It's called "SNL Weekend Update Special Thursday Edition." With the election looming and "SNL" in the forefront of the political satire surrounding it, scheduling special primetime editions as showcases makes perfect sense. But are they any good? We've had two of them so far with one more due next Thursday, so it's an excellent time to find out.
Let's start with the one that first aired on the 9th of October.
Second Presidential Debate -- From Belmont University in Nashville, Tom Brokaw moderates a townhall-style set-to between the Democratic and Republican Presidential nominees. Again the satire is sharp. Darrell Hammond's John McCain is dismissive and forgetful, while Fred Armisen's Barack Obama is professorial and arrogant. And while I had no idea why Chris Parnell was called in to act the part of Jim Lehrer in the first debate sketch, there's no denying he does a marvelous Tom Brokaw. But then, so does Brak.
McCain wanders around aimlessly. Obama boasts of his association with his mentor William Ayers because he's so far ahead in the polls, it no longer matters what he says. All good stuff.
Towards the end though, the sketch begins to misfire as the jokes target the media and specifically Brokaw's rigid adherence to the debate's rules. A cameo by Bill Murray asking about the woeful Chicago Cubs is also out of place. I love seeing Murray, but the question isn't really all that funny and it takes the focus away from the candidates where it belongs.
Or maybe I'm still just bitter about the Cubs being swept out of the play-offs.
Still, another winner that only pales in comparison to the high quality of "SNL" political material so far this election season. 3 stars.
Weekend Update Part 1 -- I like the red, white and blue "Special Edition" graphics. Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler take on primetime and in a year when their Update segments have generally been sharp, this one is a little lifeless. Things aren't helped much by the guest appearance of Kenan Thompson as financial expert Oscar Rogers who yells, "Fix it!" a lot. Sigh.
But the "Really!?!" sequence on the AIG $440,000 retreat nearly saves the whole shebang. Even the mafia knows not to spend money that soon after a heist! The "Oh My God, Are You Serious!?!" add-on carries us past the joke, though. 2 stars.
Weekend Update Part 2 -- After a few more quick jokes, including a dandy one from Seth about how no one could have possibly anticipated another winter, this segment is given over to a rather bizarre and anachronistic parody of Hall and Oates's 1980 hit "You Make My Dreams" as performed by Will Forte and Fred Armisen. The two ancient popsters use the song as a back-and-forth about their conflicting political views and it's all kind of awful. 1 star.
So not a great opening for "SNL" in primetime. One week later on the 16th, the cast was back.
Third (and final) Presidential Debate -- Parnell is back, this time as Bob Schieffer. I guess it's a tradition now. Hammond's McCain kicks things off here, as in the real debate, with incessant references to Joe the Plumber. Things turn surreal as Joe the Plumber is revealed to be three and a half inches tall, imaginary, wielding a magical plunger and living in a cigar box under the Arizona Senator's bed with Simon, who's invisible. There's no attempt to be even-handed this time around. John McCain is delusional and Armisen's Obama is reasonable, even when speaking to the imaginary Joe the Plumber.
Even-handedness isn't a necessity, but this debate sketch suffers a bit from not finding a comic hook for Obama. Still, Hammond is brilliant and the other two react nicely. 3 1/2 stars.
Weekend Update Part 1 -- Seth and Amy get off a couple of good ones, including Obama prematurely celebrating his victory by boarding Air Force 1, blasting "We Are the Champions," and screaming, "I'm the King of the World!" Then the proceedings are interrupted by the crazy McCain supporter who accused Obama of being an Arab at a recent McCain rally. As played by Kristen Wiig, she wanders through the Update set mumbling about how Obama "cavorts with terriers," and is "Jerish." Wiig loves wandering through sketches: see her do the same in the Quiz Bowl scene from the Michael Phelps show and the Lawrence Welk scene in last week's Anne Hathaway show.
Seth and Amy do a run similar to "Really!?!" called "We Liked It!" It's uneven, but Seth points out McCain's inability to excel in a townhall format, even though he keeps insisting on doing more of them. Wiig makes the segment. 3 stars.
Weekend Update Part 2 -- Darrell Hammond returns as Jesse Jackson, explaining the Bradley Effect. Hammond's Jackson is spot on as always but the material is second rate. Though I have to admit, I'm the guy with the Sir Mix-a-Lot song on my iPod. 2 stars.
Now I'm off to watch Josh Brolin on tonight's show. Will Sarah Palin really appear? Check back here tomorrow morning for another scene-by-scene breakdown.