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TV Review: Saturday Night Live with Hugh Laurie and Beck

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One of the things about Blogcritics is that it walks a fine line between the professional and personal. I fell asleep before the Hugh Laurie/Beck episode of Saturday Night Live started and missed the cold opening and monologue. Since I don't own a TiVo, I realize I should have plopped a tape into my VCR and set the timer beforehand. Apparently, I missed a Borat cameo.

Then again, I'm not that worried. While this episode of Saturday Night Live wasn't as bad as it could have been, this season is officially going to be uneven in my eyes. SNL is settling into a formula I just can't latch onto. When a guest like Hugh Laurie can't be exploited to the best of his potential, it's going to be a long season. At least Alec Baldwin's back on "Monday, November 11," according to Don Pardo. Pardo flubs are funny.

To Saturday Night Live's credit, Laurie at least got some of his own material on the air, which is good as the SNL writing staff acknowledged his comedy background.

It was nice to see Laurie do an anti-protest song/Bob Dylan riff on SNL and the writers didn't go for any obvious House parodies this week. There were the obligatory "Laurie is British" sketches, but Google Blog Search entries about Laurie's monologue indicate him "taking the piss" (as "they say" in "Britain") out of that conceit nicely.

At the same time, did the Most Haunted parody have to partially hinge around ghost hunters mistaking Laurie's flatus for paranormal activity? Part of the sketch felt lifted from a Homestar Runner routine — specifically, the Strong Bad Email where a tree rubbing against a window is mistaken for The Cheat saying "Douglas." What's next, Fhqwhgads? Jon Lovitz playing Master Thespian playing Strong Bad?

Come to think of it, Strong Bad Thespian would be great. Come on, SNL, don't disappoint me!

Speaking of vaguely Internet-related phenomena, the first TV Funhouse of the season hinged on over-the-top Republican attack ads — Hillary Rodham Clinton bursts out of someone's chest and terrorists make cameo appearances, because Democrats are evil! Smigel's latest cartoon looked more cleaned-up than usual, like TV Funhouse has embraced Flash animation for the first time ever. Pity that this week's TV Funhouse was on par with an average edition of "Fun With RealAudio" (i.e., it wasn't funny).

Point of interest: Al Franken helped write TV Funhouse this week. SNL is trotting out its past heavily this year. I'm fully expecting Buck Henry to host again at this rate. Come on, SNL, don't disappoint me! You've got that first-season DVD to promote, after all!

Most of the sketches on SNL this week were nothing to write home about, but at least the quality was more consistent than with the previous three shows. The awful one-note premises (Maya Rudolph — who is related to Minnie Riperton, dontcha know — drawing out the "Star-Spangled Banner" during a World Series game, a sketch revolving around the interjection "oooh!") were saved by being drawn-out enough that they actually became funny.

There were no obvious bad sketches, but the Meyers/Pell/Steele-led writing staff tends to throw premises out there to see if they stick. There's less of a reliance on recurring characters, which is refreshing, but sometimes I wonder if what I see on screen is the best SNL can do. This season reminds me of the 1985-86 version of SNL in that the cast is capable enough of being funny, and the writing can often be good, but most of the sketches are of negligible "You Bet Your Finger"/"Mr. Monopoly" quality.

Hardball saw Darrell Hammond fumble throughout his routine. As much as he's been an integral part of Saturday Night Live since 1995, he doesn't seem to have his heart in the show anymore. I can't see Hammond lasting a thirteenth season if he's just going to mail it in at this point. He really should move on.

Hugh Laurie is a good host, but SNL should be capable of more than what it's currently offering. I'm not looking at this through the "SNL hasn't been good since Belushi/Farley/whatever cast I'm a fan of left" lenses, either — Robert Smigel still comes out with great premises like Ladysmith Black Mambazo in Outer Space through his TV Funhouse segments, even though TV Funhouse's ratio of good cartoons to bad has been narrowing as of late. Even the 1985-86 version of SNL had a good John Lithgow episode under its belt at this point in time. Maybe Alec Baldwin will bring the goods in two weeks. He usually does, as he is this generation's Buck Henry.

Beck's two songs were surprisingly entertaining, and I am not a Beck fan. The scale-model replicas of the current SNL set, Beck, and his band were the most creative things I've seen from a musical guest in a long time. It's hard to touch Booji Boy or Lee Ving publicly "loving" his fans while performing "Beef Bologna" and "Let's Have a War," but that was by far Beck's best SNL performance. Pity that Christina Aguilera returns in two weeks to ruin the fun for everyone. Maybe she'll perform "New York's Alright If You Like Saxophones," but I doubt it.

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About Cameron Archer

  • Haider

    Saw few sketches posted by a fan on some video site!
    They were dismal-at-best!
    Thank God I had work on Sat Night.
    I would stick to old SNLs if need be,A bit of Fry and Laurie if I get a wish to see Laurie perfrom and there is always House,unless its writers and bosses wanna finish a great show by being dumb!!!

  • BD

    RE: “I’m not looking at this through the “SNL hasn’t been good since Belushi/Farley/whatever cast I’m a fan of left” lenses, either ”

    Yeah, you kinda are. This was a pretty good one. Maya Rudolph’s national anthem performance was terrific. Laurie’s agitation made the Most Haunted sketch work.

    And you didn’t even mention Laurie’s finest work as the Queen’s hotel liaison. Fine straight-woman work by Kristin Wiig in that one as well.

    Best Update of the season, too.

    This has been an interesting season. Not great throughout (not that SNL EVER was — the old days had some long-forgotten clunkers as well), but interesting. Some of the experiments aren’t working, but some are.

  • Eh, I think this season has many more misses than hits (there’s that annoying subjective opinion again). It’s still doing better than any season I’ve seen since 2001-02. At least this year they’re trying new things – this has to be the first season that commercial parodies aren’t a major part of the show, and I have to say I don’t miss them.

    Frankly, I don’t care about who leaves or goes, as it’s the show itself that appeals to me. I still don’t think that there’s been a great episode of SNL so far this year, but it’s still only four shows into the season.