Saturday, September 27, 2008

Saturday Night Live: September 27th, 2008

SNL Season 34, Episode 3
Host: Anna Farris
Musical Guest: Duffy

More Tina Fey = more YAY! And she is more "adorable!" Still, I hope people don't elect McCain president because they like seeing Sarah Palin sketches. Tina has her own show to work on!

I don't know if I've seen Anna Farris before except in commercials for the House Bunny.
She reminds me of Britney Spears crossed with Courtney Love.

Driving Home.
Best ending to a pointless sketch ever! I also liked the line about suicide puns.

It took me about a minute before I remembered Chris Parnel is no longer on SNL!I like that he KEEPS coming back though!
I was glad they did a bit about last night's debate because it shows that SNL can still write a sketch in less than 14 hours. If you watched the event it was a pretty good parody of it, and I liked the running gag about McCain trying to come up with alternatives to debating. And it was good they threw in some jabs at Obama to avoid seeming too biased. Fred Armisen’s impersonation is getting a lot better.

Lake Singing.
Gossip Girl, she's always gossiping! This was a super cute sketch and that would have been FUNNY ENOUGH but the singing took it over the edge to ACTUALLY FUNNY! Great lyrics and perfect delivery. I could actually watch this one again! It kind of reminded me of the Tracy Morgan homeless guy sketch with Britney Spears. Hope that doesn’t make me racist!

Musical Guest: Seemed like Amy Winehouse without the catchy hooks. When I squinted my eyes I thought I was watching Charo. I don't enjoy being snarky about musicians I've never heard of, but I wasn't impressed.

Weekend Update.
A pretty great Weekend Update overall. Darrel Hammond as Bill Clinton is always enjoyable and this week, extremely relevant. It built off Chris Rock's material in two completely different ways. I can already see this clip showing up on a lot of political pundit shows. I love Kristen Wiig, but I think her Judy Grimes character freaks me out.

Moderately funny sketch, but I found all the obvious reading of teleprompters distracting.

Deep House Dish.
This is one my favorite Kenan Thompson re-occurring sketches. I just wish the performer's songs were longer. “GRRL PLEASE” is my new favorite song ever. Goodness throughout.

Slightly stained wedding dresses.
PVC pipe is comedy gold. And in SNL tradition, they found another way to sort of curse and not get censored. By this sketch I felt like I was okay with Anna Farris and will look forward to seeing more from her.

Beer Garden
Astoria Represent!
I thought this was a great sketch that most everyone can relate to it on some level with a great visual gag as its climax. A genuine laugh-out-loud moment to end a completely solid episode.

Closing thought: With this episode it feels like the SNL cast and writers are finally hitting their groove. But no commercial parodies or Digital Short? Are they still doing TV funhouse?


Saturday, September 20, 2008

SNL: September 20th, 2008

SNL Season 34, Episode 2
September 20th, 2009
Host: James Franco
Musical Guest: Kings of Leon

This episode certainly felt better than last week's. Not many laugh out loud moments, but nothing really made me cringe so that’s always a huge plus!

A subtle satire on negative campaign ads. It mostly worked thanks to Bill Hader as the announcer with the most sarcastic voice. The examples of commercials didn't feel too far off from the truth but they were still funny!

James Franco was on Freaks and Geeks, therefore he is awesome forever. I'm easily amused by his stoner smile and delivery. Although, I never noticed how much he's got that squinty eye thing like French Stewart. Go K-Wo!

The Cougar Den.
Glad they didn't cut commercials. I can't remember how many times they've done these characters, or how many sketches there are of TV shows where Kenan plays the straight person off camera. Okay sketch, with a sort of random Cameron Diaz cameo. Mmm, shapewear. James Franco makes a good Chris Gaines and I liked his saggy boobies gesture.

Agent 420.
What if James Bond was replaced by a stoner? Wouldn't that be hilarious? If high school students conceived this sketch 20 years ago, I wouldn't be surprised. Somehow James Franco managed to come across unnatural as a stoner. How is that possible?

OJ Jury Selection.
A much better performance from James Franco in this one. Him screaming "Wait, am I…?" cracked me up. Kristen Wiig made me laugh from the moment she was on screen (not really a surprise). The rest kind of petered out, but it was an okay premise, and they didn't drag it out, thankfully.

Digital Short.
Pretty low-key short with not much content to discuss. But I appreciated the serious tone and it made me laugh at least once.
Not sure if I got the 'man voice' from the Gossip Girl.

The Looker.
I love that Fred Armisen didn't say anything till the end of the sketch. Just total deadpan Penny Marshall performed with subtle brilliance.

Musical Guest.
I don't think I've ever heard Kings of Leon before. I already can't remember what they sound like…but I think I liked their second song better.

Weekend Update.
Wearing a barrel--how old-timey! Rosie Perez as Dora was great--and ironic since she does a voice on the spinoff show, Go Diego Go. I've never seen him but my wife claims Fred Armisen's portrayal of the American Apparel owner is very accurate. It kind of reminded me of a funny Will Ferrell sketch.
I wonder who's going to replace Amy as anchor in November? I hope it's Kristen Wiig!

