A Review by "HelloStuart," Amateur Critic and Petulant Archeologist
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I'm not so much a Will Ferrell fan as much as I admire his versatility. Though he occasionally gets typecast as a petulant simpleton, he still has the ability to rise above a bad script. In the seven years since his departure from SNL, he has become far and away the biggest star of the show's late-90s cast; sure, Molly Shannon and Tracy Morgan have found moderate success on television, but it doesn't compare to Ferrell's ascendency to Hollywood's A-list. Only two cast members remain from Will's stint on the show –and only four others from his previous hosting stint- yet they'll be a non-factor in tonight's show. It's going to be all about Will, whether you like it or not.
Oh yeah, and Green Day is tonight's musical guest. Good for them.
And now, the sketch-by-sketch analysis:
COLD OPENING: While he sits in the "Meet The Press" makeup room, Former Vice President Cheney (DH) is confronted by his old boss Dubya (Will). Apparently, America's most famous rancher has been sent by the GOP to get to the bottom of Big Dick's newfound love for the media… well, Fox News, anyway. After admitting that they had "the chemistry of acid in the face," Bush 43 blackmails Dick by threatening to tell the public that Cheney was dead for three days in 2004. It was a moment of middleweight topical satire, not necessarily pointed yet a nice little jab at the previous administration's reluctant bulldog.
Also, this has nothing to do with anything, but did you know there's a 32-year age difference between Darrell Hammond and Abby Elliott? I don't think they've been on-screen together all season, but I just thought I'd mention that before the season ended.
MONOLOGUE: Fresh off his Tony-nominated performance as –yeah, you guessed it- Former President Bush, Will looks back at his career in theater. To nail down his point, he recites the closing soliloquy from "The Wishful Dreams of Danny O'Neill," an imaginary and apparently terrible Off-Off-Broadway play that Ferrell wrote and directed. We get it Will, you're a big ham. You don't have to prove yourself.
"Wade Blasingame": For all you longtime fans, the producers treat us to a classic ad spoof from 2000 that you've probably already seen twenty times. (By the way, there was a real ballplayer named Wade Blasingame; he was a 16-game winner for the 1965 Milwaukee Braves.)
"The Laurence Welk Show": The king of champagne music (FA) introduces a Spring-themed number by Ted Netters (Will), who is later accompanied by the Maharo Sisters. As it turns out, their deformed youngest sister Junice (KW) is still the undisputed weak link of their act, and her "like touch" weirdness turns off Ted. I rarely touch upon the physical element of Kristen's performances, or anybody's for that matter, which is a shame because she's a great two-way player.
"Celebrity Jeopardy!": Sure, it's a hoary old chestnut, but it never fails to score a laugh. This time around, Trebek (Will) has to deal with a tipsy Kathie Lee Gifford (KW), a hopelessly befuddled Tom Hanks (not a cast member, the real deal), and of course, the incomparable Sean Connery (DH). Things get even crazier when Burt Reynolds (Norm!) wanders in to further aggravate Alex. I don't know how the writers come up all those "Yo Mama" jokes or naughty misinterpretations of the categories, yet I tip my hat to anyone that can write so many PG-13 jokes and simultaneously keep such a beloved recurring sketch so fresh.
"Inside The NBA": While breaking down the second overtime of a Celtics-Magic playoff game, Ernie Johnson (BH) plays it straight while Charles Barkley (KT) is distracted by interactive promos for a generic sitcom called "Mark" ("from the creator of "Jeff"). While I liked the idea, the sketch lacked focus; was Sir Charles supposed to be the center point of the sketch, or the "Mark" graphic? I don't think balancing it out did this any favors…
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: To launch their third appearance on SNL in 15 years, Billie Joe and the boys play "Know Your Enemy," the current single from their new album. If you enjoyed their previous album, than this will not disappoint you.
WEEKEND UPDATE: First Norm, now Amy? What's with all the stunt casting? If they can carry the show the way Poehler lifted Update, I'm not complaining. Seth goes on a mini-rant about Twittering astronauts, a bit I can't really explain without ruining the gag, yet it was my favorite part of tonight's segment. Of course, that doesn't mean that was the only memorable moment; the astro-tweet tirade segues into another edition of "Really!?!" focusing on Arizona State University's refusal to give President Obama an honorary degree.
