elliott wondering what they were hearing from the band consisting of Armisen, Carrey and Wiig. Can they stay with you? They claim to be homeless and poor in Alphabet City. Was this sketch written in 1994? Funny to see the real audience members laughing behind the extras in the second row.
Hey, never lose your boing! I heard Carrey say that during the good-nights, and well, I'd be hard-pressed to name anyone else who was in sketch comedy in 1991 who'd also be killing it in televised sketch comedy in 2011, so kudos to you, Jim Carrey. Yes, some of it still bordered on shameless mugging, but oh my, so much talent this guy still has in the tank. It must be acknowledged. It must be appreciated. I acknowledge and appreciate you, Jim Carrey.
What did you do with your time off over the holidays? Looks like SNL new kid Jay Pharoah stepped into a recording studio to lend a few of his impersonations for a Money Making Jam Boys mixtape. How many of Pharoah's voices would you like to hear and see more of on the TV?
It's beginning to look a lot like a Christmas episode of Saturday Night Live, and as SNL closed the books on the 2010 half of its 2010-2011 36th season, some of these sketches looked just like others, a dude was sort of Dude-like, while not being dude enough, and I learned that pre-Tweeting sometimes can be just as effective as Re-Tweeting.
Let me explain that last part. ESPN's Bill Simmons has a fairly successful habit of using Twitter to reverse-psych out certain sports teams and athletes (the 21st century version of the Sports Illustrated cover jinx!). So when President Barack Obama held a public bill-signing on Friday for the tax-cut compromise with Republicans, I went to Twitter to predict an SNL cold open about it.
We all were rewarded as the show opened with a political sketch in which none of the political figures uttered a single word! Silence is golden. This was Silent Night, Holy Night of comedy golden. Kenan Thompson had to dress up as Frosty the Snowman, sure, but instead of hot air and dead punchlines, we watched as Obama (Fred Armisen), Hillary Clinton (Vanessa Bayer), Rahm Emanuel (Andy Samberg), Nancy Pelosi (Kristen Wiig) and Joe Biden (Jason Sudeikis) dreamed on Christmas Eve of the headlines they'd love to see in their future stockings. Short and sweet. Thank you. A Christmas miracle.
In the monologue, Jeff Bridges acknowledged it was his first time back at SNL as host since 1983, so almost as long as it took to make another Tron movie. Bridges tried to prove he's not as much of a Dude as the Dude is, but more importantly for the zeitgeist that is Internet peer pressure in 2010, Bridges welcomed a guest to the stage: Cookie Monster! You may recall Cookie Monster posted an SNL audition tape way back in November. Bridges strapped on an acoustic guitar and he and the Muppet sang "Silver Bells." Does it take extra time to clear the rights to a Christmas carol?
While you consider that, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg (Samberg) wanted to thank everyone for Time Magazine naming him Person of the Year, but Julian Assange (Hader) had other ideas. Too soon for another WikiLeaks sketch? You'd think so, but 1) Assange was so much in the news this week as he was granted bail and released, making his case publicly to the mainstream media, and 2) Hader has tapped into an impersonation, which while not anywhere near spot-on, is nevertheless right on the money for the cartoonish villain we've been led to believe he is.
Same goes for the return of The Miley Cyrus Show. The too much of a good thing argument is superseded by the fact that Miley Cyrus made news for getting caught sucking on a big old salvia pipe. Good news, though, for featured player Bayer. She seeks out advice from her guest, Nick Nolte (Bridges), to recover from the media scandal. Paul Brittain gets a role on tape working with Cyrus on an after-school special to say no to drugs.
About this week's SNL Digital Short. It's no "Dick in a Box." It's not even "I'm on a Boat." But with Akon, John McEnroe, Blake Lively and Jessica Alba, and a title/chorus/hook like "I Just Had Sex," this thing is viral. Think of this as the sequel to "Jizz in my Pants," or as the first track on The Lonely Island's next CD, thus ensuring that Billboard's top-selling comedy act of 2009 and 2010 will be selling records into the future.