New York Times.
Not exactly an unfunny sketch, but it didn't make me laugh so I was disappointed. I'm sure the folks at Fox News will love to see the liberal media making fun of the liberal media. Polar bears don't seem to be as funny as regular bears.

Of Mice and Men.
I spent the first part of this sketch wondering how many variations/parodies of this book SNL has done and how they shouldn't try top the John Malkovich episode. I'm not sure I really understand what they were going for but by the end I was reflecting on the "do you smell the Peppa up in here?" bit from last week.

Yankee Stadium Stories.
Cute, throwaway video featuring the second Rosie Perez of the evening (more convincing when it's just a vocal impression). Fred Armisen does a good Scorsese. This ended up being a good showcase episode for him, overall.

Bill Hader vs. Andy Samberg, Round 2.
This sketch was super silly and I liked it a lot. Bill Hader is dead on as Willem Dafoe and I like when he makes fun of Andy Samberg (which was sort of a retread of their first Weekend Update appearance). Everything about the scene worked for me. A good note to end on. But I can't get used to the fact that Showtime at the Apollo doesn't follow SNL anymore!

Monday, September 15, 2008

SNL: September 13, 2008

SNL Season 34, Episode 1.
September 13, 2008
Host: Michael Phelps
Musical Guest: Lil’ Wayne

OPENING: After weeks of cracking out on political coverage, I was really excited about the season premiere of SNL. And like many others, I had my fingers crossed that Tina Fey would do a cameo as Sarah Palin—and ideally face off against Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton. Much to my delight, the opening sketch was EXACTLY what I wanted to see. Fey’s delivery was spot on (love the accent!) and there were lots of great gags.
Palin: Can you believe it, Hillary?
Hillary: I CANNOT!
Hillary: I probably should have wanted it more.

I really WANT Tina Fey to come back for more!

MONOLOGUE: I usually don’t pay close attention to monologues and don’t expect much from the guest, except for them to not come across as a jerk (see Ashton Kutcher’s recent monologue). Michael Phelps certainly passed that test, and seemed enthused enough. POSITIVE NOTE: Amy Poehler as Phelp’s mom was cute.

COMMERCIAL BREAK: I’m always cranky when the first commercial of the show is a REAL one and not a parody. It’s a lost opportunity.

QUIZ BOWL: With so much anticipation about a new season of SNL, in part due to all the political news and my ongoing desire to see the show hit new creative heights, I couldn’t help but be disappointed when I saw the first sketch was ANOTHER game show about stupid contestants. A million new viewers checking you out and this is how you want to lose them? It wasn’t a horrible sketch, but it felt like a parody of SNL itself. POSITIVE NOTE: Kristen Wiig and some funny answers from the home schooled contestants.

LOCKER ROOM: This was like a dare to change the channel and stop watching the show forever. They already did this exact same sketch last year. Changing the sport and celebrity guest doesn’t warrant doing it again! I know it’s a long tradition of SNL to bring back popular characters and scenarios. But I somehow doubt the Peyton Manning bit was so beloved that people were begging them for more. And to start the show off with such derivative material is a bad show of faith from the writing staff. This sketch may have been the death nail in my growing dislike of Will Forte. I think he is a funny guy, but he is currently most guilty of beating the same jokes and characters to death (Tim Calhoun, McGruber, The Falconer). POSITIVE NOTE: Glad Michael Phelps got to dance—but it was too little too late.

I SAID WEEE! Last year, Kristen Wiig became my favorite cast member on SNL. But this ugly girl character doesn’t do it for me. It feels too derivative of stuff by Gilda Radner, Cheri Oteri, and a million others. Just slurring words and being short tempered isn’t enough of a twist on an old formula. It also felt more mean-for-meanness’-sake than funny. This sketch would have felt more at home on Mad TV but it still would’ve been a waste of talent. POSITIVE NOTE: Reaction shots of Kenan Thompson looking terrified.

COMMERCIAL: Not their best, but I’m always glad when they have a commercial parody.

MUSICAL GUEST: Didn't watch.

WEEKEND UPDATE: I can’t believe how little political humor there was! Will Forte as a Lumberjack and then the next thing you know it’s all bizarre local news and whatnot. After a whole summer off, this was all the news they had to comment on? I was very disappointed. Andy Samberg as Cathy was okay, if not completely dated. Not a lot of people keeping up with comic strips these days (sadly). But he gets points for the sweat drop reference. POSITIVE NOTE: Fred Armison’s political commentator character always surprises me in a good way. I usually roll my eyes when I see him, and then find myself very impressed by how many variations on the beginnings of sentences he can do. I’d love to read his script for these bits.

CHARLES BARKLEY SHOW: Always good to see Kenan Thompson in anything. This sketch had good moments but never really found a groove. Darrel Hammond as Béla Károlyi was a solid impersonation of my favorite Olympic personality and yet kind of wasted because he had no good lines. I did like the gag about the Jamaican runner coming and going too fast, and Barkley reflecting on his Olympic memories.

