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TV Review: Saturday Night Live – “Elton John; Leon Russell”

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Sadly, not even Elton John can save NBC’s Saturday Night Live, nor can his several famous friends who show up to help him out. Last night’s show is one of the season’s weakest. Once again, I do not think it is the level of acting talent that is sinking, though I’m pretty sure John isn’t cut out to be a professional actor. It’s the writing that just isn’t delivering. Sure, the show has had ups and downs over the years. But this episode will definitely fall into the latter category.

Besides Sir Elton, other familiar faces show up. Tom Hanks, a many-time guest star and host, participates in multiple sketches. In fact, Hanks actually makes a few moments worth watching, including as a worried version of himself when Wilson the volleyball is taken hostage, and as Michael Caine. Hanks is pretty much all that is funny in this episode. Jake Gyllenhaal is in Weekend Update, looking confused, and I’m still not sure why he is on the show this week at all. Just to showcase Andy Samberg’s Nicholas Cage impression, perhaps? Carmelo Anthony, who is in the latest Laser Cats digital short, I have never even heard of. Wikipedia reveals him to be a New York Knicks player. SNL has always thrown in NYC references from time to time, but this may be one of their more obscure ones. Former cast member Will Forte is present, which is nice, because I miss him. Lastly, Leon Russell duets both musical guest segments with Elton John.

As for skits, the show begins rough and stays that way. The Lawrence Welk bit with the girl who has very small hands (played by Kristen Wiig) wasn’t funny the first time it was done, and only gets worse with each reincarnation. John chooses to keep the monologue mostly serious, speaking about his son, which is fine, but also tosses in a few one-liners that don’t even elicit a grin. The ESPN hosts continue to be more stupid than humorous. Cowboys and movie critics play on John’s homosexuality, but feel uncomfortable. I normally laugh at Laser Cats, but the musical version falls flat. Call me prudish, but I do not think the Queen of England bullying John is approaching amusing either.

Weekend Update is always the best part of the episode anymore, as at least Seth Meyers can deliver short quips with the best of them. Even he, though, fumbles a bit, and his final joke elicits no reaction from the live audience, making for a very awkward closing. But he starts fairly strong with his comparison of GOP potential presidential candidates to reality TV stars. I also do enjoy the zookeeper who loses the snake (Keenan Thompson), a reference to an escaped reptile in NYC last week.

Perhaps the sketch with the most potential this week is the overly long, convoluted one that begins with a BBC show called Fancy a Jar, Do You?, which is interrupted by a special news report, and then transforms into a council of modern British knights. The concept itself, asking the artistic types that currently hold the honor, to defend London from a dragon is brilliant. Sadly, the execution breaks down, wasting some characters, and just not doing justice to others. I wonder if this is a case of too many elements warring for attention, or simply a lack of follow through with the original idea. All in all, a failure.

When will Saturday Night Live begin its recovery? It was last great in the spring of 2009, and I anxiously await a return to those levels. Saturday Night Live airs Saturday nights at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

If you disagree with my review, I recommend reading Louis Virtel’s write up for TVLine.com. He offers some very different opinions from mine.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com
  • Michael Lawson

    Carmelo is a star in the NBA (one of the biggest) and was traded to the NYK this winter. A lot of news around it. Your criticism of this episode is ridiculous.

  • George

    To build on Michael’s comment, I don’t know why someone who doesn’t get pop culture references or have a sense of humor is reviewing a show that requires both to appreciate.

  • http://jeromewetzeltv.blogspot.com/ Jerome Wetzel

    Ouch! If you look at my list of reviews, I review plenty of comedy that I like, and have praised SNL when it’s good. I’m sorry, but it’s just not right now. As for Carmelo, sports isn’t exactly pop culture, and I do tend to ignore sports, but as someone who reads A LOT of news, I have never heard his name. I know plenty of athlete’s names who reach ‘very famous’ status, but don’t follow any particular teams. Perhaps in the sports world, he’s big, but he’s not big enough to have been talked about much outside of those circles.

  • Barkley Jones

    News of Carmelo Anthony was unavoidable and inescapable across all media platforms from mid December until his trade in late February. And, this news wasn’t relegated to the Sports sections of publications … it was everywhere. How you missed this is beyond me and makes me completely disregard what you have to say re: SNL. Have you heard of Rebecca Black or is that a new one to you, as well?

  • Belvedere Johnstone

    Dude, you are way off in this review! I’m talkin bout your comment, “It was last great in the spring of 2009″ dude this show hasn’t been great for at least a decade! It’s been purely putrid, unfunny, a puke of a show and to blame is the writers. You know it. The writers don’t have a clue. It’s sad and pathetic at the same time. Too bad. I was once a fan.

  • http://jeromewetzeltv.blogspot.com/ Jerome Wetzel

    Barkley – Yes I am aware of Rebecca Black. Carmelo Anthony was not covered in my local paper (outside of sports, perhaps), Newsweek, NBC nightly news, The Daily Show, etc. If he has been covered outside of sports, it hasn’t been widely.

