After taking a week off to recuperate from the feverish pace they set during the run-up to the Presidential Election, the kids over at "Saturday Night Live" are back for their first original episode since that historic 4th of November. Your host? Judd Apatow stock company second banana, Paul Rudd. Your musical guest? Child of destiny and dreamgirl, Beyonce. And maybe a certain President-Elect might stop by to ...
He's not. Oh. Fine then.
On to the show.
Cold Open -- There's been much hand-wringing and speculation over how the comedy world will approach an Obama administration. After all, what's a comedian to do when the President of the United States of America isn't a -- how can I put this in an even-handed, non-partisan way? -- grossly incompetent gibbering dimbulb? As it has throughout this political season, "SNL" provides the answer. The President may be tough to skewer (so far), but our new Vice President-Elect is a fumble-prone gaffe machine.
Jason Sudeikis as Veep-To-Be Joe Biden assures us that he will be a wildly entertaining error-making trainwreck. He even boasts that he'll be as much fun to watch screw up as a certain other Vice Presidential nominee, even if he can't physically bring himself to wink. Sudeikis as Biden has a shouty charm, but despite the reassurance, I don't quite believe him. For one thing, he's the Vice President, so who cares? Dick Cheney was easy to make fun of these past eight years, but Darrell Hammond only occasionally brought out that impression. Also, since the season began back in early September, this is the briefest Cold Open "SNL" has offered up. I think they see the less funny writing on the wall. Or, possibly, the show is simply "in the tank" for Obama and crew like all the rest of the socialist marxist terrorist leftist commie pinko liberal elitist media. That's reasonable. 2 stars.
Credits -- I don't normally mention the credit sequence but its always a big deal when we have new SNL'ers! Who doesn't remember where they were when they got the news that Bobby Moynihan and Casey Wilson joined the program? And both have made such an impact, he said sarcastically. Making their debuts tonight are Abby Elliott and Michaela Watkins. Both are veterans of The Groundlings, the Los Angeles-based improv troop that has supplied "SNL" with much of its talent over the years -- Phil Hartman came from there, for example, as do current cast members Kristen Wiig and Will Forte. Watkins currently has a recurring role on "The New Adventures of Old Christine," while Elliott is the daughter of former SNL'er Chris Elliott and granddaughter of legendary comic Bob Elliott. Good luck to both.
Monologue -- Paul Rudd is excited to be on the show a scant eleven days after the election. It's like being in Times Square on New Year's Day! He mentions Tina Fey's appearances as You-Gosh-Darn-Well-Know-Who and brings out Kristen as Arizona Governor and possible Attorney General Janet Napolitano. The political stuff has gone decidedly second tier. But it all might be saved when a certain President-Elect drops by for a surprise ...
He doesn't. Oh. Fine then.
Rudd wraps it up quickly. 2 stars.
Sproingo -- Finally, an erectile dysfunction medication that really lets you know when it's working. Jason and Kristen deftly handle some very silly material, though it's probably not quite as silly as it should have been. But goofy sound effects and wacky schtick about the male reproductive member? Works for me! Boing! 3 1/2 stars.
Back from College -- Paul Rudd and Andy Samberg are two Miami University students making a trip back to visit Rudd's affectionate family. Maybe a bit excessively affectionate. The gleefully overboard kissy-face demonstrations of the Vogelchek (sp?) family are a riot. Andy and Fred Armisen cap it off with an open-mouth tonsil exam that boggles the mind. Definitely a one-joke scene, but one funny joke is all you need. 3 1/2 stars.
Scared Straight -- Lorenzo MacIntosh of the Larchmont Maximum Security Prison shows some young vandals just what's in store for them if they continue their lawless ways. A reprise from last season's Shia LaBeouf show. Once again, Kenan Thompson as MacIntosh tells horror stories of life as a criminal that are exposed as the plots of old movies. This time out, references include Misery, Teen Wolf, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and Labeouf's own Transformers. I guess I'm an old stick-in-the-mud, but I don't find the implied threat of anal rape as guffaw-inducing as this scene thinks it is. And yes, I said, "stick-in-the-mud." Thompson isn't bad as MacIntosh but the premise is repetitive and the jokes clunk too much, just like last time. Love me some Teen Wolf, though. 2 stars.
