SNL Season 34 debut, with host Michael Phelps and Tina Fey as Sarah Palin

Having an athlete host a live televised sketch comedy show is a bit of a hit-or-miss, win-or-lose proposition. If the star athlete already has shown a knack for comedy in his or her previous TV commercial endorsements (see: last year’s SNL debut host LeBron James, or Peyton Manning), then you can expect the athlete to cross the finish line with easy laughs. However, if the athlete swims like a fish out of water, then you’re about to endure the hype machine of swimmer Michael Phelps doggy paddle its way through 90 minutes of your 34th season debut of Saturday Night Live.

Not that Phelps was horrible. But there’s nothing he did that’s worth even talking about, is there?

Especially, particularly, definitely when Tina Fey provided all the buzz in the "cold open" as Republican VP wannabe Sarah Palin, appearing alongside longtime comedy friend Amy Poehler (about to give birth any day now, it seems) as Hillary Clinton for a joint statement. SNL head honcho Lorne Michaels said earlier in the week he was going after Fey to play Palin, since so many people had pointed out their similiar looks in the past couple of weeks of hubbub and hullaballoo, and they even gave Poehler a line to mock Palin for "her Tina Fey glasses." Fey had the voice pretty spot-on. The point of the sketch, though, as with most SNL political sketches, was to point out the wrongness of certain policies. Fey as Palin exclaimed, "I can see Russia from my house!" and noted, "Anyone can president." To which Poehler as Clinton was left to mock and mock and mock some more, how everyone wrote off the experienced female presidential candidate and has more than warmed to this rookie from Alaska. (Sorry, Casey Wilson, we know you could’ve made a good Palin, too). Anyhow. Video!

The Phelps monologue had Poehler playing his mom, only to have his actual mom on TV, again. This is supposed to make us go, awwww, funny and cute. William Shatner was there to hawk Priceline from the audience, and for reasons unexplained, that Guy guy from the Food Network was sitting next to him.

Jason Sudeikis hosted Quiz Bowl, which had Sudeikis wondering which students are dumber, public schoolers or home schoolers. The home-schooled trio were a nod to cult-like Christian/Mormons, we were led to believe, with Kristen Wiig stealing most of the scenery wandering in and out of the screen as the crazy, pointing mom. This would not be the first or last time Wiig’s role was to do this sort of thing.

The "Jar Glove" informercial took on the task of needling infomercials that make it seem like the easiest of tasks — in this case, opening a jar — must seem so impossible. Certainly you’ve seen the actual TV ads boasting how difficult it is to boil water and make pasta.

There was a horrible pep talk for a horrible swim team that wanted to show off Will Forte’s "Fancy Pants" dance. Moving on. A company dinner with the boss was meant to show us how ugly and awkward the boss’s kids are (played by Wiig and Wigged-Phelps, in a wig, get it?). Anyhow. Moving on.

Weekend Update brought out Forte as Alaska Pete to make more fun at Palin’s expense. Fred Armisen’s "political comedian" Nicholas Fein blathered on about nothing, as usual. And Andy Samberg played "Cathy" from the cartoon strip, "Cathy." Ack!

Kenan Thompson livened up the proceedings as Charles Barkley hosting "The Charles Barkley Show" pay off his gambling debts to the Wynn casino. Darrell Hammond played famed gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi, I guess so we could get a subtle joke about child labor (the TV crew are kids!). Phelps played himself.

Ever wonder about that T-Mobile "Fave Five" ad that ends with the dad telling his daughter that she shouldn’t have such hot friends? This sketch wonders what actually would happen next. Sudeikis and Wiig battle it out. Simple and clever.

This week’s SNL Digital Short falls under the weird files. Space Olympics? Music video? Um, ok. Is that  laser cat reference I see?

It’s the final half-hour, which means anything can happen, and we get our first real chance to showcase newcomer Bobby Moynihan. Moynihan plays the rather flamboyant waiter at an UNO’s, waiting on Phelps and Poehler. "Do you smell the pepper?" he keeps asking, in what appears to be an impersonation of Fabrice Fabrice, of all people. (Note to self: Ask new SNL scribe and Nick Kroll pal John Mulaney if this is intentional or not) Yay, Bobby! This is a vote of confidence for him. First show, first showcase sketch. We await the video! UPDATED: The video is here.

After the second Lil Wayne song, which indeed is "Lollipop," we get the final sketch, which is a fake ad for the very real "The Michael Phelps Diet." Which of course is supposed to be funny because it’s true. They needed to bring in Jared from Subway to sell it with the line, "This diet sucks a footlong."

No actual Obama tonight, though. Sorry, kids. Thanks for playing. See you next Saturday night!

Sean L. McCarthy

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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