And so ends the shortest season in the 33-year history of "Saturday Night Live." The 1980-1981 Jean Doumanian debacle got pulled off the air after 13 episodes for retooling. The 1987-1988 season also ended after 13 episodes due to a (surprise!) writers' strike. I guess the writers should be good for another twenty years.
This season, the 2007-2008 season, came to an end after only 12 shows. But did it go out with a bang or with a whimper? Only one way to find out. Here comes another scene-by-scene analysis of "SNL." Tonight's episode ...
"Saturday Night Live" -- Host: Steve Carell, Musical Guest: Usher.
Cold Open -- At the Pounder School Commencement, diplomas are handed out to students with ... unusual names. Last week we had a sketch that was an exercise in making funny faces. This week, we kick the show off with an exercise in funny names. The sheer volume of gag names (41! I counted!) makes this work, along with the graduation-esque device of including relatively normal middle names. Still lots of these kids are named "Harry." And there are a number of representatives from the "Naylor" family. 3 stars.
Monologue -- Host Steve Carell is all hopped up on Red Bull and candy ... or is he? It's nice to see Mrs. Carell and "SNL" alumna Nancy Walls make a quick cameo. Despite Mr. Carell's most energetic efforts, there's not much of a premise here. 2 stars.
There Can Only Be One -- Clinton and Obama (Amy Poehler and Fred Armisen) take each other on in a joint ad, a la the current NBA playoff promos. A great visual with some nice underscoring of the candidates differences: Clinton the win-at-all-costs self-promoter, Obama the calm, wise naif. Hillary is the more clearly defined comic persona at this point. Too bad for "SNL's" 34th season that Obama will probably have the nom sewn up by the time they come back. 3 1/2 stars.
Deal or No Deal -- Stu Barnsford (Carell) goes for the big money on DoND despite sniping from his Dad (Will Forte) and the impish shenanigans of one of the Suitcase Girls (Kristen Wiig). Oo! "SNL" is parodying a game show from this century! A decent scene between Carell and Forte, and Kristen rings up substantial laughs with her teasing and taunting. Armisen's Howie Mandel is only slightly more annoying than the real thing. Or is that slightly less? Perhaps he's exactly as annoying. 3 stars.
Two A-Holes Do Karaoke -- Jason Sudeikis and Kristen pull their two a-hole characters out of mothballs (haven't seen them since last season) and have them perform a little karaoke. Almost. I've enjoyed these characters in the past, but the karaoke milieu does little for them. Maybe if they'd actually sung. I know. NOT doing things is where the real funny is. 1 1/2 stars.
The Original Japanese Version of 'The Office' -- The latest "SNL" Digital Short gives us a glimpse at the real basis for all the various "Office" shows, with an introduction by Ricky Gervais. After the last couple of miserable Digital Shorts, this looks flipping brilliant by comparison. It's a cute idea, but there aren't a lot of jokes here beyond the premise. Gervais's last line is a gem, though. 2 1/2 stars.
John McCain 2008 -- John McCain (the actual one) appears and lays out the case for his candidacy. That case centers around his oldness and his opposition to obvious government pork, like the military budget increase for a device that jams Gaydar. McCain is a bit stiff (careful!), especially compared to his surprisingly good hosting turn from a few years back. A few decent jokes (like the Gaydar line) but not enough. 2 stars.
Usher performs "This Ain't Sex" -- Bathroom break! Just kidding. I would never miss a performance by Usher. I wonder if he helps concert-goers find their seats. Anyway, this is actually a pretty good song. I could do without his posing and preening, but then, I'm not exactly the target audience here. I like when he instructs all the ladies to report to the dance floor. There's a nice funk guitar lick in there and the (synthesized) bass has a Bootsy Collins feel. Better than I expected. 3 stars.
Weekend Update -- Throughout the season, I've thought that Seth Myers and Amy have improved just about each week delivering the fake news. Tonight's effort is solid, if unspectacular. John McCain shows up yet again, amusingly urging the Dems to drag out their nomination process as long as possible. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton (Darrell Hammond and Kenan Thompson) also show up to beg Barack Obama not to do anything that will screw up his chances at the White House. I'd like to see a few episodes of the Afghani soap opera "The Woman Who Went Outside." 3 stars.
The Charlie Flitt Show -- Weight-loss champion Charlie Flitt (Carell) hosts a talk show. This is an odd duck. I'm not sure there's even a joke here, beyond the occasional bursting through oversize photos. Bill Hader gets to wear a fat suit. Flitt is insufferable. And that's about it. 1 star.
CPR Training -- Carell is a CPR expert showing the latest techniques to some lifeguards-in-training when an unfortunate mishap occurs. Andy Samberg's fake body is glaringly obvious, even before anything happens. Maybe it's the same torso he uses when he plays the Kuato. Oh well, that doesn't matter. The sketch reminds me of Dan Aykroyd's legendary Julia Child scene when she (he) cut the dickens out of his/her finger and bled to death. Only not as funny. For some reason, I also thought of the Lou Reed song "Andy's Chest" during this scene. Don't know why. 2 stars.
Usher performs "Love in the Club" with Young Jeezy -- Here's me during this performance: Hey, check out that girl. Wow. She's really cute. Oo. Take a look at that second girl. Holy heck. Oh boy, here comes a third ... Ugh. That third girl is UGLY! Oh. That's Young Jeezy. My mistake. 2 stars.
Bless This Child -- Carell and Wiig are parents gently singing little Jenna to sleep. Always funny to toss the (fake) babies around. Cheap, but amusing. 3 stars.
And as Carell says good night, look! There's John McCain right next to him! He's still up! Take that, people who think he's too old! Unless the good-bye's were pre-recorded ....
And that's it for the 33rd season. Tune in to this blog tomorrow for an overall analysis of all dozen episodes. It'll all be here, the Good, the Bad and the Jeezy.