SNL #38.1 RECAP: Host Seth MacFarlane, musical guest Frank Ocean
As Saturday Night Live began its 38th consecutive season of broadcasting on the NBC television network, let's regain our bearings. Yes, the show still airs live on Saturday nights. Three cast members left over the summer (Kristen Wiig, Andy Samberg and Abby Elliott), three newbies joined the cast -- all from Chicago (Aidy Bryant, Tim Robinson and Cecily Strong) -- one cast member stands firmly with one foot out the door and the other holding down two of the biggest political impersonations of the day (Jason Sudeikis as Vice President Joe Biden and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney), and another long-term cast member finally turning over his lackluster President Barack Obama impersonation to the young guy in the cast who's known essentially for his impersonations (Fred Armisen, who you'd think might have left this summer or even the summer before due to the success of his other sketch comedy series, IFC's Portlandia (also a Lorne Michaels production), giving way to Jay Pharoah).
Doesn't matter if you don't think SNL has been funny since John Belushi, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Billy Crystal, Dana Carvey, Adam Sandler, Phil Hartman, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler or Kristen Wiig left the show. The show goes on. Must it go on? That question, my friends, is moot! The show goes on.
And the season premiere usually presents a wildly mixed bag.
You've got all of the hype of a new season, and the "hot ticket" that comes with that. Surprise A-list celebrity cameos. A host picked primarily to help draw in viewers for the new season and beyond. A summer's worth of topical mayhem and zeitgeist that needs addressing in some form or another. But how was the show, Mrs. Lincoln?
To the recap!
Well, well. In an obviously symbolic passing of the torch moment, we opened cold with a Democratic rally in Ohio in which Fred Armisen plays just any old guy introducing President Obama. Except this time, of course, Armisen isn't playing Obama. As he says, "I wouldn't want his job, right?" Jay Pharoah takes to SNL stage for the first time as Obama. Finally. A black man impersonating a mixed-race man. We did it, America! Meanwhile, here's a quick glimpse of Jason Sudeikis as Mitt Romney, talking about all of the horses he has in this race, literally, metaphorically and third ways. Is Pharoah's Obama accurate? Is it funny? Don't worry about such trifles! Let's look at Taran Killam as that lying son-of-a-gun Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan. Pharoah's Obama reminds us that he can croon, while Romney can't carry any tune. Notice that the jokes still aren't really about Obama, because what's funny about this guy, anyhow?
Wait. What's this? New SNL cast montage? Same old Don Pardo!? The theme remains the same, but they've brought the tempo down to 16/16, if that's a thing. Soft focus, meet slowed-down musical tempo. Enough cast turnover prompts a new cast montage, right? They've jettisoned the images of cast members enjoying NYC's nightlife (although some motion pictures of Manhattan after dark remain) for still posed shots of the cast. Vanessa Bayer, Taran Killam and Jay Pharoah all received promotions from featured player to main cast. Darn, this song is taking too long, though.
Look, it's host Seth MacFarlane. You're used to hearing his voice dominating FOX's Sunday night animation lineup for a decade now. He'll remind you of such. Right now! Family Guy. The kids love it. Do Moms approve? MacFarlane earned a Grammy nomination for singing big-band tunes, so sure, why not allow him to slip into several other voices -- George Takei, Marty McFly, Kermit the Frog -- whilst crooning?
Hold up. Two Pharaoh as Obama bits before the first commercial break? Must be fake ad slot time. But do you approve this message? It's a hit on Romney and Bain Capital. They sure do like to lay off workers once they acquire your company, don't they?
Let's take a breath.
Last time SNL saw a sea-change in the cast, they felt the need to introduce them all in a very public -- albeit very brief -- moment during the host's monologue. This time? We see a newbie pictured right after the first ad break, but it's a switcheroo to lead us back to an old recurring character; this time, Fred Armisen as a talk-show producer who'll have to substitute last-minute for the TV host and dole out sex advice for the ladies. Sex jokes. "You gotta speak up!" What? Because the sex jokes won't obviously be funny unless they're obviously loud? Tim Robinson wins the prize for first SNL newbie of 2012-2013 to show up on live TV and deliver a line. Kate McKinnon shows up soon thereafter to steal our attention away from Armisen's character.
