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.Vodpod videos no longer available.
Seth Meyers did a better job of dissecting Jaypocolypse on “Weekend Update,” even if he did sort of lose me in his analogy. And he delivered probably the best line of the night, admitting that he has a personal stake in the shake-up because if Jay can take back his show, and then Conan can take back his show, then Jimmy Fallon can take “Update” back, and Meyers “cannot go back to being in a sketch once every three weeks.”Vodpod videos no longer available.
As I write this I’m also half-watching the Golden Globes. Previously, I was going to write that Abby Elliot’s Meryl Streep impression on “Update” was a little uninspired, and more a parody of Streep’s performances than her actual personality. But as I watch the real Streep bury her head in hands, embarrassed over being nominated twice in the same category, I’m rethinking my feelings on Elliott’s work. I still think that SNL far too often bases their impressions on characters and not the actors (and, as noted above, on other impressions), and sometimes it feels like the barely drinking age Elliott is playing dress up, a little girl putting on a show for her parents. But I’ll go ahead and allow this Streep impression. And since Elliott turned in a Brittany Murphy shortly before Murphy died, one has to wonder if Streep is now fearing for her life.
Alright, after spending almost 700 words on three bits, let’s speed this up.
What else worked? Well, not much, really. Another ESPN Classic sketch with Sudeikis and Will Forte as ladies’ sports commentators, this time analyzing darts and plugging Summer’s Eve douche (it’s just Mad Libs: name a quasi-sport and a feminine hygiene product). It was as good as ever, but, appearing for the third time this season already, they’re wearing out the treads on this shtick quickly. However, compliments to Weaver for dispensing with femininity and playing a hulking Russian, Olga “The Wolf Bear” Bogunskaya (although, if this were to take place in 1988, a year before the fall of the Berlin Wall, should she be identified as a Soviet? Just a thought.)
The best sketch, as it often it is, was probably the Digital Short, which allowed Andy Samberg to bring back “Laser Cats,” Weaver to reprise her role as Alien‘s Ellen Ripley, and the inclusion of the requisite James Cameron cameo (and it’s always good to see Lorne).Vodpod videos no longer available.
And now the bad:
– Another Grady Wilson instructional video, this one entitled “Fifty & Freaky.” Grady Wilson and I are just oil and water. Although, more credit to Weaver, this time for contorting herself into many overtly sexual positions and dressing like Peggy Bundy.
– Disco Booty Junction: I guess this really is the season of Kenan Thompson, as he starred in the first two post-monologue sketches. Unfortunately, this one felt as if they weren’t able to come up with enough ridiculous looks and even more ridiculous lyrics for a new “Deep House Dish” (although, that is for the best).
– Now, I’m the only person on the planet who hasn’t seen Avatar (hey, look, James Cameron just won a Golden Globe!), but even if I had, I imagine their Avatar parody would have still missed the mark. When I talked about lazy writing earlier in this post, I was mostly referring to this sketch.
– Internet Buzz – Not a terrible premise, Weaver won’t sit down and watch the Golden Globes (as I’m doing) because she’s obsessed with Googling herself. Except this idea actually worked better in this Casey Wilson video, because Wilson is reacting to real (extremely negative) comments (and good for her for having a sense of humor about it). Also, when this sketch aired it felt like the audience had checked out, their goodwill probably sapped by the preceding sketch. Which was:
– Riley: The front-runner for worst sketch of the season, and already the worst sketch of the decade. Just awful, pointless, and dull. It seemed like they wanted to emulate Debbie Downer, create a new recurring character and a catchphrase, but, unfortunately, there was nothing in this sketch that would encourage any of the actors to break into laughter. This bit was especially sad because it paired our two favorites, Armisen and Sudeikis. But if this is how their collaborations are going to turn out, then I’ll take them separate, please. And, between this and “Internet Buzz,” Sudeikis was once again tasked with trying to make the best out of below average material. The guy’s good, but he’s not a miracle worker.Vodpod videos no longer available.
Who would have thought that we’d be here on the third Sunday of the new decade lamenting the fact that the Sigourney Weaver SNL paled in comparison to Charles Barkley’s? Surely Barkley would have lost that bet. But it’s true. Surprising, but true. And, again, it wasn’t Weaver’s fault. As Ken Tucker notes, she certainly did her best with mediocre material, gamely singing, dancing and donning a unibrow. She might have been out of her comfort zone, but it didn’t seem like she was afraid to take a chance. It’s a shame that when the show is afforded an accomplished, talented actress they can’t capitalize.
But good news! Jon Hamm is next up on the hosting carousel! And he’s proven in both his previous turn as SNL host and in his web comedy adventures that he’s just as funny as he is handsome (in fact, I have a hard time watching him in Mad Men these days because now I prefer him in comedy).
And even gooder news! The show’s off next week! So, if the pattern holds true, two weeks from now we’ll be hailing SNL‘s return to prominence. Until then!