Breaking Badly: ‘SNL’ Weak Too

Well.  That was that.  We gave SNL the benefit of the doubt after a decent, if lazy, premiere, instead looking forward to the second show of the season as the real test.  And, well, they pretty much failed.

As Alan Sepinwall noted in his tweets, it’s a shame that the show totally wasted Bryan Cranston’s immense talent.  It’s not that he wasn’t in any sketches.  And it’s not that he wasn’t good.  He did everything he was asked to do to the best of his abilities.  The problem was that the material was just uninspired, whether it was a retread or a weak stab at something original, it was all very stale.  If this was them trying, then we’d hate to see them phone it in.

Looking back, the only memorable sketch might have been the digital short, and not so much for its hilarity, but because it made an interesting suggestion: why not a 911 phone app?  Or at least a way to text your emergency?  That’s change we can all get behind.  But besides the invaluable contribution to society it was one of the better, more focused digital shorts of the non-hip-hop video variety:

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And against our better judgment we were won over by this sketch featuring Cranston and Fred Armisen as the Bjelland Brothers, a singing duo reminiscent of Milli Vanilli crossed with Yanni.  They only have one song, and said song only has one line.  But sometimes less is more.  And damn if this tune wasn’t in my head in the shower this morning.  It’s certainly not very original, nor is it complex, but it was one of the better sketches this week.  And in the end it’s probably more cute than funny.

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The most popular sketch of the night if you consult the interweb is probably “The Miley Cyrus Show,” which featured Vanessa Bayer in her first big SNL spot as the titular character.  With Cyrus being a popular target for ridicule (with good cause), it’s not surprising that this has turned into a favorite (and no doubt we’ll see it again soon).  But while we thought Bayer performed admirably, if not exceptionally, there was not much to this beyond the winning impression.  Sometimes it seems like SNL sketches are doing impressions of SNL sketches, or impressions of viral videos that already did something better.  It also feels like they come up with ideas that they deem “good enough,” and stop there.  This falls into both those categories (compliments to Paul Brittain, however; if you close your eyes he really sounds like Johnny Depp).

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To their credit, the show demonstrated the utmost restraint in not featuring “What’s Up With That?” in the season premiere.  Of course, surprising no one, the BET parody returned this week.  It was mostly just like any other version of the sketch, but we appreciated it for three reasons: 1) guest Ernest Borgnine, 2) the random inclusion of Mary Kay Letourneau and her boy (now man) toy, and 3) dancing Jason Sudeikis.  Other than that, pretty much by the numbers.  And, yet, still a highlight.

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Another then another lame classic game show sketch.  We appreciate a good game show spoof, especially when they’re based on the 70s, and we’re on board for anything that references the kissing bandit Richard Dawson.  But this one, “Kidz Smarts,” was mostly notable for Cranston’s loud polyester suit.  Other than that it traded on gay panic and tough black girl stereotypes, neither of which were original or particularly amusing.  If you’re going to spoof a 70s era game show, then try to find the joke in the details, not just use it as excuse for pedophilia and mild racism.

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What else?  Oh, yes, “Basement Karate” with Nasim Pedrad as Henry, a skinny, hyper-analytical teenage boy and Cranston as his supportive but traditional father who attempts to teach his son how to fight, despite Henry’s protestations and preference for mural painting.  If it wasn’t’ for the near complete painting of a Pegasus we would have guessed that the sketch was written during the commercial break.  It also seemed like a weaker riff on Pedrad’s parent-obsessed teenage daughter character, with just a different wig (but maybe the same glasses), or even Ravish, the young Indian talk show host (also, maybe the same glasses).  She’s in danger of creating too many similar characters, like Kristin Wiig’s eccentrics, but with more adolescent idiosyncrasies.  She’s been one of our favorites, but she needs to be careful treading on familiar ground.  Pedrad has also seemed to develop this habit of squaring towards the camera, looking out towards the audience.  That’s okay if it’s part of a character’s unique behavior, but now it’s appearing like a distracting inclination.

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And another Shanna sketch.  Didn’t find it funny the first time, and without Charles Barkley’s halting delivery, it’s pretty much joyless.

Perhaps most disappointing this week was “Weekend Update,” usually the one reliable part of the show outside of the Digital Short.  Maybe it was the absence of Amy Poehler, or David Paterson, or even Fred Armisen as David Paterson, but it felt very uneventful and flat.  Also, there didn’t seem to be more than 3 or 4 jokes at a time before Seth Meyers introduced a featured guest, none of which were particularly remarkable.  And then it ended with a weak, irrelevant zombie joke.  An ellipsis instead of an exclamation point.

Disappointing night all around, considering the show had a three-time Emmy winner at its disposal.  A rerun of Malcolm in the Middle might have been better.

But, despite all this, we’re still optimistic for this weekend’s show hosted by the unparalleled Jane Lynch.  We’re not looking forward to the inevitable Glee parody, but hopefully they’ll dissect the series as a messy collection of stereotypes and genres rendered bearable only by its winning musical performances.  We know that Lynch, a veteran of Second City will be up for the challenge.  Unfortunately, the challenge might be to turn listless material into dynamic comedy.

Speaking of which, where was Jason Sudeikis?

Oh, yeah, and Kayne West performed.

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1 Comment

Filed under Analysis, Bad Humor, Saturday Night Live

One response to “Breaking Badly: ‘SNL’ Weak Too

  1. Pingback: ‘SNL’: Plain Jane « Jumped The Snark

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