A Review by "HelloStuart," Amateur Critic and Urologist to the Stars
Given the drama of the last three summers, it was a surprise to see what little has changed since Season 32 ended in May. It feels like I've written this a thousand times, but I must emphasize that last year's cast is returning intact, the first time that's occurred since 1988. In spite of the lack of change, it wasn't necessarily a boring summer. Two cast members had breakthrough movie performances (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig), while two others saw their pet projects completely fall flat (Will Forte and Andy Samberg). On the TV front, Maya Rudolph left and rejoined the cast six times, including twice in the last week.
Tonight's host is basketball star Lebron James; that might seem like a red flag given SNL's history of athlete-hosts, but last year's Peyton Manning broadcast might be the start of some of ironic renaissance. By being paired with musical guest Kanye West, however, we can safely assume that no one in or near Chicago will be watching (except me).
With further ado, the sketch-by-sketch analysis:
COLD OPENING: Senator Clinton (AP) declares herself the "all-but-certain-to-be-next-president" and smugly cuts down all her opponents. Some of her potshots make an excellent point (Obama's childlike idealism and lack of political experience), while others are just mean (Joe Biden's hair plugs). As much as I hate to say it, she probably does have the Democrat nomination wrapped up, but nice satire while you can get it.
OPENING CREDITS: Meet the new credits, same as the old credits. In the first of many audio gaffes throughout the night, Don Pardo's voice is barely audible until halfway through the credits.
MONOLOGUE: Lebron's flavorless, pandering opening remarks are interrupted by an appearance by his "family" from the Nike commercials. Where's Jimmy Kimmel when you need him?
"Angry Dog": The Michael Vick jokes went stale over a month ago, but I guess he deserves one last affront. Apparently, he endorses a hormonally-enhanced dog food that will turn any canine into a bloodthirsty beast. This bordered on bad taste, but it's been awhile since I've seen an ad spoof with such a pointed statement.
"Penelope": America's favorite motor-mouth braggert (KW) irks bidders at a charity auction where the big prize is a date with LBJ. I'm not quite annoyed with Penelope yet (three appearances usually does the trick), but this latest effort felt a tad rushed. Loved the beard, though.
"High School Musical 3: Return of the Seniors": Zac Efron (AS) and a clothing-impaired Vanessa Hudgens (MR) welcome an all-business hoopster (LBJ) to East High. The usual manic musical hijinks ensue, though it makes the suggestion that the lyrics are repetitive and unintentionally hilarious.
DIGITAL SHORT: "Iran So Far" (aka "Mahmoud") is a hip-hop/piano ballad about the homophobic, Holocaust-denying Iranian president (FA). If Andy's wry lyrics were like ice cream, the Adam Levine and Jake Gyllenhaal cameos were the whipped cream and cherry on top. At least somebody on the show is off to a hot start…
"Read to Achieve": Mike Underballs (BH) and his easily annoyed stagehand Jeff (JS) make Lebron their latest patsy in a round of PSA id-ego-superego. Jeff's unctuous behavior eventually leads to a one-on-one pickup game. I had absolutely no interest in this sketch (I didn't particularly care for the first one with Julia Louis-Dreyfus), but I got a chuckle out of Jeff getting the Steve Nash treatment.
"The Lyle Kane Show": The mousy, Midwestern valedictorian (WF) from last year's "Prom Steering Committee" sketch gets his own talk show on "Black ET," where is caustic demeanor and borderline-racist attempts at banter work against him. I liked the direction they took with this sketch, and the explanation at the end of the sketch was a scream.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: Much like he did the first time he was on the show, Kanye turns his two current singles, "Stronger" and "Good Life," into one song.
WEEKEND UPDATE: Amy and Seth were up to their old tricks, though at least some of their one-liners were fairly clever (especially the Benedryl gag). If it were up to me, I would prevent Kenan from doing any more unfunny WU commentaries, and his lame OJ Simpson bit officially pushed me over the edge. In his second appearance of the night, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (FA) fails to convince the audience that homosexuality doesn't exist in Iran, than proceeds to smile sheepishly for a deserving applause.
"The Best of Solid Gold": Some loser with no friends (KT) hypes a DVD set for the half-forgotten '80s "Soul Train" ripoff. He sings the praises of the show's dancers, whom are all 5'6" and 108 pounds except for the looming, jeri-curled Alexander (LBJ), who knows a good cape trick when he sees one. Much the original show, it lacked oomph as well as a reason to be remembered.
SMIGELTOON: In their first SNL appearance in six years, the Ambiguously Gay Duo nearly fall prey to a bizarre scheme involving burritos, port-a-johns, and an allusion to the Larry Craig scandal. The phallic imagery of past AGD adventures is toned down, but at least Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert were willing to reprise the voices of Ace and Gary. I mean, it's not like they've done anything noteworthy in the last couple of years.
"106 & Park": Kanye attempts to spin his recent award-show temper tantrums, butting in everywhere from the VMAs to a county fair and backstage before the show. SNL gets to take a stab at Nickelodeon (to match the Disney riff from earlier), and Lorne made a great cameo, but what really made this sketch work was that Kanye was in on the joke MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: Kanye bumbles through a freestyle rant that follows the standout album cut "Champion." I only say "bumbles" because he admits to screwing up a lyric about two-thirds into the song. Either way, I was quite impressed.
"Great Moments in Guidance Counseling": LBJ's counselor at St. Vincent-Mary's High School (JS) suggests that he's better off forgoing college, and then uses his crappy post-grad life as an example. Not only was this predictable, but bordering on pointless; maybe they could've gotten away with this sketch 25 years ago, but not now.
Save for "Mahmoud," tonight's episode had several middling sketches but nothing that uproarious or painful to sit through. There were some peculiar omens in the show: to kick off his record-breaking 13th season on the show, Darrell Hammond barely utters a word, and then disappears one minute into the first sketch; on top of that, Lebron wasn't as stiff as some people expected him to be, but he did botch a few stage cues; but on the positive side, Fred Armisen did a fantastic job impersonating a certain Anti-Semitic despot. The feel of the episode was like a continuation of Year 32, which isn't much of a surprise, but it's far too soon to how things will pan out. Still, an underwhelming way to start the year.
Sketches/Segments That Will Probably Be Removed in Repeats (if it ever airs, of course): "Angry Dog," the OJ Simpson commentary on WU, "The Best of Solid Gold," and "Great Moments in Guidance Counseling."
Next Week: "Knocked Up" star Seth Rogen hosts with musical guest Spoon.
"HelloStuart" can't believe he's been doing this for five years already. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.