A Review by the Former "Heystu," Amateur Critic and Foosball Legend
The beginning of the 29th season of the cultural icon that is Saturday Night Live began in a haze of extravagence, with a remodeled stage, some cast additions, and new opening credits. That does not necessarily mean that all the rough spots have been polished, though. It's still an uneven cast, with the same three of four actors appearing in nearly every sketch. It reminds me of the Murphy/Piscopo heyday of the early 80's, except that it's more of an oligarchy, and there are no budding superstars.
After an uneven Year 28, I wondered in my last review if we were headed into another 1994-95. It's hard to say at this point: after all, the season premiere nine years ago (Steve Martin/Eric Clapton) was actually bearable to watch. It wasn't until after a month or so into Year 20 that all hell broke loose.
And now, a sketch-by-sketch analysis:
COLD OPENING: Longtime SNL scribe Jim Downey is a master of political and topical sketches. Since first joining the show midway through Year 2, he has probably earned the title of being the show's most consistent writer. Ever. This time around, he has Ah-nuld (DH, who should've left a season ago) explaining his agenda as a candidate with one too many words. I remember seeing Hammond play Ah-nuld at the Emmys two weeks ago, and I thought his performance could've been better. Now, it has been enhanced by better makeup and stronger writing.
THE OPENING CREDITS: After three years of watching the cast party to a jazz-turntable groove, we finally have new opening credits. I heard it was directed by the same guy behind Missy Elliott's "Work It" video, and he definitely has a magic touch here. Still, the opening from 1979-80, with the semi-animated crowded barroom and the vague feeling that a good time was coming to an end, is the all-time best. This one comes in third, behind the Times Square intro from Year 3. BTW: My man Forte is now a regular, and gets slapped. Yippee!
MONOLOGUE: I saw a sneak peak of the new stage watching the promos for this week's show, and I like it. No more faux-dingy alley background. Anyway, "School of Rock" star and all-around ball of energy Jack Black rolls out of the doors for a second time (the first being in '01) and proceeds into a musical number about the pitfalls of stardom. I really loved the Will Ferrell cameo, and rumors of him hosting later this year gives 2003-04 some good mojo.
"Huggies Thong:" Ad spoof with buttcheek-revealing diapers. Not only is it cute, but it's also funny.
"Queer Eye for the Straight Girl:" A spoof of a certain Bravo reality show has five outspoken lesbian stereotypes (the jock, the femi-nazi, the old spinster, etc.) making a woman (TF) seem less feminine. As much as I loved seeing writers like Fey and Paula Pell in the occasional sketch, "Queer Eye" just doesn't work.
"The Wade Robson Project:" New cast member Finesse Mitchell makes his SNL debut as the co-host in this spoof of another cable show. This time, dance guru Robson (newly promoted regular Seth Meyers) introducing bad dancers. Um, okay...
"Cooking Class:" Our three favorite adult learning annex students, Gabe, Ruth, and Vasquez, are joined by a whiny yuppie (Parnell) in a cooking course taught by a careless slacker (JB). What makes this series of sketches so charming is the awkward flirting of Gabe and Ruth (Armisen, Dratch), who remind me of a middle-aged Todd DiLaMuca and Lisa Loopner. And as for Vasquez, well, he's just Vasquez.
SMIGELTOON: "Yankee Super-Heroes" pits the Bronx Bombers against attacking aliens. I loved the character exaggerations of Steinbrenner and Boomer Wells, and the ending was not too bad, either.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: From his new album "Heavier Things," John Mayer sings "Bigger Than My Body." Well, at least it's an improvement from that piece of dreck he calls "Your Body is a Wonderland." (Note: "Wonderland" was a big hit from last year that was about foreplay. You've been warned.)
WEEKEND UPDATE: One element of the show that received little or no cosmetic change was the uneven Fallon/Fey "WU," which seems to be coasting on all those great reviews from three years ago. After last season, with Jimmy acting rather smug and insipid, with poor Tina having to carry the load, I had low expectations for tonight's edition. Turns out, it was a surreal and otherwise sturdy affair, with a soap-opera spoof and an imagined fistfight between Bill Cosby and Wanda Sykes (Kenan Thompson, Maya Rudolph). I think I'll muffle my criticisms of "Update" ...for now, at least.
"The Wheel Bar & Grill:" JB plays a guitarist with some personal issues that come to light with his father (Sanz) in the audience. I had no idea Amy Poehler could do such a great Shelley Long impression, which gives this otherwise bland sketch a great kick.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: That little Dave Matthews wannabe performs the upcoming second single from his new album, "Clarity." Nothing special, unless he comes up with a kick-ass music video to accompany the song.
"Wine Tasting:" A noted wine critic (JB) is welcomed to an Italian villa and spits in Seth Meyers' face for five minutes. The reaction on his face is the only saving grace of this sketch.
"Telemarketers:" An amusing musical sketch that was cut off by "the man." I'm kidding; it was one of those "ten-to-one" sketches that are always cut off when they run longer than expected. Premise is, a septet of headset jockeys lament their jobs, with all due thanks to Congress' meddling.
All in all, an uneven effort to launch Year 29. It appears that Seth Meyers is being conditioned into becoming the show's go-to guy, though he still needs a little work. Newbies Finesse Mitchell and Kenan Thompson were reliable with what little they were given. Unfortunatly, the rest of the cast seems a little too excited to be here. Then again, there was early criticism about some of the previous season openers. For example, the Jerry Seinfeld/David Bowie broadcast from '99 is an example of an episode that has aged quite well since its original broadcast.
Sketches That Will Probably Be Removed and/or Shortened For E!: "Wade Robson," "Wheel Bar & Grill," "Clarity," and "Telemarketers."
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