Monthly Archives: September 2009

Farewell to My Favorite Top Chef

Spoiler ahead if you didn’t yet watch last week’s Top Chef!!!

As we count down the hours until episode 7 of Top Chef: Las Vegas let us take a moment to look back and honor its most recent exile, Chef Ron Duprat.  His childlike wonder delighted us through half a dozen episodes, and although at times it seemed he didn’t know how to make most dishes, and often appeared completely lost, you have to tip your cap to a man who walked around the Vegas desert asking the other contestants for a sword.  Why he needed a sword to make a coconut lime tuna ceviche we’ll never know (we’ll also never really grasp what a coconut lime tuna ceviche is), but you have to appreciate his thinking outside the box (or maybe the sword was intended for his universally reviled Haitian Mojito.  Again, why he’d need a sword for that…oh, maybe he meant like those little plastic swords for cherries that are sometimes used instead of toothpicks).  But, despite Ron’s innovation, he was unable to survive a disappointing deconstructed paella (or as judge Toby Young calls it, pa-ella, like the Rhianna jam. Pa-ella, ella, ella) even though paella is a dish Ron claims he makes everyday in his restaurant.  As his self-proclaimed vice was coming to the US from Hati in a small boat, methinks Ron was a little confused during some of the challenges, and this was pretty obvious when Eli and Kevin tried to explain what deconstruction means.  I think it broke Ron’s brain.

Huh?

Ron, your limitations be damned!  We toast to you with a disgusting Mojito.  Without you the incidence of red Crocs has been reduced by a stunning 100%.

Ron Red Crocs

Luckily, the saturation of tattoos remains at record levels.

Neck Tatoo

Nice.

No word yet it Reginald VelJohnson will play Ron in the Top Chef Vegas movie, but I hear they are in talks.

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SNL (and SNL Related) Round Up: F-Bombs, Fieri and Fallon

Continuing with the ‘F’ theme, first let me apologize for a little bit of a hiatus, following a period of unprecedented output.  I will (hopefully) be returning to regular updates now.  Moving on!

After the tease that is Weekend Update Thursday, Saturday Night Live returned for real this past weekend to, I must say, middling results.  After two strong editions of the Thursday night show, and the benefit of the summer to clear their heads and develop new material, the show was lazy and disappointing, in Heidi Klum’s words, a “snoozefest” (jog ahead to 40:40).  Megan Fox proved game, and wasn’t a liability (to be fair, she did play herself in three sketches (not including the monologue), but she played herself very convincingly), but the sketches were uninspired.  And with all the new material they could have introduced they instead went immediately back to the well, giving us a second helping of Kenan Thompson’s Grady Wilson character (who demonstrates various sexual positions, named for a less lascivious action with the same motion), and during Weekend Update inviting up frequent guests Parisian Def Jam comedian Jean K. Jean (Thompson again) and Kristen Wiig’s nervous travel writer, Judy Grimes (again, to be fair, their spots were at least topical, Jean K. Jean discussing the G-20 and Grimes talking about travel during the recession).  I’m not sure if Jean K. Jean was ever more than mildly amusing, but the Judy Grimes bit was once very entertaining.  And while I think the character’s rapid fire delivery demonstrates Wiig’s phenomenal and undeniable talent, it’s getting a little tired.  Maybe for the first show they wanted to play some classics first, instead of challenging the audience with some new characters.  Of course, for those who saw the East Coast feed it didn’t matter because the mediocre nature of the show was overshadowed by new cast member Jenny Slate uttering the F word during her debut sketch, “Biker Chick Chat.”

As this was Jenny Slate’s first show, and her first lead role in a skit, the obvious initial thought was that perhaps she had ended her SNL career before even getting through an episode, that perhaps she would experience a similar fate to that of the late Charles Rocket, who was axed after uttering the F-word during the  80-81 season.   However, it seems that her slip-up has proven beneficial to both Slate and SNL.  Instead of being semi-known as a new cast member, overnight Slate made her mark, albeit notoriously.  And, as NY Magazine’s Vulture blog points out, SNL and NBC don’t seem to mind the publicity, as they have not pulled down clips of the sketch in question from YouTube, as they normally do with their proprietary content.  Furthermore, Slate has gone ahead and created a catchphrase, “I f*cking love you for that,” that will now enter the zeitgeist, and will have far more staying power than the FCC approved alternative (plus, as the premise of the sketch was that every sentence includes at least one use of the modifier “freaking,” it was basically an accident waiting to happen).

