A Review by "HelloStuart," Mr. Amateur Critic If Ya Nasty
I'm somewhat disappointed that SNL has been immersing itself into the Disney arsenal for hosts and musical guests; where Shia Labeouf was somewhat justified in that he's long since divorced from the House of Mouse, The Jonas Brothers and Zac Efron –tonight's host, by the way- still have their umbilical cords attached. Then again, there's little denying the influence Disney has on youth culture in the late 2000s; maybe something like this was inevitable, whether we purists and comedy geeks liked it or not.
In spite of Efron, I'm a little more enthusiastic for tonight's musical guest, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I've been a fan of this NYC-based trio since I was in high school, so it was a pleasant surprise to learn that they'd been booked for SNL.
And now, the sketch-by-sketch analysis:
COLD OPENING: Vice President Biden (JS) sits at the president's desk, than seems reluctant to relinquish what limited power he has –and the attention that brings him- when Obama (FA) returns from abroad. In a way, this sketch is little more than a clearinghouse for the minor controversies that the motor-mouthed Delawarean has entangled himself, though the cloying desperation in Biden's eyes is a sharp, funny contrast to the President's peculiar brand of coolness.
MONOLOGUE: The "17 Again" star spends his opening statements addressing the vast majority of his fans –specifically, 11-year-old girls and middle-aged homosexuals- and later they take photos. Kristen and Abby were diligent as the tween representatives, but Fred was a subtle hoot as Zac's biggest supporter in the "twifty" (between 40 and 50) demographic.
"Today": Kathie Lee (KW) celebrates one year at NBC, an on-air fête that only further exasperates Hoda (MW), the straight man/co-host that stealthily conceals her anguish and vexation… at least from what I've seen on the real-life show. Gifford's notoriously untalented son Cody (Zac) drops by to sing "Isn't She Lovely" and join in his boozy mother's aggravating shtick. I'm still on the fence about this recurring spoof; daytime chat-fests have been ripe for parody for as long as I can remember, though the target at hand can vary wildly. In this case, lampooning the unnecessary fourth hour of the seminal morning news show is a great success in some places (like Wiig's Gifford impression) but a dud in others (Mike's white-bread mimicry of the exotic Ms. Kotb).
"Gilly": The sociopathic youngster (KW) continues to wreck havoc on her private school peers, this time at a seemingly blasé science fair with a new punching bag, a pragmatic foreign exchange student (Zac). This will make excellent filler on Kristen's best-of DVD, which should hit stores sometime around 2014.
"The Alliance of Direct Mail Marketers": A short filmed piece where an upper-management type (JS) puts a positive spin on junk mail, from its alleged greasing of government palms to its loose connection to identity theft and private data exchanges. I never really considered junk mail to be a major problem (more like a mild annoyance in spite of all that wasted paper), though maybe that was part of the point.
"Underage Drinking": Two teens (AS, Zac) chug beers in a bar that doesn't card, but their rebellion is watered down by realizing that they're the least heinous offenders in the bar. The drunken children gag runs it course, yet the epilogue with attention-hungry ex-Gov. Eliot Spitzer (BH) seemed a little tacked on.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "Zero" is scruffy, white-noise dance-rock, a middle finger in the face of Lady GaGa and all those other little poseurs.
WEEKEND UPDATE: It only took twenty shows, but tonight we've reached the first truly top-to-bottom forgettable news segment of the season. Nothing clicked, like the superfluous return of the gay couple from Jersey (BH, FA), the second appearance of snarky celeb blogger Angie Tempura (MW), or even "opposite" band/obnoxious time-waster Jon Bovi (WF, JS). If you need some time off Seth, why didn't you just tell us?
"High School Musical 4": One year after his graduation, Troy (Zac) returns to his alma mater to elaborate on the cold realities of a world where people don't constantly break into song and dance. The East High Class of '09 is unfazed by Bolton's reality check, until a recently thawed Walt Disney saves the day with an Anti-Semetic slur and just a smidgen of magic. "Disney characters don't grow up," claims Uncle Walt. "Look at Peter Pan or Lindsay Lohan."
"Connecticut 1917": A generic lovers-in-a-train-station scene goes off into a bizarre tangent when the clingy sweetheart (CW) of a World War I doughboy (Zac) runs to great lengths to never let go. One-joke sketches can go a long way when they're properly expanded, but this one snapped like a wet rubber band. At least Casey got some face time, a rarity in recent shows.
"Gino's Pizza Rolls": During a routine commercial shoot, the actress (FA) playing mom to two teen actors (AS, Zac) overacts upon her one line in the spot. And she keeps doing it, over and over again, as if his/her hamming it up was supposed to be endearing.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: Rather than perform another song from their new disc "It's Blitz," Karen O. and the boys blast their 2004 hit "Maps." Maybe it's because I've heard this song so many times, or that they've done the song live almost every night for the last six years, the effort felt a little flat.
"Big Brother Foot Rub": A loser (JS) that lives above his parents' garage explains to his younger sibling (Zac) that the best way to seduce a woman is from the feet and move upwards. Suds carries this sketch with perverse zeal, playing a character that could've easily been a one-note creep, and Zac was an affable pawn in his brother's incestuous mind games. Hard to believe something like this would be banished to ten-to-one, right?
I had low expectations for Efron, and in the end he did his best to play along in spite of never really controlling or altering the dynamic of the show. Zac was a supporting player in nearly every sketch he appeared in, a patsy for the likes of Kristen Wiig and Jason Sudeikis, who both had strong nights. Late-season shows tend to find the writers in a state of burnout, rehashing characters from past sketches in an attempt to hide a lack of new ideas regardless of whether they connected or not. Tonight was no exception but no textbook case, either; we'll never see a Gilly or Jon Bovi movie anytime soon, yet the cast carried the show with aplomb. I'll gladly take two straight not-awful shows over something much, much worse.
Segments That Will Probably Be Removed In Repeats: Update, "Connecticut 1917," and "Gino's Pizza Rolls."
In Four Weeks: Justin Timberlake, a megastar that hasn't been on the show enough lately, hosts with musical guest Ciara.
"HelloStuart" has been doing this whole episode-review thing since 2003. Feel the glow of his immense wisdom by sending him your questions and comments to email@example.com.