A Review by "HelloStuart," Amateur Critic and Handsome Stevedore
Is it really over? Has President Bush's eight-year term come to an end? Now that they're devoid of their favorite punching bag, what will SNL's crackerjack crew of topical satire writers (i.e. James Downey and… that's about it) stay fresh and relevant these next four years? Will they ever find an angle for which to jab Obama? Stay tuned…
This week's host is Rosario Dawson, the multi-ethnic starlet best known for her work in the movies "Alexander," "Rent," and most recently in "Seven Pounds." The musical guest is Fleet Foxes, the Seattle-based folk-rock quintet behind the indie hit "White Winter Hymnal."
And now, the sketch-by-sketch analysis:
COLD OPENING: On an ABC News special, Diane Sawyer (KW) conducts one last interview with Vice President Cheney (DH) before he leaves office. When asked about certain controversial events from his term as second-in-command, Dick plainly states that he regrets nothing and keeps doing so when the questions become increasingly philosophical and imperceptive. It seems fitting that Darrell would have one last go-around as Cheney, especially since he was the only cast member to serve on the show for the duration of the Bush administration, but the brunt of the comic weight went to Wiig's Sawyer impression, a case study in cream-puff journalism.
MONOLOGUE: Rosario brags about her very modest upbringing on the Lower East Side, setting up a personal-experience joke that completely tanks. An Obama name-check segues into an appearance by the long-dormant Ferecito (FA), who throws around a few dated Latino jokes while there's still a WASP in the White House.
"North American Savings": A commercial parody for the bank that plays it safe; by rejecting 95% of their loans and literally stuffing money under a mattress, NAS hasn't lost a dime since mid-October, 1987. A fairly obvious joke with a clever set-up.
"Da Learnin' Train": Somewhere on some obscure cable channel, a kids' show that fuses bright colors, hip-hop, and anthropomorphic raccoons overshadows its minimal educational value. It's not until celebrity guest star Harry Connick Jr. (JS) calls their bluff that Riznatch the Reading Raccoon (KT), his hype-man (Rosario), and their dance crew go on the defensive. Like the bank ad from earlier in the evening, the concept is simple but the course it takes is slightly more interesting.
"Gitmo Clearance Sale": With the new president ready to shut down the controversial detention center; an NSA operative (JS) liquidates Camp X-Ray's assets in a manner akin to a used car dealership. Everything must go, the pseudo-salesman claims, and everything from shower togs to jumper cables are being sold at humungous discounts. I'm sensing a pattern, so I'll just move on…
"Aladdin & Jasmine": On a 10th anniversary carpet ride, the early '90s Disney lovebirds (Rosario, JS) express their marital tension in song. Their whole new world has stagnated, the spark is gone, and the genie is crashing on their couch. This sketch was actually tolerable; bickering lovebirds are always ripe for humor as long as it doesn't stray into predictable, Leroy and Loretta Lockhorn territory, which this sketch just barely avoided.
DIGITAL SHORT: "A Couple of Homies" finds Andy and Army's slightest movements evoking brief musical montages by a pantsless Will. If anyone thinks the Lonely Island guys are running out of ideas, here's more fuel for the fire; everything about this segment felt slapped together, and there was no energy to the randomness whatsoever.
"Bridgewater Academy": A by-the-books schoolteacher is exasperated by the increasingly sociopathic behavior of puckish problem child Gilly (KW). If this was supposed to be a homage to Nancy or Little Lulu, this sketch might've worked better had it been written 60-odd years ago.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "Mykonos" is driven by haunting lyrics and rich harmonizing. The casting producer dug deep for this act and it seems like that paid off big-time.
WEEKEND UPDATE: The general feeling of autopilot inches its way into Update, but it's not Seth's fault. The U.S. Airways crash was all over the news in the 48 hours preceding tonight's show, so there was no way it could be overlooked. The opening gags were okay, but Andy's discourse as Larry the Goose was a drag. Kristen's third go-around as nervous wreck Judy Grimes just as much of a verbal challenge as ever, but it's starting to feel like old hat.
"La Policia Mexicana": A cop drama written entirely by fourth-graders finds two streetwise detectives (Rosario, FA) and their boss "El Jefe" (BH) interrogating a thief (BM). The dialogue is unsophisticated, but that's all part of the fun; this sketch wasn't awful, but I probably would've appreciated it more if I hadn't taken French when I was younger.
"The View": Salma Hayek (Rosario) fills in for Sherri, a giggly and self-depreciating Ricky Gervais (JS) is the guest, and Elizabeth (KW) still believes everything she reads online. At least when they poked fun of Debbie Matenopoulos a decade ago there was some level of spontaneity; it still feels like the writers jumped on this wagon two years too late.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "Blue Ridge Mountains" evokes nature and pleasant childhood memories via tambourines, a mandolin, and more amazing harmonies.
"Good Excuse!": Live on Public Access Channel 25 in Logan, OH, a husband and wife (WF, KW) make up outrageous excuses on the spot for their conflicted guests and their ridiculous (fake?) names. Not to get too personal, but the wife reminded me a lot of my fourth-grade teacher, right down to the spiky blond hair and her dated "Annie Hall" get-up. Other than that, there was nothing terribly memorable about this talk show spoof.
Everything about tonight's show felt like going through the motions, and even though Dawson displayed a versatility and comic timing that we can only wish from most hosts, the cast was not playing their A-game. Tonight was heavy in pre-taped segments, and the decision to put so much emphasis away from the live aspect of the show also hurt more than it helped. This broadcast also enforced the long-standing hypothesis that a strong musical guest will justify an otherwise flaccid show; Fleet Foxes hit two left-field home runs where the cast could barely muster infield singles. If it weren't for the cold opening and the two songs, watching tonight's broadcast would've felt like a chore.
One further comment: as much as I hate to say it, I'm starting to wonder if Casey or Abby are ever going to find their voices on the show; where Elliott is still relatively new and very much a wild card, Casey has been on SNL almost a year now and has only asserted herself in brief flashes. Mike Watkins is making good progress, but Kristen can't carry all the lead female parts forever.
Segments That Will Probably Be Removed in Repeats (depending on whether or not E! will ever air any shows from after 2006): "Bridgewater Academy," most of Weekend Update, "The View," and "Good Excuse!"
In Two Weeks: Steve Martin becomes the first member of the fifteen-timer's club with musical guest Jason Mraz.
Stuart is the author of "The State of Restaurant Dining 2009: A Nation Fills Up on Bread." Contact him at email@example.com.