Jim Carrey, ‘SNL’: No One Does a Thicke!

Well, we weren’t devastated.  Maybe it was because we were still ecstatic from the Jets victory, and that residual giddiness made us a little more lenient, a little looser (the beers couldn’t have hurt either).  Whatever it was, we were in a good mood, and Jim Carrey’s return to SNL didn’t ruin it.  It wasn’t a landmark episode, or a groundbreaking night, nor did they seem that they were fully back from vacation.  But, given our lofty, unrealistic, expectations, it was satisfying.  And (unfortunately), that’s enough.

And let’s, for a change, start at the top.  We often completely ignore the cold open when reviewing SNL, because it’s usually one of the weakest, least memorable parts of the show, certainly in non-election years.  We can’t pinpoint when it started exactly, but perhaps it’s been since the great Bush-Gore battle of 2000 that the cold open has almost felt obligated to be political sketch.  Often times that’s made for great, funny television (Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton, Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, occasionally Jason Sudeikis as Joe Biden), but more often than not we’re treated to a mildly amusing address from by Fred Armisen as President Obama.  It’s become predictable and somewhat boring.  So what a surprise it was for the show to begin and discover Armisen not as Obama but as NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

And we thought to ourselves, “This is great, Why don’t they do more sketches like this?  It doesn’t always have to be Obama.”  Then, of course, we remembered that this is a national program, and while we are in NY, and it is the true capital of the country, and the world, it’s possible that a sketch about the city’s deplorable response to last month’s blizzard might not play in Boston, let alone Sioux City.  But, then again, it is “Live from New York,” so the show is entitled to be a little NY-centric every once in a while.  And if Armisen can embody former NY State Governor David Paterson and turn that into one of the best characters from the last few seasons then we see no problem with Bloomberg, arguably a more high-profile national persona.  Finally, and, most importantly, funny is funny.  And this was funny (and, perhaps, what helped make this work was that this wasn’t really about politics.  Too often, in both our country and in SNL, it’s about Democrats vs. Republicans.  But Bloomberg is neither, and this sketch was about the incompetency of the city government in general, not about one side or the other.  As we often say, they should leave that partisan stuff to The Daily Show).

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The sketch that will probably be most remembered from this episode is SNL‘s rendition of Black Swan, with Carrey channeling Mila Kunis, using his long, lanky, triple jointed limbs and trademark facial elasticity to great effect.  Contorting his body, portraying a muscular female, dispensing with vanity, this was really vintage Carrey (and your typical, pitch-perfect, so good that you don’t even notice him supporting performance from Bill Hader).

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However, our favorite sketch of the night, as you might have guessed, was “Psychic Medium,” purely on the basis that as far as we know this is the only sketch ever written to include both Growing Pains and Muppet references.  So, basically, this sketch was conceived with Jumped the Snark squarely in mind.  And then throw in an elated, giggling, foot-stomping Jason Sudeikis and we’re sold.  Without those three things this probably would have been a mediocre sketch, and we were especially concerned when Carrey launched into his Jimmy Stewart impression, a tired mimic that he performed his last time on the show.  But the sketch picked up, and by the time Carrey, as the washed-up impressionist turned hack psychic, channelled Alan Thicke it was one to remember.  Because, as Sudeikis’ initially skeptical customer excitedly explains, no one does a Thicke.  It was sort of a cheap device to showcase Carrey’s impressions, but we’re not complaining, even if his Miss Piggy sounded more like Yoda.

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Unfortunately, however successful those sketches were, we hesitate to declare that there were any pieces from this show that measure up to the classics from Carrey’s first go ’round – Spartan Cheerleaders, Roxbury Guys, Jacuzzi Lifeguard, I’ll See You in Hell, Ride the Snake – but maybe we’ll just need to check back in fifteen years (and, maybe, that original show wasn’t that good, but we’ve romanticized it over the years).  Although, to be fair, if you look at the list of sketches from that night and the roster from this past weekend you’ll notice that the show, shockingly, mostly avoided recurring sketches (whereas the ’96 show had Roxbury, Cheerleaders and The Joe Pesci Show).  Normally, coming off a vacation, SNL eases themselves back in with returning “favorites”(it would not have been a surprise to see a “What’s Up With That?” or new “Miley Cyrus Show” or even a “La Revista Della Televisione“), so it was refreshing and encouraging that they really made an effort with original pieces this week.

(although, we were absolutely furious that they aired the “Bosley Hair Restoration” commercial after the monologue, as that’s already the third time it’s aired this season, and second time in two months.  Not to mention the fact that the sketch already came under mild fire for its similarities to a 90s sketch from HBO’s Hardcore TV)

Still, the novel premises this weekend fell somewhat short, as it seemed the show didn’t quite have its legs under it, concluding several of the sketches before they fully developed.  For example, “Amusement Park Ride,” featured truly creepy work by Carrey, Taran Killam and Bill Hader as Tunnel of Love animatronics.  We were legitimately excited to see where it was going.  But, then, it just ended abruptly with a decapitated Kenan Thompson, having not even passed the three-minute mark.  Great setup, great performances, but no payoff.  Perhaps they’re still shaking off the holiday rust and didn’t have the energy to see this one through.

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Likewise with “A Taste of New York,” a musical threesome who sing depressing, dreary slice of life tunes about the darkest parts of NYC living.  It was clever, amusing, and at 4:33, could not be accused of being too short.  But, at the same time, it never felt like it quite reached its climax, or even really heightened.  Just had one a joke and stretched it out without really taking it anywhere.  So, in the end, it was like they were just killing time (like living in NYC?).

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However, all in all, it was a decent start to 2011.  We had a few good chuckles, and the show was buoyed by Carrey’s energy and enthusiasm.  It was fun to watch him perform straight comedy, something we feel like we haven’t seen him do in quite sometime.  We had forgotten just how talented he is, it was clear that he was enjoying himself on stage.  Maybe he forgot too.

Next week!  Gwyneth Paltrow!  Ugh!  And with head writer Seth Meyers getting up early to sub for Regis on Live! this morning, possibly neglecting his SNL responsibilities, we’re a little nervous.  But we’ll see.  Stranger things have happened.

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Filed under Analysis, Good Humor, Growing Pains, Intersection of the venn diagram of things that I love, Muppets, Saturday Night Live

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