"Heystu"- Supported by Amateur Critics Local 818
After the near-debacle of the Christina Aguilera/Maroon 5 episode, the only direction we can go now is up. In retrospect, I might have been harsh in my criticism of that particular episode, but sleepwalking through your performance, no matter whether the sketch was well-written or not, does not merit glowing accolades. Nonetheless, my harsh Stu-dometer rating of 1 out of 5 stands.
Every season, Lorne chooses a host pretty much out of left field, and unless (theoretically) the guy who plays Dr. Cox on "Scrubs" ends up hosting the season finale, this year's honor would go to classically trained thespian Colin Firth. (Last year, the title went to Adrian Brody, and we all know how that went.) Backing up SNL's eighth-ever British host is none other than the Grammy Awards' favorite child, Norah Jones. As many of you might recall, Norah and her minimalist jazz sound was one of only a handful of highlights in last year's underwhelming Robert DeNiro episode. And I also own her new album, thus letting me avoid having to guess tonight's track names.
And now, ix-nay on the etch-by-sketch-skay analysis-ay:
COLD OPENING: For the second time in four episodes (and the third time in five seasons), it's "Nightline" with Ted Koppel (DH). Addressing the surprise guilty decision in the Martha Stewart trial, he discusses Cool Hand Luke with one of the jurors (KT), the definition of being a bitch with a Merrill Lynch broker (WF), the celebrity standpoint from Rosie O'Donnell (the increasingly annoying Horatio Sanz), and Martha herself (our old buddy Ana Gasteyer), looking rather unfazed. Just by this sketch alone I can officially declare this episode better than the last one.
MONOLOGUE: An entire country is about to ask "Who is this guy?", but Colin explains himself by pointing out that he's starred opposite Hugh Grant in nearly every movie he's ever made. Suddenly, who should appear but the three female cast members that actually appear in sketches, each trying to win over Colin with faux accents, not to mention Hugh himself (SM), who breaks character and admits to having a man-crush on the host. After an almost unbearable 2 ½ years since I last saw Seth do Hugh, I can proudly say that seeing that uncanny impression was probably the best part of the skit. I also liked the reference to the omelette suit from the Justin Timberlake episode.
"Civil War Drama": On the set of a "Cold Mountain"-esque movie, a British actor (who else but Colin) attempts a Southern drawl but ends up sounding like Charles Nelson Reilly. Meanwhile, his three co-stars (FM, AP, CP) openly complain to the director (JF) about speaking in their real, though flawed voices. Silly but satisfactory.
"Showbiz Grande Explosion": For the second episode in a row, we experience having to hear broken Spanish in a sketch. This time, it's a talk show hosted by long-AWOL recurring character Ferecito (FA), who teaches a thing or two about comedy to Colin. For some reason, this reminded me a lot of that borderline-offensive Turkish talk show spoof from last season (complete with Horatio as the sidekick), but this sketch had slightly funnier results.
SMIGELTOON: It's only the fourth cartoon this season, but the wait was worthwhile on this particular occasion. A talking head from the FCC shows pixilated alternate versions of classic cartoons, only to be turned into a eunuch in a respectable "Duck Amuck" homage. Howard Stern shall have his revenge on New York City.
"Senate Testimony": In his first non-WU appearance, soft-spoken weirdo and perennial political candidate Tim Calhoun (WF) testifies before a committee over his role in a Everglades drug deal. Problem is, his lawyer (Colin) is reluctantly feeding words into his mouth. A so-so sketch revolving around a semi-popular recurring character that is eventually marred by a somewhat abrupt ending.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: It's the leadoff track from Norah's new album Feels Like Home, "Sunrise." Even with the installment of a backing band, she still sounded fantastic.
WEEKEND UPDATE: On some nights, including two weeks ago, "Update" acts almost like a crutch for the entire show. Some of the burden has been lifted tonight, but otherwise it's the most consistent element of the show. In tonight's edition, the banter between Fallon & Fey was kept to a harsh minimum, with Maya Rudolph reporting on the "wild, crazy mayhem" created by a small army of WASP-type women in New Canaan, Connecticut, Peter Jackson (HS) rewarding Elijah Wood (RD) with a stick of gum for a job well done, and Bill Clinton (DH) smugly admitting his desire to be John Kerry's running mate. Probably one of the sharper "Updates" thus far this season.
"Hotel Wilson": A British businessman (Colin's getting typecast) is nearly molested by Russell the bellhop (KT), the hotel manager (HS), and a cop (CP), simply because he wanted the company of a prostitute. It was pretty bland, but I guess I should've seen it coming; after all, you can't spell "Horatio" without "ho."
"Meet the Press": Tim Russert (DH) interrogates John Edwards (WF) about his thinly-veiled run for vice president. This political sketch has Jim Downey's fingerprints all over it, but it's sublime satire. In recollection, we should be happy the '04 Democrat ticket didn't read "Dean/Edwards," or otherwise nobody would've noticed they were running. Boy, Hammond and Forte have been everywhere tonight, haven't they?
"The Sopranos": It's been 15 ½ months since the last first-run episode, and even the cast (DH as Tony, RD as Uncle Junior) can't remember what's happened since then. On the bright side, Steven Van Zandt (JF) just installed fellow E-Street sideman Clarence Clemons (KT) in the cast, and everybody's too confused to give a damn. On the bright side, Colin Firth finally utilized a bona fide Yankee accent (he played Furio).
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: Norah and the Handsome Band play the second track from the new album, "What Am I To You?" On the album version of this cut, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson of The Band guest-starred on rhythm, so it would've been impossible for me to say I didn't like this song. Dig that Wurlitzer electric piano!
"Hollywood vs. History": The History Channel again? Is this a new once-an-episode fixture or something? Anyhoo, Liam Neeson (Colin in his native tongue, yet again) introduces the "lost" 1974 biblical epic "JC: God's Son & Company," starring Benny Hill (WF) as a horny, skirt-chasing Christ. As a longtime fan of Hill, Forte definitely brought justice to the late, vaudeville-influenced comic.
...and that's the show. And to my surprise, I don't feel vaguely nauseous. As I've been dreaming for weeks, Will Forte is slowly eclipsing Jimmy Fallon and Amy Poehler as the heart of the show. For a host, Colin Firth was remarkably low-key in his hosting duties, though his seeming reluctance to not speak with in a cockney tongue does take a few points off his scorecard. Though her cameo was limited, I was relieved to see Gasteyer again, especially after she disappeared for a year after giving birth to her firstborn child. (She's now starring in the Broadway play "Roulette.") But the greatest saving grace of the show was Norah Jones, who has not missed a step from her 2002 debut. It'd be pretty neat if she became the show's fourth-ever five-timer as musical guest (Paul Simon, Tom Petty and Dave Grohl are the others), but that really depends on where her young, promising career takes her.
Sketches That Will Probably Be Removed in Repeats: "Show-Biz Grande Explosion," "Senate Testimony," "Hotel Wilson," and "The Sopranos."
Next Week: Fading star Ben Affleck tries to save face with his second hosting appearance, with Neptunes side project N.E.R.D. on board for musical duties.
The writer commonly known as "Heystu" does not give out bootleg tapes of SNL episodes, though he'd be quite happy to give you a firm embrace. Contact this lanky, nerdy, and possibly commit-o-phobic white boy at email@example.com