A Review by "HelloStuart," the Amateur Critic who's all that and a bag of chips
The 22nd season of SNL brought a certain level of consistency to a show that was still adapting (recovering?) from a cast overhaul one year before. From a fan's standpoint, this is where the late '90s cast came into its own; though Molly Shannon became the first breakout star of the cast, Will Ferrell finally harassed his incredible comedic abilities and Tim Meadows was proving to be a worthy mentor and elder statesman. This was also the first season for long-running cast members Ana Gasteyer and Tracy Morgan; where Gasteyer made an immediate impact with The Culps and her Martha Stewart impression, Morgan was largely stuck in background roles for another two years. Other cast members, like Chris Kattan and Cheri Oteri, had their moment in the sun but are mostly remembered for straddling the line between competence and obnoxiousness during a time when their zany, outrageous brand of comedy was in vogue.
John Goodman has always been counted on as one of the funniest and consistent hosts the show has ever had. After all, they couldn't have selected him to host twelve times (only Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin have hosted more episodes) simply because he was hyping some movie. Rumor has it that Goodman tried out for the show in 1980, during Jean Doumanian's failed stint was executive producer, but he somehow missed the cut. If the show had Goodman alongside Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy in the cast that season, I think SNL would have been on stronger legs in the early 80's. Then again, Doumanian's stint was all about blown opportunities, and the volume of talent she overlooked (Paul Reubens, Jim Carrey, and Dom Irrera also auditioned) speaks for itself. But I digress. Here's a sketch-by-sketch analysis:
COLD OPENING: Oprah Winfrey (Tim Meadows) chats with newsmaker Ellen Degeneres (Mark McKinney) and her attention-whore lover Anne Heche (Chris Kattan). This sketch is a spoof of a highly-rated interview from around the time this first aired, so my opinion on this sketch could be altered based on if anyone remembers watching that interview. One downside- Mark McKinney is totally unconvincing as Ellen. He doesn't look or sound like her, even though Mark had plenty of experience playing women (see "Kids In The Hall").
MONOLOGUE: John Goodman acknowledges that he's lost weight, yet his crash diet affects his behavior and well-being. Lorne and Tim intercede to save face, but John's dementia made for a good selling point.
"CARRIBEAN ESSENCE BATH OIL" (AD): Repeated from several episodes ago, Tracy Morgan plays a naked native of the Caribbean who literally carries women away with his oil. Funny, though recommended only for those who have ever wanted to see a female cast member naked, or at least see one with her naughty bits covered with bubbles.
"CELEBRITY JEOPARDY!": One of SNL's funniest recurring sketches made its second appearance tonight, with Burt Reynolds (Norm), Phil Donahue (DH), and a pants-less Marlon Brando (John) wreck havoc upon the much-maligned straight man Alex Trebek (WF). Where's Sean Connery, you ask? Darrell Hammond won't play him until Year 23.
"TALKIN' WITH SUEL": Chris Kattan's favorite character, gibberish-speaking Suel Forrester, is the host of a talk show spoof where Ron Wood (cameo by Mike Myers) and Bjork (Shannon) chat while confusing the studio audience with their indecipherable dialogue. It was okay, but it seemed to be quite similar to "The Ron Wood Show" from year 20.
"EDDIE MURPHY, GOOD SAMARITAN": This sketch may have something to do with Murphy's absence at the 25th Anniversary Special. You see, Murphy was caught riding around with a transvestite hooker in early 1997, and this sketch portrays him as a superhero of sorts for she-male prostitutes everywhere. Tim Meadows is so lovably smug as Murphy, but you have to wonder if this played any part in his grudge towards the show.
"DELICIOUS DISH": I never really got this sketch, but it must have had its fans if this NPR spoof appeared on "SNL" fourteen times, and it was only worth watching whenever Pete Schwetty was the guest. Instead of Schwetty Balls, we have Goodman as chili connoisseur Fireball Wilson, who pretty much talks about nothing. This was probably the weakest sketch of the night, but I take comfort in the fact that "Delicious Dish" would go on to bigger and better things… sort of.
WEEKEND UPDATE: Norm MacDonald was definitely in his stride during the 1996-97 season, probably his best behind the WU desk. Norm and longtime SNL writer Jim Downey wrote some memorably cheesy jokes, and Norm's sloppy routine was oddly charming. Joining Norm tonight is Dominican Lou (TM), who wonders if the chess-playing computer Deep Blue can take down a rival of his. Also, Will Ferrell provided commentary (and projective vomiting) on Ellen's aforementioned exit from the closet, a response of sorts to American homophobia in the mid-to-late '90s that now feels incredibly quaint.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: For some reason, Jewel Kilcher performs only once in this episode, singing her melancholy top-five hit "Who Will Save Your Soul." It's a good song, though I wouldn't have minded hearing "Foolish Games" or "You Were Meant for Me" instead.
"CULPS AT THE PROM": The third of eighteen appearances for Marty and Bobbi Mohan-Culp (WF, AG) rocking out at the Alta Dena High School prom. These sketches were repetitive, but I liked them for their gonzo interpretation of top hits of the day.
"COLLETTE AT THE PHARMACY": Yes, more recurring characters. Drug-addled spaz Collette Reardon (Oteri) orders the mother of all refills to the befuddlement of the local apothecary (John). This was a so-so introductory sketch for a so-so character, but what initially showed promise would eventually become a one-joke gag.
"BRASKY BUDDIES BASEBALL": The show ends tonight with one more recurring sketch, and another personal favorite, featuring the drunken, sad-sack "pals" of Bill Brasky. This time, they swap tall tales of Bill's extraordinary qualities while interfering with a little league baseball game, only to be joined by the (literally) big guy himself. My only question is, what was a sketch this good airing in the ten-to-one spot?
Season 22 was top-heavy in good albeit flawed shows, but Big John's usual solid effort was an unaided boost that made this one of top three shows of that season. Jewel was an adequate musical guest, though her neo-feminist yearning was made only for its time. The only sketches that didn't work for me were "Oprah" and "Delicious Dish"; on the other hand, I've haven't seen the 60-minute edit of this episode so I wouldn't know what they trimmed out.
"HelloStuart" has been writing SNL episode reviews for TV.com (and its predecessor TV Tome) since June 2003. Contact him at email@example.com.