"Joseph Baerwell's Wake": In a kinda-sorta sequel to that wedding reception sketch from Laurie/West, a gallery of rogues and misfits pay tribute (sort of) at a wake, much to the slow burn of a straight-man minister (JS). The oxygen tank lady (KW), the AC/DC fan (FA), and the right-wing paranoid (WF) don't have anything new to say, but a third-tier comedian (Will) isn't afraid to promote his upcoming gigs. To nobody's surprise, this gaggle of odd ducks is an appetizer for another audience-pleasing cameo; Maya Rudolph takes over the sketch in Glenda Goodwin mode, singing about Sasquatch for no other reason than to gratify herself.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: While "21 Guns" has its redeeming qualities, it feels like a rewrite of "Wake Me Up When September Ends."
"Goodnight Saigon": During a night of drinking and awkward small talk, three office pals (DH, BH, KT) are mystified when a fourth friend (Will) bugs out by the slightest reference to Vietnam, than launches into a soaring rendition of the 1982 Billy Joel hit. This is where the celeb cameos kick into overdrive; the entire cast, plus Norm, Tom Hanks, Maya, Poehler, Green Day, Anne Hathaway, Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Moss, and Artie Lange join in to play instruments and sing the chorus. As you can imagine, the entire audience has pretty much j***ed their pants as this point, yet I can't think of a better way to close out the year.
Much like last week, the cast and writers played it safe and it paid off in spades. Normally the talent is on the brink of burnout by season's end, yet the right host can make a big difference, especially an ex-cast member who knows the ins and outs of the show. This star-studded spectacle almost overshadowed the fact that tonight was the end of an era; Don Pardo is reportedly retiring after 33 years on the show, and Darrell Hammond might be heading for greener pastures in his own right. In conclusion, the 2008-09 season ended on a high note, and they left me hungry for more.
Segments That Will Probably Be Removed In Repeats: "Wade Blasingame," "Inside The NBA," and "21 Guns."
Next Week: a repeat of Zac Efron/Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Not a bad choice.
And now, a retrospective of Season 34:
Let me just say that some of my selections were far from cut-and-dry. There were a lot of highly enjoyable shows this season, not to mention an above-average number of funny sketches. This was, after all perhaps the strongest season since 2001-02. For the sake of fairness, however I'm sticking with the format that I set up five years ago. Here goes:
Best Musical Guest: Fleet Foxes
Runner-Up: Kings of Leon
Worst Musical Guest: Jason Mraz
Runner-Up: TV on the Radio (that wasn't an easy choice, but let's face it- they bombed) Best Host: Justin Timberlake
Runner-Up: Neil Patrick Harris
Worst Host: Michael Phelps
Runner-Up: Rosario Dawson
The Ten Most Indelible Moments of the Season:
10. Amy says goodbye (Laurie/West)
9. Kanye's meltdown (Laurie/West)
8. The "Mad Men" Lovefest (Hamm/Coldplay)
7. Mark Wahlberg's "feud" with Andy Samberg (Brolin/Adele)
6. "Mother Lovers" (Timberlake/Ciara)
5. Gov. Petersen lashes out at Fred Armisen (Laurie/West)
4. "Family Flix" (Morgan/Clarkson)
3. Justin Timberlake drops by every other week
2. The "Pepsuber" Flap (Martin/Mraz)
1. Sarina Feylin (Phelps/Wayne onward)
Worst Overall Episodes:
3. Hugh Laurie/Kanye West
2. Steve Martin/Jason Mraz
1. Michael Phelps/Lil' Wayne
Best Overall Episodes:
3. Anne Hathaway/The Killers
2. Tracy Morgan/Kelly Clarkson
1. Justin Timberlake/Ciara
Outstanding Achievement in Completely Phoning It In: Steve Martin
Most Pleasant Surprise, Hosting Category: Tim McGraw
Most Pleasant Surprise, Musical Guest Category: Phoenix
The White, Female Dean Edwards: Casey Wilson
Will Be Sorely Missed: Don Pardo
Will Also Be Missed, But Not As Much as Don: Darrell Hammond
2008-09 Most Valuable Player: Bill Hader. I give him a narrow edge over Kristen and Armisen if only because he was so clutch in a lot of fair-to-middling sketches.
"HelloStuart" will be taking classes at Second City's training academy in Chicago this summer. In the meantime, get ready for the summer re-launch of The SNL Column sometime in the next couple of weeks. If you any questions, comments, or good recipes, either drop Stu a PM or e-mail him at email@example.com.