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SNL #37.1 RECAP: Host Alec Baldwin, musical guest Radiohead

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New season, same ol' cast. No. Really. And that's the big news as Saturday Night Live opened its 37th season with the same exact cast from season 36 -- and that hasn't happened since I worked in newspapers. Nobody left. Nobody got fired. And nobody got hired, either. That's despite a rather large number of wanna be SNLers receiving a look-see over the past month. My guess is Lorne Michaels wants to be ready for a big turnover next year. But why talk about next year when we have this year right in front of us?

To the recap!

OK. Going with last week's GOP debate as the cold opening, well we could see that one coming, couldn't we? Had to be done. "Either the 7th or 8th GOP Debate," because not even you know how many there have been, and you've been live-Tweeting them all yourself. But 11 minutes? Holy crikey! I hope we've got enough mockery to go around for this sketch. Leading off with Bill Hader as FOX News anchor Shepard Smith. I guess if you cannot find someone to play Megyn Kelly, Chris Wallace or that other guy who actually moderated the debate, and if you do have Hader, you go with Hader. Jason Sudeikis, looking good as Mitt Romney. Host Alec Baldwin as Rick Perry. Paul Brittain looking scary good as Ron Paul; same goes for Kristen Wiig as Michele Bachmann. Rounding it out we've got Taran Killam as Jon Huntsman, Kenan Thompson as Herman Cain, Andy Samberg as Rick Santorum and Bobby Moynihan as Newt Gingrich. Felt like for the most part, they focused more on mocking each candidate than on getting the impersonations spot-on. Although Wiig's Bachmann, right? Also a joke about Whitney! Huzzah. Still cannot get past the fact that this was so long, but then again, with so many candidates to poke fun at, it had to go long.

Baldwin notes right off the bat in his monologue that it's his 16th time hosting, which puts him past Steve Martin. Well, excuuuuuuuuuuse me. It's Mr. Steve Martin! But first, let's note Baldwin's deft handling of the Ben & Jerry's "Schweddy Balls" ice-cream flavor, with the tag: "Go Fudge Yourself." Martin shows up to foil his nemesis with an on-the-spot drug test, and though he introduces Seth Rogen as a famous drug user, his services would not be necessary. Nor would the "science team" of SNLers, although we do achieve our first glimpses this season of Abby Elliott and Fred Armisen.

First fake ad of the year stars Wiig sporting a perfume called Red Flag. Funny like yikes! Fun fact: The voiceover indicating she used to live in Las Vegas is disturbing in the scene to Sudeikis, who used to live in Vegas.

First real ad stars Jimmy Fallon! How about that. Second real ad features Rogen. Go figure. Third real ad doesn't plug Whitney. Hey now.

This All My Children wrap party starts out with blank stares from Elliott and Nasim Pedrad and hey who asked for an extra that looks a cross between Michaela Watkins and Jenny Slate to stand near the back of the room?!? Vanessa Bayer is onstage alone as Susan Lucci, but this sketch is about how many oddballs can chew up the scenery. Hader certainly can as Maxwell Fisk, a lighting designer from the 1990s. Or was he pushed? Cue the soap-opera suspense music! And how about Sudeikis as the fan operator? That's all I got for this one.

Can someone tell me which SNL writer is from Buffalo? More importantly, can someone tell me why a Buffalo TV station would send a reporter to Costa Rica and set up a live shot during the local news? No matter. Doesn't matter at all, except to give Baldwin and Elliott thick accents and put Wiig in increasingly precarious situations with jungle wildlife, that she allegedly cannot feel because of botox, nor see because I don't know why she cannot see giant insects and reptiles right in front of her eyeballs. But people who cannot deal with satellite delays: That is funny.

Something something Radiohead performed "Lotus Flower." This made me considerably less excited to see them perform on Monday's episode of The Colbert Report.

Weekend Update returned with Seth Meyers continuing to hold down the fort all by himself.

Only one visitor to the Update desk, but it was worth it as Baldwin's Tony Bennett was delightful with his singing, fake nose and one-liners. Noticed they threw in a nod to the ol' Twinkle and Stink sketches with that Poise plug!

By the way, that yoga instructing girlfriend of Baldwin's sure has helped him lose weight over the summer, hasn't she?!

Anyhow.

Back to our recap, where we find Baldwin, Bayer and Sudeikis playing a fake show hosted by Hader called "Who's On Top?" The premise is simple to understand: Hader reads off the names of two male celebrities. If they were gay lovers, who's on top? Sudeikis, playing the straight man as it were, refuses to play and walks offstage. The rationale and lengths to which they go to think about gay sex is astounding. Especially with Baldwin's speech before the lightning round.

They did it last season for Back to the Future, so why not roll out the never-before-seen-screen-test idea for Top Gun? Let's grade the celebrity impersonators! Fred Armisen as Tony Danza: fugghetaboutit. Alec Baldwin as Al Pacino: A-list, A-minus. Bill Hader as Harvey Fierstein: Thin to win. Nasim Pedrad as Paula Abdul: Too soon. Literally a few years too soon. Hader as Alan Alda: A+++. Andy Samberg as Crispin Glover reading a line of his from Back to the Future: Nice touch. Taran Killam as Tom Hanks: Um, OK. Kenan Thompson as Sinbad: Thong song. Bobby Moynihan as "Natalie" from Facts of Life: That they couldn't write or say Mindy Cohn speaks volumes. As does his hair. Voluminous! Armisen as Prince: There's something we haven't seen in a while! Killam as Bobcat Goldthwait: Hot off of Police Academy 2!

Wait a second. Speaking of that sequel, the show had a second video prepared for this bit, but decided instead to put Hader's Alda, Pedrad's Abdul and Armisen's Danza into the first one. That left Jay Pharoah's Michael Winslow on the cutting room floor. As well as Paul Brittain's Johnny Depp. And even Abby Elliott's Cyndi Lauper with Moynihan as Capt. Lou Albano! And Colin Jost lost his chance for screen time, too. Pedrad's Downtown Julie Brown. Kristen Wiig's Paula Poundstone. We shall remember you all now, just this once, on the Internet.

This bit snuck up on me. Baldwin plays a child psychologist who shows his dinner date (Bayer) how he deals with his daughter (Pedrad). She cannot stop bawling. But don't acknowledge her, because that gives her the power. Didn't want to like it at all. Somehow I did? I don't know anymore.

Interesting ad for the Broadway production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying! There's going to be a major casting change for that show on Jan. 2, 2012. Interesting.

Radiohead made some more ambient noise with their second song, "Staircase." They're making me sleepy. That's not good, is it?

Nice animated bumper!

So this final sketch, the Turner Classic Movie scene of Army officers trapped in battle, giving a private (Killam) their final dying wishes. These are some lousy wishes, Baldwin's character. And Moynihan's character. And Armisen's character.

One week in the books. Some ups. Some downs. It's SNL as usual up in 30 Rock. Except no SNL Digital Short! And two-thirds of The Lonely Island team missing from the writing credits (off to Hollywood projects for them?) Also seen in the closing credits: Erik Kenward and John Mulaney listed as producers; Bryan Tucker and Colin Jost as having supervised the writing; and Marci Klein is a consulting producer now.

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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