A Review by “HelloStuart,” The Amateur Critic that keeps on giving
Is SNL resorting to plagiarism? That’s what some people are suggesting after the left-leaning blog The Huffington Post published a satirical piece featuring film stills from Mel Gibson’s Mayan Empire epic “Apocolypto,” one measly day before Saturday Night aired their own parody with new subtitles superimposed over the actual theatrical trailer. Granted, both the article and the re-cut trailer hit the same easy target (Gibson’s now-infamous anti-Semitic remarks during a DUI bust six months ago), so maybe it’s a bit presumptuous to smell a rat (or dare I say, bagels?). On the other hand, earlier this season, SNL aired a digital film piece called “Cubicle Fight” that had more than a passing resemblance to a popular YouTube clip called “Cubicle Wars.” Hmm…
And now, back to business: for the second time this season, tonight’s host will also be pulling musical guest duty, and for once it’s someone that we can actually anticipate- Justin Timberlake. Say what you will about the fluffy, wanton piffle that makes up his current album “FutureSex/Lovesounds,” but he did a solid job of hosting three years ago, and that’s all that matters to me.
For the last time in 2006, the sketch-by-sketch analysis:
COLD OPENING: Amy, Maya, and Wiigy are decorating the Christmas tree, but it’s merely exposition to a brief, Spector-esque number called “Santa’s My Boyfriend,” complete with the usual PG-rated double-entendres. I won’t complain about the Christmas theme, but something about this sketch just doesn’t work as a leadoff hitter.
MONOLOGUE: That dude that’s boinking Cameron Diaz sings “The Christmas Song” with Alvin and the Chipmunks (FA, BH, AS), continuing an apparent fascination with decades-old children’s programming. The only edge to this was Justin’s muted yet condescending behavior towards Alvin/Bill, but even that wasn’t enough.
“Homelessville”: A blatant rewrite of that “Omeletville” sketch from three years ago finds an anthropomorphic Cup o’ Soup (JT) with a love for early ‘90s hip-hop competing with a Salvation Army Santa (WF) for the attention of passerby on a street corner. At least the ending of the sketch wasn’t as cornball as the last time around.
“Target Greatland”: That Oteri-esque cashier lady (KW) and a creepy, Southern-fried stock boy (JT) alienate two customers (MR, WF) in another slice-of-life sketch from the otherwise characterless big-box store. You see one, you’ve seen them all.
DIGITAL SHORT: First it was ‘90s rap, now it’s ‘90s white-boy R&B as Justin and Andy lay down a smooth groove on “D*** in a Box.” As unabashed as it was, this is classic Lonely Island material; this could’ve easily been some goofy, semi-anonymous YouTube clip, which it probably will be by the Sunday afternoon following this broadcast.
“The Barry Gibb Talk Show”: Wow, the audience really went bonkers over this one; I can’t even remember the last time I heard cheering like that on this show. Tonight, the two surviving Brothers Gibb (JT and our old buddy Jimmy Fallon) attempt to open a topical symposium with Sandra O’Connor (KW), Thomas Friedman (FA), and former President Jimmy Carter (DH), but as usual they just berate them. Something must’ve not worked if Justin didn’t crack up once; on the other hand, it seems that sketch quality caved in to popular demand.
“Dry Eyes”: Ah, a game show spoof; it seems like ages since we’ve seen one of these. The premise is, two men (FA, JT) compete to see who can go the longest without crying, with verbal reminders of personal emotional baggage as their bait. Justin was surprisingly convincing as a “real man,” though like most SNL sketches this ran a bit longer than it should have. Good use of an old Harry Chapin song, though.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: That chick that’s boinking the host introduces JT, who sings “My Love.” That was a decent blues guitar solo, so why in the heck did it end up in such a flavorless ballad?
WEEKEND UPDATE: Just for the change, I’ll list my highlights first: Lou Dobbs’ (DH) commentary on food for charity ultimately deviates into another one of his cartoonish anti-immigrant rants, while jabs at Christian homophobia and xenophobia went straight on target. What didn’t work, you ask? For one thing, a return appearance by the gay couple from North Jersey (FA, BH) was largely unnecessary, and it still seems like calm, confident Seth still has the upper hand on the increasingly sheepish Amy in terms of the eminence and resonation of their usual topical jabs.
“Hip Hop Kids”: One turntable and five MCs (KT, JT, KW, AP, JS, MR) stuck in a coal mine encounter cave creatures and resort to cannibalism whilst busting a move. Sometimes a sketch comes along that is so inane and heavily weighted by its oddball concept that you can’t help but laugh; this was one of those sketches.
“Christmas Elf Auditions”: Oh cripes, another recurring character. This time, Shelby Hastings (now played by JT) and her proud stepmom (KT) are a self-aggrandizing, disruptive presence at an audition for some Christmas play. Much like the last time Mrs. Hastings appeared, this was plodding, undercooked, and somewhat tedious.
“A Holiday Message from Nancy Grace”: The Headline News star’s (AP) holiday greetings coincide with her two cents on the latest developments in the months-old Duke Lacrosse scandal, followed by a declaration of revenge on the accused players that didn’t actually rape anyone. As hasty as this sketch felt, I would’ve been much more content with this sketch as the cold opening.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: That dude that used to be a cast member and happens to be good friends with the boinking couple introduces Justin for his soaring “What Goes Around Come Around.” Once again, some perfectly good guitar work is wasted on a forgettable, overproduced album cut.
The show closes, rather inexplicably, with Lenny Pickett and the SNL Band playing the opening chords to “Silent Night.” It’s good to see that the house band still gets fleeting moments of screen time, even if it hasn’t been the same since G.E. Smith and Cheryl Hardwick left.
Much like past Christmas shows, this particular broadcast was top-heavy on recurring characters and a weird aura of either laziness or burnout on the writers’ part. Justin Timberlake turned out to be a very reliable host, one that carried his own weight in sketches even if he couldn’t hold up the musical part of the deal. The calendar year 2006 for SNL may not have ended on a high note, but it certainly was agreeable.
Sketches/segments that will probably be removed in the 60-minute edit: “Santa’s My Boyfriend,” “Christmas Elf Auditions,” and at least one of JT’s musical performances.
Next Week: a repeat of last year’s delightful Jack Black/Neil Young broadcast.
In Four Weeks: There’s nothing quite like starting 2007 with a gay cowboy and some cusp-of-the-mainstream “indie” rock. In this case, I hope you like Jake Gyllenhaal and The Shins. Plus, my fourth annual midseason recap!
Contact “HelloStuart” at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy Holidays, one and all!