Another Sunday morning, another "Saturday Night Live." This one features Anna Faris, who was marvelous in The House Bunny, and Duffy, whose debut album Rockferry is a top-to-bottom winner. Lots of promise for this satirical outing. Let's go to the tape.
The digital un-tape-y tape.
Cold Open -- Alaska Governor and Republican Vice Presidential Nominee Sarah Palin is allowed (briefly) out of her media-proof styrofoam packing crate just long enough to embarrass herself in front of CBS news anchor Katie Couric, and send conservative pundits into conniptions (cf. George Will, David Brooks, Kathleen Parker, et al). The amazing thing about this sketch is that it's only a slight alteration of the actual interview itself. Scared yet, America? Probably not.
As she did two weeks ago, Tina Fey returns as a ringer to effectively skewer the moose-hunting hockey mom. The Governor's cheerful, proud brainlessness shines through in Fey's laser-accurate impression. Amy Poehler joins Fey again, this time as a puffy-lipped, incredulous Couric. And the lines are spot-on throughout...
Turns out the Times Square film, "The Bush Doctrine," was not as helpful as Palin hoped it would be. She and John McCain will get all those foreigners out of the U. N. and return those jobs to good honest hard-working Americans. Alaskans have a civic duty to shoo away any Russians who might stumble across the Bering Strait. And when asked about the economy, Palin finds herself tangled up in a cat's cradle of a sentence consisting of RNC talking points and stray stump speech tropes. She'd like a life line. I bet she would. Me too.
Fey said at the Emmys that she hopes to be through with Palin by November 5th. Will she get her wish? Give me a month and a week, and I'll get back to you on that. 4 stars.
Monologue -- Host Anna Faris is perfectly comfortable being called a "dumb blonde." Although, sometimes her head feels like a prison. Too quick to make any real impact, this is a solid idea that goes undeveloped. It does initiate an odd trend for the episode. More on that later. 1 1/2 stars.
Driving Home -- Jason Sudeikis and Faris drop off another couple, then obsess about possible social faux pas. Some good jokes (Faris wonders if others might have been offended by any of the eight times she said the N-word) but like the monologue, this feels hurried. And the ending -- stock footage of a car falling off a cliff then bouncing back up -- is bafflingly lazy. 2 stars.
2008 Presidential Debate from Mississippi -- And here is probably why Faris's bits have been abrupt and truncated so far: the show wants to get to the political. And it wants to get there in the first half hour when the "SNL" viewership tends to be highest. And that's probably the right call, unfortunate as it is for poor Anna, who has real comic gifts.
Another ringer, Chris Parnell, hosts the debate as PBS's Jim Lehrer. Bringing Tina Fey back to do Palin makes perfect sense, but Parnell as Lehrer? Will Forte couldn't have done this? Or Jason? Or Kenan? Or Kristen? Or anybody? Is Parnell's Lehrer so devastatingly hilarious? He does a decent job -- even gets some good laughs with his reaction takes -- but his presence is confusing.
But after that, we're in comfortable territory with Darrell Hammond taking on Fred Armisen. Hammond's McCain spends most of the debate pitching more ridiculous gimmicks like pie-eating contests and semi-nude appearances. Armisen's Obama touts his tax plan which will not negatively impact the bribes and kickbacks of his friends on the Chicago City Council. McCain boasts of how disloyal and untrustworthy -- excuse me, "maverick" -- he is. Obama threatens to play the race card on foreign leaders. Obama promises Scarlett Johansson. McCain doesn't know who that is.
It's a fabulous piece of satirical political theater, taking both candidates to task and actually focusing on their tactics and beliefs. In a promising trend this season so far, the media isn't the butt of every political joke. The focus is on the Men-Who-Would-Be-President, as it should be. And oh yeah, it's a bleeding riot! 4 stars.
Footnote: Right after the debate sketch, an ad appeared for Oliver Stone's W. Then, a short while later in the same break, we got an Obama political ad. Significance? You make the call.
