‘SNL: All-Stars’; Or: Where Was Betty White?

Amy Poehler returned to host the 36th season premiere of SNL this past week, but did it feel like she ever really left?  Between her frequent appearances last season on the big show and her stint co-anchoring Weekend Update Thursday last fall she was really on the show as much as Jenny Slate was, and probably more times than Jay Mohr during his brief run (cheap shot, sorry, Jay).  She even capped last season by coming back for the famed, Emmy-winning Betty White episode, joining her fellow former female castmates like Tina Fey and Molly Shannon in helping White carry the hosting weight.  That episode, the 2nd to the last of the season, felt more like a prime-time special than a regular show (indeed, it was billed as a Mother’s Day edition, but as a result of coincidental timing and to justify bringing in the ringers to support White, who then proved she really didn’t need assistance).  And while host-in-residence Alec Baldwin made his annual appearance to close out the season a week later, White’s episode really felt like the big finish.  And wouldn’t you know it, SNL felt like it picked up just where it left off, by pulling out the big guns and bringing back the all-time greats, starting with Ms. Poehler herself.

And they didn’t waste any time neither, with Justin Timberlake, Jimmy Fallon, Fey (herself no stranger to SNL despite officially departing seasons ago) and fellow new mom Rachel Dratch appearing in Poehler’s bad dream monologue.

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This was certainly a crowd-pleaser and it got the show off to a strong, if somewhat pandering, start.  And it was fine that they went to the stars like Timberlake and Fallon and Fey right off the bat, even though most of those people can be seen playing charades on Fallon’s show on any given night.  However, it quickly became clear with the next sketch that they weren’t going to get too creative in the premiere, instead returning to some of Poehler’s greatest hits.  And this time around it was another SNL lady from the Mother’s Day show, Maya Rudolph, reappearing to bring back “Bronx Beat,” my mother’s favorite recurring sketch (although I’m not sure if she’s ever actually seen it, or just heard about it second-hand).  They actually planned to premiere a new Bronx Beat for the White episode, but it was cut for time.  However, while this makes the sketch seem like a lazy choice, it was nice to see that they went with some relevant material, discussing the end of the summer, the return of sweater weather, and poking fun at the recent “hullabaloo” over Elmo, Katy Perry and her breasts.  The comic exploitation of her cleavage was reminiscent of this legendary sketch, but let’s hope we don’t look back at this clip in five years and wonder what happened to Perry (and oh, to be that Elmo t-shirt.  And, again, that Muppet gets all the breaks).

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With the next sketch the show proved that it wasn’t going to get too ambitious, too far out of its comfort zone for the first show back (maybe they’re still shaking off the rust), bringing back Fred Armisen’s overweight,  hearing impaired, impatient, female-oriented talk show producer Roger Bush, this time subbing in on “Maternity Matters” (newcomer Vanessa Bayer got to be the host who’s only seen in opening title sequence).  This is one of my least favorite sketches, and it barely even changes from sketch to sketch.  They could probably just reuse  footage from the last iteration and you wouldn’t know the difference.  And yet, shockingly, they elected not to have a “What’s Up With That?” in the premiere, which is quite surprisingly, and even a little disappointing.  If you’re going to play to the crowd, at least go with your heavy hitter (and it’s not like Kenan Thompson did much of anything, so he had the time and the energy).

However, the show rebounded with the best sketch of the night (part of an evening of liberal leanings), a commercial parody promoting the Mosque at Ground at Zero (and its gay wedding chapel), and basically ascribing to it every act and idea that right-wing crackpots like Glenn Beck rally against.  This was biting, incisive, timely SNL at its best.

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But if that was the best sketch of the night, the most memorable, buzziest moment (besides Katy Perry’s breasts), happened on “Weekend Update.”  Keeping with the theme of the night, Amy Poehler made her expected return to the Update desk.  And also unsurprisingly, Fred Armisen reprised one of our favorites, current lame duck New York Governor David Paterson.  And that really would have been good enough for us, and really all we anticipated.  But then we were greeted with the real McCoy, Governor Paterson himself, showing that he’s as crazy as the show makes him out to be and/or he has a much better sense of humor than we had thought, despite his objections of the show’s portrayal of the blind.  Or maybe it just shows  he’s really a hypocrite, and/or he has nothing to lose at this point in his incumbency.  It actually kind of felt like a “fuck you” to the state, both to the government and the people, and while we enjoy his candor and understand his frustrations, it leads one to believe that he won’t be getting anything done in Albany before his term is over.  And while much of it was more awkward than funny (especially his imitation of Armisen’s imitation of his creepy hyena laugh), the real Paterson did provide the best line of the night: “working in Albany is a lot like Saturday Night Live, there’s a lot of characters, it’s fun for ten minutes, and then you just want it to go away,”  which pretty accurately sums up this episode and many other episodes.  Give him credit for being a good sport and not taking himself too seriously (and poking fun at his own disability), but if his political career wasn’t already dead, this might have been the final nail in the coffin.

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As Paterson indicated, there wasn’t much of value after Update, save for perhaps the standard mildly amusing, deftly produced, exceptionally bizarre Digital Short (although, it didn’t feel especially digital).  The biggest story from the back-end of the show has turned out to be “Ladies Who Lunch,” a sketch about WASPy socialites competing over tiny hats that has drawn some ire for its similarities to this Tim and Eric sketch.  But what I find concerning about this sketch is that not that it might be a rip-off, but that it’s just not very funny.  And it actually reminded me more of the “Thou Shalt Not Covet” segment from The Ten.  It’s closer in theme, but more disparate on the details.  But really, “Ladies Who Lunch” is just a scripted and rehearsed improv scene that might owe its props to Tim and Eric, but the game is completely different, if still unoriginal.

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Oh, and Amy Poehler played that one-legged trailer trash chick who farts a lot.

So it was a good start to the season, but more accurately, it was a good start to the start of the season, and then, as Gov Paterson pointed out, it kind of took a dive once they stopped trotting out the stars.  I’m not going to get on the show too much for lacking a real creative spark in the premiere, even though they should have returned from summer vacation brimming with hilarious ideas and bitter satire.  They played it a little easy, and that’s okay, especially since it was Poehler leading off and thus the situation demanded a roll call of former cast members and recurring sketches.  The real test, the premiere, will be this week when Bryan Cranston hosts for the first time.  The cobwebs should be shaken off and we won’t be grading on a curve.  It won’t be a very special episode, but, hopefully, it won’t be ordinary either.

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1 Comment

Filed under Analysis, Saturday Night Live, Yvonne Hudson

One response to “‘SNL: All-Stars’; Or: Where Was Betty White?

  1. Pingback: Breaking Badly: ‘SNL’ Weak Too « Jumped The Snark

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