As I thought about this weekend's episode of Saturday Night Live with host Paul Rudd and musical guest Sir Paul McCartney, I couldn't help but think a bit more about last week's mysterious mess with Robert DeNiro. DeNiro has been a bit of a dud before, while Rudd was great when he first hosted two winters ago (the week Abby Elliott and Michaela Watkins joined the show, and Justin Timberlake made a cameo with Beyonce and the boys for their Single Ladies dance!). I wondered if any cast or writers held back their better pitches last week, knowing this week was coming. I also began to wonder, if they really wanted to get a host to promote Little Fockers, well, they had Ben Stiller there -- but wouldn't it have been that much greater to see Dustin Hoffman host SNL??? It's a rhetorical question, because the answer is an obvious yes. How come that hasn't happened yet?
And as I got to thinking, I also realize fully now that this is Bill Hader's season. I haven't crunched any numbers, but my own memories of this fall's episodes reminds me that Hader, more than anyone else in the cast, has held court with his multiple celebrity impersonations (and Stefon) and by more literally holding court as the host of various game show and talk show sketches. Kristen Wiig hasn't been nearly as dominant, at least compared to last year, and whereas Fred Armisen, Andy Samberg and Kenan Thompson still get their fair share of face time, Hader is the glue holding this season together, such that it is.
But enough wondering. Let's get to the SNL All-Paul edition recap!
The cold open could not have been colder. I imagine the premise pitch went like this: President Obama has Stockholm Syndrome! Get it? And yet, in what felt like several minutes, I kept waiting to hear something resembling a punchline, and kept getting the sense that Fred Armisen was going through the motions of his impersonation. You can argue that someone with "Stockholm Syndrome" would seem like a zombie. And yet. And yet. There was barely any comedy in this sketch.
The monologue, on the other hand, was delightful, as host Paul Rudd had a misunderstanding with Sir Paul McCartney, and then featured player rookie Paul Brittain finally had his own chance to shine. Short and sweet!
That philosophy continued into the ad spoof slot, which didn't try to do too much. Establish your premise. Execute cleanly. Get out. You want gourmet cat food? We'll give you gourmet cat food! (Spoiler alert: It's still cat food)
And then there's the Vogelchecks. Otherwise known as the kissing family that kisses a little too often and a little too passionately with each other. We all know that SNL always has loved building recurring sketches and characters, but in recent seasons, it feels as though the writers aren't as creative in putting these characters into new and different situations. Instead, it has become more of a lazy cut-and-paste script situation. With the Vogelchecks, I do recall the kissing family got a bit weirder than usual during the Zach Galifianakis episode when they had them kissing during a funeral. But what did we get this time? An elderly aunt and uncle from Romania with their own style of kissing? A random and unexplained grabbing of Santa's jingle balls? And when Armisen's patriarchal character decided to explain to Vanessa Bayer's hesitant visiting girlfriend what the kissing was all about, there was absolutely zero payoff. Why didn't you have a payoff? Remember when Christopher Walken explained the importance of a wristwatch in Pulp Fiction? Now that was a payoff. This sketch: Nope. Just the same ol' appeal to audience freak outs and shriek outs from men open-mouth Frenching each other. At least the gum was a switch. Sort of. Otherwise, I'm done with the Vogelchecks. This isn't so much a recurring sketch as it is an idea that audiences have completely forgotten past Vogelcheck sketches, so this is somehow new to them. I suppose for the most casual viewer, that is nevertheless true. For me, though, this is merely ho-ho-hum.
The situational comedy improved significantly after a commercial break, when "What's That Name?" a game show cut from a previous episode's dress rehearsal, found its way into the live show. Hader plays the host, while Rudd and Bayer are contestants who must correctly identify the identities first of celebrities, and then of people they encounter on a daily basis. Like the doorman. Or the woman who cleans your office. Or your summer interns. The doorman example might be a bit NYC-specific, but the premise on the whole is so spot on. Loved it! "Say hi to the wife for me."
