Monthly Archives: January 2010

An ‘SNL’ Holy Trinity: Politics, Jon Hamm & Sports: AKA An ‘SNL’ Hamm Sandwich

Earlier this week published their list of the 10 Funniest SNL Sketches Inspired by Presidents and I wanted to share it with you for a number of reasons.

1. As was the impetus for the list in the first place, it’s relevant, as it was uploaded in anticipation of President Obama’s State of the Union Address this past Wednesday night.  Now I don’t have much to say about the address, as I only saw about the last 20 minutes of it, and it was closed-captioned at a bar, but I feel pretty confident that on tonight’s SNL they will lead with a parody, mining jokes from Joe Biden’s seal clapping and Nancy Pelosi’s emphatic, frenetic applause.  Sorta like this:

2. In my recent list of the Top 10 SNL Sketches of the 00s, I decided to only include one political sketch, so the list rather fills that void (and saves me from doing more work).  If I were to add one more in, it would probably be a debate, but in terms of personal preference I have a real affinity for this Obama commercial:

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3. This is something to whet your appetite for tonight’s new episode, featuring the return of, you guessed it, a beardless Jon Hamm!  First hosting last decade, in October of 2008, Hamm proved that he’s more than just a handsome face, just as skilled at comedy as he is staring into the nothingness, drinking whiskey and smoking a cigarette, and looking dashing doing it.  I’ve already included many of the sketches from his last go-round, so here’s one from later in the show that I have yet to employ:

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4. On Sunday night NBC goes back to the well and serves up another SNL compilation special, this time, in honor of the Super Bowl and in lieu of a game, it’s SNL Sports All-Stars.  Like the Christmas special, a show made up old sports-themed sketches is nothing new.  However, also like the Christmas special, Sports All-stars will be “hosted” by characters who originated in the last two seasons and are already over-exposed.  In the Christmas special it was Gilly, whom I’ve already wrote many words about hating, and whom I thought might actually ruin Christmas.  This time around it’s ladies’ sports commentators, Pete Twinkle and Greg Stink (Jason Sudeikis and Will Forte respectively), with Twinkle always finding a way to plug the latest feminine hygiene sponsor and Stink being generally clueless, unprepared and often a bit creepy.  When these characters first debuted in Ladies’ Billiards last October, I thought it was a success, an unorthodox sketch that Sudeikis and Forte made it work.  The kind of sketch that comes late in the show for a reason.  So I was alarmed when the sketch turned up again so quickly, this time in the form of a Bowling final, and again two weeks ago in the Sigourney Weaver episode in the guise of a darts competition.  It was a fun sketch to start, but now they’re stretching it thin, showing it three times in half a season, and it’s only a matter of time before they exhaust these characters.  However, I will say that Twinkle and Stink are a much better choice to host a compilation show, and I’m actually interested/excited to see how they might expand these characters.  Can’t be any worse than Gilly.

And here’s one of my favorite sports sketches, an all-time classic that I assume will be included in the special:

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And don’t forget: Jon Hamm tonight.  There’s a 50% chance it’s going to be funny!

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Filed under Other people's stuff, Saturday Night Live

‘The Inbetweeners:’ It’s like ‘Skins’ Meets ‘Torchwood’ Meets ‘The Office’ Meets ‘Mr. Bean’ Meets Other BBC Programmes

Okay, so above the comparisons were mostly lies, but, as already been oft-said, British import The Inbetweeners is a like a sitcom version of Skins.  It’s to Skins as Undeclared was to Freaks & Geeks.  Which means it’s good, if a little lacking on dramatic depth.  The quick cuts and camera work also evoke shades of Arrested Development, if Arrested Development took place in the UK, featured teenage boys, and dispensed with the self-referential gags and cutaway jokes.  So, basically in no way like Arrested Development other than that it’s a one camera, handheld comedy.  Oh, and it has a narrator.