Despite a lackluster premiere for SNL classic, last week’s Weekend Update Thursday continued to provide solid laughs, welcoming back Fred Armisen’s Gov. David Patterson and his unprovoked barbs towards New Jersey.  The cold open was also a success, sending up President Obama’s recent interviews with numerous news outlets.  The highlight of this sketch was probably Jason Sudeikis’ Glenn Beck impression, (and tip of the hat should also be given to Nasim Pedrad’s for her first appearance, as a convincing enough Kathy Griffith) but our favorite moment was another new impression, that of Food Network personality and TGI Fridays spokesman Guy Fieri (as played by sophomore Bobby Moynihan).  The host of Guy_FieriDiners, Drive-ins and Dives, has been a favorite (target) for JumpedTheSnark for a while, and is the subject of a very upcoming post, and it was nice to see SNL take note of Fieri and his propensity of take meals to the extreme (For further proof, just visit his BBQ-Sushi joint, Tex Wasabi’s).  Here’s hoping Moyniahan reprises his Fieri impression again, and soon (and maybe they can throw in an Alton Brown for good measure.  Oh, and Melanie Hutsell could stop by with her acclaimed Paula Dean mimic).

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However, the recent sketch from an SNL member that I enjoyed the most is actually a bit I caught on Jimmy Fallon last night (okay, former SNL cast member).  I was describing to my roommate a segment in which Fallon instructs his house band The Roots to improvise song lyrics based off scant facts about audience members and to compose the tunes in a very specific musical style (like Bollywood movies or a Disney opus); lo and behold when I turned on the show last night he was playing this very game (and with all respect to Jimmy, the Roots are the most talented people on the program).  So after this bit we kept the dial tuned to Late Night and caught this sketch with guest (and mixed martial artist/street brawler) Kimbo Slice:

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It certainly wasn’t the smartest piece, but I laughed harder in those 3 minutes than I did during the 60 odd minutes of material on last week’s SNL.  And to Fallon’s credit, while his interviewing skills are still very suspect, Late Night has putting out some of the best (and most absurd) comedy bits of all the late night talkers (take note, Jay).

And as for SNL, Ryan Reynolds hosts this weekend, so I have high hopes.  If it’s not funny, at least I know it’ll be charming.

Oh, and much like the “Michaela Watkins Club” feature on Vulture that I wrote about a few weeks back, Entertainment Weekly compiled their own gallery of blink and you missed them SNL castmembers.

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Filed under Analysis, Good Humor, Saturday Night Live, Tex Wasabi's, Yvonne Hudson

Parks and Recreation: Another Look

KnopeLike many of you, I was both skeptical and curious when Parks and Recreation premiered last spring.  From the minds behind The Office, and at one time referred to as the Office spin-off, the pressure was immense, as would be the scrutiny.   Could producers Greg Daniels and Michael Shur strike gold twice?  Could they take the same faux-documentary format, change the setting to local government instead of a paper factory, insert Amy Poehler for Steve Carell and have the same success?  Even if it was funny, would it still just be an Office knock off?

I watched the first episode (well, to be totally honest, half-watched on Hulu while folding laundry) and found that it was only sorta funny and announced many comparisons to its predecessor, match-ups that it surely lost.  So it was a good effort, not great, but I knew that as long as it would be seen as the step-sister to The Office it wouldn’t fare favorably.

After the premiere I became preoccupied with preparing for my move out west, and didn’t catch the subsequent episodes.  When I arrived in LA I found that my new roommate had recorded the finale for me, thinking that I would want to see it (what a sweetheart).  Well, I didn’t want to watch it without seeing the previous episodes, so I let it languish on the DVR, hoping/expecting that NBC would rerun episodes 2-5 during the dog days of summer.  And one day I turned on the TV and there it was, episode 2, “Canvassing.”  And a funny thing happened.  It was funny.  Not just amusing like the pilot, but actually funny.

Viewings of the following episodes confirmed this feeling, the show continued to improve and my affection towards it grew.  It found a better rhythm; the whole cast was more involved; Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope began to feel like a real character with Michael Scott potential; Aziz Ansari was consistently hilarious as the cunning Tom Haverford; and Paul Schneider brought the charm he flashed in David Gordon Green’s All the Real Girls, but now as a fully grown man, the sanity inside Pawnee Parks and Recreation Department.

