Oscar-winning screenwriter, former actor and big-time director (seriously; check out Gone Baby Gone) Ben Affleck hosts the sketch comedy this week with "American Idol" victor David Cook as musical guest. What could possibly be more maverick-y than the star of Daredevil teaming with the rocking winner of a pop artist competition? It doesn't get any more maverick-ish than that. Yep, they've officially cornered the market on maverick-osity.
Cold Open -- Ah, another political sketch. It's good to open the show on familiar turf. Look, there's Tina Fey, fresh off her biggest ratings for "30 Rock" ever. And wow, they really did a nice job on Darrell Hammond's make-up this week! I mean, that's just uncanny. He ...
Wait a minute ...
That's. Not. Darrell. Hammond.
That's Senator John McCain (R-AZ) playing himself! And he's kinda brilliant. I wonder if Sarah Palin is back in Alaska watching with the sound down and taking notes. Or having someone take notes for her.
McCain (real!) and Palin (fake!) appear together on QVC to flog some lame QVC-style merchandise commemorating the 2008 Presidential campaign, like ten blank plates depicting the town-hall debates that McCain proposed and Barack Obama rejectesd. Or special knives, ideal for cutting through pork.
McCain and Fey have more chemistry together than McCain and the actual Palin displayed in recent tandem interviews with Brian Williams and others. Maybe he wishes he'd picked Tina as a running mate.
There are some nice sly touches throughout, like when Fey/Palin mentions how expensive campaigns are and then lovingly strokes her outfit. And McCain, just like two weeks ago at the Alfred Smith dinner, shows that he is remarkably comfortable delivering the funny. If we were voting for an "SNL" regular this coming Tuesday, he'd have my ballot. Perhaps after the 4th, he can get a regular gig over at "30 Rock." Tina owes him one. Oh and Cindy showed up too! 4 stars.
Monologue -- Host Ben Affleck endorses John McCain for President! Though, given Affleck's track record for picking winners, it may be about as welcome as Will Ferrell's George W. Bush endorsement two Thursdays ago. They give Ben one joke and he delivers it efficiently. 2 1/2 stars.
Jar Glove -- This is a repeat commercial from the season premiere with Michael Phelps and while I normally go all furious about the "SNL" crowd cribbing from themselves, this time they get a pass. "SNL" is on a record pace of 6 new shows in 7 weeks, plus Thursday specials, and November sweeps have begun. If they want to pad this one out a bit, fine. Just don't make a habit of it. Besides, the Jar Glove is pretty funny. 3 stars.
The View -- Remember back in the day when "The View" sketches featured three women and a black guy in drag? Well, now they're down to two women, a black guy in drag, and Fred Armisen. Kenan Thompson as Whoopi Goldberg pales before Tracy Morgan as Star Jones. Fred goes all generic Brooklyn with Joy Behar ("So what!" "Who cares!"). Casey Wilson inexplicably plays Jennifer Anniston (a reference to the host's liaison with her?). But this sketch exists so that Kristen Wiig can take some shots at "Survivor" fourth-place finisher and leading conservative thinker Elizabeth Hasselhoff. Excuse me, Hasselbeck. If this leftist, elitist media comedy is to be believed, she's a moron. That can't be right. Affleck tosses in a husky-voiced Alec Baldwin impression; the best part of the scene is his strange attraction to Hasselpants. Excuse me, Hasselbeck. 2 stars.
Countdown with Keith Olbermann -- Liberal pundit Olbermann (Affleck) applies his trademark self-righteous outrage to the politics of the day and an apartment co-op board. Kenan plays NAACP representative Michael Hilliard and Fred does a nice twee job as "Countdown" regular Richard Wolffe, but this is all Affleck's show and therein lies the sketch's strongest asset and strangest flaw. Affleck doesn't quite get ahold of the Olbermann impression, blustering about racism and Haliburton (as Olbermann is wont to do) but missing the distinctive Keith mannerisms. Darrell would undoubtedly have been more accurate.
But putting the impersonation aside, Affleck does create a fantastically funny character, flinging himself into a vein-popping lather over the injustice done to his pet cat, Miss Precious Perfect. It's the single most committed performance by a host this season. Maybe next time, they'll really skewer Keith and his show. 3 1/2 stars.
