A Review by "HelloStuart," Amateur Critic Emeritus
When I first started writing reviews for this site in the Summer of 2003, Saturday Night Live was in a much different shape than it is now. The show was still reeling from the departure of all-time great Will Ferrell, and sketches would often be dominated by the shaky professionalism of Jimmy Fallon and Horatio Sanz. Year 28 was not without its moments, but you never got the sense that there was any type of leadership in the cast, no connecting presence that brought everything together. Year 29, my first full season of writing reviews, was bogged with similar issues. By that point, the producers were trying to mix things up, most notably by having musicians host; where Justin Timberlake paid off in spades, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, and Snoop Dogg were in retrospect curious misfires.
Fast forward to 2009. The sacred comedy institution is back on an upswing, dishing out pointed topical satire while regaining its critical buzz and Emmy mojo. A fresh generation of stars, led by Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, and Andy Samberg, has ushered in a new dynamic to SNL that made people quickly forgot how tired the post-Ferrell years really were. That 18-year-old goofball is now a 25-year-old man, and after analyzing SNL's slow return to glory one live broadcast at a time, it's time for me to step down. As much as I'd love to keep doing this, I just don't have the time anymore. I have a life outside of this web site, and something had to give. I bear no resemblance to the boy I was 6 ½ years ago in the same way TV.com is no mirror image of the old TV Tome.
Nevertheless, I owe you all one last review in the traditional sense. If my first review ever was a season finale, why not make my last review a season premiere? Though I will critique next Thursday's prime time special, it'll be a quick, four-paragraph review of what is essentially a bite-size taste of your favorite show. This week's host is Megan Fox, the very attractive albeit somewhat wooden movie actress best known for her role in the "Transformers" series. The musical guest is U2, the ageless Irish rock legends who previously tore the roof off this dump in Seasons 26 and 30.
And now, one more sketch-by-sketch analysis for the road:
COLD OPENING: Live on C-SPAN, Libyan despot Mohumar Kaddafi (FA) takes the blame for his long, rambling, anti-American speech at the United Nations this week. Apparently, everything that led up to the speech was pure Murphy's Law; he had jetlag from the six-hour time difference, he travels with a giant tent that nobody would let him pitch, he couldn't get a hotel room in the swamps of New Jersey, he was distracted by the in-flight movie, and so on and so forth. It's lightweight but it works; he doesn't apologize for the message yet he expresses regret for how it was executed. If this sketch was performed 25 years ago, when Kaddafi still had a morsel of clout, I doubt it ever would've made it to air.
OPENING CREDITS: The party backdrop of the past three seasons is eschewed for a breezy wander through the city, a la Season 29's intro. Two nitpicks, though: first off, didn't Don Pardo retire? Secondly, I thought Darrell was coming back…
MONOLOGUE: Megan takes the time to address the barrage of Photoshopped nude photos of her that keep popping up online. Oddly enough, she's convinced that she posed for all of them, no matter how shoddy the pic might be. One pervert (BM) even convinces Meg to autograph his own chop job, a sight gag that's hard to explain here.
"Bladdivon": In the proud tradition of "Urigrow," an ad parody that spends more time analyzing the joy of urination than most of us would like to know. At least the execution is discreet; Bladdivon is a pill that remedies Shy Bladder Syndrome, or the tendency to hold it in during an awkward social situation. Jason is on smug autopilot as the spokesman, though Will and Fred's facial expressions are damn near priceless.
"Flight Attendants": While flying to Hawaii, two aloof stewardesses (KW, Fox) treat an emergency landing in the ocean like a minor inconvenience. I can't complain about the goofy banter between Kristen and Megan, or the stunned reactions of Andy and Abby's passengers/straight men, but it felt like this sketch was missing something. Maybe they could've shown actual turbulence? It's not too expensive to find decent hydraulics nowadays.
"Russian Brides": An American (WF) with lowered standards is torn between two potential loves: a stunning beauty (Fox) and an ugly sociopath (FA). The gag is that something like this would be a no-brainer, but the heroin-addicted butterface is ten dollars cheaper than the virginal vixen. Apparently, not having a real ending for the sketch is considered a major twist.
DIGITAL SHORT: The setup is oddly familiar: a kind, awkward man (WF) is having a rooftop dinner with a woman so attractive (Fox) that he probably doesn't deserve her. From there, it gets pretty weird; turns out the simpleton is a SWAT commander who blew off a drug bust to be here, and that he raises –and kills- lambs for meat and profit. This went right over my head.
