SNL #34.11 with Hugh Laurie, Kanye West (Amy Poehler’s finale)

So, the last new Saturday Night Live of 2008 is the 11th episode of the fall, and thinking back to 2007-2008, the shortened Writers Guild strike season only provided for 12 new SNLs, so they've done a lot just since September. SNL doesn't normally do produce this much new sketch work — even in 2006-2007, the full September-May season only saw 20 shows say "Live, from New York, it's Saturday night!" By last night, many may have been looking forward to the holiday break. But this week looked to be a gimme. Hugh Laurie dazzled when he hosted previously, and musical guest Kanye West had poked fun at himself in sketches last year, with NBC promos this week promising more fun. Alas, alack, Kanye stuck to singing (yes, singing) this time around. What else did we see or not see this week?

SNL acquired so much buzz this year from mainstream culture, newsmakers and political talking heads because of their relentless satire on the presidential election. Tonight's cold open, however, carried a feeling in the air that they were poking fun at Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich more because they had to than because they wanted to. Certainly, Blagojevich's scandal looking to sell the vacant U.S. Senate seat of President-elect Barack Obama was the big news story this week. And yet. This sketch imagining Blago's appearance before the Senate Banking Committee looking for a personal bailout lacked a certain, well, enjoyment to the proceedings. Jason Sudeikis played the profane-speaking, big-wig-wearing Blago for bleeping laughs, though the funniest thing was a visual of Abraham Lincoln's dead skeletal hand as Blago tried to see Honest Abe's wedding ring to the highest bidder. The Senators (Darrell Hammond as Dodd, Casey Wilson as Dole, Bobby Moynihan as Shelby, Will Forte as Bayh, and Bill Hader as Byrd) did little to write home about, save for Hader's old mumbling speech pattern and the fact that Moynihan's forehead mask crack was showing! Kristen Wiig also made an appearance as Blago's wife, looking for a seat on the board of NASA.

For Hugh Laurie's monologue, we were reminded that he is, in fact, British, because Dr. House doesn't talk like this. He wanted to go Oprah and give gifts to the audience, but said the suits wouldn't allow much more than him giving a tube of Chapstick to a single audience member. Cute. Laurie also performed a quick Christmas carol medley, so quick to avoid paying any royalties by performing more than three seconds of any one song. S'ok.

Did anyone else notice the complete lack of audience appreciation or applause for the return of Bronx Beat with former SNLer Maya Rudolph and final show SNLer Amy Poehler??!?!?! What gives, audience? Almost shocked me even more than the time earlier this season when the audience didn't even care that Cameron Diaz had made a surprise cameo. Anyhow. The sketch itself. The Bronx Beaters cracked jokes about the fatal Wal-Mart trampling in Long Island. Um. Hmm. After a few more wisecracks, this interchange summed it up. Amy: "That was good." Maya: "It was stupid, though." Their guest is the local British butcher shop owner (Laurie), and the sketch changes focus to the ladies finding his accent sexy. What kind of meat do you like? Eggsactly.

Things picked up after the first commercial break, as we return to a Christmas dinner setting, and it's a simple but fun look at how holiday dinners can be so darned uncomfortable. Or, the family that cannot talk together, still eats together. There are "F-yous!" for everyone. "Judith, sit down!" "No, no, no, no, no's!" instead of "Ho, ho ho's!" But they all bond together to sing "Silent Night." Silly, but silly works. Featuring Sudeikis, Laurie, Wilson, Forte and Wiig.

This is followed by an enjoyable sketch about a wedding reception that cannot have too many toasts. Or can it? The silent but happy couple is played by Abby Elliott and Andy Samberg. Sudeikis plays the emcee. Michaela Watkins opens things up as "crazy Aunt Joanie," and things get crazier from there, with Laurie as Bob, a friend of the bride's father for how long? How long? Fred Armisen plays the ex-boyfriend who shows up to remind everyone how great sex with the bride used to be. Wiig, uninvited to the wedding, shows up on a respirator, looking for a ride home. Moynihan jumps in just to exclaim: "What!?" Forte, in long blond hair and sunglasses, plays a white supremacist. You can watch and laugh here:

Kanye West's first singing rap performance of the evening, "Love Lockdown," includes some pre-recorded notes that Kanye apparently didn't want to attempt reaching tonight. But it's on purpose. No Ashlee Simpson meltdown for Kanye. He's not making any big fashion trend statements here, unless you like jackets that look like Princeton reunion beer jackets.

It's the final Weekend Update with Amy Poehler joining Seth Meyers on the anchor desk! Insert sad emoticon here. Armisen, who has gotten slammed for his Obama impersonation, shows up as New York's black, blind Gov. David Paterson. You might not be as familiar with Paterson if you live and work outside of New York, but our "accidental" governor also is known for revealing many personal secrets and cracking jokes. Making fun of a blind person, even a famous politician, can be a sketchy proposition, so to speak. But I spent more time wondering if Armisen memorized his lines or where they put the cue cards for his wandering eyes?

They also did one final "REALLY?!" bit, focusing on Blagojevich.

And then Amy Poehler attempted to deliver her sincere goodbye speech, which turned hilarious when Armisen's Paterson wandered back into frame, blocking her, and apparently without her prior knowledge, as Poehler immediately went from verging on tears to cracking up. Surprise! For a comedy show, this is very sweet. Almost as if, we don't want you to leave or cry, Amy Poehler! Please stay!

At this point, we're in the final half-hour stretch. So why not zoom in on a lamp store, where every night when the owners (Watkins and Armisen) leave, three lamps come alive and burst into song? Played in big lamp costumes by Wiig, Laurie and Samberg. Only on this night, the owners come back to retrieve an umbrella and catch the lamps alive and in the act. Uh-oh! Whatever will the lamps do? They opt for Door #2 (unhappy ending). Which means bad news for the innocent grandfather clock, too. Sorry, Forte.

Time for the annual Christmas letter for friends and family, in this sketch previously only seen live at the UCB strike show last year (thanks to fellow SNL recapping fan Rachel Sklar for reporting on that while I was in Vegas on assignment). Wiig is dictating the letter, as Laurie types, and it turns out the letter is written from the point of view of the couple's dead cat. Why would anyone want to read a letter from a dead cat? Good question. But this sketch speaks to each and every family that believes their pets are human members of the family. Which is pretty much most families.

The SNL Digital Short brings up the rear. And oh, am I foreshadowing, or spoiler alerting you? Either way, this is how the cookies crumble. In this sketch about an office meeting preparing for layoffs, Laurie keeps getting interrupted by Armisen, who loves the plate of cookies much too much. They're not cookies! (They're not people, either). Weird. Watkins, Moynihan, Forte, Armisen, Elliott and Sudeikis fill out the room.

Kanye West's second singing rap turns out to be the final performance of the evening. Goodbye, everyone. See you in 2009! (That's them speaking, I'm still here, and wondering when Elliott will get her own sketch to shine or at least say more than a line or two, thinking Watkins already is a great addition to the cast, noticing that Kenan Thompson didn't make it on air, and that Darrell Hammond has been reduced to one-and-done sketches, and also looking forward to seeing who Lorne Michaels hires next year, and OK, that's all for now, folks!)

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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