And I thought to myself if only it wasn’t compared to The Office then people would see that it’s actually worth watching.

But then I changed my mind.  I belive that Parks and Rec actually might fare better when viewed through the prism of The Office.

When we think of The Office now usually forget that it struggled through six middling episodes as a mid-season replacement in the Spring of 2005, and it wasn’t until midway through the second season when it really found its stride and started hooking viewers.  So with that in mind, isn’t it only fair to give Parks and Recreation the benefit of the doubt?  It has a brilliant actor playing well meaning but flawed leader, surrounded by a talented cast.  And like The Office, it has a romance.  The inter-office sparks between Poehler’s Knope and Schneider’s Mark Brendanawicz might not have the same weight or emotion of Pam and Jim,  but it has its unique charms, and should ground the show as it progresses in season two.

However, there are some things the show needs to do to keep it on an upward trajectory, and to eventually escape from the shadow of Dunder-Mifflin:

1. Like Michael Scott, in the end Leslie Knope needs to maintain believability.  She can say and do dumb things, but ultimately there has to be a reason for her to be in the position she’s in, and we have to be able to get behind her.  Michael Scott is an oblivious, tasteless buffoon, but he’s proven time and again to actually be an effective salesman, and this allows us to accept his flaws.  So every once in a while Leslie needs to win one.

2. Continue to develop the supporting cast.  In The Office‘s second season the scope expanded past Michael, Dwight, Jim and Pam to include the colorful characters around the company.  In its brief run Parks and Recreation has already began to do this, but they need to stay on the path.

3. Perhaps most importantly, figure out what to do with Rashida Jones.  Jones is a beautiful actress and a wonderful comedian (and daughter to Quincy Jones.  Just needed to say it.), and as The Office‘s Karen Filippelli she proved that she can create a compelling, rich character (she somehow managed to take a person whom we should have hated, Pam’s replacement, and made her likable.  No easy feat).  But so far on Parks and Rec, as nurse Ann Perkins, I feel like she’s been somewhat wasted as Knope’s sidekick and straight man, as well as stuck in a hard to swallow relationship with her crippled, lay-about boyfriend (Chris Pratt).  In last season’s finale it seemed like Ann would be making some changes, and for the show’s sake I hope this means that Jones will be given better material with which to demonstrate her considerable talents in the upcoming season.

Parks and Recreation isn’t The Office yet, not by a long shot.  But it shows promise.  And I think it deserves a chance, just like the one we gave its forefather.  And then, who knows, maybe in a few years we’ll be talking about a Parks and Recreation spin-off (later changed to a faux-documentary set in a Teacher’s Lounge).

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And check out TV Gal’s similar take on the show (just below her Bones preview).

Oh, and Parks and Recreation returns tonight at 8:30pm, just after the season premiere of Weekend Update Thursdays (featuring the (temporary) return of, yes, Amy Poehler).



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Jay Leno Still Jay Leno. Why is Anyone Surprised?

So when the critics say that The Jay Leno Show is too similar to Leno on The Tonight Show, they really just mean that it’s also not funny, right? Who cares if it’s the same format (minus a desk during interviews), the important thing is to produce an entertaining 60 minutes. And that didn’t happen.

And your first guest was The Dan Band. Not a great start, Jay.*

*And, yet, I watched it.  Curiosity killed the cat.

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Big Week for Yvonne Hudson (And Other Forgotten SNL Cast Members)

Yvonne HudsonIn a feature I’ve been meaning to link to for days, NY Mag’s Vulture blog slideshowed “The Michaela Watkins Club,” a gallery of other not yet ready for prime time players who had blink and you missed it stints on SNL.  When researching for my post analyzing the dismissal of Watkins and Casey Wilson, I noted these brief tenures, and it’s a fun piece.  It’s also interesting (And encouraging.  And simultaneously defeating.) that the roster of comedians who quickly got the hook varies from stars like Ben Stiller, Damon Wayans and Janeane Garafalo to others who faded into obscurity like Patrick Weathers, Dan Vitale and Emily Prager (who never actually appeared in a sketch, so I guess she also started in obscurity).   And I also enjoy that Paul Schaffer moved over from the SNL band and had a brief turn as a featured cast member,