"Grady Wilson's Burning Up the Bedsheets": Self-proclaimed lovemaking expert Wilson (KT) drops by to promote his latest DVD, in which he continues to bounce around in his underwear down in the basement. He even hires a hooker (Fox) via an ad in the Penny Saver to emphasize that love is for two people, and not just a fat old man in his jockey shorts. Nothing new is brought to the table, though this might make good filler on Kenan's Best-of DVD a couple years down the road.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "Breathe" is a haunting, spacey number enhanced by The Edge's fuzzbox guitar and a giant, static-addled TV screen in the background.
WEEKEND UPDATE: Kaddafi is the Jon Gosselin of the Middle East? Zing! In what might've been Seth's strongest solo effort yet, the cocky nor'easter had a hit-to-miss ratio of maybe 4:1. Even the guest commentaries connected; Jean K. Jean (KT) was not as excruciating as usual in poking of the G20 Summit, and Judy Grimes' (KW) latest on-screen case of the jitters was enhanced by a hastily-made chart.
"Live Lounge": A send-up of those ubiquitous late night TV ads, featuring the hot girl (Fox) with the cordless phone and torn jeans forcing herself to pretend it's 2009. She gives the usual list of people that could be calling up a singles hotline –affable young singles looking for a match- before explaining who really calls (masturbators, pranksters, clueless foreigners). An easy target, but too right on the money to easily dismiss.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: The balled "Moment of Surrender" is paint-by-numbers U2, a song that puts all four members of the band in a position and that they're quite accustomed to. Could somebody tell Bono to stop name-dropping the show? We're all aware of the fact that we're not watching "Metal Mania" on VH1 Classic.
"Biker Chick Chat": A talk show parody about the hard-livin' broads you'd normally find at roadhouses, trailer parks, and methadone clinics. At long last, Jenny Slate makes her first sketch appearance with dialogue, and… she drops the F-bomb! How auspicious is that? Though watching Megan play a biker slut on the mend was amusing, three minutes of actual plot was spread to its breaking point. The nucleus for a memorable recurring sketch is there, profanity or not, but I never got the sense that this was a final draft.
DIGITAL SHORT: After a date, Andy is mystified by Megan's roommate (BM), a bathrobe-clad slacker in an Optimus Prime mask. Drawers-dropping and the inevitable mistaken-identity wackiness ensues. This was by far the stronger of tonight's two filmed pieces, if only because it dared to take Megan's public persona to a whole new tangent; would you ever assume that she was a vapid, clueless starlet with good looks and nothing between the ears?
"Your Mom Talks to Megan Fox While You Get Ready": The title says it all: one of the hottest women in Hollywood makes small talk with a clueless Midwestern Mom (KW). I wouldn't mind seeing Wiigy playing more maternal types, though I can hope that next time they'll give her better material to work with.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: During the goodnights, Bono and a glowing red periscope-microscope thingy entrance the audience to the tune of "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)."
As many of us expected, Megan played the same character in nearly every sketch; her unsuccessful stab at playing a stewardess with a vaguely Kentuckian accent was her only reach of the evening. Regardless of whether you've heard their new album or not, U2 was a somewhat mystifying musical guest. I expected the same theatrics that made their first two appearances so memorable, not Bono rapping next to an overzealous fog machine. It was an uneven broadcast, on par with most of the recent season premieres (Michael Phelps notwithstanding), yet there was more that I liked than disliked.
On that note, I can't begin to describe what an honor it has been to share my thoughts with you on SNL, one sketch at a time, for the past 6 ½ years. Of course, this is by no means goodbye; I will continue to blog about SNL, edit and maintain the episode guide, and moderate the fan forum right here at TV.com. Thank you for reading and commenting, and I certainly hope you give the other resident critics here the same appreciation that you've given me. Goodnight, everybody!
Sketches/Segments That Will Probably Be Removed in the 60-Minute Edit… If We Ever See One Again: the first Digital Short, "Moment of Surrender," "Biker Chick Chat," and "Your Mom Talks To Megan Fox."
This Thursday: Weekend Update Thursday #6… or #3 for the season, but hey, who's counting?
Next Week: Ryan Reynolds of "Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place" fame hosts with musical guest Lady Gaga.
Questions or comments for Stu? Feel free to send him a PM or e-mail Stu at email@example.com.