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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