Saturday Night Live turned in its best episode of the season this past weekend, with Anne Hathaway as host. As expected, Tina Fey returned as Sarah Palin to spoof the vice-presidential debates. It was a return to form for the show and for Fey, who once again nailed her Palin character. Hathaway did a nice job hosting the show, showing tons of enthusiasm and a surprisingly good singing voice to top it off.
Cold Open: "Palin vs. Biden – The Vice-Presidential Debate" (Grade A)
At this point in the presidential campaign it's nearly impossible for me to watch Sarah Palin without thinking about how Tina Fey will spoof her. Fey hit all the right marks in the vice-presidential debate parody. She emphasized Palin's down-home "doggone it" way of talking and of course Palin's overuse of the word "maverick." As good as Fey was, the real surprise was Jason Sudeikis' portrayal of Senator Joe Biden. Biden is not as obvious of a character, but Sudeikis created a funny version of him as a slightly arrogant (and stereotypical) politician. Sudeikis' impression itself wasn't dead-on, but it worked well for the sketch. Queen Latifah made an unexpected and welcome cameo as debate moderator Gwen Ifil.
Opening Monologue – Anne Hathaway (Grade B-)
This one was kind of hard to grade because it was one of the shortest opening monologues I have ever seen. That was most likely due to the fact that the cold open was over eleven minutes. Hathaway joked a bit about her very public break-up and the subsequent imprisonment (for fraud) of her ex-boyfriend. Hathaway came across as very likable and excited to be doing the show. I'll give her props for being willing to joke about a painful subject on live TV.
"The Lawrence Welk Show" (Grade C+)
It is kind of strange to parody The Lawrence Welk Show considering probably not too many people watching SNL have ever seen the show. If not for an incredible coincidence, I would have had to include myself in that category. I happened to be flipping through channels at a hotel I was staying at on Saturday, and I came across The Lawrence Welk Show on PBS and I watched a few minutes of it. In fact the part I caught was an act featuring a group of sisters singing the old classic "Hot Diggity." There weren't exactly the "Merrill Sisters" of this sketch, but then again it wasn't all that far off. In that respect this was an accurate take on the real thing. Of course there wasn't anyone in the original that was like the "not quite right" sister played by Kristen Wiig. This sketch was kind of funny, but I was reminded of Rachel Dratch's Siamese twin character with Jennifer Garner and Fred Armisen as the third Olsen twin sketches from the past.
"Bailout Press Conference" (Grade B)
SNL was on a roll with the current event sketches this week. Like the vice-presidential debate parody, this sketch was a send-up of everyone involved in the bailout process. The sketch featured every cast member, and included George Bush (Jason Sudeikis), Senator Barney Frank (Fred Armisen), and Nancy Pelosi (Kristen Wiig). This was a well written sketch that cleverly sent up the government as well as home buyers and lenders who took advantage of the boom in real estate a few years ago. A highlight was Kenan Thompson and Bobby Moynihan as buyers who were able to get a loan despite not having jobs or credit.
"Bar Dance" (Grade B-)
In this sketch four guys in a bar try to pick up on four girls. Each guy took a turn trying to woo the girls, but after being shot down had to return to his friends in defeat. Finally Bobby Moynihan asks Anne Hathaway for a dance and she agrees. The rest of the sketch featured the two dancing, and was fairly entertaining though not all that funny. It was a nice showcase for newcomer Bobby Moynihan.
SNL Digital Short: "Extreme Challenge: Andy vs Kristen" (Grade C)
Andy Samberg always goes for the absurd with his digital shorts. While I appreciate the effort to do something different on the show, I rarely find the short films to be very good. This one is no exception. Andy and Kristen challenge each other in a bunch of contests that people normally wouldn't, or in some cases couldn't, compete in. They compete in walking (not racing, just plain old 'who can walk better'), hat balancing, acting casual, and even turning into a different person. These shorts come across as more strange than funny. I suppose that could be what they are going for, but they have a film school "I'm making something weird" feel that gets tiresome after a while.
Musical Performance: The Killers – "Human"
"Weekend Update" (Grade B-)
After last week's Bill Clinton "Weekend Update" appearance they had a lot to live up to. They didn't have anything as funny as that this week, but the segment was okay. They got in several decent jabs at current news and events.
"Mary Poppins" (Grade B)
This sketch featured Anne Hathaway doing Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins. Hathaway (who of course appeared with Andrews in The Princess Diaries movies) did a great job with the impression, sounding just like her both speaking and singing. A couple of kids asked Mary Poppins what supercalifragilisiticexpialidocious really means. The answer? A fatal disease in which the liver stops producing bile. Suddenly the word wasn't quite as much fun as it used to be. Mary Poppins doesn't care because the world is so fun to sing. The sketch also features Bill Hader as Bert, Will Forte as Constable Jones, as well as Casey Wilson and Bobby Moynihan as the kids. All were funny and they did a good job evoking the characters from the film.
"Sioux City News" (Grade C-)
I think this sketch could have been funny if it actually parodied something specific. Basically in this sketch, some news team is popular on YouTube because of all the blunders they make during their broadcast. If it was a real news team it would be funny, but as far as I can tell this was made up. All the jokes in the sketch ended up falling flat, because I just wasn't reminded enough of real news broadcasts. It just wasn't a good enough parody of the news.
"Mark Wahlberg Talks To Animals" (Grade D)
I really thought this sketch, in which Mark Wahlberg (Andy Samberg) talks to a bunch of barnyard animals, was not funny. I get that it was supposed to be absurd and that obviously the animals can't talk back, but where was the joke? Why Mark Wahlberg? I guess that was the joke — there was no joke and there was no reason, other than sheer randomness, for it to be Mark Wahlberg. This one didn't make me laugh, though the studio audience seemed to get a kick out of it.
"I'm Not Gay" (Grade C+)
A couple of roommates (Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis) are going their separate ways after living together for five years. The concept was that Sudeikis was pretending to be gay in order to get close to Hathaway so he can develop a romantic relationship with her. Finally after five years, and on verge of separation, the roommate must tell her that he is in fact not gay. There was some funny dialogue with Sudeikis explaining that he even lived a "gay lifestyle" to keep up the ruse. However, as a whole this sketch was just kind of average and didn't really go anywhere.
Musical Performance: The Killers – "Spaceman"
"The Less Provacative Songs of Katy Perry" (Grade C)
This was a one-joke sketch that was old as soon as the first "less provocative" song title came up on screen. Casey Wilson played Katy Perry doing mundane takes on her "controversial" song "I Kissed A Girl." She "Held A Cat," "Saw A Boat," "Ate A Snack," and she "liked it." Of course every single parody was of the same song, so it got old fast.
Saturday Night Live ratings have been up this season. Most, if not all, of this has to do with the election parody and Tina Fey. It will be interesting to see what becomes of the show after the election (especially if Fey no longer has a reason to portray Sarah Palin). As of now, the writers and cast have been stepping up to the plate to provide more consistent laughs than they have in a long time. This Thursday they will expand their election "coverage" to prime-time in the first of a series of "Weekend Update" specials on NBC. Hopefully they can continue to raise the bar on their comedy.