The first two episodes aired Monday night on BBC America and they were fit!  Below is my favorite scene from either show (stolen from PopCandy)

As my roommate so astutely pointed out, doesn’t series star Simon Bird look just like a young John Oliver.  Uncanny!

Catch a new episode tonight in its regular 9:30pm time slot on whatever channel BBC America is on your cable provider.  Don’t ask me to look it up for you.  You have the internet.

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Filed under Across the pond, Discos and Dragons, Good Humor

Muppet Monday: Take Me Down to ‘Dog City’

A couple weeks ago I decided to check out the Paley Center here in LA (formerly known as the Museum of TV & Radio).  I assumed it would be basically the same as its NY brother (and my assumption proved mostly correct, as the West Coast branch actually has a little less to offer), but with The Muppets at Disney World scheduled to screen at 4pm I figured it would be worth a trip.  Except that when I arrived I realized that I had been looking at the NY schedule, and the most attractive screening option was an old episode of the Carol Burnett Show.  So I decided to try my luck with the video archives.

With the Muppets still on the brain I resolved to see what kind of treasures the library might offer, knowing that the Museum had put together several special Jim Henson events.  Indeed, I found a series of compilations celebrating the life and work of Henson.  Amongst these was an episode of The Jim Henson Hour that featured a short film I had heard of but never seen: Dog City.

Now the Paley Center has been rendered almost obsolete by YouTube; the web offers a wider selection videos, often better in quality, on demand, and with the added benefit of being viewable from your home computer instead of on an old NTSC monitor at a video carrel in an eerily quiet and sterile media room.  Not to mention you don’t have to wear ratty, flaking headphones that have already been used by innumerable strangers (that must be a health hazard).  But there are a few items, a couple rare gems that you can’t find on YouTube or even weird Polish websites.  Dog City is one of these such rarities.

Dog City is Jim Henson’s take on film noir, but in this scenario it’s classic hard-boiled crime drama inspired by paintings of dogs playing poker.  And with main characters named Ace Yu and Bugsy them, it has no shortage of corny, Abbott and Costello style jokes.  Except that, with Henson’s Muppet alter-ego Rowlf the Dog playing the piano and breaking the fourth wall as our narrator, the jokes are delivered with a full-on wink at the audience and they actually work.  I usually get bored during musical numbers in Muppet productions, and this was no exception, but I found the rest of the movie quite enjoyable, even with the VHS quality picture and its sometimes cranky tracking.  Since the movie is almost exclusively available at the Paley Center, the best we can do here is present the trailer:

Three years later Henson would turn Dog City into a Saturday morning cartoon, “Jim Henson’s Dog City” changing Ace Yu into Ace Hart, a more standard noir detective.  Luckily, the show still offered some traditional “real world” Muppets, as Dog City is animated by Eliot, a Muppet German Shepherd, and his friends and neighbors serve as inspiration for the animated canines.

So while the Paley Center has become a bit of a ghost town, made nearly irrelevant by the Internet, it can still be worth a visit, if only for that one special show.

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Filed under Local Flavor, Muppet Mondays, Muppets, Nostalgia Corner

Monday Friday Nostalgia Corner: Hanx For the Memories

I wasn’t able to post to Nostalgia Corner last Friday because my day was just NUTS (okay, so my mom was visiting and I spent my scant free time writing about The Office clip show)!  So here’s a belated but still relevant edition.

As we all know (and have probably watched) by now Conan O’Brien closed out his tenure as host of the Tonight Show last Friday with guests Will Ferrell, Neil Young and Tom Hanks.  Vulture already noted that Hanks, a frequent late night visitor and guest on Conan’s second Tonight Show, also holds the distinction of appearing on David Letterman’s last show as host of Late Night. But I would like to focus less on Hanks’ propensity for appearing on sign-offs, but rather on his relationship with Conan O’Brien.  Conan often still seems like the young guy, the gawky, redheaded kid, but the truth his he’s being holding court in late night for 17 years, and he’s actually known Hanks for over 20 years, as O’Brien was a writer on SNL in the late 80s when Hanks was the go-to host (hosting five times in five years, on pace at the time to shatter all hosting records).  They even discussed this on the show last Friday, with Hanks revealing that he called Conan and his fellow writers Bob Odenkirk and Robert Smigel the “boiler-room boys.”  And the two sketches that Hanks is probably most associated with – “Mr. Short-Term Memory” & the “Girl Watchers” – were written by O’Brien, and Conan even appears in Hanks’ most memorable monologue “The Five Timer’s Club” (although Conan identifies himself as “Sean”).  But, for today, we’re going to highlight Hanks’ monologue from his third hosting stint in October of 1988, a bit that includes Conan’s first appearance on SNL (in denim vest!).  The ties that bind:

It’s true, Tom Hanks is the nicest guy in Hollywood.  Maybe in any wood.  And possibly the funniest.  Chris Rock once said that if Hanks had “grown up with less education, he’d be the greatest comedian who ever lived,” and I believe it.  I think it’s high that time Hanks attached himself to a straight-up comedy and showed these kids how it’s done (Bosom Buddies: The Movie???).

Bonus viewing: Conan lauding Hanks on Inside the Actor’s Studio.

Bonus social networking: follow Hanx on Twitter.

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Filed under Buffy & Hildegarde, Nostalgia Corner, Saturday Night Live, Talkies

Michael Ian Black Does Understand

If there was one comedian/mid-level celebrity whose career I’d like to emulate it would probably be Michael Ian Black (okay, there’s a laundry list of comedian/mid-level celebrities who careers I’d like to emulate, and an even longer list of A-list celebrities whose resumes I wouldn’t mind having.  But there are few people out there who I admire and appreciate at the level of Michael Ian Black.  One of the reasons I like Mr. Black so much is because, obviously, he’s as funny and smart as anyone else out there (if his work in I ♥ the [Insert Decade] didn’t convince you of that, check out his stand-up album I Am A Wonderful Man, an excellent performance from someone who is not known as a stand-up comedian).  But, beyond his humor, I especially appreciate the fact that he has the courage to say or write just about anything, the best examples of which are found on his Twitter feed, where he makes fun of everyone and everything from Asians to his kids to his wife cutting off the tip of her finger to himself.  Often times I’ll find myself wanting to tweet something potentially offensive, and I don’t do so because I fear that not everyone will get the joke; sarcasm and satire sometimes don’t play so well in less than 140 characters.  But Black has been able to pull that off, so much so that he’s participated in several Twitter fundraisers in which for a small donation he’ll make fun of you mercilessly, usually mocking your Twitter name or criticizing your photo.  He has created this persona of being an arrogant, insensitive asshole (again, refer to the name of his comedy album), which is a weird achievement to want to replicate, but it seems clear to me that it’s just a put-on.  It might be an extension of the real Michael Ian Black, but, if so, it’s a huge exaggeration.  I mean, he lives in Connecticut with his wife and kids (who he appears to loathe, if his tweets are to be believed), so how terrible can he really be?

Amidst this backdrop of bombastic, often crude, tweets and blog posts it was surprising that Black received the most backlash for a tweet he composed on Friday night to commemorate Conan O’Brien’s last night as host of The Tonight Show:

Typical trenchant, insightful, slightly dickish Michael Ian Black commentary.  But out of all his tweets this one caused the most commotion (although, as you can see, it was retweeted 100+ followers, so I guess not everyone was outraged).  It was a joke, but like many of his jokes, he had a point, a good point.  Which is another aspect of MIB I appreciate: his candor.  He’s a fan of Conan too, but the truth is Conan fans didn’t turn out in droves until these last two weeks, when it didn’t matter anymore.