One gripe, however: the inclusion on this list of veteran SNL writers Jim Downey (James to you), Alan Zweibel and Tom Schiller.  Sure, their appearances as cast members might have been relative failures, but between the three of them they amass writing credits for 742 SNL episodes, not including specials.  Citing Downey seems particularly egregious considering that by himself he boasts 488 SNL writing credits (and counting) and is one of if not the main voice for political humor at SNL .  The feature also notes that Downey, “might be best known for penning the majority of Norm MacDonald’s jokes during his controversial reign as anchor of Weekend Update.”  While he did he did receive some attention for this, I would argue that after 22 years of working on the show (with a few gaps in there) he had his most visible and acclaimed run last season, penning the Democratic Presidential Debates sketches that received so much press.  There’s no denying that the show was lauded last season for its election year sketches, and with Downey at the heart of the political commentary it seems silly to include him on a list of all-time SNL casting miscues.  And, at the very least, he might be better known as Andy Samberg’s Dad (and Jonah Hill’s boyfriend).

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Quick Jim Downey trivia:

  1. Appeared in There Will be Blood as the proprietor of a real estate office (with a heck of a beard).
  2. Uncle to Robert Downey, Jr.

And speaking of Paul Schaffer, you got any gum?

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My Favorite VMA Moment: 15-Year Old Defends Taylor Swift, Starts Beef?

I returned home late last night after absorbing a brutal pub trivia loss, compounded (or alleviated) by the fact that the winning team included Thom Yorke.  Yes, that Thom Yorke.  I mean, I don’t see how we could have won when out of three categories one was a music round and we were competing against a team with Thom Yorke.  Yes, that Thom Yorke.  From Radiohead.  And another round centered on world geography, and everyone knows Americans have no concept of the world outside of the US (and not much within it).   And Thom Yorke has probably been to more countries than I can name.  So yeah, it was unfair.  Cause they had Thom Yorke.  You know.  Kid A.  OK Computer.  Hail to the Thief.  In Rainbows.  The Eraser.  Yes!  That Thom Yorke (not to be confused with Theodoric of York).

ANYWAY, I came among to find the blogosphere aflutter with talk of Kanye West and his villainous deeds.  I had remembered that the NFL started yesterday, but totally forgot about the VMAs.  But, apparently, by ripping the microphone from a frozen Taylor Swift, Kanye made the show relevant again.  After reading the litany of comments on Facebook and Twitter, I decided to turn on MTV to see if I could catch the replay.   Luckily I tuned in just in time to see Lada Gaga’s brilliant?/tramautizing/bloody/WTF? performance.

However, it was after the next commercial break when my favorite moment arrived.  Coming out to introduce Taylor Swift’s defiant musical performance were Miranda Cosgrove and a previously unknown to me adolescent Canadian singer named Justin Bieber (Dylan and/or Cole Sprouse must have been busy).  What I didn’t know was that Bieber, with the sleeves of his Members Only jacket pushed up past his elbows, was about to defend the honor of Miss Swift:

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Got to give the kid credit, he demonstrated some courage, calling out Kanye like that.  I just fear that this will start a beef, and it’s only a matter of time before Kanye strikes back in rap form, backed by fellow stage crasher Lil’ Mama (then again, maybe they’ll bond over the way they both like to wear their circa 1980s jackets).  Something tells me that young Master Bieber is hoping his chivalry will pay off with a kiss from the damsel in distress.  Or at least an opening slot on her sold out next tour. 

And then Swift, still no doubt trying to figure out what the hell happened earlier in the show,  belted out her VMA winning song in an F line subway car.  After riding that train to and from Manhattan for 3 years I can tell you that never happens.  To be honest, it was kind of a cool performance, but you just know there was some guy at the 57th Street Station wondering where the F was the F train.

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Oh, and Lady Gaga and Kermit the Frog on the red carpet.  I honestly don’t know what to make of this.

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Oh, I guess the joke is “Who is more fake?”

I’ll let you decide.


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What, Lorne Michaels Worry?

And SNL week continues:

In honor of the release of Beatles Rock Band

This photo is relevant. Beatles Rock Band. Duh!

