A Review by “HelloStuart,” Amateur Critic and Child of the ‘80s
Tonight, SNL celebrates an intriguing milestone: Drew Barrymore is serving as host for the fifth time, joining Candice Bergen as the only XX-chromosomers to achieve that illustrious milestone. Quite possibly the most diligent female host the show has ever had, she brings a certain charm to a show that, last I checked, is still mired in a months-long creative slump. The musical guest is Lily Allen, a British, hip-hop tinged singer-songwriter and relative newcomer whose debut disc “Alright, Still” has been welcomed with gushing reviews but only modest sales.
And now, the sketch-by-sketch analysis:
COLD OPENING: So “American Idol” is turning to a zoo, huh? Why not have Simon (JS), Randy (KT), and Paula (AP) literally criticize the singing abilities of animals to prove that point? As lame as this sketch was, it was nice to see Seth doing sketches again; his Ryan Seacrest impression was actually tolerable given the material he had to work with.
MONOLOGUE: Just as Drew walks off to the Five-Timers’ Club, she gets wrapped up in the various rom-com movie clichés that have dominated most of her recent work, as spearheaded by Andy, Wiigy, a horny Forte, and a bi-curious Kenan. The fact that this monologue was halfway decent was just my kind of (sniff) happy ending.
“The Dakota Fanning Show”: The child actress (AP) that appears to be more mature and sophisticated than one might expect comments on Thomas Pynchon and the craft of acting to a confused Daniel Radcliffe (BH) and an amiable Abigail Breslin (Drew). This worked for me because Amy basically took a little-girl role and didn’t turn her into a rambunctous id; granted, she has been overused this season, but at least it’s justified.
“Poison Therapy”: A husband and wife (WF, Drew) settle their quabbles with a marriage counselor (KW), even though her constant poisoning of him with dioxin dominates the conversation. Subdued as this was, this probably would’ve worked better as some throwaway gag.
DIGITAL SHORT: The 1980s-era workout tape “Body Fusion” features four women sweating provocatively while doing the most menial of flexibility exercises. Once again, this was sort of a one-joke bit, but I have to admire how they absolutely nailed the aged videotape quality and even more outdated workout fashions of the time.
“Target Greatland”: This time around, our favorite cashier with the short attention span (KW) has a trainee (Drew) that further enables her to annoy customers. Business as usual, I guess.
“Nervous Job Interviewee”: Over-caffinated Sandrea Sharp (Drew) won’t leave her interviewers (AP, KT, KW) alone when she keeps saying the wrong thing, leaves, then apologizes only to start the pattern all over again. Drew definitely carried this sketch, making everything from calling Kenan a “grown-up Webster” to confessing to stealing their wallets look like a pile-driver of anxiety-fueled absurdity.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: Lily croons to her peppy single “Smile.” Wow, she’s a better singer than I thought.
WEEKEND UPDATE: Kenan’s near-weekly commentary, this time as nanny/spanking advocate Barbara Birmingham, fell just as flat as most of his WU appearances this season. The one-liners weren’t that memorable either, with the exception of Seth’s comment on a convicted sex offender that won the Florida Lottery (“He plans to spend the money on a van and a puppy”).
“Versace Super Bowl Party”: Fresh from two years of rehab, our favorite hoarse-throated diva Donatella (MR) throws a bash of sorts for the Bears-Colts game with guests Prince (FA), Posh Spice (Drew), and David Beckham (SM). Things go from bad to worse (for me, anyway) when Horatio Sanz unexpectedly waltzes in as Elton John and offers Donatella some sausages; they then spend the rest of the sketch uttering a few unfunny double entendres and mugging at the camera.
“Country Club Valet”: Smallish, pan-sexual Jojo (AP) makes a vulgar come-on towards WASP Ashley Sanderson (Drew) at the entrance of a snob dive. Not much else happens, but it drags on for about five minutes.
“Firestarter Smoked Sausages”: The little girl from the 80’s horror/sci-fi cult classic is all grown up and selling meat with her wary, amputee husband (JS). I thought this was a cute gimmick, and it didn’t hurt to see Suds in a rare comic-relief role.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: Lily bounces around to the ska-tinged “LDN.”
“The Formosa”: Drew and the perennially soused Peter O’Toole (BH) reminisce about the boozy good ol’ days of Hollywood. Not bad for a ten-to-one sketch, though I could’ve done without the “Peter’s Old Tools” pun.
“Nelson’s Baby Toupees”: Yeah, it’s a repeat from last year, but compared to what we’ve had to sit though these last few months, this held up quite nicely.
After a weak start, this broadcast hit its stride soon after before losing momentum in the second half of the show. Horatio Sanz’s cameo and the reappearance of a Year 31 ad spoof were fleeting reminders of how SNL has taken a creative step backwards in the past season; this could be validated by the drawn-out sketches and newfound heavy reliance on puns. Drew, as usual, was an effective host and never faltered even when the writing wasn’t up to scratch; Lily Allen, on the other hand, was a genre-blending curio compared to most rigidly-formatted musical guests but made the most of one of her first American television appearances. As weird as it sounds, this was probably one of the stronger episodes of the season, if only by default.
Sketches/segments that will probably be removed in repeats: Pretty much the entire last half-hour, save for “Firestarter Smoked Sausages.” Come of think of it, I’d dump Kenan’s commentary on Update as well.
Next week: Academy Award nominated actor-director Forest Whitaker hosts with Keith Urban, SNL’s first country musical guest in nearly five years.
Contact Stuart at firstname.lastname@example.org. Go Bears!