The SNL Digital Short started as if it were going to be a 9-to-5 parody, and then turned into something much sillier and cheerful, as most of the more absurd Lonely Island shorts are. We also got our second appearance by Sir Paul McCartney, who performed not one but two little ditties. This video isn't online yet, as they have to clear the music rights for the popular melodies that were used here. Soon, though, we hope! Stumblin!
If Saturday Night Live welcomes back one of America's iconic award-winning actors as a returning host, and adds a couple of surprise cameos from big-name comedians, then we can just pretend that on paper, this would have been a great episode and forget that they actually aired the thing. Right?
But that's why we play the games. Oops. Sorry. Focused a little bit on sports and ESPN recently. The mixed metaphor still applies here, though, because, no disrepect to Robert DeNiro and SNL, but maybe they shouldn't keep asking him back if he cannot do the job of reading lines on live TV, or if they cannot do the job of writing cue cards in big enough letters for him to read them properly. Really, Seth and Amy?!? OK, just Seth. OK, just Lorne, then.
The episode actually got off to a solid start, with a misdirect cold open message from President Barack Obama (and yes, still played by Fred Armisen, so just groan and bear it) interrupted almost immediately by Julian Assange (Bill Hader), the guy responsible for WikiLeaks. But this turns out to be a misdirect, as Assange is heading up a new made-for-TV version called WikiLeaks: TMZ. I try not to watch and thereby support the TV version of TMZ, because in doing so, we're all encouraging the paparazzi to attack anyone anywhere anytime. That said, I did recognize the guy Andy Samberg was trying to play. Armisen shows up as Gaddafi with Kristen Wiig on his arm, DeNiro plays Harmid Karzai, Vanessa Bayer plays Hillary Clinton with an upskirt, and there are roles, albeit minor for Kenan Thompson, Bobby Moynihan, Paul Brittain, Jay Pharoah, Nasim Pedrad and Jason Sudeikis as Joe Biden.
Robert DeNiro's monologue was passable, with the premise being that he can say whatever he wants to say about NYC and get away with it, because who's going to challenge him on it? Not some pesky SNL writer posing as an audience member! Although there's a warning sign already due to lack of emotion as DeNiro reads his lines.
Fake ad time! Have you ever seen a TV ad for a book written by a best-selling thriller writer? They're weird. So is this one, which poses DeNiro as Harlan Kane, the author of a series of books poking fun at such thrillers and their premises. Can't wait to find out what happens in "The Pokemon Directive." Not sure about that closing line, though. Maybe if the VO (by Higgins!) said it instead of DeNiro? I don't know. Moving on.
We see in the ad break that Pedrad is going over the dance moves with Bayer for "What Up With That." Ooh. Eee.
OK. What's up with What Up With That? And by that, I mean, Kenan Thompson sings "What's up with that?" in the lyrics, but the sketch is clearly "What Up With That." Also: Why would you have DeNiro up the ante by putting the brakes on Thompson's singing, and then not actually heighten the sketch? Will Sudeikis catch his track-suit pants before they fall down as he dances? Is Robin Williams reading cue cards or improvising? How many hairdos does Shasta Taffy have up her hairline? Why would Robin Williams tease us about Twitter if he does not have a Twitter account? Big tease!
Here is where things really got roughage. DeNiro as "Mr. Produce" reminded me of the Tony on WCBS-TV here in NYC who has a regular produce segment on the local news, except the real-life Tony never is at a loss for words and doesn't have to work with his son, played by Samberg as a guy who responds to questions with questions. Did you like when DeNiro slipped and called Samberg "Andy"? How about when he then stopped and stumbled over his next lines? The only time he seemed in his element was when he was throwing produce off-screen. Then he found some sort of rhythm.