So, to clarify his point, Black knew he needed more words than Twitter would allow, so he took to his blog (and spared us from a full on tweet procession), and exemplified another quality I admire: intelligence.  He composed his actual, and, as he noted, “unfunny” thoughts on the Conan situation, comparing Conan to Sally Fields in Norma Rae and asking “how did a Harvard-educated, multi-millionaire late night talk show host magically transmogrify into a guy who got laid off at the local car plant?”  Now I’ve basically been glued to the computer the last two weeks reading every update on the late night wars and watching every relevant monologue the night before, and I’ve even contributed my own thoughts, but Black does have a point.  In the end, it’s just millionaires playing in the sandbox, and Conan doesn’t really represent the oppressed, jobless masses.  In his essay, Black puts aside the sarcasm and the deadpan humor, presenting refreshing clarity about the whole thing.  I’m not sure I’ve read a better breakdown on the skirmish.  Despite the working title of his latest TV show, Michael Ian Black does understand.  A lot better than most of us.

Bonus: How I once gave Michael Ian Black unsolicited career advice. Sorry!

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Filed under Interweb, Other people's stuff, Talkies, The State

Dear ‘The Office:’ You’re Making it Harder and Harder to Keep Defending You

First reaction to last night’s “episode:”

What the fuck was that?

A clip show? Really? Really???

Perhaps I would not have be so indignant if the episode had was a celebration of a milestone number of episodes. Or if it arrived in conjunction with another episode wholly comprised of wholly original content.

But for this excuse of an episode to arrive after a 5 week hiatus is rather insulting. I feel used, played, betrayed. And if they were going to start 2010 with a retrospective, why not do it last week when all the other Thursday night sitcoms returned with new episodes? Instead, The Office totally sat out the week, let 30 Rock turn in two new episodes, and still phoned it in this lackluster effort this week. So while 3/4 of NBC’s Thursday night lineup is already two weeks into their 2010, mostly firing on all cylinders, The Office hasn’t even really left the bench. What I posited about “Secret Santa” last week, that the writers were probably burned out and needed an extended rest seems even more accurate now. I can only hope that this extra week allows them to come back even stronger next time (and now they need to deliver even more than they needed to this week).

Read on: What makes this so egregious, clip shows through history, and a glimmer of hope…


Filed under Analysis, Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam, Growing Pains, Must See TV, Saved by the Bell

In Defense of: Jim Halpert

One of the thorniest arcs on this uneven season of The Office has been the promotion of Jim to co-manager, a move that has seemed more like a demotion, as he has seemed to have lost the respect of his co-workers (and possibly his wife) as well as misplaced his charm.  Where there was once a shaggy haired goofball there’s now a well-coiffed suspender-less Bill Lumberg.

With The Office returning from winter break just an hour from now it’s a good time to ask, have we lost our lovable, affable Jim?

Last month published an article entitled “The Office is the Most Depressing Show on Television,” locating the show’s current problems in the de-evolution of Jim, noting that’s here’s proved himself to be merely “a mediocre man who has already realized his full potential.”  And just last week Macleans explained “Why no one likes Jim anymore.”  Is this true?  Does Jim Halpert have no friends?  Is he the most annoying character on television?  Has he become a humorless, corporate tool?  A virtual washed up high school football star, his best days behind him?

I don’t think so.

Read on: Why this could be their ultimate gamble…

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Filed under Analysis, Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam, In defense of:, Other people's stuff

Rethinking My Faith in Amazon

Every morning I wake up to at least one email from Amazon, whether it be  recommendations of new mystery novels (because those are what I get my dad for his birthday every year) or the “Top Ten Deals in Electronics” (because sometimes I buy electronics).  And almost every morning I think that I should adjust my preferences to discontinue this communication, but I can’t do it, because I’m under the belief that something worthwhile will come along one day.

And I thought today was that day.

Logged into Gmail and saw an email from Amazon with the following subject:

Now available: “The Adventures of Pumpkin Pete” on DVD at

So, naturally, my first thought was “a new Pete & Pete” DVD?  Great!”  But while I did recall an excellent Halloween episode of Pete & Pete, I didn’t think it was called “Pumpkin Pete.”  But what else could it be?  I mean I’ve ordered Pete & Pete DVDs from Amazon three times (had to reorder the second season after I lost my original copy), so they know I like it, and, let’s be honest, if Amazon was a person I’d probably trust him (or her) with my life.

