This week marks Saturday Night Live’s first post-election episode. For weeks the show has been able to rely on plenty of material ripe for parody. Tina Fey’s turn as Sarah Palin gave the show its highest ratings in years. The big question is how will the show fare now that the election is over? Another strike against the show was the exit of longtime cast member Amy Poehler (though she still was named in the opening credits). However, if this week’s show is any indication of the future, they might actually do alright.
It’s been a long time coming, but two new female comedians have been added to the cast as featured players. Abby Elliott and Michaela Watkins made their not ready for prime-time debuts this week. Elliott is the daughter of actor/comedian Chris Elliott. Chris Elliott himself was a SNL cast member during the 1984-85 season. Prior to joining Saturday Night Live, Elliott was a part of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, a sketch/improve group co-founded by Amy Poehler. Michaela Watkins was a main company member with the Los Angeles-based Groundlings comedy troupe. Several notable SNL alumni made their way to the show via The Groundlings including, Phil Hartman, Will Ferrell, Cheri Oteri, Kristen Wiig, Ana Gasteyer, Chris Kattan, Chris Parnell, and Jon Lovitz.
Cold Open: “The Office of the Vice-President Elect” (Grade B-)
Jason Sudeikis as Joe Biden promises that he will be an “entertaining” vice-president. The sketch somewhat cleverly addresses the issue that President-Elect Obama will not provide enough comedy material for the late night shows to make fun of. While that all remains to be seen, SNL went fairly soft on Biden during the campaign (I mean nothing on Biden’s remarks about people watching FDR on television in 1939?), so it will be interesting to see if they amp things up for his time in office as the VP. This sketch was average as far as political sketches go. The jokes about Biden’s gaffes were predictable and Sudeikis needs to work on making his impression a little more dynamic. There could be more to Biden than just having him yell out every sentence in a loud monotone.
Opening Monologue: Paul Rudd (Grade B)
In his monologue Rudd explicitly addresses SNL’s post-election blues by playing up the fact that some of the excitement about the show might be gone. On the bright side Rudd explained that Kristen Wiig’s impression of Arizona governor Janet Napolitano will be just as good as Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin. The monologue was a good way to address the “what’s next for SNL” question.
Commercial Parody: “Sproingo” (Grade C+)
“Sproingo” is a medication that takes the effects of Viagra, Cialis and the like one step further by adding a sound effect so everyone knows exactly when it starts to work. As far as SNL commercial parodies go, this one was decent. I usually consider these to be filler, and I don’t have very high expectations of them. They are pretty much used to kill a little time while they are re-arranging sets and they are often recycled as needed for that purpose. Very few commercial parodies stand out in my mind as being that good. Most just fall into the category of either being somewhat amusing (as this one does) or being stupid.
"The Kissing Family" (Grade B+)
In this sketch Rudd brings his college roommate (Andy Samberg) home for a family dinner. Samberg soon finds out the family is a little more affectionate than most. This was a very funny take on a very relatable situation. Though it was exaggerated for comic effect the awkwardness of having a meal with people you don’t know was spot on. Kristen Wiig and Fred Armisen as the parents, and Bill Hader as the brother, all did a good job of playing it straight. My only complaint is the ending where Samberg joined in by kissing Armisen. The guy kissing guy thing has been done to death on this show. The image no longer has the humor or shock value it once did, and it was a totally predictable way to end the sketch.
"Scared Straight" (Grade B)
This sketch was an exercise in how far they could take double entendre and sexual innuendo. Basically three kids (Rudd, Hader, Samberg) are caught in an act of vandalism and in a effort to curb their life of crime a real criminal (Kenan Thompson) is brought in by a police officer (Sudeikis) to “scare them straight.” Thompson proceeds to insinuate all the stuff that might happen to them in prison – like “the only book he'll be writing is Journey to the Center of Your Esophagus.” All the innuendo was fairly clever and Thompson physically shaking his point into them was funny.
SNL Digital Short: “Everyone’s a Critic” (Grade: B)
"Everyone's A Critic" was a well thought out exercise in absurdity. The film seems to be about Andy Samberg and Paul Rudd deciding to paint nude portraits of each other. The painting scenes are filled with homo-eroticism which, while not exactly a new theme for the show, worked well enough for this short. Samberg likes Rudd's painting of him so much he convinces Rudd to sell it at an auction. When the bidders see the painting they are so horrified they begin gouging out their eyes and committing suicide in every way imaginable. One guy puts his head in an oven, a lady uses a machete on her neck, and another lady beats another guest with a chair. There is even a spoof of Indiana Jones with Jones (Bill Hader) telling Marion (Kristin Wiig) to hide her eyes. It all turns about to really be a movie, but when Samberg and Rudd go on interview to promote the movie the interviewer (Casey Wilson) becomes so horrified at the painting she has the same reaction. All in all it was pretty funny, well played, and most importantly one of the better written digital shorts in a while.
