A Review by “HelloStuart,” Amateur Critic and American Beauty
Well, they finally did it- after years of questions without answers, the first season of SNL belatedly joined the TV-on-DVD ranks last Tuesday. After tons of speculation about licensing and the pricing of such an unwieldy compilation (24 episodes on 8 discs), it landed in stores to moderate acclaim but most importantly a reasonable $50 price tag. Not to sound like I’m shamelessly selling a product, but yes, this is near the top of my Christmas wish list.
This week’s host is Annette Bening, the Oscar-nominated actress perhaps better known for being married to Warren Beatty. High-quality thespians haven’t always been dependable hosts (as Kate Winslet and Robert DeNiro will surely attest), but at least they make some sort of effort. For the first time in a number of years, tonight’s broadcast will feature two separate musical guests: the first one, Gwen Stefani, makes her fifth overall appearance on the show to promote her new CD, while Senegal-born R&B singer Aliaune “Akon” Thiam, a promising newcomer, takes second billing.
And now, the sketch-by-sketch analysis:
COLD OPENING: For the third straight week, the show opens with Suds’ fair mimicry of President Bush. Tonight, he addresses the ISG’s report on the conflict in Iraq, and then accepts strange advice from the American public that seems feasible only in his own eyes. Having given him enough time to be analyzed, I would say Jason’s impression of Dubya is in the middle of the pack; it’s inferior to Will Ferrell and Will Forte, yet still tops Chris Parnell and Darrell Hammond. The sketch in itself was nothing memorable.
MONOLOGUE: Mrs. Beatty decides to go down the audience questions route, which turns into a berating for her acclaimed performance as frazzled professional Carolyn Burnham in “American Beauty.” Alec Baldwin pops out of nowhere (presumably to save the day), but instead he mentions that he once played a real estate agent himself in “Glengarry Glen Ross” and he enjoyed Bening’s nude scene in “The Grifters.”
“Apocalypto”: One of the show’s writers re-imagines the new Mel Gibson film as a ham-handed anti-Semetic parable. This was so clever, yet so predictable; weren’t his comments played out in the media nearly three months ago?
“Good Morning I Hate This Town”: The hosts (JS, Bening) of a typical local morning news/talk program have an affinity for calling their core audience dumbasses without much rhyme or reason, and only the Rachael Ray surrogate (AP) that handles the cooking segment sees through them. The performances were spot-on, but the writing was just plain sloppy.
CARTOON: Am I seeing things, or was this a rare clunker from Bobby S? The only thing “Diddy Kiddies” focuses on is Sean Combs’ inexplicable fame and pointless existence, a joke that wore thin nearly ten years ago.
“High School Romance”: A lonely but very literate English teacher (Bening) watches her romance with her unresponsive, Playstation-obsessed student-boyfriend (AS) crumble, only to boink the next thing that walks in the door (BH). Amusing and all, but was the torch ballad really all that necessary?
“Two A-Holes at a Nativity Scene”: Tonight, America’s favorite belligerent urbanites (JS, KW) portray Mary and Joseph in a local church production, with their Carol Brady look-alike director (Bening) as their latest foil. This actually turned out to be one of the more memorable A-Hole vignettes, with the male p****’s obsession with a live donkey (he thinks its two little people in an elaborate costume), not to mention a few solid non-sequitors.
DIGITAL SHORT: The manager (FA) of an anonymous fast food franchise demonstrates a lack of patience and communication skills towards his employees during a pep talk in a piece that was obviously cut from the previous week’s dress rehearsal. I’m sad to say that this may very well be the first time I’ve ever been bored by a digital short.
“Buyer Beware”: Something about this screams “short-lived recurring sketch.” Long story short, this Brooklyn-based public-access talk show finds a old man named Mason (KT) and his Marla Gibbs-esque neighbor (MR) giving out tips to being a better consumer. Like the previous segment, I was bored senseless; the lack of energy demonstrated in this sketch almost felt like a cry for help on Kenan’s part.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: From her new album, it’s her utterly dreadful single “Wind It Up.” For the love of all things good, why would anyone use a sample from “The Sound of Music” soundtrack? Worse yet, she looks like the bastard offspring of Edgar Winter and The Riddler.
WEEKEND UPDATE: I'm starting to sense an imbalance on this segment; it seems that while Seth takes the segment seriously and actually spins a few one-liners, Amy seems to rely on puns and clichés. Case in point? Her headline about chicken tainted with salmonella and salmon poisoned with "chickenella." I'd say to that like last week, WU felt a little slow; Al Gore's (DH) commentary about a bizarre conversation with Lindsay Lohan felt pieced together and never went anywhere, while an appearance by "flatulence bomber" Gloria Patrick (KW) started off well but devolved into an obvious fart joke. Once again, Will Forte waltzes in to save the day to sing a protest song about gay marriage (with guitar accompaniment by FA) that's light on any credible arguments but heavy on the ham.
"Monster Under The Bed": Two parents (WF, Bening) appear to be nuts, but are actually imposing serious psychological damage on their daughter (AP) as they battle the boogeyman (BH). Granted, the ending was cruel, but for once I didn't see what was coming next from a mile away. This was actually well-written but hampered by Bening's frozen attempt at hysteria.
“Valtrex”: The first repeat ad of the season is (somewhat fittingly) from the Baldwin/Aguilera broadcast. I never thought I’d ask this, but what took so long?
“Socially Awkward Officemates”: This is essentially a rewrite of an already forgotten sketch from last year’s Lohan/Pearl Jam broadcast, right down to the irrational fear of dancing and the suggested three-way. I’ll give points to Forte for becoming king of the weird yet pensive voices.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: Akon gets bouncy on his current hit “I Wanna Love You.” It didn’t even bother me that Snoop Dogg didn’t show up.
“Stanfield & Partlow”: A savvy lawyer (Bening) presents a financial plan for cats that inherit money from their crazy old spinster owners. Though this is definitely thinking outside the box, I couldn’t help but notice how suspiciously clichéd this felt.
After two weak broadcasts, the show finds its footing but still finds room for an occasional stumble. Ms. Bening, as I all but guaranteed beforehand, was a largely ineffective host; so far, she’s been the most blatant cue-card reader of the season. Tonight’s musical performances was like a case example of Jekyll and Hyde; where Akon set up a clean, subtle groove, Gwen Stefani gave us arguably one of the worst songs to be performed on SNL in recent memory. In all, this was a middling show, not one of the season’s best but certainly not a bottom-feeder either. Sadly, this is only making my scope of the current season even more negative.
Sketches/Segments That Will Probably Be Removed in Repeats: “Buyer Beware,” “Socially Awkward Officemates,” and “Stanfield & Partlow.”
Next Week: Justin Timberlake becomes the third person in SNL history to serve as host and musical guest in the same broadcast twice.
“HelloStuart” is a writing minor at Illinois State University. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.