    Belvedere – They were on fire during the 2008 election with Tina Fey returning as Palin, and kept the momentum into the spring.

  • Some Guy

    Just another person confounded by the Anthony as an obscure reference part. Couldn’t keep reading after that.

  • http://jeromewetzeltv.blogspot.com/ Jerome Wetzel

    How does my not knowing some athlete affect my opinion on a TV sketch comedy series? Honestly, sports just hold zero interest for me, so I only hear about the biggest ones. But I don’t see how that at all affects reviewing television. I don’t review sports on television, if that helps.

  • Brad Sparrow

    I think you’re in real murky water here, sir. Obviously your comments about ‘Melo show a dearth of knowledge in the arena of pop culture (and especially New York culture and sports) which is the material SNL uses most often for satire. Carmelo’s Wedding was the focus of a VH1 television show and his wife has signed a contract with VH1 for a full season. Also he is one of the only professional athletes with a signature shoe under the Jordon label (which is amazingly exclusive). Your inability to recognize him and your reference to a personal limited media exposure are inexcusable.

    That said, I do agree with you that this was a weaker episode but disagree with your analysis of why. The general writing is sharper than it has been in years but it is not designed to capture the broad audience that previous head writers had shot for.

  • http://jeromewetzeltv.blogspot.com/ Jerome Wetzel

    Brad – You may be right about the writing. SNL is also a subjective experience, and different people see different things, hence why I included the link to someone who had different views than me.

    As to several people claims of a lack of knowledge of ‘pop culture’, that depends how you define pop culture, which is a very interesting discussion I’d love to have.

    In our modern world, ‘pop culture’ has broadened to include such a wide array of things, it would be impossible to keep up with all of them. I, myself, choose to exclude sports and reality TV (such as the mentioned series on VH1) because I see no inherent value in either. To be fair, I don’t see value in Rebecca Black or Charlie Sheen, but they are talked about in the mainstream so frequently, they are impossible to ignore.

    The defining characteristic of how ‘big’ someone is will likely be on just how many outlets they are covered. Carmelo may have been covered on tons of outlets, but as I said, not any I had seen until SNL. Besides watching every episode of SNL, I read Newsweek cover to cover, read The Columbus Dispatch (except the sports section), watch the NBC nightly news at 6:30 every evening, skim Entertainment Weekly and The Hollywood Reporter, never miss an episode of The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Real Time With Bill Maher (a guilty pleasure, I know, as he is over the top sometimes, but also sometimes has good panels), and listen to a syndicated radio show out of Columbus that airs in a number of cities. I would argue that is a fairly wide net, and while I may just not have had my radio on when they talked about Carmelo, not one of those sources brought him to my attention until this week.

    However, every person’s net is different, so perhaps Carmelo is the rare fluke where he was covered in many, many sources, but not one of the ones mentioned above. Is there a singular source to get all the relevant information of ‘pop culture’ from? If there is, I’d love to know about it, because I am always seeking to increase my knowledge base. Though not about sports or ‘reality’ TV. :)

    What do you think? How do you define pop culture? What sources do you find best? I am interested in hearing.

  • Rich K

    Being in the audience Saturday night with my son and wife it was interesting to see which skits each were laughing at. Both laughed at different times and different things. It was great to get to see celebs like Tom Hanks, Jake Gyllenhaal and Carmelo Anthony. I understand your point about Melo, my son thought that was great and my wife like you had no idea who he is. Jake, why was he there, it was like he showed up and threw him on stage with no idea what he should do. I’ve watched the show since the beginning and it definitely needs some help. All the cast members were very gracious after the show and spoke with us and took pictures with us. I totally agree with your assessment and a little sad about where the show is going. The best part of the show was not seen by anyone other than the audience, Elton, Leon and band played “The Bitch is Back” which had everyone on their feet dancing and singing.

  • http://jeromewetzeltv.blogspot.com/ Jerome Wetzel

    Rich – That must have been awesome! I am jealous! I had the honor of being in six rows behind the stage at an Elton / Billy Joel concert two years ago, and Elton is fantastic performing his music live!

  • tom

    In my opinion, snl is only bad when the host is. Everyone knows Elton John’s not a nice person, and on a show where comedic chemistry is a must, getting people like elton john and jennifer lopez etc. doesnt work. I think this is why SNL hasn’t been as good as it has been, they need to get hosts more ‘in tune’ with the players, my picks would be like kristen bell, david boreanaz, jensen ackles, felicia day, theres so many, just look at outtake clips from their shows. They just need genuinely nice, funny people to host, and on their best weeks, proper comedians like jim carrey and zach galifianakis. but snl is like a fame club (not that the occassional big shot is a problem), I doubt they’ll branch out unless someone has some kind of important movie coming out.

  • mrsnak

    It was a dreadful episode. The writing fell flat and John didn’t have the comic timing to pull it off. A shame because EJ, at his peak, was always charming and on top of his game. Too bad, because SNL has has a pretty good year so far.
    One thought was that John made changes to some of the skits to be more to his taste as they rehearsed, but the laser cats short disproved that. I still don’t know who the NBA guy is, but I don’t follow sports.