A Review by "HelloStuart," One Well-Rested Amateur Critic
Wow, we're back. After a 3 ½-month hiatus imposed by the Writers' Guild strike, SNL is back on the air. For whatever reason, it feels much longer, but that might be because of all the stuff that's happened to me since late November (read my blog for more details). It's also hard to fathom that we're in the final weekend of February, but we're entering only the fifth broadcast of the season. To make up for lost time, this will be first of four consecutive Saturdays with a live show, which hasn't been done since 1976.
During the break, there was a smidgen of significant cast news- UCB veteran Casey Rose Wilson has joined the cast as a featured player, supposedly to fill the gap left by a departing female repertory player (probably Maya) at the end of this season. Though unconfirmed, at least two more rookies might be on the way. Much like when Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig joined the show, I am completely unaware of Casey's previous work, so it should be interesting to see how she develops. The odds are in her favor, though; there hasn't been a truly forgettable female cast member since Nancy Walls.
On that note, I want to congratulate Tina Fey on becoming the 24th ex-cast member to host SNL, and third woman to do so. Given that SNL was one of two late night shows to be completely shut down during the strike ("MADtv" being the other, obviously) I can imagine that there will be an unimaginable level of hype going into tonight's broadcast, and Fey seems like a very willing ringmaster. The musical guest is Carrie Underwood, the country-pop singer who first graced the SNL stage eleven months ago.
And now, for the first time in 2008, the sketch-by-sketch rundown (or is it analysis?):
COLD OPENING: During the umpteenth televised Democratic debate, Sen. Hillary Clinton (AP) is mystified by the media's growing cult-like obsession with frontrunner Sen. Barack Obama (played adequately by FA), then coldly denies that her campaign is off the rails. After inadvertently dissing Obama Girl, Hillary reluctantly sits back and watches Univision anchorman Diego Ramos (WF) admit to stalking her charismatic opponent. After being forced to sit out most of the primaries, it relives me to see that SNL's top political pundits don't have an itchy trigger finger; they kept their cool and didn't try to spit out every possible idea in their arsenal.
OPENING CREDITS: It's a little weird not seeing Maya in the credits (we'll probably get an official announcement sooner than later), but Casey looks pretty.
MONOLOGUE: Tina tries make penance with the SNL crew (they were laid off during the strike, then quickly rehired after it ended), and after a quip about the settlement Steve Martin runs up onstage to motivate Tina as a performer, not a writer. The bit felt like old hat to Steve, though I had no idea Tina could do weird voices.
"Annuale": A magic pill that reduces a woman's menstral cycle to once a year has a dark, disturbing effect. I probably could make some crude, sexist joke about hormone rampages, but this ad spoof already covered the bases.
"Rock of Love 2": Amber the belligerent amputee (AP) leaves a mark on the skeevy VH1 reality series starring Bret Michaels (JS) and his scene-stealing buddy Big John (FA). The other three finalists (TF, KW, CW) get emotional/obsessed/space out while Amber hobbles into the sunset and onto another similarly-themed reality show. Surprisingly boring.
DIGITAL SHORT: A septuagenarian man pitches a set of DVDs (made by his wife, he claims) where his two grandsons (BH, AS) ease the elderly through today's flashy, high-concept movies. On top of being dumb and predictable, this doesn't even feel like something Akiva and Jorma would write. Is this their punishment for the "I Ran So Far" mess?
"What's That ***** Talking About?": A game show spoof where two contestants (TF, BH) must correctly guess the context of one side of a woman's shrill phone conversation. The title is better than the book, but I like the way Tina rolls off all her answers.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: There's a syrupy sweetness to "All-American Girl," but isn't that what Carrie does best?
WEEKEND UDPATE: For the first time in awhile, Amy and Seth were on their game tonight; the jokes were quick with zing to spare, and even the guest commentaries were passable. Kudos to Gov. Mike Huckabee for willing to make fun of himself and his long-shot candidacy, and even though the third installment "Woman's News" started strong, Tina's blatant endorsement of Senator Clinton felt like too little, too late. Update ran long, but doesn't it always?
"Celebrity Apprentice": The Donald (DH) gives his trademark broad room dress-down to a variety of D-list celebrities. After initially bashing Ted Lewis (JS) and Jennifer Tilly (KW) for making a lousy new flavor of Gushers, the sketch goes off the deep end, forcing the likes of Mary Jo Buttafucco (TF), non-murderer John Mark Carr (BH), and Mr. Six (AP) to admit their mistakes. The arguable highlight was Casey's impression of Rachael Ray, a quick reminder that she might be easy on the eyes but an incredibly obnoxious TV personality.
"Ed Mahoney's Speech": The guy from that jeweler sketch from two years ago (JS) gives a rambling and all-too-revealing speech at a wedding reception, predictably making the two newlyweds (WF, TF) very uncomfortable. I don't mind Mahoney because he hasn't been overexposed yet, and characters like Ed eventually get run into the ground, but this sketch went from nowhere to oblivion in three minutes flat.
"Virgania Harsen's Hot Air Balloons": No, that's not a spelling error. A budding entrepreneur (KW) rocks the green-screen to sell her flying ride. As a stab at local TV commercials, it's right on the money; Virgania straddles the line between smug and anxious, gesturing with a muted eagerness. It's so staid, it's almost subversive.
"I Drink Your Milkshake": An awkward clustering of three Oscar-nominated movies finds Daniel Plainview (BH) and his meek son (AP) hogging strangers' frozen treats at an Oregon ice cream parlor. Throwing Anton Chigurh (FA) and Juno (TF) into the mix only made it feel more contrived. To the 50% of the population that probably hasn't seen any of these movies, you have my sympathies.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "Flat on the Floor" is about 80% country, 20% pop, and dominated by Carrie's convincing ability to play a scorched-earth woman.
"Lady Business": Taking a chapter from "Lipstick Jungle" and "Cashmere Mafia," this new dramedy finds four more unrealistic women (TF, AP, KW, CW) pretending to be witty and dynamic in an urban, male-dominated setting. The concept was there, but the execution was rushed.
As the first episode of Season 33 ½ draws to a close, I will agree that the hype was matched with several good sketches but the drive for madness was overwhelming. Where the over-the-top moments dominated, the more subtle aspects of the show drew the heartiest laughs. Tina dominated the night alongside the three female cast members; I wasn't expecting Casey to be in five sketches, but she held her own and I hope she builds on her hot start. I hope the long break gave the cast and writers more time to work on their chemistry, and that it sticks together for the remainder of this abbreviated season.
Sketches/Segments That Will Probably Be Removed In Repeats: "Ed Mahoney's Speech," "I Drink Your Milkshake," "Flat on the Floor," and "Lady Business."
Next Week: Ellen "Juno" Page hosts with musical guest Wilco.
"HelloStuart" graduated with a bachelor's degree from Illinois State University in December 2007, and is now a licensed substitute teacher. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.