A Review by "HelloStuart," Amateur Critic and Beleaguered Mexican Pig Farmer
I've never cared for Justin Timberlake as a musician per se, but he's a tour de force whenever he appears on SNL. He has an immense presence and he brings out the best in the cast and writers, so it seems fitting that the singer/dancer/actor/puppeteer/shoe cobbler extraordinaire would host the show in the mist of May sweeps. Given that JT has already been on the show three times this season, you'd think he was more of a comedy dilettante than a pop superstar, or at least auditioning to join the cast a la Billy Crystal. Hopefully his bright, shining star (and equally-proportioned ego) doesn't overshadow his musical guest, Texas-bred R&B singer Ciara, or warp the show into a ratings-busting celebrity extravaganza.
And now, the sketch-by-sketch analysis:
COLD OPENING: Sec. Timothy Geithner (WF) announces the results of the second bank stress test, a 50-question exam on the state of the American banking system. Problem is the men that control our country's savings aren't fully willing to take this test and treat Geithner like a jittery student teacher. Citigroup thought this is all a joke and answered "Geithner sucks" to all the questions, while GMAC scrawled "taxpayer bailout" across the board. This was a surprisingly subtle yet well-informed stab at the banking industry, an unrepentant jibe at a corrupted multitude and its narcissistic, boys-club mentality.
MONOLOGUE: Now in his third time hosting (and fourth overall scheduled appearance on SNL), Justin claims that he knows he way around the show and performs a big, sweeping musical number to prove it. Granted, there's been more than a few song-and-dance monologues this season, but the energy that's put into producing and choreographing the numbers makes the repetition well worth it. Plus, it's pretty cool knowing Bill Hader also has a peanut oil allergy.
"Mom Celebrity Translator": An ad spoof for a handheld device that translates your mother's bungled attempts at looking hip and with-it. Can baby boomers help it if they can't pronounce the ethnicity-friendly surnames of today's stars? This might not have been fully grounded in reality, but it was noble in the attempt.
"Target Greatland": Apparently, a certain clueless, ADHD-stricken cashier (KW) has a best friend named Peg (JT), a feisty raconteur with a serious neck injury and an impenetrable obliviousness to her surroundings. Her antidotes wrap around the usual Target sturm und drang, from a man buying fertilizer (BM) to a jaded regular customer (KT) who knows the Target Lady inside out.
"New York Harbor, 1883": Stuck at Ellis Harbor, five Irish immigrants openly ponder the futures of their great-grandchildren, though Cornelius Timberlake (take a wild guess) has the most vivid vision for his descendant. After five minutes of promising to "bring the sexy back" and wholesale confessing to boinking Britney Spears when he was 16, Corny is joined by Rabbi Moishe Samberg (again, guess who) and his similar imaginings.
DIGITAL SHORT: Speaking of "Antin Samtimberberg," the SNL faithful is treated to a not-wholly-necessary sequel to "**** in a box." This time, the '90s-loving white-soul singers honor Mother's Day by having physical relations with each other's moms. Susan Sarandon and Patricia Clarkson break the celeb-cameo ice as the unwitting MILFs; oddly, it doesn't feel obligatory, as they are hilariously fair game for Justin and Andy's dry-humping. This could've been god-awful, yet the execution was almost perfect.
"Plasticville": An energetic intern (JT) in a silicone boob costume draws the ire of a fellow mascot (WF) that wants to promote looking good the honest, hard way (i.e. a gym). Yes, this is a rehash of the "Omeletville" and "Homelessville" sketches from Justin's previous hosting stints, and this is precisely what Justin was mocking in the Weekend Update commentary last November. However, his manic energy and clever song parodies are enough to keep you captivated, and Will is atypically understated as Justin's straight man.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: Jessica Biel introduces Ciara and Justin, who perform their hit duet "Love Sex Magic."
WEEKEND UPDATE: The one-month layoff has been surprisingly kind to Seth, with clever jabs at Air Force One, Manny Ramirez, and same-sex marriage in Maine. The barrage of Sarsgaard-Gyllenhaal wedding jokes? Not so much. Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer (BH) and his unpopular successor David Paterson (FA) join forces as a gonzo comedy team, tossing around a hodgepodge of blind, prostitute, and New Jersey jokes as they shrug off a Republican resurgence in the 2010 elections. Somehow, that commentary upstaged another salvo of cameos. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto drop by to plug the "Star Trek" prequel and address their Trekker harassers (BM, KT), than Leonard Nimoy wanders out of nowhere for reinforcement.
"Barry Gibb Talk Show": Tonight, Barry (yep, Jimmy Fallon) berates Speaker Pelosi (KW), Roland S. Martin (KT), and an NYU professor (FA) while Robin (JT) just sits there, deep in thought. So, what else is new?
"Pirates": Complications arise when a shipment of weapons meant for Somalia-based hoodlums (KT, FA) is mixed up with toy guns and plastic swords intended for Disney World cast members (BH, BM, KW, Justin) recreating a certain Johnny Depp movie franchise. That end result, while somewhat predictable, was hilarious; Kristen evokes George Peppard circa "The A-Team" as her fellow actors feign injuries and their heterosexuality, while the Somali pirates look like buffoons.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "Never Ever" is another 80s-style synth-heavy dance tune, this time built around a Harold Melvin sample.
For a night heavy on long sketches, the show went by like a breeze. Some of the common pitfalls of an average live show were nowhere to be found tonight –the anemic ten-to-one sketch, for example- yet retained several other unsurprising twists, but for once it benefitted the show rather than bring it down. The potpourri of cameos was expected, and again it was more delightful than hindering. When recurring characters and impressions were brought onstage, they didn't just rehash their old shtick, but rather had something new to say. (Okay, maybe not "Barry Gibb Talk Show," but every rule has its exception.) In short, tonight's show was wonderful in ways that it wouldn't normally be.
Segments That Will Probably Be Removed in Repeats: everything after Update.
Next week, the joy ride that has been Season 34 comes to an end when all-time great Will Ferrell hosts with musical guest Green Day.
"HelloStuart" has been writing reviews of SNL episodes since 2003. Contact him at email@example.com, or leave him a PM if it's more convenient.