But I was wrong.

This is what they thought I’d be interested in:

Sorry, Amazon, wrong Pete.  I don’t know what to think of you anymore.

But I did go ahead and order Pumpkin Pete anyway.  Needed another item to receive Super Saver Shipping.

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Filed under Count Bleh, Interweb

Muppet Monday: If You Thought the Muppets Were Only Going to Dominate the Web, TV and Volunteerism in 2010 Then You Were Wrong. Dead Wrong.

They’re taking on the comic book world as well.

I had a long, busy day so I’m just getting to the Muppet Monday post now.  In lieu of this, and for the sake of brevity, I’m going to paste an email from Jump the Snark BFF Steve Ponzo:

Maybe a future Muppet Monday for you…
also here at David Petersen’s blog on jan. 5th he posted a bunch of new images:

That’s right, a new Muppet comic book!  So now they’re officially taken over TV, Disneyland, the web and your local comic book store.  Next stop Broadway?  Or maybe they can partner up with Conan on a new venture.

Oh, and make sure to check out Steve’s blog, His Still Life.  He’s an artist, and a good one.

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Filed under Comic Book Guy, Muppet Mondays, Muppets, Other people's stuff

‘SNL’ & Sigourney Weaver: Old Tricks AKA The Worst ‘SNL’ of the Decade

Well, at least they’re consistent.  These days every good SNL episode (see: last week’s Charles Barkley affair) is almost always immediately followed by an underwhelming effort.  Despite the buzz they drummed up last week,  and the return of Sigourney Weaver (coming back after 23+ years, the longest such stretch between hosting gigs in SNL history), they once again did not disappoint when it comes to disappointing.

Sometimes it’s lazy writing.  Sometimes it’s bad writing.  Sometimes it’s just bad ideas.  This episode had all three.

With all the attention paid last week to the drama in late night television (including on this blog), it was only natural that they would use the fiasco as fodder.  Indeed, it was encouraging at first to see Darrell Hammond return to play Jay Leno on a Larry King Live cold open.  But where the sketch succeeded in mocking King’s senility and misappropriation of social networking tools, it kind of failed in effectively mocking the late night situation.  There was the big chinned, high voice Leno impression we’ve seen everywhere (although, big points on the denim on denim outfit), and Bill Hader turned in a weird, detached, dour Conan O’Brien.  I understood that they were showing that O’Brien is the powerless victim in this situation, but they didn’t seem to get a handle on his personality (if he wasn’t going to be the crazy Conan we know, he should have been the sharp, assertive pugilist of his mission statement).  It was especially discouraging because Conan honed his chops as a writer on SNL (see: the Lady Watchers). He’s part of the family, so you’d think they could have done him justice.  The best impression was probably Jason Sudeikis’ David Letterman, who appeared via satellite.  Except, that it was the wrong David Letterman persona for this situation.  It was basically Norm MacDonald’s beloved (by us) hyena laughed, self-indulgent, pencil throwing Letterman impression (he of “you got any gum???).  And although Sudeikis did it well, throughout the late night debacle we’ve seen the other Letterman, the outraged, seething, vitriolic Dave.  Obviously, it’s not as broad of an impression, but it could have worked if they tried.  Instead, they took the easy way out.  And, come to think of it, Fred Armisen’s Larry King also owes a lot to Norm MacDonald’s own King impression (but I guess this is perhaps a topic for another post; how, after being on the air for 35 years, it’s impossible for previous versions of celebrity impressions on SNL to not to color the imitations of the same personas by new cast members).  So, really, this sketch was just a testament to the unheralded work of Norm MacDonald.  Although, that all being said, it was definitely one of the strongest opens this season.

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Keep reading: More Jaypocalypse jokes, Alien Vs. Laser Cats, and the worst sketch of the decade!


Filed under Analysis, Bad Humor, Good Humor, Saturday Night Live