It's an SNL Digital Short, and it would appear that Samberg, Hader and DeNiro are re-enacting the surprisingly popular 1989 film Weekend At Bernies, but with a twist. A couple of twists! Is that enough for you? Or were you hoping for something a little more original? Someone in my Twitter feed just joked that SNL has officially become MADtv. Rut-ro. Are you going to sit there and take that zinger? No, you're not. You're going to come right back with a great holiday show thanks to Paul Rudd and Paul McCartney, that's what you're going to do!
Jay Pharoah is a very confident young man. And yet he is still a young man. Both of those things were plainly evident as Pharoah became one of the quickest SNL hires to get a sit-down with David Letterman on last night's Late Show.
If you were hoping to learn more about Pharoah, you'll leave this clip not knowing more than you maybe already knew, especially if you're a loyal reader of this site. Pharoah opened big with an absurd gag on Letterman, then showed his youth by getting thrown off by Dave's next sincere question. He does voices, and we heard him do his big ones -- Eddie Murphy, Denzel Washington, Will Smith, President Barack Obama -- and we also heard him do a little bit of Lorne Michaels as he recounted his audition process this summer. Remember: He's just a featured player in his rookie season. Vanessa Bayer has a great recurring sketch, Paul Brittain and Taran Killam are still hoping to get some real screen time on SNL, and here is Pharoah doing panel with Letterman!
So while you get all excited hearing Pharoah do two lines as Obama, and wonder if this shot across the bow will convince Lorne to put him in coach instead of Fred Armisen, just remember the real highlight is the fact that Pharoah was on Letterman already to begin with.
Roll the clip!
We've been up, we've been down, but we are strong, heartache to heartache we stand, ready to recap another episode of Saturday Night Live. Anne Hathaway gets her second chance to host the show. She's a lovely young actress, who in her new movie that comes out this month, takes off her clothes a bunch of times and hops in the sack with Jake Gyllenhaal. That's something I can support without feeling too worried about if I were her boyfriend. Which I'm not. Probably not ever. So let's not try to dwell on that. Instead, let's see if SNL can do something memorable this week.
We start political, but from the TV side, as Abby Elliott -- remember her? -- gets to kick things off playing MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow. Bill Hader plays probable new Speaker of the House John Boehner of Ohio, and although Elliott's Maddow will make a quip about his orange skin, someone forgot to tell SNL's lighting and makeup people to orange up Hader's face. Someone should tell them! Kristen Wiig plays outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and proves once again that she shines when she's not playing so over the top. And Kenan Thompson plays embattled NYC Congressman Charlie Rangel, who asked for an ethics trial only to show up last week without a lawyer. That guy. Anyhow. It spreads out the political jokes. But you know who likes these political cold opens? Political junkies. And do you know who likes political junkies? Nobody. Wiig's selling the sketch on facial expressions alone, while Rangel gets laughs confusing Maddow for a boy or young man. Don't worry, Rachel. It gets better?
Hathaway's monologue acknowledges her multiple nude scenes (and her "nude" cover of EW) with some parodies of such. Cast members come up to her with subsequent changes to sketches -- but will we get to see a "boardroom sketch" with Andy Samberg, or a "Turkey family sketch" with Bobby Moynihan, or a "funeral sketch" with Thompson? Reading too much into this. It closes with a different joke, which plays upon family Thanksgivings, but also kinda weird considering Hathaway's past, don't you think? Anyhow...
Fake ad slot for the win, with the TSA groping procedure turned into a dating ad. "Do you want to feel contact in certain special places?" Nice. Wiig, Elliott and Nasim Pedrad play the ladies looking to touch you, while Hader, Thompson and Moynihan play the actual TSA airport agents. Way to be on top of it.
