I’ve been waiting all season for an episode of NBC’s Saturday Night Live to inspire me to write an article. Had I been writing TV reviews a couple of years ago, I would have considered covering the series every week, as it was so good and consistently funny. Sadly, for the past year or so, consistently mediocre is the best label I can give SNL. After thirty-six years, there are bound to be cycles, and the show has gone through bad patches before. Sadly, we are firmly stuck in one of them now.
However, this week’s episode was great. Not the best I’ve ever seen, but the best in a long time. Almost every sketch was truly funny. And the thing is, the success cannot be attributed to host Gwyneth Paltrow, so it is highly repeatable. Don’t get me wrong; Gwyneth did a fine job. Most of the hosts do, including recent ones. Cee Lo Green, the musical guest, also appeared in several bits, and also did well. But this series always comes down to the writing, and for the most part, last night’s writing was something quite superior to this season’s norm.
The opening sketch was a fine example of political satire. FOX News went with the ‘Embracing Civility’ message being called for after last week’s shooting in Arizona, and Greta van Susteren (Kristen Wiig) brought together some of the network’s most popular hosts, including a very reluctant Glenn Beck (Jason Sudeikis). However, she also allowed liberal James Carville (Bill Hader) on to provoke Beck and the others, and when Rachel Maddow (Abby Elliott) took over Glenn’s chalkboard, it was all over.
It was a timely, tightly run piece of material put together by the cast and writers, which despite recent showings, proved that they are still talented. Sure, FOX is an easy target, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t hilarious when they are lambasted properly, as they were in this opening. Easy target or not, it still takes talent to execute a good parody. SNL has gobs of talent, and it’s past time the show itself stop forgetting that.
Also memorable, though the joke did start to wear a little thin before the segment was over, was a foul-mouthed record executive (Paltrow) fighting to get Cee Lo’s “Forget You” on the radio. Yes, the sanitized version. The conceit here was that ‘forget’ was the filthy word, and so the exec used it quite frequently, in the same ways some of us would use f***. She and the other actors in the scene, including eventually Cee Lo as himself, used a variety of other words to fill in for other curses, including ‘Country Strong’, the title of Paltrow’s new movie. The end segued into Cee Lo singing “Forget You”, which, except in Paltrow’s capable hands on a recent episode of Glee, is not nearly as enjoyable as the original, “F*** You”. Still, a neat way and different way to present a musical number. This is something the show should try to do again, as it better connects the musical guests, which often seem out of place. I usually fast forward through them, even if it’s an artist I enjoy. I didn’t this time, thanks to the sketch.
The weakest parts of the show, because, of course, it wasn’t a perfect episode, were mostly jokes that went on a little too long, like the aforementioned skit. It also occurred during a recurring gag on Weekend Update with Garth (Fred Armisen) and Kat (Wiig), who were joined by a friend (Paltrow) this week. Sure, sometimes the improvising duets gets sort of amusing, but only in the way that an unfunny joke runs so long that eventually it elicits a slight smile. I would be pleased to not see Garth and Kat again.
Weekend Update is always funny, no matter how bland the rest of the show gets, and this week was no exception. Hosted by Seth Meyers, SNL‘s current head writer, somehow the barbs there always land, and not just in Seth’s to-the-camera headlines, though those are hilarious. This week’s Update also included the return of Jimmy McMillian (Kenan Thompson), who wants to run for president with the platform ‘The Deficit is Too Damn High’. You may remember, the real McMillan, who is a unique looking individual, recently ran for governor of New York for The Rent is Too Damn High Party. Timely, and sharp-witted, the gag worked beautifully.
A recent trend on Saturday Night Live is to bring a bunch of singers together for very short samples of their music. This is often done with made-up, ridiculous groups or solo acts, but recently, with a cast rich in impersonations, there has been more famous artists in evidence. In my favorite sketch this week, several big names in the music industry parodied their songs for a boy’s bar mitzvah. The guests included Taylor Swift (Paltrow), Jay-Z (newcomer Jay Pharoah), Alicia Keys (Nasim Pedrad), and Katy Perry (Elliott). I don’t know why, but the absurdity of Hebrew-forced lyrics into pop hits made me giggle.
A close second, almost as funny as the bar mitzvah, was a sketch set in Shakespearean times when The Globe theater introduced previews of upcoming attractions. Sure, it was silly. I know small snippets of Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet were never presented, complete with a modern movie announcer’s dramatic tone, before a performance of The Taming of the Shrew. However, the absurdness of the moment was surreal, and I hope more sketches like it will be revisited in the future. Historical comedy can definitely be funny, though it’s so infrequently done. I don’t know why it worked, exactly, but then, most great comedy is elusive to pin down. It was original and clever, a powerful combination.
I could go on and talk about the Digital Short with Pee Wee Herman (Paul Reubens playing his famous character), or the monologue duet with Kenny Rogers (Sudeikis), or The Fresh Prince of Bel Air DVD special features (starring Pharoah and Thompson, of course), or even the fantastic parody commercials of The Cape knock offs, but this article is long enough. The bottom line is, Saturday Night Live and its cast showed us that they still have what it takes to produce a show worthy of the respected series name. I wish they’d do it more often.
Saturday Night Live airs live Saturday nights at 11:30 p.m. on NBC.