Rowboat -- "Mike" takes his new girlfriend out on a moonlight boat ride, but things might not be what they seem. Faris gets her first decent showcase on the episode and as in every other sketch she's been in so far, she plays a clueless dope. That's gonna change, right? Right? Kenan Thompson does a very good job as the hitman sent to off Faris, even displaying some passable sketch-comedy singing chops. A fine comic duet. 3 1/2 stars.
Duffy performs "Mercy" -- Welsh pop gamine Aimee Anne Duffy belts out her signature hit. There's some kind of strange echoing effect on her voice that makes it sound like she's singing from a distant natural rock formation in a scenic canyon. Not sure I get that. She sways through some of the easiest choreography I've ever seen. Hand up. Hand down. Hand out to the side. And back. Heck, even I could do that. The song's a gem and the band lays it down nicely, but I admit, I expected a more robust performance. 3 stars.
Weekend Update -- Seth Myers and (pregnant) Amy continue their run of terrific pretend news segments. Maybe we should have a Presidential election every year! It's great for comedy shows. Seth points out that with the Presidential debate, for once a black guy was more eager to go to Mississippi then a white guy. Then notes that having reality show hosts emcee the Emmys was a ploy to get us to hate television. True dat! Darrell gets to bring the house down with Bill Clinton's lukewarm near-endorsement of Barack Obama. And his enthusiastic endorsement of Duffy. True dat! Kristen Wiig appears for the first time on the episode as Judy (or is it Julie) Grimes, travel expert and bundle of nerves. Just kidding, she's a confident performer. A great update. And I'm not kidding! 4 stars.
Scores -- Economic hard times strike at the heart of New York's financial district, the upscale strip club "Scores," managed by Bill Hader. The 700-billion-dollar Wall Street bailout is explained in terms we can all understand: strip-club economics. Faris as Chantelle fervently defends the investment bankers, with their white-cuffed blue shirts and passion for lap dances. For the first time tonight, she plays a character with something on the ball. Casey Wilson and Kristen get to do over-the-top stripper characters. Never really kicks over into a great scene. 2 1/2 stars.
Deep House Dish -- Kenan's recurring house music parody sketch appears for the first time since Zach Braff hosted at the end of the 2006-2007 season. T-Shane (Andy Samberg) is still an idiot. I love the Australian trio Bear Supply. Faris does a nice, icy diva singing about cashing checks. I like DHD more than most, I guess, judging by the reaction I've seen to it around the net. The Kenan/Andy interplay does get a little repetitive though. Do something 'bout that, b'okay? 3 stars.
Googie Rene's Slightly Stained Wedding Basement -- Entrepreneur Googie Rene (Kenan again -- this is the most screen time he's received in years) sells wedding dresses that have been soiled by hamburgers, macaw feces, and good old puke. Another shout out goes to Facebook (see the Rowboat sketch). Faris plays Ruby, Googie's assistant and a woman obviously plagued with self-esteem issues. Not much of an idea here but cast energy and committment carry the day. Poehler's pregnancy is used to good effect. Shee-Ya! 3 stars.
Duffy performs "Stepping Stone" -- What? No "Warwick Avenue?" I'm a little disappointed. But "Stepping Stone" (not the Monkees song) is a solid torch ballad that lets Duffy show off some vocal gymnastics. The hand gestures are getting a little distracting. I know she's trying to evoke the spirit of Dusty Springfield (who's not dead, by the by), but what's supposed to be elegant is just looking kind of silly. Nice mysterioso accents from the vibes on this one. It's not as grabby as "Mercy," but few songs are. Another solid outing. 3 stars.
Beer Garden -- Casey and Jason are eager to meet their friend Josh's new girlfriend, Sara. Sara remains obsessed by her previous boyfriend Julian. After all, during sex, he dislocated her pelvis and guarded her from a hurricane. Good performances, especially from Bill. Faris as Sara is again less than bright. I love seeing Will in leiderhosen. 2 1/2 stars.
And then it's good night. And it's been a good night. Amy's baby bump is big enough to merit a cast credit. Next week -- the fourth consecutive new "SNL" -- we get Anne Hathaway and the Killers. Hathaway, lovely, was not terribly funny in Get Smart, and the Killers would have been a great musical guest three years ago. We'll see.