In yesterday’s Washington Post columnist Tom Shales previews the trepidation that is coming with the soon to arrive 35th season of Saturday Night Live.  He is right on when he asserts that SNL

“…has been up and down in ratings and quality (never falling as low as it has risen high) over the decades…”

It does seem that every year there is the traditional “Saturday Night Dead” headline, but then SNL rises from the ashes and continues to the be preeminent sketch comedy in our popular culture.  Where Shales I think missteps is suggesting that Lorne Michaels is nervous about the upcoming season, since they will no longer have the election to exploit.  Shales writes,

“Still, for Michaels, the good news can barely hide a world of worry. ‘It comes and goes like everything else,’ he says, with his usual nonchalance, of the show’s success.  But this season seems predestined to be worrisome. There’s no election, for one thing.”

To me, that doesn’t sound like someone who is worried.  Shales, himself, seems to indicate this, noting Lorne’s signature “nonchalance.”  No, despite the fact that the cast and writers can no longer mine the cultural and political zeitgeist that was the 2008 electoral drama, I don’t think Lorne Michaels is worried.  SNL goes through this cycle every four years; it has sourced material from nine presidential elections and it’s always managed to survive, even if it sorta treads water for three seasons until the next round of primaries.  But the truth is Saturday Night Live is now an institution, a fabric of our culture and just as permanent a television fixture as 60 Minutes.  The cast will change, and so will the targets and the comedic sensibilities, but as long as there is TV (or semblance of it.  Hello Hulu.), there will be SNL.

————————————————————————————————————————

Shales also attributes concerns over the news season to Tina Fey’s commitments to 30 Rock and in effect her inability to reprise her defining (and campaign derailing) Sarah Palin impression.  Well, despite the fact that Tina Fey is the nexus of 30 Rock, and that appearing on SNL last season exhausted her, and the added responsibility of being a mother, her show shoots at Silvercup Studios in Queens, and I think if Lorne asks really nicely she can manage an appearance or two.  But you know what?  Sarah Palin was so 2008.  If SNL wants to repeat a fraction of its success of last year it needs to stay relevant.  And to do that it needs to forget last season, no matter how acclaimed it was.  Because if they try to imitate 2008 it’ll be just that, an imitation, a poor, disappointing copy of the original.

However, that being said, here is my favorite politically themed sketch from S34:

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The Edge is Really Serious About Being The Edge

Mr. The Edge

This past week’s Entertainment Weekly included a Q&A with U2’s The Edge about the new documentary It Might Get Loud, in which he appears with Jack Black and Jimmy Page. When asked if he has a favorite White Stripes song he responds,

“…I wrote this sketch of a song, which I was really excited about. I went over to my brother’s house and told him, ‘Dik, I gotta play you this new tune!’ After about 16 bars he says, ‘Edge, that is ‘Seven Nation Army.’ I said, ‘What? Get out of here. Is not!’ I went back and listened, and it wasn’t exactly, but it was way too close. I played it for Jack, and he was like, ‘Mmm, it’s a bit close, isn’t it?'”

Okay, so The Edge wrote a “Seven Nation Army” ripoff, no big deal.  But more importantly, The Edge makes his brother call him, “Edge?!”  You’d think between brothers “David” or “Dave” would be fine.  But I guess not.  Not only that, but The Edge gets to be The Edge while his brother remains “Dik.” Doesn’t seem fair.

I wonder what Bono’s brother Sheldon* calls his bro.

*This name is made up.  I don’t know if Bono even has a brother.**

**Oh, he does, and his name is Norman.***

***And according to Wikipedia Bono’s family has been referring to him as his stage name since adolescence.  Well, there you have it.

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Whew. Crisis Averted. Kristen Wiig Not Joining Weekend Update

I was just about to write a post expressing my disappointment with the news/rumors that Kristen Wiig would be taking Amy Poehler’s place at the Weekend Update desk alongside Seth Meyers.  To me, that’s a mistake.  The idea is to alleviate Wiig’s workload, not increase it.  And it doesn’t make sense to award her the anchor job at the expense of her presence in sketches, which would have surely suffered given the time commitment needed for Update.  Even though they definitely need to pepper the sketches with the new female cast members the show still requires healthy dose of Wiig, just not record setting levels.  Which is why I was happy to hear that the rumor was debunked.

However, in addition to not joining Update, they should also cut back on Wiig’s appearances on Update segments, like her frequent turns as travel writer Judy Grimes and film critic Aunt Linda.  The bits are amusing, but too similar to some of her other characters (although her personification of Barbie was inspired).Vodpod videos no longer available.

