We'll start with the important stuff this morning:
-- NEW YORK (AP) - "Saturday Night Live" just won't be the same without Amy Poehler - who delivered a baby boy hours before the "Baby Mama" star was to appear on the NBC show.
The live show's parody news anchor was missing from her spot alongside Seth Myers (sic) on "Weekend Update" because she gave birth earlier Saturday.
On behalf of Poehler and her husband, Will Arnett, "I can confirm that Amy gave birth to Archie Arnett on Saturday," read a statement from Poehler's spokesman, Lewis Kay.
The baby was born early Saturday evening in New York, weighing 8 pounds, 1 ounce. Mother and baby both are reported to be in excellent health.
Congrats to Amy, Will and Archie. Presumably Amy will be out for awhile (slacker). Let's see how the "SNL" gang fared in their first show without her.
Cold Open -- Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee Joe Biden and Representative John Murtha (D - PA) say crazy things in what appears to be an attempt to cost Barack Obama the election in nine (!) days. Murtha (Darrell Hammond) insists on pointing out what racist ignoramouses (ignorami?) the people of Western Pennsylvania are, while Biden (Jason Sudeikis) can't stop predicting wilder and wilder crises on the international stage, culminating with near-Biblical prophecies.
Looks to me like the "SNL" crew is trying for a little fair and balanced coverage by taking some shots at a couple of Democratic loons. Here's the thing about that: it don't equal funny. I like when they get funny shots in on the left as well as the right, just because I like the ha-ha. But this scene feels obligatory rather than inspired.
Maybe if Sudeikis's Biden went whole hog into Old-Testament prophet territory, with flashing eyes and flowing hair, the sketch would have gained a little comic traction. Maybe if Hammond's Murtha threw some savagely creative insults towards the fine folk of Western PA, instead of just repeating the refrain of "ignorant, racist and backwards," they might have found some real humor. But they don't and the scene never takes off.
It does have a few moments. Biden's obsessive glad-handing is always good for a laugh, for example. And anytime you get a reference to Deliverance, that's guaranteed to make me smile. But it's not enough. 1 1/2 stars.
Monologue -- Jon Hamm of AMC's "Mad Men" introduces America to himself, his show and his network. Let's see: last week with Josh Brolin of the film W. as host, the SNL'ers passed on the chance to put him into a Bush sketch. So this week, I'm assuming they won't have anything about the 60s or advertising in honor of Hamm's appearance.
Oh, and Coldplay won't be performing anything lush and orchestral and repetitive.
He does a fair job with the monologue, extravagantly promising that if you tune in to "Mad Men," you'll see a celebrity elimination dance contest featuring the cast of "CSI," the Phillies, the Rays, and both Presidential candidates smoking weed. Cute. 2 stars.
Trick or Treat -- After some spooky Halloween graphics on the interstitial, we're whisked to the Bob Peterson home where the Halloween ritual of begging for candy from strangers is in full force. It all turns a bit odd when 43-year-old Jeff Montgomery shows up at the Peterson house. He says he's a registered sex offender ... for Halloween. But there's an awful lot of paperwork that goes with his "costume." Will Forte always does a great job playing creeps and this is one of his creepiest. Hamm is pure straight man to Forte here. A great idea for a scene, undoubtedly inspired by those weird pumpkin-shaped signs saying "No Candy" that registered sex-offenders are required to post on All Hallow's Eve in some areas. Talk about scary. 3 stars.
The "SNL" Digital Short "Ras-Trent" -- Andy Samberg sings about his suburban white kid Rastafarian lifestyle. It's possible he's only in it for the weed and the dreads. Another disappointing Digital Short. Andy's energy as he flops around like an idiot is engaging, but it can't hide the lack of comedy. Only one real laugh: when Ras-Trent dials it back in front of some real rastas on the city's streets. It's a good moment and it's the only reason this one gets 1 star.
Two A-Holes at an Ad Agency in the 1960s -- Well, knock me over with a feather! Not only are they doing a "Mad Men" sketch, but it looks like they imported half the cast for the occasion. Besides Hamm, there's John Slattery and Elisabeth Moss. Actually, Moss's appearance isn't totally surprising: she's just down the street right now appearing in David Mamet's Speed the Plow on Broadway. It's disappointing they didn't tap the yummilicious Christina Hendricks for the scene. Heck, she was just in last night's episode of "Life" so I know NBC has her agent's number. Of the SNL regulars in the cast, Bill Hader's over-the-top take on Bryan Batt's Sal is a riot. It's nice to see Jason and Kristen bring out there two a'hole characters. We haven't seen them since back on the Jeremy Piven episode two seasons ago. Hamm as Don Draper has one of those messianic moments of advertising epiphany that he gets on "Mad Men," this time over the notion of a hula hoop with straps. Fun stuff. 3 stars.
The Barack Obama Variety Half-Hour -- Thanks to his comfortable lead in the polls, Barack Obama decides to give over the half hour of network time he purchased before election night to a variety special featuring himself, his wife, and his Democratic colleagues. It's Maya! Boy, Tina Fey and Will Ferrell on Thursday and now Maya Rudolph pinch-hitting: did I get hit by a car and then woke up in 2003? The House Dems sing "Our House," Bill Clinton throws himself into "Don't You Forget About Me." Joe Biden eats his own foot. Even Reverend Wright and William Ayers show up. "SNL" still can't seem to match the rip-roaring satire it sends the Republican's way when it takes on the left. Chalk it up to lefty bias if you must, but could it be that the American Right is simply more ridiculous these days? That notwithstanding, this is a good impression jam, though it's not quite as solid as Barack. 2 1/2 stars.
