I wonder if the new m.o. at Saturday Night Live is reaching out to any and all past cast members whenever they fit the roles they’re looking for. Tina Fey returned again for another dead-on takedown of Sarah Palin, and also Chris Parnell returned to the fold for a sketch. Last year they invited Chevy Chase back to the Weekend Update desk. So who’s next? Mull it over as I begin my official recap…right after this apology to my Canadian friends for their inability to watch clips on Hulu. You can watch them on the NBC site, right? Alrighty then. Let’s recap!
The cold open: Katie Couric’s interview with the Republican vice presidential nominee provided so much fodder for mockery that it almost seemed too easy, and yet so easy that if you’re running a timely comedy show, you have absolutely no choice but to joke, joke and joke some more. Tina Fey as Palin is almost too good, too, because it might make some dumb viewers convinced that they should vote for Palin just because of Fey — which, of course, completely misses the point of how completely overwhelmed the Alaska governor is trying to understand and grapple with the issues facing the Lower 48, as it were. Amy Poehler played the amazed Couric. They got in solid jokes about Palin mistaking more than 20 taxi drivers for Osama bin Laden, going to a movie called The Bush Doctrine — "It was not about politics" — being disheartened by all of the foreigners at the United Nations, meeting world leaders such as Bono, "the King of Ireland," telling the Russians each morning "to shoo" from Alaska shores, and even getting her own "Nicholas Fein-style" ramble into incompetence.
Anna Faris hosted this week, and well, Britney looked good, didn’t she? Oh. Wait. That wasn’t Britney Spears? Right. Anna Faris. Thanks for reminding me. For all of the hype I read from my colleagues in the movie criticism business, I expected much more from Faris, because said critics always write about how funny and adorable she is in the movies and if only she had a chance to do more. So, why didn’t the crew at SNL give her the chance? Her monologue about being "a dumb blonde" was, well, a throwaway. She did get to sing later in the program, a stirring speech as a stripper and a recurring gag at the end of the night, but nothing that I’d classify as viral video-worthy.
Take the first post-monologue sketch, in which Faris and Jason Sudeikis drop off another couple (Bobby Moynihan and Casey Wilson) after a double-date and deconstruct what went wrong at their dinner, noting all of the mishaps they made. Some funny lines, but most of the really funny lines came via asides by Sudeikis. "Well, you’re on a cleanse," he said to defend her all-wine diet. "Hey, it’s just a penis, buddy. I got one, too," he said later. Weird car crash ending, though.
Chris Parnell had returned for a presidential debate sketch, playing moderating PBS anchor Jim Lehrer. Fred Armisen is still playing Obama. But this sketch really belonged to Darrell Hammond’s impersonation of a crazed John McCain, offering to suspend their campaigns for three pie-eating contests, then for three town hall meetings in the nude, then for an all-out search for bin Laden. He also joked about supporting the surge since 1985, and a funny joke that almost slipped past the audience about lowering the earmark for governments to notify sex offenders whenever a child moves into their neighborhood! The biggest joke for Armisen was an odd attempt to play the race card with North Korea. And there’s an almost obligatory last-minute appearance by Poehler as Hillary Clinton, just in case McCain couldn’t make it. Aw, shucks. Did you know? This sketch lasted more than nine (9) minutes!!!
Faris and Kenan Thompson’s musical first date on a rowboat in the middle of the lake was just, well, um, silly. Thompson was supposed to be a hitman out to get Faris for getting a drug-dealing lawyer arrested, but none of that ultimately matters because the sketch is really about singing their way through the nonsensical plot. And also the first of three, count ’em, three Facebook jokes of the evening! Suck it, MySpace! (J/K, MySpace, J/K)
Duffy sang that one song we know.
Weekend Update opened with bailout jokes, and the second Facebook joke (a guy got "superpoked beyond recognition") but the biggest and most prolonged applause of the evening belonged to Hammond’s Bill Clinton, who in the midst of a non-supportive speech for Obama, had this to say about Palin’s qualifications: "Look, sometimes women will feel uncomfortable doing something at first." We get it. We all got it.
Kristen Wiig made her first appearance of the evening as travel writer Judy Grimes, aka the "Just Kidding" lady, which is all about the verbal gymnastics of running through her lines. This character reminds me of both an anti-Penelope (Wiig’s character who exaggerates and one-ups everyone) and Kevin Nealon’s "Subliminal Man" bit. Just kidding. No. Not really. Just kidding?
Did you know the financial crisis also means no champagne room for Scores, the big Manhattan strip club? Where will the investment bankers go now? This was the dilemma for the strippers (Faris, Wilson and Wiig) and the club’s management, played by Bill Hader and Thompson. Wiig had a Russian accent (nice touch). Faris delivered a stirring speech, which we understand because of the stirring speech music.
Thompson and Andy Samberg (remember him?) brought back the MTV4 "Deep House Dish" routine, which inexplicably has become a recurring sketch, but let’s try explicking it. Sure, explicking isn’t even probably a word, but I’m not going to go look that up just to make you feel better as we look at a sketch that has as its central "conflict" a sidekick that makes bad jokes and gets that fact pointed out over and over again by the lead character. Really. Why? The only real humor in this sketch is seeing what new techno music stars they come up with each time, and how well the characters sell those singing acts. This week, we got Wiig (and her midriff, hello!), a three-man group called Bear Supply (!), and Faris.
Into the homestretch we come, and Thompson is leading another sketch advertising "Googie Rene’s Slightly Stained Wedding Dress Basement." Thompson’s character likes to fake-swear a lot. "Shiiia!" "Farrrrh!" Faris plays the bridesmaid assistant. Wilson, Wiig and Poehler are customers. Notable: Third Facebook joke of the night. "Shiiia!" This was the night’s weird sketch that worked, which almost always shows up in the final half-hour, because that’s where they put those sketches.
After Duffy’s second song, Faris led the final sketch as a woman on a double-date who cannot stop talking lovingly at length about her ex-boyfriend, much to the chagrin of her date (Hader). Will Forte played the waiter and got to put on his stereotypical German Oktoberfest garb that he sported in Beerfest, although he opted not to bring the accent with him this time. Sudeikis again got to showcase his understated comedy skills, with a spit-take into his beer and a line earlier in the sketch: "Why don’t we cheers it up? Oh, you’re going to dive right in. OK."
And that was your show, people. Tune in next week with host Anne Hathaway and musical guest The Killers!