The Target Lady Meets the UPS Guy -- Kristen's Target Lady is wooed by an amorous delivery man (Affleck), though she doesn't really notice. I'm not a big fan of Kristen's Target Lady scenes, but here at least they give her an equally outsized personality to play off of. Affleck looks like Ryan Reynolds and sounds like Bobby Moynihan's horrid waiter character Mark Payne from the Phelps show. Not quite priceless. 2 stars.
A Message from the Staten Island Zoo -- Jason Sudeikis as Staten Island Zoo representative Mark Potzick introduces an educational film about giraffes, made by the students at the Staten Island Technical High School. It isn't as accurate as one might have hoped. Again, the "SNL" staff falls back on a tried and true bit (this is a virtual xerox of the SI Zoo film about sloths from the Forest Whitaker episode back in 2007). But it's very funny and I'm not taking off points for repetition this time. 3 1/2 stars.
David Cook performs "Light On" -- Or, as I think of the segment, David Cook performs some power ballad. Seriously, I know it's idiotic to expect creativity or innovation from the "American Idol" machinery, but this is paint-by-numbers arena rock, all the way down to the little piano break in the middle. At least the drummer is energetic. 1 star.
Weekend Update -- Aw. Seth Meyers looks lost on that big set all by himself. Joe Biden is "Joe the Bummer!" Ha! John McCain appears again, this time to try out some new strategies (or are they tactics) for his faltering campaign. These include the Reverse Maverick, the Double Maverick, and my favorite, the Sad Grandpa. Again, he is confident and assured with his comedy. Phil Spector's hair pleads insanity! Ha! Will and Fred perform a song entitled "The Voting Machine Back-Up Procedural Information Song." Amy's Aunt Linda (Kristen) reviews the new TV season. She's dead on about the obvious Hasselbeck rip-off "Knight Rider." Excuse me, Hasselpants. Any reference to Gerard Damiano (R.I.P.) is cool by me. More kudos for McCain and a nice overall Update. 3 1/2 stars.
Night School Musical: Senior Year Equivalent -- Finally, a school-centered musical old farts like me can relate to! The popular High School Musical formula gets applied to the gang at the Community College Annex seeking their GEDs. Great idea that's marred by the fact that you can't understand any of the lyrics in the group singing. I had to turn on the subtitles just to hear the jokes. Maybe it's because I'm old. Or maybe that was the interactive plan all along. Andy Samberg puts in his first appearance of the show in a bald wig. I bet Darrell enjoyed claiming to be younger than Andy. 2 stars.
The Grady Wilson Put The Fire Back In Your Marriage Technique -- Wilson (Kenan) shows off some of his most effective sexual techniques on an instructional DVD that appears to have been shot in his unfinished basement. Kenan gets a lot of crap on the net for his work on "SNL," some of it deserved. But when he can just be physical, or react, he's a very effective performer. And here, he's a riot in his striped boxers and white t-shirt, jumping on a recliner to show off positions like The Whipped Butter, The Yeah That's Good, and The Gotcha. A hoot. 3 1/2 stars.
Movie Pitch -- Mismatched brothers David and Stefan Zelesky pitch a film to producers. Or maybe they're pitching two films. Affleck plays the normal one here, describing a heart-warming family sports drama, while Bill Hader (first appearance tonight) seems more inclined to tell some kind of homosexual psycho-drama. Hader's character is magnificent, but the scene is flat and lifeless. Hope they bring Stefan Zelesky back and find a different context for him. 1 1/2 stars.
David Cook performs "Declaration" -- OK. I get it. This is actually a sketch and they're spoofing Power Ballad Week on "American Idol." I bet David Coverdale of Whitesnake will be the special guest celebrity mentor. The speculation leading up to the "AI" finale mused that Cook might be better served by losing the competition so that he could then pursue a career more on his own terms, a la Chris Daughtry. Speculation may have been right. Drivel. 1/2 star.
Bierhoff Bros House of German Coats -- Klaus and Oliver Bierhoff specialize in efficient outerwear for the discriminating German tourist. I guess in New York, the German tourists all wear the same coat. Or something. Too insular to really pop, but Fred and Ben get to do a latter-day Hans and Franz sketch. And a coat with a pouch for various meats actually sounds like a nice idea. 2 stars.
McCain stays up waaaaaay past his bedtime to say good night. That's gonna tucker him out tomorrow morning. Next week, they repeat the James Franco show, then one week later, it's Paul Rudd, Beyonce, and new cast member John McCain! Be there. He will.