A Review by "HelloStuart," Amateur Critic and Curmudgeonly Medical Genius
As I start this review, I’m openly wondering "what the hell is happening here?" I certainly don’t want to panic myself, but when was the last time a season of SNL started this slowly? I can probably count the number of purely funny sketches on one hand. So far, the writing has been mediocre but not from the same ailment of years past; where the last few seasons were dogged by repetition and a stream of forgettable, grating recurring characters, the first three episodes of the post-Fey era has been hounded by a heap of unfinished ideas and too many simplistic premises. Amusing? Intermittently. Funny? Hardly. The level of dryness I’ve seen this season could be likened to the concept-heavy sketches of the Murphy-Piscopo-Ebersol era. Maybe I’m nitpicking too soon in the season, but when TV Guide and Time magazine both use the word “moribund” to describe SNL’s current condition, ears tend to perk up.
This week’s host is Hugh Laurie, the respected British improvisational actor and star of the popular medical series “House.” The musical guest is Beck, who is making his sixth appearance on SNL. Combined, they make for the most intriguing match-up for a live broadcast in quite some time; being a fan of both Laurie and Beck will make this hard for me to critique the show in a fair manner (a situation my fellow amateur critics have had to deal with many times before), but at least there’s the hope that this might spice things up.
And now, the sketch-by-sketch analysis:
COLD OPENING: Lorne addresses the ongoing network budget cuts, chugs down a little brandy, and then introduces a “campaign commercial” from the Kazakhstan Ministry of Information. It turns out to be a shameless (though very funny) plug for that Borat movie that’s coming out next weekend. Has enough time gone by now that repeatedly saying “Schwing!” has made the transition from cliché to ironic? I’d argue for it.
MONOLOGUE: The man formerly known as Wooster calls the audience “Sweet Cheeks,” recites a poem that successfully proves he’s a nice guy, and briefly explains the key points of British comedy. When you think about it, his charisma alone made this the best monologue so far this season.
“Most Haunted”: A spoof of the popular Travel Channel documentary series finds a team of paranormal experts (FA, BH, AP) analyzing and obsessing over the sound of their superior (Hugh) farting. This sketch comes to prove that if executed properly, even the most sophomoric of premises can work.
SMIGELTOON: President Bush addresses the ongoing onslaught of attack ads that all prominently feature Osama Bin Laden, and then use crude tactics that express the homophobic, obsolescent Republican agenda. Granted, this was mean-spirited, but I’m sad to say that this didn’t exactly exaggerate from how localized smear campaigns function.
“2006 World Series”: Joe Buck (JS) and Tim McCarver (BH) introduce the winner of a local anthem-singing contest (MR), who turns out to be a complete poseur. Another one-joke sketch, though points to Maya for belting it out.
“The Queen’s Visit”: An assistant for Queen Elizabeth II (Hugh) makes a list of strange demands for the Waldorf-Astoria concierge (KW) for her pending visit to NYC, complete with rubber sheets, miniature furniture, and hooks in the ceiling. Well, at least we have that British humor Hugh promised. Moving on…
“Hardball”: Tonight on Chris Matthews’ (DH) cable shout-fest, GOP party gadfly Ken Mehlman (AS) denies his friendship with a congressman that turned out to be the “TCBY Killer” (don’t ask), then plugs his replacement on the ballot, John Wayne Gacy Jr. Later on, DNC chairman Howard Dean (JS) belittles Mehlman and mouths off like the stereotypical crazed left-winger that Republicans loathe. In 20-odd appearances on the show, “Hardball” has made a decent effort to never do the same thing twice; this time, however, the output seemed very blah, as if it denied itself some way to lure the audience in.
“Hugh’s Protest Song”: Key social and political aspects are mumbled as Hugh rambles though a Dylan-esque folk number. I took pleasure in this bit for several reasons; for one, it’s been ages since there’s been a standup performance outside of the monologue; secondly, it reminded me of Hugh’s various musical interludes on “A Bit of Fry and Laurie”; and most importantly, his comic timing was astonishingly proficient.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: Percussion runs rampant in the groovy single “Nausea.” Dig those crazy marionettes!
WEEKEND UPDATE: I’m probably not the first to say that Amy and Seth are finally gelling, but compared to past segments this was the least awkward one yet. Tim Calhoun’s (WF) stump speech was another ace-in-the-hole from one of SNL’s few consistently funny characters, but a commentary from a same-sex couple from Jersey (FA, BH) served only to enforce the same tired Italian-American stereotypes that people stopped laughing at years ago.
“Broken Leg”: Another sketch with an epilogue? That’s the type of repetition that bugs the living hell out of me. This sort of laziness ruins even middling sketches like this, which features Kenan as a paranoid hospital patient and Hugh as his trans-gendered wife.
“The Curse of Frankenstein”: A certain monster (BH) nearly fools a mob of angry villagers into thinking he’s not the object of their fear and hatred. A rare moment in the spotlight for Bill proved to be quite heady; his banter with the fire-obsessed horde (led by Hugh) may or may not have had several parallels to the Middle-American value system, but the pending election has obviously made me way too burnt out on the subject.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: I haven’t a clue what that song was called, but hot damn, that was funky! It’s a shame that turkey went to waste, though.
“Job Interview”: Two Connecticut-based lawyers (Hugh, FA) keep incorporating “woo!” sounds into their banter while sizing up a potential paralegal (AP) in a typical one-joke sketch that ran longer than it had to.
I don’t know why this keeps happening- every time it seems like I doubt myself, the show roars back with an above-average broadcast. Given how the first hour normally outweighs the last thirty minutes, this was with little doubt in my mind the strongest broadcast thus far this season. I wanted to demonstrate parity, but I couldn’t get past the fact that I really enjoyed some of the sketches, especially the Borat cold opening, "The Queen’s Visit," and the protest song. Heck, for once even the political satire clicked. I’ve come to the conclusion that SNL isn’t in a slump, it’s just very bipolar.
Sketches/segments that will probably be removed in repeats: the gay marriage commentary on WU, “Hardball,” “Broken Leg,” and “Job Interview.”
In two weeks: Super-host Alec Baldwin makes it a baker’s dozen, with musical guest Christina Aguilera making her fourth appearance on the show.
Contact "HelloStuart" at firstname.lastname@example.org. He appreciates all feedback.