Well, what do you know, a newbie cast member gets a recurring character, as Vanessa Bayer returns for a second go-around of "The Miley Cyrus Show." Pretty cool! Jason Sudeikis now sits in with the band as Billy Ray Cyrus (he had been played by guest host Bryan Cranston the first time), with Moynihan still in as the band's silent drummer. "Well, as you probably heard, I'm sexy now!" Miley's guest is Katie Holmes, and where in the world did Hathaway pull out this impersonation?!?! A. Maz. Ing. More than pretty cool. Looks like Taran Killam is behind the Batman suit in Miley's screen test. So far, so good, SNL.
Side note: Always curious to see how advertisers try to make special parody ads of their own ads when they buy time during SNL. Rapunzhair? Moving on.
Why does this season of Saturday Night Live feel like it's just missing a certain something? Or is it a certain someone? Cannot put my finger on it. Each week this fall, critics have pointed fingers at the show, claiming it lifted a sketch premise from this place or that place, or that it had too much Kristen Wiig, or not enough Kristen Wiig. You're not using the new kids! You're not using the new kids properly! Lonely Island's out. No, wait, they're still in! Up is down. Down is up. The funny sketches come later in the show after you've already tuned out. Tonight's episode spelled out everything that's not quite special about this season before the opening credits.
We opened cold with a CSPAN feed of President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao meeting at the G20 Conference. Fred Armisen, still, inexplicably, is playing Obama. Bill Hader is, for lack of an Asian cast member, playing Chinese. Nasim Pedrad (who is Iranian-American, points for that?) is translating. Their premise: The one thing Obama didn't talk with China about was the fact that the U.S. owes China $800 billion. If it all feels a little been there, done that, it's because they have been there and done that. And these long, ponderous political cold opens are no longer SNL's forte. Especially when they're lacking Will Forte, who played Hu Jintao in this same exact sketch last November. Meet the new sketch. Still as lackluster as the old sketch. SNL #36.6, meet SNL #35.7. It's one thing to have a recurring character. But a recurring cold open? That offers nothing new? Ugh. Strap in for a long haul.
Fun fact in the monologue: It's ScarJo's third time hosting. Did you know that? I'm going to call her ScarJo because trying to remember the spelling of Scarlett Johansson is too time-consuming, and you need that time for other things. Like writing jokes? She says she's keeping a low profile, but her hair is saying high-profile! Her monologue about celebutards is all prelude for her to sing a song from "Chicago." And get Kristen Wiig onstage as Dina Lohan. And Abby Elliott as Ke$ha. You didn't miss much. Presumably not online due to licensing rights for the tune.
In the post-monologue ad spoof spot, we're treated to a look at a new MTV series: "My Super Sweet 16 and Pregnant!" with a teen preggers ScarJo, and "America's Best Pregnant Dance Crew" hosted by "DILF" Mario Lopez (Andy Samberg) and a dance crew with Pedrad and Elliott, Nick Cannon's "Wild'N Out" is back (with Jay Pharaoh), and a new version of "Cribs" with Vanessa Bayer and a crib, and "I'm Snooki and Pregnant" with Bobby Moynihan returning as Snooki. MTV: Maternity Television. Snooki was good for a chuckle. But the video felt like it was going through the motions instead of going for it.
After our first ad break, it's another TV parody, this time of Bravo's "millionaire matchmaker," with ScarJo as the matchmaker (what's her name Patti) and Moynihan and Elliott as her assistants from the show. OK. Before I decide whether I like this sketch, let me just say that I really do appreciate the Internet nod (intentional or subtle) to Vanessa Bayer's real-life dating video submission by casting her in this scripted awkward one. "You look like a visible fart," Patti says of her millionaire "Candace." Then out of nowhere comes her perfect match in Taran Killam. I felt like the point of this sketch was summed up in the end, when ScarJo told us, "Who knows? Who cares? Shut up!"
The folks at Access Hollywood asked Denzel Washington on the red carpet for his new movie, Unstoppable, what he thought about comedian Jay Pharoah's impersonation of Denzel on SNL. His answer may surprise you.