DIGITAL SHORT: As a fan of randomness and power ballads I wanted to like Space Olympics. But adding the word "space" to things doesn’t guarantee it’s funny (ask the Jetsons...or Astronaut Elementary). So even though it made me smile toward the end, the overall vibe it gave off was pointlessness. If Space Olympics was a random clip on Awesometown it would have been OKAY, and not memorable. But in the context of SNL it just feels out of place and more of a let down.

PEPPER SKETCH: This ALMOST made me laugh in between the moments of agony. “Come on, let’s just go see The Women” may be the most forced dialogue ever. POSITIVE NOTE: I always give new performers the benefit of the doubt and give them a few weeks to find their footing. I hope this pepper/hostess character isn’t the reason why Bobby Moynihan got hired. I’ll be very happy to never see that again. My sister pointed out that Moynihan looks like a young Artie Lang.

T-MOBILE COMMERCIAL: This should have been right after the monologue, or at least a lot earlier in the show. It was one of their strongest sketches because everyone who saw the commercial about “who’s in your five” probably had the same reaction to the dad character. This is the kind of funny-because-it’s-true observational humor that goes over very well! Much more so than Will Forte dancing for 10 minutes. NEGATIVE NOTE: the commercial is kind of old at this point.

MICHEAL PHELPS’ DIET: Not really much to comment on this one. I’m sure some people found it cute. Definitely belonged at the end of the episode.

CLOSING THOUGHTS: I’m really surprised that Casey Wilson is still a featured player considering how much screen time she got! I hope Amy Poehler’s baby isn’t due until at least mid November!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A blog about Saturday Night Live and sketch comedy.

I pretty much still watch SNL every week. Mostly for the “you just never know...” factor. And because I’m a huge fan of the sketch comedy format. It probably started with You Can’t Do That on Television and Turkey Television as a kid! I remember other kids quoting Hanz and Franz in elementary school and feeling left out for not knowing who they were. And when I finally started watching I fell in love with Dana Carvey, John Lovitz, Phil Hartman and the rest of that cast. And it wasn’t long after that they started showing classic episodes of SNL in 30-minute chunks on Nick at Night (I think?) and soon I was fan of the entire SNL legacy. And that spun off into SCTV because of the cast crossover and misc. related projects and films (Three Amigos?) I didn’t have HBO as a kid but once I was in a hotel and caught an early episode of the Kids in the Hall, it totally blew my mind. Soon my dad was renting me compilation tapes of Monty Python, and my obsession with sketch comedy never wavered.

Going to college in New York City during the late 90s I discovered the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and got to see amazing live comedy for five dollars a show. The best part about going there is watching new comedians get their break, develop their skills and end up in various places. Rob Corddry from a group called the Naked Babies ends up on the Daily Show, and Rob Riggle from Respecto Montalbán ends up a cast member on SNL (and then later the Daily Show!)which makes me very happy! And that leads me to one of my favorite things about Saturday Night Live. Watching performers start out as “featuring,” then finding their footing, creating new characters, and becoming huge stars. I’m USUALLY rooting for them. If they came from the UCB or some other venue, then doubly so. Every now and then there’s a performer who I end up hating and hope they get no screen time on SNL. This is the closest thing I have to being a sports fan.

Most of my friends say they USED to watch SNL, “Back when it was funny.” For me the show never really stopped being funny. I fully admit there are dry periods. Weaker casts, weaker writers that come and go over the years. But what may be considered a golden age for some viewers is considered totally unfunny to others. A lot of time people don’t realize how much overlap there is between the good and the bad. Even during the seemingly worst times, there are still some amazing sketches in the mix. The commercial parodies and Weekend Updates are evergreen in their consistent quality. And because of the show’s esteemed history, you never know who is going to come back for a cameo, or an unannounced celebrity guest that will show up just for something silly. Tom Hanks joining the 5-Timers Club is still one of my favorite moments ever.
And I admit to having a teenage nerdgasm when Aerosmith was in Wayne's breakfast nook. That kind of stuff never happens anywhere else on TV. And when someone screws up a line or improvs because of the live format ALL THE BETTER! Is it worth suffering through the especially unfunny game show parodies? Maybe not! And yet I still do! Because I’ve already invested so much time into the legacy of SNL and I like that it’s something I’ve consistently watched since my childhood. Like a hardcore Mets fan who sticks with his team through thick and thin. Luckily I don’t watch a lot of primetime TV shows during the week, so an hour and half Saturday nights is not a huge investment of time for me! Plus I’m a pop culture nerd who doesn’t like to party. So if 1-3 sketches really hit, then I’m stoked. Judge me all you want!

Since I spend a lot of time thinking about the ins and outs of SNL, I figured I’d start a blog with reactions to episodes. And I figure I’ll also write about other sketch comedy I watch (currently enjoying the Human Giant Season 1 DVD). I don’t have a lot of people to talk about this stuff with, so all comments are welcome!