A Review by “HelloStuart,” Amateur Critic and Mistake-Prone Fourth-Year Quarterback
This week’s host is Peyton Manning, the superstar quarterback and commercial pitchman extrodinaire that as I mentioned last week fulfills SNL’s one-athlete-host-per-season quota. The athlete-host is not exactly a proud generation; it’s given us more cue-card readers and self-aggrandizers then any other type of master of ceremonies. In fact, the only decent ones I can think of were Bob Uecker and Derek Jeter, and to a lesser extent Tony Danza. Despite the potential ratings upside, it’s usually best to make something like this a cast night.
The musical guest is Carrie Underwood, the third “American Idol” participant to appear on SNL. Like Manning, she’s a southerner, a big winner in early February (a best new artist Grammy to his Super Bowl MVP) and more or less despised in the greater Chicago area.
And now, the sketch-by-sketch analysis:
COLD OPENING: President Bush (JS) explains the consequences Attorney General Gonzales (FA) may or may not suffer while he smiles, frowns, and bounces around behind him. The pacing was like molasses, but Suds and Army made a stab at bouncing as much energy off each other in spite of another weakly written topical sketch.
MONOLOGUE: Peyton introduces three of the four members of his direct family, then jokingly disses his mother because she can’t play ball with the boys. An easier jab could’ve been made at his AWOL brother Cooper, but given everything he’s been though, I can see why Peyton would pull his punch.
“United Way”: Paying insolence to the goody-goody PSAs that air during NFL games, Peyton bullies a bunch of grade-schoolers during a pickup game, and than shows them how to jack a car and forces one boy to get a Peyton tattoo on his calf. Points for realism (thuggish football players aren’t a stereotype anymore, it’s quickly approaching self-parody), but this might go down as being the single most melancholy, straightforward Digital Short ever.
“Bronx Beat”: Poor Jodi (MR): maybe if she’d stop whining about how sexually unsatisfied she is –on a public access talk show, no less- maybe her taciturn, work-driven husband might actually knock boots with her. The third go-around for the borough-dwellers shows hints of going on autopilot; Peyton’s zookeeper is almost completely interchangeable with Jake Gyllenhaal’s mountain-biker from earlier this season.
“NCAA Tournament Pool Party”: A sports columnist (Peyton) is flustered by a flaky Teen Vogue copy editor (AP) when she determines Final Four picks by team colors and cute mascots. Things go from bad to worse when the host of the talk show (JS) suggests that he “pulled a Peyton,” leading to a clumsy life-imitates-art moment and a typical awkward ending.
“Penelope”: So far tonight, I’ve been paying close attention to Peyton’s eyes to see if they’re glued to those precious cue-cards, and with this sketch I finally nailed him. As disappointing as that was, it didn’t distract from the premise of the sketch: a socially awkward braggart (KW) struggles to make conversation at a housewarming party. Unlike some potential recurring characters of late, I wouldn’t mind seeing how Penelope evolves. What’s the true ulterior motive to her maladroit one-upmanship?
SMIGELTOON: For all you “Dora the Explorer” haters out there, your moment in the sun has come. “Maraka” and her talking feline friend ask random questions to their preschool-age audience while rescuing a penguin egg. It seems that Robert Smigel’s post-DVD slump is finally over, if only because he took advantage of the obtuse format of a popular children’s program and turned it into an exercise of self-aware hubris.
“Halftime Pep Talk”: The quirky coach (WF) of a struggling college hoops team tries and fails to turn the theme song from “Casino Royale” (the one with Woody Allen, not Daniel Craig) into a motivational anthem. The actual plot is nothing more than an expositional set-up to see Forte dance like a doofus, but it was funny while it lasted.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: Carrie tells the tale of man who put alcohol before love in her DUI-themed hit “Before He Cheats.”
WEEKEND UPDATE: I’ll admit, usually whenever Tim Calhoun (WF) pops up, a big smile appears on my face; tonight, on the other hand, gave me the idea that maybe the aspiring presidential candidate made one appearance too many. Seriously, a Jack Abramoff pun? Quoting that Head On commercial? Man, that was unbelievably disappointing. On the other hand, Seth made a pointed commentary about Knut the polar bear and whether or not that cute little thing should stay in captivity or be taken out of his misery, an example of animal rights activism going off the deep end. Seeing Dan Aykroyd spoof the “crying girl” controversy on American Idol didn’t hurt, either.
“300”: Thickheaded Mitch (Peyton) won’t throw a fake rock at his co-star (FA) during the filming of the Frank Miller epic. What a sad, pointless exercise.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: I probably would comment on her performance of her “other” anti-drinking song “Wasted,” but I was distracted by her dress. To put it in Oklahoma-speak, she purdy.
“Sunday Night Coffee Chat”: A sequel to the “Cider Chat” sketch from Pressly/Rae was the furthest thing from my mind, but here it is, taking up space in the 12:50 slot and weirding out the general consensus with tales of using human feces as fertilizer and stuffing ham in your pants pocket to create the illusion of having a secret. If that didn’t work for you, you could’ve stared at Peyton’s wig for the whole sketch and gotten the same witless result.
“Mercedes 500”: Sending up his own status as a relentless commercial pitchman, Peyton shills a car that makes meatloaf and has two built-in toilet seats. A luxury car you can drive without pants? Somebody call Tracy Morgan!
“Air Force One”: A spoof of those Nike Pick-Ups commercials finds six cast members playing some really lousy b-ball, further pounding tired old white-athlete clichés into the ground. I can totally see why this was cut from two past dress rehearsals.
Following last week’s somewhat underwhelming affair, the show roars back with another uneven effort. It was interesting to see a lot of sports-themed sketches, which is very unusual even when athletes do host. Peyton seemed more than willing to make fun of his overexposed image, though his performance overall was just as wooden as everyone expected it to be. Maybe the birthday cake during the goodnights was intended to be comfort food.
No Darrell for two episodes in a row? Maybe my theory is becoming reality…
Sketches/Segments That Will Probably Be Removed in Repeats: “Bronx Beat,” “300,” “Sunday Night Coffee Chat,” and “Air Force One.”
In Three Weeks: Shia “Even Stevens” LaBeouf hosts while Avril Lavigne makes her third go-around as musical guest. Yes, I know, it’s like we’re watching the Disney Channel circa 2002.
“HelloStuart” is a senior at Illinois State University and has been writing episode reviews of SNL since 2003. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.