A Review by "HelloStuart," Amateur Critic and Oscar-Winning Exotic Dancer
She gone. With little fanfare, Maya Rudolph gracefully fazed herself out of SNL during the writers' strike (perhaps earlier, as she wasn't under contract for Year 33), limiting herself to a voiceover in the "Annuale" sketch in last week's show before heading out the door. Though Maya's dominant presence in the Zach Braff/Maroon 5 broadcast was a much more fitting climax, at least she was willing to stick around until another female cast member was hired. Maya may have been a little grating at times, but she was probably one of the most versatile cast members the show had ever seen and she'll be missed… sort of.
This takes us to the second episode of Season 33 ½, hosted by Oscar-nominated actress Ellen Page, best known for her work in the films "Hard Candy" and "Juno." The musical guest is Wilco, fresh off their critically acclaimed 2007 album "Sky Blue Sky."
COLD OPENING: Following the media's acclaim for Jim Downey's work in last week's debate sketch, he serves up more of the same, this time with Brian Williams (WF) and Tim Russert (DH) giving Hillary the short shrift. A remark about supporting NAFTA brings out evidence in sandwich baggies and a pointless cameo by "Criminal Intent" scenery-chewer Vincent D'Onofrio. This sketch is followed by an editorial response from Senator Clinton herself, who uses her cameo to thank the show for its breezy satire before shamelessly stumping for this Tuesday's primaries. On that note, does it bother anyone that Fred's Barack impression sounds like Yogi Bear?
MONOLOGUE: An ego-tripping Diablo Cody (AS) chides Ellen for not reading the pop culture-laced, pun-heavy monologue speech that she wrote for her. Those nude photos that were leaked onto the internet are funnier than this.
"The Dakota Fanning Show": The world's most intellectually over-stimulated eighth grader (AP) continues to be a complete mismatch to her teenybopper peers, including Miley Cyrus (Page). The best part of the sketch was "Kid Speak," where Dakota hilariously proves how detached she is from the common pre-teen. Severely disabled, indeed.
SMIGELTOON: "The Obama Files" finds the presidential hopeful derailing Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton's constant attempts at influencing his campaign. Granted, this sketch was overlong and ridiculous, but it's nice to see Smigel back at work.
"The College for Excellence": A Rafael Alonzo-type (FA) promotes a workshop on how to say vague, clichéd office banter like "Have you seen the Johnson file?" and "I think he's at a meeting." The context of the closing disclaimer didn't entirely make sense (commercials like this pop up on YouTube all the time), but the idea of a "college" above a Korean savings and loan is funny in itself.
"The Other Boleyn Girls": King Henry VIII (JS) discovers that there's more to the Boleyn brood than just Natalie and Scar-Jo. A threadbare premise built on what's been hyped as a forgettable, miscast costume drama.
DIGITAL SHORT: A girl (Page) keeps having visions of a zombie-like creature (AS) as she wakes up from one nightmare after another. These realistic fantasies evolve to include Dracula (JS) comforting his needy wife Debbie (KW). If the repetition of "Dear Sister" was a home run, than this was a bloop single to left.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: Jeff Tweedy turns a tale of sterile suburban living into a festering rant with the standout track "Hate It Here." Nels Cline's guitar solo sounds even better live. WEEKEND UPDATE: Hizzoner Rudy Giuliani (yes, the real one) drops by to endorse McCain and explain that his own campaign was derailed by his hosting stint ten-plus years ago, and not (as some people would assume) sitting out the first part of the primaries. If he was willing to make fun of himself like Huckabee last week, that's fine, but I don't want this to turn into a trend. Following a goofy bit involving German napping techniques, we are reacquainted with Nicholas Fehn (FA), the supposed satirist that can't formulate any real thoughts. Rudy had the right idea; this segment had a strong start, than wheezed to the end.
"Shopping with Virginiaca": Obnoxious recurring character in drag + yet another black-poseur step-daughter (Ellen) + buying shorts at Baby Gap = predictable, unfunny sketch.
"The Continuing Adventures of Peter Pan": Captain Hook (BH) is mystified by Peter's (Ellen) ability to distract his crew with his musical numbers. Rather than take a cue from "Family Guy" and actually shoot Peter in the head, they go the kid-friendly, Mary Martin route and revive Tinker Bell with the audience's applause. Talk about pulling punches…
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "Walken" starts off as a honky-tonk boogie in the Gram Parsons vein, then crescendos with a dark, fascinating underbelly. Too bad weird songs like that don't fly with people that listen to Puddle of Mudd or The Jonas Brothers.
"After the Concert": A girl's (Ellen) recap of a Melissa Etheridge concert makes her brother (AS) wonder if she's really gay or just posing. This sketch gave off a Marilyn Suzanne Miller vibe; it was a short play with a dry wit and an ending that didn't exactly go for laughs, but as a sketch airing in 2008 and not 1976 it feels like a quaint anomaly.
For someone that gave a quirky, lovable performance in "Juno," Page was a disappointing host, hamming her presence up with an unpleasant, bratty swagger. I'm a Wilco fan, and I try my best to be non-partisan with musical guests regardless of whether I like them or not, but in an evening loaded with minor idiosyncrasies they held their own. After a strong first outing, Casey Wilson was relegated to bit parts throughout the evening, which isn't much of a surprise; for someone who dropped the ball, a veteran presence like Amy or Andy had to pick up the slack. Outside of the salvo of celebrity cameos, this was just a modest, forgettable mid-season show. Sketches/Segments That Will Probably Be Removed in Repeats: everything after Update, though I could go either way on "Shopping with Virginiaca" and "The Obama Files."
Next Week: 2005 Oscar nominee/pretty redheaded chick Amy Adams hosts with musical guest Vampire Weekend.
"HelloStuart" played himself in the made-for-TV movie "Striving for Failure: The HelloStuart Story." Find out about his less-than-inspirational tale at email@example.com.