A Review by the former "Heystu," Amateur Critic and Starting Rover for the Ottawa Silver Seven
After a now-frighteningly long string of bad episodes, a one-month breather between Elijah Wood/Jet and tonight's broadcast may finally snap this losing streak. I'm surprised by the lack of media attention towards this year's theme of blatant mediocrity, but that's probably because the ratings haven't sunk yet. If it gets any worse, "MADtv" might usurp SNL in terms of overall quality, and that's not a pretty sight, folks.
Tonight's show is "Friends" star Jennifer Aniston, with Grammy-nominated hip-hoppers The Black Eyed Peas bringing us the funk. I fondly remember when Jen first hosted back in November 1999, when, during a spoof of the film Fight Club, she stood there like a goon while Molly Shannon eclipsed Cheri Oteri as the show's most annoying cast member.
Now, let's get down and dirty with a good old-fashioned sketch-by-sketch analysis:
COLD OPENING: The Donald (DH) shamelessly promotes his new reality show "The Apprentice," not to mention his libido and good looks. He just learned that the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City is not the first building by such a name, but that's okay because he's rich. He also disses the network, claiming that the Peacock's property values will go down unless somebody gets down with the rich bitch from "Will & Grace." But before he can talk smack even further, a fidgety Jeff Zucker (JF) interrupts and we go back to our regularly scheduled programming. Despite a somewhat abrupt climax, a good way to start off the show.
MONOLOGUE: Second-time host J.An mentions the last season of "Friends," like anybody would see that coming, then shows a faux sneak peak of the big finale where Joey (Horatio Sanz, for some reason or another) shoots himself. Despite watching the cast members put in an "A" for effort in capturing the cast's quirks, the spoof was about as lame as Heather Mills' leg.
"Paparazzi": Two hack photographers (Aniston, AP) ask the celebrities walking down the aisle to pose in certain ways, then diss Steven Seagal and a certain "Friends" star. It was patronizing, but it was a good minimalist satire that focused more on script than performance.
"Britney's Magical Night": In another patronage of topical humor, Britney Spears (Aniston) declares her love to fellow white-trasher Jason Allen Alexander (JF), marries him in a drunken stupor, then dumps him because he belched on their wedding kiss.
"Gaystrogen": This again? Shameless time filler.
"Dean's Shortcomings": Seven of Howard Dean's eight rivals (played by JF, WF, DH, SM, AP, CP, and KT) explain why they're better candidates than frontrunner Howard Dean. Jimmy Fallon, as General Clark, walks onstage halfway through the ad, continuing a lengthy pattern of on-stage sloppiness. Besides that understandable gaffe, Jim Downey was obviously sleepwalking through his mandatory writing contribution to the episode.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: The Peas are simply asking you to "Shut Up," and not in that tired Cheech & Chong skit kind of way.
WEEKEND UPDATE: The first WU of 2004 starts off with a delicate balance of political and topical humor, which segues into Jeff Richards' fair Steve Irwin impression, a crude joke about Christian nudists, three alleged celebrity murderers (FA, DH, FM), an Al Franken cameo (via satellite) that pays honorable homage to the Dennis Miller years, and a partridge in a pear tree. Busy, but not consistent.
"The Conversation": American POW Saddam Hussein (HS) calls up Osama bin Laden (JF) and they talk about the recent capture of the former. The constant Tom Hanks and Aerosmith references were charming, but watching Sanz and Fallon crack up and ad-lib almost torpedoed the whole sketch. This was a retread of a sketch from the Jennifer Garner/Beck episode, so obviously these two have yet to learn their lesson from last season.
"Country Roses": A K-Tel faux ad, obviously inspired by those omnipresent "Classic Country" infomercials, showcasing the "late, great" Dana Jean Harley (Aniston) and her singing rival (MR). Probably the closest we'll get to real comedy tonight. Also of note: Amy Poehler played three different characters in one sketch, which rarely if ever happens.
"Coco Matusi Super Show": It's deja vu all over again. A talk show spoof that starts with the hosts (MR, FA) singing, which leads into a cruddy, awkward interview segment. Jennifer (as herself) feels uncomfortable, and understandably so. Watching two ethnic stereotypes sobbing at the sight of the star of such classic films as "The Object of My Affection" and "Picture Perfect," then get reduced to watching their guest interview herself, is utterly mediocre comedy.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: The Black Eyed Peas pop up for one more song, the perky "Hey Mama."
"Appalachian Emergency Room": Various hicks tell their stories of inane and stupefying injuries to a less-than-enthralled orderly (SM). Some were funny (Sanz), others weren't (Fallon).
"Phone Sex": A nerdy call girl (Aniston) is told to sex up her phone conversations, but her clueless, mousy demeanor is her great undoing. A so-so final sketch with a satisfactory ending.
It's safe to say that there was a lot of jokes about current events that would otherwise not be funny outside of the next week or so. I was pleased to see not too many recurring characters in this episode, save for the Donald Trump and Democratic Party sketches. The "Country Roses" mock-ad was probably the most I've laughed all season. Otherwise, the writing continues to be underwhelming and performances were breathtakingly chemistry-free in one of the weakest episodes thus far this season.
Sketches That Will Probably Be Removed For E!: "Gaystrogen," "Dean's Shortcomings," "Saddam and Osama," "Coco Matsui."
Next Week: Jessica Simpson and Nick Lechey try to prove that they won't end up divorcing in six months, with 50 Cent and the G-Unit cranking up the bass. It's worth noting that this is the first time the show has had two hosts since that Alec Baldwin/Kim Basinger/UB40 near-debacle of ten years ago, and that every other musical guest so far this season has been a rapper or MC.
TV.com scribe/contributor "Heystu" can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org