Don Draper's Guide to Picking Up Women -- Hamm plays his signature character for the second time in one show. Jealous, Brolin? Essentially, his advice boils down to: act exactly like Don Draper. It's probably not the worst tip out there. Fred Armisen sticks his head over a cubicle wall and introduces himself as "Nathaniel Snerpus," which is not quite as cool a name as "Don Draper." It's on tape so Amy gets to put in an appearance. Amy and Archie both, I presume. 3 stars.
Coldplay performs "Viva La Vida" -- Or as I know it, the "Rule the World" song from the iTunes ad. Mr. Gwyneth Paltrow jumps about and crouches energetically while sporting some ratty jacket with more arm bands than any one man ever needed. "Vida" is Coldplay's biggest hit. It looks like it would be fun to play the drum and bell during this song. Their string section is on a TV. Chris keeps looking up and to his left. Does he think the camera is up there? Maybe that's where they positioned his cue cards. I'm not a Coldplay fan, but the guys put in an undeniably enthusiastic performance. 3 1/2 stars.
Weekend Update -- Seth Meyers, all alone at the Update desk (aw!), announces Amy's blessed event (aw!). The segment does suffer a bit from not having some give and take. Of course, all the old-school "SNL" Update anchors used to fly solo: Chevy and Dennis and Norm never relied on a co-anchor. Suck it up, Seth! His line about Sarah Palin's kids flying on a private jet with her because when she leaves them home alone, they end up pregnant, is his biggest score of the night. We get an odd piece by Will Forte as "Robocall," the machine that makes all those annoying political phone calls to your house, and feels guilty about it. It's odd because that ain't how robocalls actually sound: trust me, I live in a swing state. I've received more than a few. Bill Hader goofs on Ralph Nader (Hader on Nader!). Then Fred does his political comic Nicholas Fehn. Again. Exactly the same way he's done it every other tedious time. Will no one tell him? It's just getting sad. Finally, Kenan and Maya sing an Amy-centric version of "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You." Aw! 4 stars for Amy (nice job!) 1 1/2 stars for the Update.
The Vincent Price Halloween Special -- From the TVLand Variety Vault of 1959 comes this lost treasure. Poor Vincent Price is beset by equipment problems and uncooperative celebrity guests as he tries to scare the kiddies. Hader's Price is marvelous, as is Kristen's Gloria Swanson. Hamm does a good James Mason ("Where are the whores?"). Fred's Liberace ain't so great. And isn't he a musician? Surely he can fake the piano better than that. I'm not sure who in the target demographic is going to bust a gut over gags about silent film star Gloria Swanson, but for an unrehabilitated movie-head like me, Kristen's impression is hilarious. And she wanders around through a sketch again! Just like when she was the Crazy McCain Supporter and Judy Merrell! 3 1/2 stars.
Jon Hamm's John Ham -- Sometimes the jokes are just sitting on a rim, waiting for you to tip them in. "SNL" Host and "Mad Men" star Jon Hamm endorses a meat product you can consume while you're on the crapper. Why be forced to choose between eating lunch and relieving yourself? Now, you can do both! Here's the test for a joke like this: Would it be funny even without the name pun. Ham on a toilet paper roll for easy consumption while you make use of the facilities? Yep. That's funny all by itself. Disappointingly, the website leads nowhere. 4 stars.
Coldplay performs "Lost" -- "Just because I'm losing," Chris Martin sings, "Doesn't mean I'm lost." The McCain campaign has a new theme! Because the song requires Chris to remain at the piano, this one doesn't have the same performance pop the first one got, and the limitations of Coldplay's songcraft jump up and bite more. He does give that stool a workout, though. 2 1/2 stars.
Political Messages from Pat Finger of Butts, NY -- The unfortunately named Finger makes his case in his run for the City Council of the unfortunately named Butts. Despite its crack problem, Finger has a passion for Butts. Going by his mother's French-Canadian maiden name of Deldeaux doesn't help matters. Juvenile but funny. Hamm does a good job not winking at a joke that everyone can see coming 'round the bend. I'd like to put a Finger in Butts! 3 stars.
Coldplay performs "Yellow" -- Coldplay gets three goes? Who'd they blow? Well, if you were recording this at home, your Coldplay Greatest Hits collection is now complete. As he makes his third appearance, Mr. Paltrow's affectation of jumping his voice to falsetto over and over again is really starting to take its toll on me. Still, he's better when he's up and moving around. Another good performance of another not-so-good song. 3 stars.
Then Hamm says, "Good Night" and ... what's this? More Coldplay? Good grief. Fortunately, my local affiliate immediately cuts away from this fourth song to remind me that "Chuck" is airing on Monday nights and that the local news includes a weather forecaster. Thanks WESH-TV in Orlando! I never would have known otherwise.
Next week "SNL" puts up its sixth brand new show in seven weeks -- a feat they haven't accomplished since before the Reagan administration. Factor in the primetime Update Specials, and I gotta admit: they're knocking themselves out over there at 30 Rock. Oscar-winning writer Ben Affleck and "American Idol" victor David Cook will appear. See you then!
Congrats again to Amy et al!