The Weekend Update guest segments have traditionally been a place where those cast members who don’t get much attention in the regular sketches can present their own material and grab some airtime, which is why you so often saw Tracey Morgan and Colin Quinn visiting the desk, and even Adam Sandler and his song stylings before that.  So this season they should cede Kristen Wiig’s spots on Update to others in the cast, specifically the trio of young ladies who will be defining their role in the show.

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But what of the vacant Update chair?  Should someone besides Wiig be the next chosen one?  Well, Amy Poehler is going to return for at least the first two episodes of Saturday Night Live Weekend Update Thursday (premiering September 17), so it would probably be foolish to install another anchor for the regular weekend Weekend edition at the same time.  But after that, who knows?  Many consider the Poehler-Tina Fey partnership the recent high point for Update, and certainly Poehler and Seth Meyers had its shining moments, but in his nights alone last season I think Meyers proved that he has the chops to handle the anchor duties solo, at least for the foreseeable future.  Let us not forget that the segment was hosted by a single anchor since its return in 1985 with Dennis Miller until Lorne Michaels paired Fey with Jimmy Fallon in 2000.  So let Meyers continue to do a fine job by himself, frequently invite on the new ladies, and maybe one of them will excel and join the pantheon of Weekend Update anchors.  However, if that doesn’t happen and we’re treated to Seth Meyers all by his lonesome every week I think we’ll be fine.  Really.

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Oh.  And one more recommendation.  More Nicolas Fehn.  Please.

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Lorne Michaels Dismisses Michaela Watkins and Casey Wilson & It Makes Sense: SNL Past, Present and Future

Michaela WatkinsThe news broke late on Friday that Michaela Watkins and Casey Wilson were not asked back for Saturday Night Live’s 35th season.  This development came on the heels of the announcement earlier in the week that comediennes Jenny Slate and Nasim Pedrad had been chosen as the newest not yet ready for prime time players.  The addition of these two was to the relief of many who thought that SNL needed a greater female presence, especially to spell Kristen Wiig, whose MVP performance last season has been well documented.  In light of the two new cast members, the news Watkins’ and Wilson’s departures has been met with surprise, but a closer look indicates that the selection of new blood was a portent of things to come.

Full disclosure, I had heard a rumor a couple weeks ago that Wilson would not be back, and since that time I had scoured the web for articles supporting the claim.  When I heard of the selection of Slate and Pedrad I immediately thought it led credence to Wilson’s departure.  Still, there was no news on that, and I was surprised that none of the reports I read introducing the new cast memberCasey Wilsons speculated on what it meant for the future of the current cast.  I last searched for stories relating possible SNL exits late Thursday night, the evening before we learned that Casey Wilson, along with Michaela Watkins, had been let go.  So yes, it seemed like a shock.  But while the timing might have seemed like a blindside, SNL history proves we should have seen this coming.

SNL has always been a boys club, and, despite the Wiigs and Poehlers and Feys, will likely continue to be so.  A look at the math demonstrates it highly unlikely that Lorne Michaels would have started the season with the two female additions without cutting one or two incumbents from the squad.  Slate and Petrad are joining current members Wiig and SNL legacy Abbie Elliott, and had Wilson and Watkins been retained that would have totaled six female cast members to begin season 35.  No SNL season has ever started a season with six females in the cast.  The closest they have come was 1991-1992 season in which Beth Cahill became the sixth female in mid-November (joining Victoria Jackson, Julia Sweeney, Ellen Cleghorne, Siobhan Fallon and Melanie Hutsell).  In addition the the half dozen mark not being reached until mid-season, one must recall that this came during the over-capacity casts of the early 90s when Lorne Michaels was admittedly building a JV team of comics (Farley, Sandler, Spade, etc) to succeed the the old guard (Carvey, Myers, Hartman, etc).  So the high volume of estrogen was more a biproduct of a bulging cast, not a real movement to emphasize the talents of budding comediennes.  This was also the season that employed so many cast members that the opening credits contained two sets of Featured Player introductions, the first being “spontaneous” moments of Beth Cahill - Featured Player BRob Schneider Featured Player A

the cast in various situations (Rob Schneider buying a movie ticket!) and then a second round of featured players shown only through head shots.  Beyond this six female aberration, the show has mostly subsisted with 3 -4 female members.  Indeed the first five seasons brought us only three women, Gilda Radner, Jane Curtain and Lorraine Newman, and from 95-99 we were treated to another funny female threesome (Cheri Oteri, Molly Shannon, and Ana Gasteyer).  Later the number did reach five,  but this included Tina Fey who only appeared on Weekend Update, and seasons when several of the women missed significant time on maternity leave (including Amy Poehler last season, followed by her exit to star in Parks and Recreation).  So while I in no way intend to imply that it would be wrong to present a cast with six women, the SNL’s past shows that there is no precedent for this.

