A Review by "HelloStuart," the former “Heystu,” Amateur Critic and Analrapist
What a topsy-turvy little world this can be. After two weeks of prophesizing the end of days in conjunction with the hosting of Paris Hilton, I found the result to be fairly entertaining but otherwise forgettable. There have been other shows this season didn't seem all that appetizing, yet held its own, and when a show sounds like a classic in the making, it ends up being a bit underwhelming. It's good to see a little leverage, but the way how everything is balancing out recently really makes you wonder how much effort the cast and crew is putting into each show. The exception to this hypothesis was the Robert DeNiro Christmas show, which as some of you recall, was phoned in as well as dogged by an allegedly bad host.
This makes me all the more concerned about this week's show. To my delight, the host is Jason Bateman, star of the Fox comedy series "Arrested Development," which has earned obscene amounts of acclaim even though its weekly audience consists entirely of me, a couple of guys I know from school, and a brain-damaged grocery bagger in Sheboygan named Ted. When word first spread that Jason was hosting, numerous media busybodies leaked that at least one of his co-stars, most likely Will Arnett, would also be making an appearance, though if it were true I would've heard about it before the show.
As for the musical guest, that honor has been bestowed upon Texan chanteuse Kelly Clarkson, making her the second reality show contestant to ever appear on SNL. Somewhere, Justin Guarini and Nikki McKibbin have embraced and commenced weeping into each other's shoulders.
And now, the sketch-by-sketch analysis:
COLD OPENING: It's an NBC special report, with Brian Williams (SM) desperately trying to explain that Tom Brokaw is gone, long gone. That segues into a live press conference by screwy Korean despot Kim Jong Il (HS) commenting with a really cheesy accent on his possession of bona fide WMD's. When the North Korean media tries to lowball a few questions on the subject, Kim responds by discussing the Oscar chances of <i>Million Dollar Baby</i>. Nothing special, but the unnecessary goofiness Sanz brought to the role was a bit of a deterrent.
MONOLOGUE: Just to make sure everybody knows who he is, Jason walks onstage, introduces himself, and admits that he has never been anywhere near Michael Jackson. He is then joined by Mrs. Arnett, who helps promote AD and obsesses over the boat that she and her husband apparently live on. Together, they take a deserving stab at "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," the show that consistently pummels AD in the ratings.
"me-Harmony.com": Wasn't the dot-com bust, like, five years ago? If it did, nobody told me-Harmony, a personals site where potential suitors meet their perfect match, which just so happens to be a transgender doppelganger of themselves. This worked for two reasons: first of all, this was clearly a funny, previously untapped idea that bloomed into fruition, and secondly, the inevitable sight of Will Forte in drag.
"Monkeys Throwing Poop at Celebrities": Here we go, with another seemingly stupid idea that reaps big dividends. Sean Connery (DH) makes his first SNL appearance in three years (I can't believe it, either) by going on what appears to be a talk show, only to be tricked by the host (Jason) into having monkey excretion thrown at him. I really don't know why I laughed, but the absurd tension between the host, the chimp's caretaker (WF) and Sir Sean was certainly enough to give this a thumb up.
"The History Channel": To commemorate of Black History Month, the cable channel now famous for specials on UFO abductions honors Kenny Watkins, who in 1975 became the first African American to say "Hell no!" to participating in a daring activity only a white guy would do. Pleasing, but nothing more than a one-gag gimmick.
"The Best of T.T. & Mario": A pretend husband and wife (Jason, Mrs. A) in more than just a firm embrace host an infomercial promoting a compilation CD of a sexually charged albeit untalented 70's soul duo (MR, KT). Once again, I'm laughing but I can't seem to explain why.
"Subway Beggers": A guy (Jason) keeps giving dollar bills to flim-flam performers on a train, only to be caught without any small bills when someone really deserving (Kelly) sings her heart out. This was quite possibly Ms. Clarkson's finest performance since <i>From Justin to Kelly</i>.
"History Channel": Kenny Watkins (FM) is honored once more, this time for saying "Hell no!" to a direct deposit. Amusing little time filler, isn't it?
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: Little Miss Kelly sings her heart out on the pop-rock hit "Since You've Been Gone." As some of you know, I usually tend to listen to alt-rock and maybe a little underground, but her performance was a lot less annoying than some of the songs in her discography.
WEEKEND UPDATE: It would be safe to say that once again we were treated to another uneven hodgepodge on "Update," but this time there's slightly more to talk about. For example, Prince Charles (SM) and his fiancé Camilla Parker-Bowles (FA) get caught in a little tonsil hockey, plus a quick commentary by Kenan relating to the ongoing Bill Cosby sex rumors. The real highlight, however, was hearing "Lady Sugarwalls" and Mrs. Arnett sing an impromptu rendition of the theme song from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."
"Gays in Space": Gawd bless Trio for their penchant for unusual programming, except when they're playing on gay stereotypes. In this leaden sci-fi spoof, Bateman goes back into <i>Some of My Best Friends</i> mode and plays the captain of a spaceship with an all-fey crew. After five minutes of the usual catty comments, an all-lesbian ship seeks a "sperm transfusion," and that's the real party begins. But really, this wasn't all that funny.
"Gibson Studios": During a recording session, Chicago's very own Bill Kurtis (another top-notch impression by DH) intersperses idle chatter with voiceovers for an A&E program studying serial killers. Having grown up watching Kurtis on WBBM-TV here in Chicago, I was absolutely enthralled that Hammond, much less anyone else in the cast, would do an impression of someone so well known and loved right here in the Windy City. Plus, Hammond's timing during the recording session was pitch-perfect, jumping from handbags made of scrotums to his granddaughter without effort.
"History Channel": One more time with Kenny Watkins, who in 1990 said "Hell no!" to eating cold, uncooked fish at an office party. Either this is nothing more than a running gag or Finesse desperately wants to make this a recurring character.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: With her one great song out of the way, Kelly is stuck crooning the annoying "Breakaway." Given that she was wearing a relatively revealing blouse, at least I had something to look at while she chirped the song's non-existent lyrics. "Rap Night with Chubb Hotty": I had a feeling this would come back sooner or later. In tonight's edition, the grotesquely obese rhymer (HS) subjects himself to more fat jokes while promoting his new video with the clip's director (Jason) and his striking girlfriend (Kelly). This would've been okay if they could've found something funnier than a loud, devastating fart to end the sketch.
"Speech Enhancement": The instructor of a public speech class (Mrs. A) struggles to get her class to "invite" their imaginary audience, with one student (Jason) gradually coming on to her and another (CP) struggling through a presentation due to his "gesture dyslexia." This was, all in all, a solid conceptual sketch to end the night.
Despite my early misgivings, tonight's show not only met my expectations but soared right past them. Bateman proved to the latest host to gel well with the cast, almost functioning as a quasi-cast member despite his celebrity status. Kelly Clarkson was satisfactory as a musical guest, but was a welcome addition to the two sketches she appeared in. This episode may not be the best of Year 30, but it certainly makes a case for the top two or three.
Sketches/Segments That Will Probably Be Removed in Repeats: The "History Channel" trilogy, "Gays in Space," and "Breakaway."
Next Week: Former "Camp Wilder" star Hilary Swank hosts with 50 Cent making his third musical guest stint. You know, I was really beginning to wonder whatever happened to her after ABC cancelled the show eleven years ago.
Note: "Arrested Development" airs Sundays at 8:30/7:30c on Fox. I order you to watch it.
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