A Review by "HelloStuart," Amateur Critic and Discredited Athlete
Scroll down for my midseason breakdown of Year 38!
This week's host is Jennifer Lawrence, the middling teen actress turned Golden Globe winner for her performance as an unstable yound widow in "Silver Linings I'm not saying she's a hack by any means, but it is remarkable how much Lawrence has grown in her six years in the spotlight. (Unless you think "The Bill Engvall Show" counts, this is Lawrence's first known foray into The musical guest is The Lumineers, a Colorado-based folk-rock trio best known for a really catchy tune that you've probably heard many times but couldn't place a title.
And now, the sketch-by-sketch analysis:
COLD OPENING: On "Piers Morgan Tonight," the stiff-lipped Brit (TK) lends a pensive ear to two disgraced sports figures in the news. Fresh off his chat with Oprah, cycling "legend" Lance Armstrong (JS) continues to feign remorse, while Heisman runner-up Manti Te'o (BM) struggles to explain how he was Where Suds' Lance impression paints a colorful picture of arrogance and hubris, Bobby's Te'o was little more than an underdeveloped dumb-jock archetype. Even though these dual scandals are more fresh in the public's mind, I would've been fine with an encore of Piers-Alex Jones throwdown from two weeks ago. Also, Jodie Foster (KM) and the Sally O'Malley reference was too meta and full-circle for my liking.
MONOLOGUE: With her doe-like eyes glued to the cue-cards, Jennifer describes her whirlwind week, introduces her new party animal friend Tommy Lee Jones (BH), than takes down her fellow Best Actress nominees like the Jeff Ross protege that she isn't. Whether the reluctance to throw barbs was sincere or vice versa, J-Law looked uncomfortable and sallow throughout.
"Starbucks Verismo": Everything that's right and wrong about the coffee megachain, right in your own home. Jay is delightfully deadpan as the voice of the machine, and Vanessa was a stealth delight as the put-on
"Girlfriends Talk Show": Oh, so this is recurring now? The first GTS landed well, so it's not a tremendous surprise, plus Aidy is a self-conscious peach as the put-upon Morgan. Tonight, the awkward fat girl and her fickle BFF Kyla (CS) host Jesse, a punk poseur with bi-curious tendencies. An amusingly awkward conversation about body piercing and Guinea pigs ensues.
"Hunger Games News Conference": The obligatory Mockingjay-related sketch of the evening imagines a post-game powwow between Katniss and Peeta (J-Law, TK) and the local sports media (KT, JP, TR, CS, BM). The idiosyncrasies of the book and movie are laid bare with remarkable detail, and Bobby is delightful as the starving, non-Capital reporter.
"Hobbit Sequels": If it seemed absurd that a 310-page book would be spread out into three two-hour movies (appendix be damned) than check out the 18 proposed sequels to Tolkien's breezy read. This was worth it for the silly little details as well as the striking production design.
"Johnny Two Tones": Impudently based on Ed Debevic's in Chicago, two unassuming diners (BM, VB) expecting sassy and sarcastic service are gobsmacked by their waitress, a borderline sociopath (J-Law). The host plays nasty with quiet gusto, though the ending was somewhat abrupt.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: Inching its way from AAA radio to CHR, and boosted by its presence on the "Silver Linings Playbook" soundtrack (synergy!), the increasingly pervasive "Ho Hey" gets the live treatment. The performance is disarmingly sparse yet charming; the audience all but eats out of their hand. One nearly forgets that The Lumineers are a trio yet only two members really contribute to the track.
WEEKEND UPDATE: Seth is still doing his usual Seth thing, and he's been doing Update for so long that I can't really say anything that I haven't before. His jabs at Armstrong and Te'o have a quality that is both clever and toothless, and his Gun Appreciation Day joke seemed one-sided. (On the other hand, I loved the Ann Romney/DWTS After a long hiatus the ever-so-tricky Anthony Crispino (BM) returns with another round of Second Hand News; the misinformation is all in good fun, though Seth's mimicking Tony's voice is almost negated by the bad pun that wraps the segment.
"Top Dog Chef": I had some serious, serious doubts the moment I saw the title. My initial impression, will this be a meta commentary of hack comedy tropes a la TGS on "30 Rock," or a subversive spoof of a popular reality show? The end result struck the difference; this all-canine parody of "Top Chef" balanced the dog jokes with straight, attentive parody.
"B108": More sturm und drang from central Minnesota's #1 hip-hop morning show. Buffalo (BM) is battling the flu, the new intern (J-Law) is incapable of rhyming, and the fuddy-duddy news lady (VB) forces herself to play along. This radio-centric sketch wasn't too memorable the first time around and this second effort is only marginally more entertaining.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: Proving that they're not just a flash in the pan, these spirited folkies play their other, smaller hit "Stubborn The smiling flibbertigibbet from the first song is actually a pretty decent cellist, while the other guys play their instruments with cathartic gusto as they mourn their slowly fading youth.
FILM: Spoofing '70s Eurotrash softcore movies (specifically, the Sylvia Kristel vehicle "Emmanuelle" and its kajillion sequels) with disarming accuracy, "Danielle" depicts an ingenue in a seaside resort and her sex-obsessed cohorts. Obscure parody is fine if you can throw a bone at the audience, but for anyone unfamiliar with the film series this was like a long, confusing inside joke.
"Civil War Correspondence": Evoking Ken Burns, this period piece depicts the fledging romance between an upright young woman (J-Law) and her douchey paramour (TR) in the Union army. An argument over topless photos ensues until tragedy strikes. In a rare leading role for the upstart Robinson, the immaturity he conveys strikes a nice balance with Lawrence's Northern belle. If only the pace weren't so plodding...
After a shaky start, Jennifer Lawrence continued the winning streak of strong-to-pretty-good hosts in Year 38. Her awkward charm carried her through the first hour of the show, though it wasn't enough to salvage a weak finish. What I found remarkable was the uncharacteristic* balance of screen time for the cast; everyone was in at least two sketches, yet there were no real ensamble pieces. After being AWOL for large chunks of the season, it was nice to see Aidy and Robbo carry a sketch or two, even if the material was underwritten and the execution less than firm.
*for this season, anyway.
And now, a quick recap of the first half of Season 38:
Most Valuable Player: Bobby Moynihan. The departure of Kristen Wiig after last season created a vacuum of sorts, but I doubt anyone would've thought the greatest benefactor would be a male cast member in his fifth season on the show. With nearly the entire female side of the cast struggling for airtime, Bobby is enjoying a breakout season, only occasionally taking a leading part but thriving in character roles when the opportunity arises.
Rookie of the Year: Cecily Strong. If you asked me five episodes into the season, I would've picked Kate McKinnon. The sole virtual unknown of the four new hires in 2012, Cecily figured to be either a confounding risk on Lorne's part or the game-changer that SNL needs as it lurches towards its 40th anniversary. Where Kate had the hot start, Cecily has been the more consistant featured player; maybe it's not apparent yet, but I'm not afraid to compare her to Julia Louis-Dreyfus or Molly Shannon.
Best Host: Seth MacFarlane - Runner-Up: Louis . - Worst Host: Christina Applegate
Best Musical Guest: Frank Ocean - Runner-Up: Bruno Mars - Worst Musical Guest: Rihanna
Best Overall Episode: Louie . / Fun - Runner-Up: Seth MacFarlane/Frank Ocean
Worst Overall Episode: Christina Applegate/Passion Pit - Runner-Up: Jennifer Lawrence/The Lumineers
NEXT WEEK: Adam Levine joins on the Five Timers' Club (on a technicality) with musical guest Kendrick Lamar.
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