So six was too many.  However, could they have settled for five?  Most reaction has indicated little surprise that Lorne Michaels waved goodbye to Casey Wilson.  Indeed, in one and a half seasons she had yet to make her mark, and despite earnest efforts it did not seem that she was embraced by the audience in the studio or at home.  To her credit, she did poke fun at her standing with fan in a recent Funny Or Die video, so at least she’s a good sport, and I think this Tango and Cash re-creation she did with Janeanne Garafalo served her better than anything she ever did at SNL.   And you don’t get on SNL by accident, so I have no doubt that she’s talented; however the annals of SNL  are filled with Yvonne Hudsons and Jeff Richardses and broken dreams, and now she’s another victim (but lest we not forget Wilson’s web video co-star Garafalo once upon a time had a miserable experience on the show and she turned out okay.  Likewise Sarah Silverman).

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But if you understand (or agree with) the firing of Wilson, what of Michaela Watkins?  Couldn’t they have kept her on.  There seems to be some moderate outrage at her dismissal, much being made of the in-roads Watkins had already established in less than a season as a featured player.  Indeed, EW’s Michael Ausiello writes,

“Watkins gave birth to a slew of memorable characters and impersonations, most notably bitchpleeze.com blogger Angie Tempura and Today’s Hoda Kotb.”

However, while those two specific personas did gain some traction, I don’t think she birthed a “slew” of memorable characters and impersonations.  Beyond bitchpleeze and Hoda, I’d be hard pressed to name another memorable performance outside of her well regarded Ariana Huffington impression (which is admittedly excellent, but something she had perfected before joining the cast).  Also, I don’t understand the appeal of the bitchpleeze Weekend Update segments or the perspective of the character, nor why SNL would want to mock much of its fan base (all bloggers are snotty teenagers?).  As for The Today Show sketches, they had some enjoyable moments but never quite felt like they flew as high as they could, and all Watkins could do was react to Wiig’s Kathy Lee Gifford (which is effective, but one-note).

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However, this is not to say that Watkins is not talented, but that the outcry over her dismissal is a bit unfounded.  Moreso, additional analysis argues that it is precicely because of her talent that she was let go.  Before joining the cast, Watkins, a veteran of the Groundlings, most recently supported former SNL player Julia Louis-Dreyfus on The New Adventures of old Christine. So she had taken a step back from prime time to not yet ready for prime time.  But the truth is she is polished and ready to make that leap into a sitcom, and Lorne Michaels told her that much (via Watkins interview with Ausiello):

“The only explanation I got from him — and he’s not known to say things just to make people feel better — was that he felt deep down that I should have my own show. And I agreed.”

Thinking in that context, I think the move makes sense.  Looking back even further, it’s not a stretch to think that Michaels brought her on last season because he needed someone talented, experienced and ready with a arsenal of characters and impressions.  Much was made about the workload heaped on Kristen Wiig, and recognizing this, maybe Lorne brought Watkins in as a ringer of sorts, slightly akin to the 1985-1986 season in which then-producer Dick Ebersole enlisted comic mercenaries Billy Crystal, Martin Short and Harry Shearer.

So perhaps all along Lorne Michaels only thought of Watkins, 37, as a temporary solution.  As for Wiig, with roles in this year’s Adventureland and the just-released Extract, not to mention her previous scene stealing turn in Knocked Up, her film career has already started taking off, so it can’t be long before she moves onto greener pastures.  However, with Jenny Slate, 27, and Nasim Petrad joining the 22 year-old Abby Elliot, the show has now formed a stable of young, smart, female comedians.    So, maybe, in Lorne’s eyes he’s put together a new dream team of funny young ladies, a group that can grow together and entertain us for years to come.

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