And here it is. That Clint Eastwood and invisible chair thing that happened during the Republican National Convention a few weeks ago. Many of you wished, hoped, nay, prayed for SNL to do something about this. So they did. Higbones voices over a promo video for a Broadway run of "Eastwood and Chair," starring Bill Hader as Eastwood.
Me no so much. Me want more. Me want...inevitable Psy dancing reference? Please remind me once time machines become available for use by citizens, to go back to 1998, and tell me to capitalize on my funny dancing shtick and create a business model for it, because if I don't, both mainstream celebrities (Ellen DeGeneres) and Korean pop music people who studied music in Boston (Psy) will co-opt it before I had the chance to make something of it myself. Again. This is a note to myself. You didn't need to read that. If you did read that and have never seen me dance in the past decade-and-a-half, then you have no idea what that was all about. If you do know, then we'll be convening a support group later this week. Too much about me? Me sorry. Me move on.
SNL is using Seth MacFarlane for what he's good for now, tapping into his voices for this sketch in which he's teaching students about puppetry. OK. So Bill Hader is more than obviously the star of the show this year, if you didn't already know that last year. Just hope you don't get sick of seeing him.
Ladies and gentleman, Frank Ocean. In case you didn't see and hear him slow this down on the MTV Video Music Awards, which still remain a thing in 2012 despite all of society's and MTV's attempts to make you forget about music videos in favor of horrible people who should be neither famous nor fortunate for their horribleness. This is "Thinking About You," by Frank Ocean.
SNL jumps on the "Honey Boo Boo" meme, because that's a thing that 5 percent of Americans watch and zero percent of Americans care about (but that's a problem for a separate rant). Vanessa Bayer plays the kid and Bobby Moynihan is the dumb mom making this all possible.
Seth MacFarlane shows up as much as Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte ever shows up. I give it three swims. You know what, though? Make it five swims.
But put aside all of your troubles and give it up for your first SNL rookie of Fall 2012 to achieve an original character leading a thing on the show to Cecily Strong, portraying Mimi Morales, talking about the get-out-the-Latino-vote for 2012.
Army training, sir! But does he stutter? Do these questions confuse you? Does this sketch bore you? So we're supposed to laugh with the stutter, while also really just laughing at the stutter. OK. Got it. It is funny when a funny person who stutters tells us to laugh, though. Why is that? Oh. Consciences.
Jimmy Fallon is doing characters of stereotypical types to remind us that we can somehow acquire cash by ruining our credit with Capital One credit cards. Hope someone gives him an Emmy for this. Spoiler alert?
Steve Harvey now has a weekday afternoon talk show, and nobody on the SNL cast could be happier about this than Kenan Thompson, who has been on the cast for how long, again? Seriously? That long?!? Did you know he has been hanging around since then? And yet, he's still only 34 years old!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!??!!? "I'm not going to say no on TV in front of everybody!"
Blind date. Nasim Pedrad and Seth MacFarlane meet up in a public place -- a casual restaurant. Voices, am I right, ladies? And here is Aidy Bryant as a bystander who doesn't just stand but also walks by and offers up her own voice on their blind date.
Once again, Frank Ocean. The song is called "Pyramids." Why Ocean is playing videogames while John Mayer plays a guitar solo, however, is unexplained. Galaga FTW!
Five To One! Five minutes to one o'clock in the a.m. Wooden spoons, promoted and sold by Amish dwellers played by Tim Robinson and Seth MacFarlane. If there is redeeming value, it's in learning how SNL imagines the Amish interprets the English alphabet.
Was I supposed to fall in love with SNL all over again? Did you? Let's try not to overthink this.
So don't put too much into the fact that Tim Robinson clearly received multiple chances to make a statement in the cast, while Cecily Strong launched a character, and at least Aidy Bryant showed up and had lines, and woah, you're already overthinking this. Just enjoy it. New season. New faces. Come on back next Sunday -- or even Thursday in primetime for a half-hour! -- and see what's next this season in SNL. Then we can sit in judgement and feel all superior to this season. Agreed? Agreed.