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TV Review: Saturday Night Live – “Jason Segel; Florence + the Machine”

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The (currently) elusive funny episode of NBC’s Saturday Night Live comes somewhat close this week, at least at times. This week’s show opens with a look at Mitt Romney “Raw & Unleashed.” Then it moves on to a monologue with guest appearances by several Muppets, a rerun of the Red Flag perfume commercial, and auditions to replace Regis Philbin. After that, there is another parody commercial, the return of the kissing family, Weekend Update with Seth Meyers, Kermit the Frog, and Jon Huntsman, and a retirement party sketch. Finally, a commercial for New Jack Swing, a digital short, Andre the Giant, and a local band.

Any fault within the hour is surely not to be blamed on Jason Segel. He is versatile enough to handle the handful of characters he is given, and musical guest Florence, of Florence + the Machine, even participates in a couple of bits. Both are charming, and deserve praise for their appearance.

Segel kicks off his monologue with a song, and is joined by a number of his Muppet movie co-stars. Their interaction is playful, but not too childish, getting back to the root of Muppets with attitude, a key element in the early, great Muppet films. They also remind viewers that Muppets are in the earliest episodes of Saturday Night Live, so it is fitting that they return.

Segel is very clever with his “Andre the Giant Chooses an Ice-cream Flavor,” bringing back a man many have not seen in quite some time. Odd, nostalgic bits like this are usually quite good, and without having to be timely, are more likely to be funny. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy a giant with a tiny ice-cream cone? Who?

Jason Sudeikis has really honed his Mitt Romeny. It still feels a bit too colored by Sudeikis himself, but the material is getting better. The opening, featuring Mitt “Raw & Unleashed” is quite good, playing up the blandness of the expected Republican presidential candidate. SNL is frequently best around election times, and this act is a positive indication it may be so again in next year’s cycle.

The final sketch of the night, featuring a Massachusetts bar band that references many local things in their music, is only OK. But the joy in that bit comes from cameos of a couple of Muppets, Florence, and Paul Rudd enjoying the tunes. They save the sketch from being a complete waste of time.

Even in the worst Saturday Night Live episode, Weekend Update delivers, and this week is no different. Seth Meyers gets some great zingers in, including a particularly unexpected one with a Lego that is sure to crack up. Jon Huntsman’s actual guest spot is kind of lame, but only because the man isn’t very funny in his delivery, and his appearance reeks of desperation to stay in the race. That is not a comment on his politics, just his presence in a sketch comedy series. However, then Kermit shows up to do the wonderful “Really!?!”  recurring segment with Seth, and all is put back right in the world. Perhaps Kermit should be more of a regular co-host.

Digital Shorts tend to only be really good when there’s a song involved. This week’s is just not up to par. Except for a cool cameo by Olivia Wilde (House, Cowboys & Aliens), there is absolutely nothing memorable about the short. One longs for another hit like “Lazy Sunday,” “D*** in a Box,” or “I’m On a Boat.”

The major problem this week is recycled material, bringing back recurring sketches that are not funny the first time, and milking them for yet another laugh that isn’t there. The kissing family is only novel in the first place because of the originality and gross factor. But upon reusing it, it loses much of its luster. Even Paul Rudd’s return cameo as a member of the clan doesn’t help it to live up to expectations.

On a similar note, the Red Flag commercial is amusing at first viewing, but does not bear repeating. This isn’t even a recurrence of a former sketch, but actually airing the exact same, pre-filmed spot. Saturday Night Live does tend to reuse its commercials from time to time, but that’s a little sad, given that new sketches are cut to make room for them. Does that mean there just isn’t any more funny material waiting for airtime?

The “Time Life New Jack Swing” commercial may not be exactly a repeat, but it sure feels like one. In recent years, SNL just trots out a bunch of fake musical acts in a certain genre and proclaims it funny. It’s not. It’s tired and has been done far too often. Time to ditch the conceit.

A segment about a retirement party falls completely flat. Segel’s character is interesting, but Kristin Wiig, the cast’s go-to girl, just comes across as annoying in this go round. Her parts need to be better considered, as she really is brilliantly funny, but often used in the wrong way.

Finally, the Regis replacement auditions could have been really great, but instead, seem like a flimsy excuse to trot out the best impressions the cast has to offer. There is nothing wrong with that, as there are some spot-on parodies of Ricky Gervais, Garrison Keillor, and the return of Wiig’s brilliant Kathy Lee. However, because so many others are squeezed in, it just doesn’t flow. For a segment like this, there needs to be fewer, and longer, impersonations for it to really soar.

Ah, well. There are still plenty more chances to get things right, and with the election just around the corner, it seems more likely. Watch Saturday Night Live Saturday nights at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

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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