"Songwriter Showcase" (Grade A)
This sketch featured Rudd and Wiig as performers who are showcasing their “new” original song. To the tune of Bobby Gentry's “Ode To Billy Joe” the singers tell about how a UPS package meant for a neighbor was mistakenly sent to their address. By the time they got to singing the entire UPS tracking number the horrified MC (Will Forte) just can’t take anymore. Rudd and Wiig do a great job of playing it straight the whole time. It was hilarious to hear them ramble through the most mundane of subjects with complete sincerity.
"Song Memories" (Grade C-)
In this recurring sketch four buddies reminisce over a song from their past. In this case the song was Ricky Nelson’s “Garden Party.” While innocent at first, the memories soon turn to crime and debauchery. Usually the audaciousness of the material is funny, but the joke is wearing thin now that the sketch has appeared several times. This one was a bit of a snoozer.
Musical Performance : Beyonce – “If I Were A Boy”
"Weekend Update" (Grade B)
The highlight of “Weekend Update” this week was a cameo appearance from Justin Timberlake. While I’m not a fan of Timberlake’s music, I have to admit his SNL appearances are usually pretty good. This time he said he wasn’t able to host an entire show and gave a condensed version of what his show would have been – songs, his infamous “Dick In A Box” digital short, Omletteville, and “The Barry Gibb Talk Show” with a guest spot from Jimmy Fallon.
"Beyonce Video Shoot" (Grade: B)
Beyonce is looking for some backup dancers for her video for "Single Ladies" and the director (Paul Rudd) has found the perfect group – or so he says. Turns out they are all guys (Justin Timberlake, Andy Samberg, and Bobby Moynihan) — guys dressed in women's leotards and high heels. This sketch is based primarily on visual humor and it works pretty well. Of course all the guys look funny in their leotards, but the dancing and Beyonce's negative reaction is funny too. The best part of the sketch is when Rudd reveals the guys are his "stepsons." It was an out of left field punchline that added a lot of humor to the sketch.
"Ledge Jumper" (Grade C+)
In this sketch two cops (Will Forte and Bill Hader) attempt to talk down a suicidal man (Rudd) on a ledge. Forte says he has the perfect solution – he yells “don’t” over and over. Forte has been doing the "repeat the same word to the point of annoyance" bit for many years and I have never personally been a fan of it. The jokes about suicide were somewhat distasteful, particularly the complaints that the jumper would create a messy “splashback” if he didn’t zip his jacket.
Musical Performance: Beyonce – “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)”
"Parking Lot Workers Discuss Prop. 8" (Grade C-)
Amidst protest concerning California’s Prop 8 a couple of seemingly tough guy blue collar workers discuss how “hilarious” it would be if they were homosexual. In a punchline I saw coming as soon the sketch started, it turns out they are. I’m not sure if there was any larger point this sketch, but the jokes were all too obvious and not funny.
Film: “Clearing The Air” (Grade D)
Over the years SNL has showcased short films on the show. In fact Albert Brooks got his start making short films for SNL. In my experience watching these films, I have never really seen many that were that good (including those of Brooks). This one is no exception. The credits said the film was by "Fred, Bill and Noah." I can assume that Fred and Bill refer to Fred Armisen and Bill Hader, who were featured in the film along with Paul Rudd. Even as a student film this short wouldn’t spark much attention. It revolved around a few guy friends who have all dated the same girl and they all want to know if everyone is "cool" with the situation. The conversation devolves into them repeating the same words rapidly over and over – "no, no, no, no" or "good, good, good, good" in lieu of being able to articulate what they really want to say to each other. It pretty much just ends there. There just wasn't enough to it to make it interesting. The only thing it really had going for it was decent acting.
All in all this episode exceeded my expectations. I thought perhaps the pressure of needing to come up with good material after the election would be too much for them. I was pleasantly surprised to mind myself at least chuckling at several of the sketches. With the exception of the short film at the end, I didn't think anything was really bad. My main complaint is we didn't get to see much of the Abby Elliott or Michaela Watkins. They only had brief appearances in a couple of sketches and really may well have been extras as far as anyone knew. Instead of throwing the short film on during the last five minutes they would have been better off with a sketch that featured their new cast members.
Next Week: Tim McGraw hosts with musical guests Ludacris and T Pain.