A Review by "HelloStuart," Amateur Critic and Closeted Fanilow
Apparently ex-host Michael Phelps was caught smoking a bong over the weekend. This might explain his underwhelming stint five months ago; than again, this would also justify that 12,000-calorie diet of his…
This week's host is the incomparable Steve Martin, whose 15th stint as master of ceremonies is practically an untouchable SNL record. I acknowledge that Steve is a living legend but he's not quite infallible, as his tendency to star in rehashes of old Peter Sellers movies will prove. The musical guest is Jason Mraz, the singer-songwriter behind last year's inescapable (for better or worse) hit "I'm Yours."
And now, the sketch-by-sketch analysis:
COLD OPENING: President Obama (FA) addresses the nation on the grave state of the economy, but the mechanics of his bailout are overshadowed by wistful memories of his presidential campaign. Obama admits that the courtship stage is over; he's not a morning person, and America is bad with money. To further prove that the honeymoon period has ended prematurely, Vice President Biden (JS) butts in just for the sake of reminding people that he's second in command. This first stab at the new administration was nothing special, but it could've been a lot less amusing.
MONOLOGUE: In a sad harbinger of things to come, Steve makes a few bon mots that completely bomb, than rolls off a string of statements that make the audience go spastic.
"Chewable Pampers": A fake ad for biodegradable, vegetable-based, and therefore edible diapers. The idea of eating fecal matter has been covered before (see "Litter Critters," Year 25) and it's been done in a way that was not only uncouth but pretty funny. This was just crude.
"MacGruber": In the middle of a commercial break, our hero (WF) pops up to brag about himself, shill Pepsi, find a way to escape an abandoned oil refinery, and butts heads with the real MacGyver (a paunchy Richard Dean Anderson). Yes, it was just as overdone as it sounds.
"Socially Awkward Officemates": Jean (KW), Neil (WF), and their newest friend (Steve) are completely oblivious to the Super Bowl party that they've just crashed, than chug ecstasy in the corner of a bar once they realize they don't belong. Basically, this recurring sketch looks and feels automated; the location and third member change but little else is altered. The vague sadness of their first few appearances have been diluted for a quirky type of going through the motions.
DIGITAL SHORT: With some coercing by Andy and Bill, Steve presents "Laser Cats 4Ever!" to a disenchanted Lorne. This time the production values are more amateurish than ever, with people unrelated to the production wandering in and out nonchalantly, and that was the good part. The premise of the whole thing is a rip-off of "Return of the Jedi," with Steve shoehorned in as ultimately redeemed villain.
"Issues": A talk show spoof where judgmental, bucktoothed college dropout Clarence Derrigan (KT) is more concerned with the odd physical features of his guests (CW, Steve) than their actual personal problems. If a one-note sketch like this can appear in the first half-hour of the show, than it doesn't well for any other sketches airing tonight.
"MacGruber": Trapped in the boiler room of an illegal supply ship, MacGruber (or should I say, PepSuber) just won't shut up about how much he loves Pepsi. The fact that the first two segments were cued up like a commercial makes me wonder if this is really what it seems… (EDIT: This "sketch" re-aired during the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl. This completely reeks of selling out.)
"Bernie Madoff": The home-arrested Ponzi schemer (FA) unsuccessfully throws together a Super Bowl party by calling up all the famous people he swindled. It's a chamber sketch that you rarely see anymore; the camera is static and frozen on Madoff, and the lack of movement helps you realize the claustrophobia of the world he's created for himself. It's melancholy, poignant, and savagely satirical all at once.
"Backstage": The four female cast members channel Karen Carpenter, Natalie Cole, and Etta James as they try to conceal their unreciprocated crush on Steve. This is as close as the host has gotten to self-depreciation all night (apparently huge paychecks don't shrivel your sense of humor after all), and after a loaded first 30 minutes it felt good that we went into the first musical act on a high note.
"MacGruber": Talk about a hard sell- now stuck in an Italian mafia hideout, MacGruber stymies MacGyver and that damsel with the bad '80s hair (KW) by repeatedly saying "Pepsi" as if it were some type of tribal dialect.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: I will admit that I'm not the biggest fan of this song, but Jason's performance of "I'm Yours" was a diligent crowd-pleaser.
WEEKEND UPDATE: Seth's been working Update solo for three shows now and I still haven't decided if he works better without a partner. It's almost as if his jokes are time filler between guest commentaries, an opportunity to shoot the breeze while the rest of the cast takes a breather. Jason drags out his Blago impression one last time, admitting that he's unfazed by his impeachment before reciting an original, scornful poem. Abby makes her belated Update debut with a spot-on Angelina Jolie impression; too bad it was wasted on a bad joke about those octuplets that were born last week. Everything seemed like an appetizer for the big meal, where Gov. David Paterson (FA) resurfaces to defend his appointment of Rep. Gillebrand to the US Senate, than regress into the same obnoxious Jersey-bashing and pedestrian blind jokes that we saw six weeks ago.
"Tiffany's Makeup Counter": Thomas the perfume guy (Steve) deals with his clingy, unemployed wife Katrina (KW) as a chagrined customer (CW) looks on. If you told me a month ago that Kristen had created one poorly developed character with a weird voice too many, I would not have believed you. Now I'm starting to feel a little bamboozled.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: From his upcoming album of original banjo music (no, not a joke), Steve and a gaggle of doting bluegrass musicians performed the kid-friendly "Late for School." I can't begin to describe how out of place this song felt; why couldn't Steve save this for when he makes the talk show rounds next week?
"Forefathers of the Game": On ESPN Classic, old-time football players recall the career of Billy "The Gun" Van Guff (Steve), whose pistol-brandishing during game action made him the most dominant quarterback of the early 1930's. Not quite a fumble, but SNL certainly lost a few yards on this play.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: With the lovely Colbie Caillat by his side, Jason duets on the sure-to-be-Top-40-hit "Lucky." The song's pleasant, radio-friendly sound almost makes you forget that it's also undeniably bland.
This whole show reeked of self-indulgence (on Steve's part) and shameless product placement (via "MacGruber"), and the end result was a confusing mess. I respect that SNL was originally a variety program before settling into a sketch-comedy-with-music format, but the (presumably) one-off regression was more jarring than entertaining. Selling out a popular recurring character reeks of identity crisis, which would be a wrong turn for a show that was having such a strong season up to this point. If the show wanted to push its credibility right over the edge, the producers would've sold the last half-hour to Ron Popeil or the people that make those Snuggie blankets. Amidst all this hubris was a couple of pretty decent sketches, but ultimately they were lost in the shuffle.
Segments That Will Probably Be Removed in Repeats: all three "MacGruber" pieces and everything after Update.
Next Week: TV/movie semi-star Bradley Cooper hosts with musical guest TV on the Radio.
"HelloStuart" had predicted Steelers by 10, but hey, close enough. Contact him at email@example.com.