A Review by "HelloStuart," Amateur Critic and Former Defense Minister of Bolivia (1992-1997)
When Seth Rogen first hosted 18 months ago, I commented that the future A-lister was affable and enjoyable even though the cast and writers were having an apparent off night. I later stated in the SNL forum that I hoped Rogen would get another shot, so it pleases me to say that the "Observe and Report" star has earned a second go-around as host. Following two strong shows in March, I can only assume that the stars will align and Rogen will have the top-notch effort that he was denied in October 2007.
Where tonight's host looks like an ace in the hole, the musical guest is a virtual wild card. That honor belongs to the French rock band Phoenix (yes, you read that right), an outfit best known until now for having a lead singer that is married to Academy Award-nominated director Sofia Coppola.
And now, the sketch-by-sketch analysis:
COLD OPENING: After a quick gag regarding his reception by Europeans at the G-20 summit, President Obama (FA) elaborates on the GM bailout and how other sectors of the American economy will be affected. The domestic products there were in need of government handouts were top-to-bottom random, from blue jeans and toothpaste to NFL teams and soft-core pornography (thanks, Bubba!). Once again, the political satirists at SNL avoid jabbing at Obama yet disparage the peripheral elements of his term in office. I've come to terms with the eventuality that this isn't due to a liberal bias as much as it's simply hard to find a go-to angle on our 44th president.
MONOLOGUE: After admitting that he's "lost a million pounds," the slim, trim Mr. Rogen fields audience questions. Two faux spectators (KW, JS) are quick to confuse "Observe and Report" with "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," Seth's old pizza guy/pot dealer (BH) demands a bailout, and a heavyset skirt-chaser (BM) laments that he no longer resembles a certain Judd Apatow bosom buddy. Not awful, though I'll take Kristen off the hook for breaking character.
"The Fast & The Bi-Curious": Two rival gearheads (AS, Seth) are intense, cutthroat, and… incredibly flirty. Sometimes I wonder if there's a correlation between sketch titles that sound like porn flicks and strenuously obvious sex jokes, but this movie trailer spoof was enough to draw conclusions.
"Save the Funnies": Hey, does anybody remember that "Save Broadway" sketch from three months ago? Basically, it's the same sketch but with beloved comic strip characters and various other entertainment section standbys looking for ways to save the newspaper as a medium. Oh yeah, and Cathy (AS) shows up. In other words, it's just as transparent, reheated and lazy as about 80% of all comic strips nowadays. Seriously, no representatives from "Pearls Before Swine?" What about "Get Fuzzy" or "Dilbert?"
"La Revista Della Televisione": All of the typical components of a Vinny Vedecci (BH) sketch, the one new tangent being the host's resemblance to a "Bear Man." Though similar, "La Revista" is an example of not fixing what isn't broken; it took awhile to warm up to Vinny and company, but their shtick holds up well. Plus, in Bill Hader's case, it's not a crime to be self-referential every now and then.
DIGITAL SHORT: "Like a Boss" is a nightclub hip-hop stomper about corporate narcissism. The latest white-boy rap tune from Andy is almost identical in sound to "I'm on a Boat" from earlier this season, though the subject matter is much darker. Maybe a plunge into the moral abyss was just enough to light up The Lonely Island's creative spark (so to speak).
"Phone Voices": Three friends (BH, AS, Seth) planning a bachelor party speak alter their voices when their girlfriends hit their cells, than keep talking goofy when other people call them up. As this point, it seems like Bill and Andy have been in every sketch because they're real-life friends with Seth, and that crony-like obligation was clear as day in this one-joke skit.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: The biggest thing to come out of Versailles since Louis le Dernier bust out "Lisztomania." Whether the song is paying homage to the 1975 Roger Daltrey movie or about something entirely different, it's hard to say, because I can barely understand the lyrics over their thick accents.
WEEKEND UPDATE: Several jokes are told at the expense of this weekend's G-20 summit, a hot topic that culminates in a brilliant diatribe by Seth Meyers where he plays on stereotypes upon how a middle-aged black woman and an elderly white women (Michelle Obama and Queen Elizabeth II, respectively) should gift each other. From there it's mostly downhill; Jean K. Jean (KT) jokes about what it'd be like if the French prime minister was black, Rod Blagojevich (JS) ponders how to take financial advantage of his recent indictment, and probably worst of all Madonna (KW) and Angelina Jolie (AE) brag about secret baby-adopting locales. Not to sound racist ladies, if you want to adopt a malnourished black baby, why can't you just go to Detroit?
"After the Presentation": A corporate gadfly (Seth) takes the fall when the audio portion of a crucial quarterly report is replaced by the "Grease" soundtrack. Evil eyes abound as "You're The One That I Want" blasts from a boombox on the boss' (FA) desk. While I didn't mind this particular sketch, the twist ending was just plain hackneyed.
"Milestone High": Somewhere on ABC Family, this short-lived TV series from 1987 finds a stereotypical nerd (AS) helping a dense jock (Seth) cram for the big test… or so it seems. The flat dialogue is accurate for the subgenre that they're spoofing, yet the sketch got off to such a slow start that it barely ever accelerated.
"Jackie and Clancy T. Sing Easter Songs": The apparently beloved country duo (KW, WF) croon more ballads about spaceships, beer jars, Model T's, and babies just in time for Lent. This sketch is a good prodding of how post-9/11 country music has defanged itself and recycled the same three themes (women, trucks, and patriotism) into oblivion, but it was a deeper cut the first time around.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: Much like their first song, "1901" is proof that these guys want to be the Gaelic answer to The Strokes.
"Muppet Hit and Run": A gaggle of Jim Henson creations react poorly to an accidental death while traveling to their next gig. It's a showcase for the various dead-on Muppet impressions in the cast (Will as Kermit, Seth as Rolf, etc.) and little else.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: Following the goodnights, Mars and the boys perform a minute or so of "Girlfriend" before being cut off from the network feed.
In a way, tonight's SNL was a lot like a baseball team where every player hit .250; there were some spurts of power although their lack of average would make them spare parts on any other roster. The comedy highlight was probably Seth's gift rant, though Phoenix was a pleasant surprise as musical guest. Overall, this show was only marginally better than Seth's first hosting stint, but it brings me to the sad conclusion that Seth's brand of comedy just doesn't work in the short form.
Segments That Will Probably Be Removed in Repeats: The Madonna/Jolie commentary on Update, "Milestone High," "1901," and "Muppet Hit and Run."
Next Week: Tiger Beat pretty boy Zac Efron hosts with musical guests The Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
"HelloStuart" predicts that his Kansas City Royals will finish 82-80, third in the American League Central. Contact him at email@example.com.