The SNL Digital Short "May I Paint You?" -- Andy and Paul model for each other in the altogether. The results aren't quite as masterful as they believe. The joke never totally takes flight here, despite some real comic invention and cheerful excess. I did like the over-the-top violence at the art auction and the quick Raiders of the Lost Ark reference is funnier than any of Lorenzo MacIntosh's plot rehashes. But the Digital Shorts still aren't quite there this year. I have faith, though. I love Andy's music. 2 1/2 stars.
Songwriter's Showcase -- Will Forte introduces some of the local musical talent. After a brief moment with Kenan, Rudd and Kristen take the stage as Todd and Tanya Peeples singing a Bobbie Gentry-esque number about a misdelivered package. They seem a mite hung up on the lengthy tracking number. Kristen's shoulders are mesmerizing, as is Paul's shirt. 3 stars.
Road Trip -- Rudd, Jason, Will and Bill Hader travel along, reminiscing to Ricky Nelson's great "Garden Party." A (slight) variation on the jukebox sketches that have been highlights in previous episodes hosted by Rainn Wilson, Zach Braff and Ashton Kutcher, these scenes are small marvels of comic timing. Of the suitably disturbing tales told this time out, Bill's story of being forced to get engaged because his girlfriend ws the daughter of a certain Vice Presidential nominee gets the biggest reaction. Rudd has a cell phone in an inconvenient place. And then Jason shoots Bill. All good fun. 3 1/2 stars.
Beyonce performs "If I Were a Boy" -- I'm just going to say this and if you think it makes me a gross pig, then I'm just gonna have to own that: I have never rooted against double-sided tape so hard in my life. It appears to be breezy in the studio because Ms. Knowles's hair won't stay in place. She is so completely lip-synching. Ashlee Simpson take note. Or maybe it's just that the excessive vocal sound effects make it look like she's lip-synching. I dunno. The song's okay. 2 stars.
Weekend Update -- Poor Seth Meyers still pines away for the departed Amy Poehler, lost like a little boy behind a great big desk. Not one but four punchlines for a story about a robber with no arms. That's four more punchlines than that guy has arms. Bobby puts on a big pink lion suit and voices Snagglepuss's exasperation at California's Proposition 8. Turns out, he's gay. Which, by the by, is a joke made in a much funnier way two years ago on "Drawn Together." Will gets to be the Great Gazoo, dum-dum. Does anyone under the age of a million know what they're referencing? After we learn that Barbara Walters is easily fascinated, none other than Justin Timberlake sets up shop behind the Update desk. He apologizes for not being able to host next week -- which explains why they're gonna be stuck with Tim McGraw -- then gives us a glimpse of what his Thanksgiving show would have been like. Timberlake brings a spirit and energy to his bit that frankly has been lacking from Rudd tonight. Along the way, he tosses off uproarious impressions of Michael McDonald and Kristen's Target Lady. Please reconsider, Justin! Come host!
But the biggest moment is when a certain President-Elect makes a sudden appearance to ...
He didn't. Oh. Fine then.
3 stars. Mostly for Timberlake.
Stage 15 Video Shoot -- Rudd directs the video for Beyonce's "Single Ladies." Despite the song's title, all the dancers are male and inept. Timberlake continues to faux-host, cutting a fetching figure in heels and high-hip tights. His fellow dancers (Bobby and Andy) are similarly attired and equally incompetent. Hilarious visual that Timberlake brings home all by himself. Well, Andy's unhinged facial expressions help. Ms. Sasha Fierce plays the straight woman. And from the Blink-And-You'll-Miss-It File, Darrell shows up for a half second. And the new girls get their first roles. Michaela does Beyonce's make-up and takes her robe. Abby claps a clapboard. They're really hitting the ground running. 3 1/2 stars. Mostly for Timberlake.
Jumper -- No, not the immortal Hayden Christensen classic. Rudd is up on a ledge and Bill and Will try to talk him down. Will's strategy involves incessant repetitions of the word "Don't." Bill tries to invite the jumper to games of ping pong and foosball. Rudd's opening line about how his psychic predicted this would happen is a gem. Kind-of-a sort-of-a almost comment on the country's stock market woes. Bill and Will develop a nice relationship. 3 stars.
Beyonce performs "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)" -- Okay, she is definitely lip-synching. She doesn't even bother to use the microphone most of the time. Beyonce is a supremely attractive woman, but those outfits make her and her dancers look like space penguins. And she has a Borg hand. What the --? All these distractions are especially annoying because I actually really like the song. 3 stars.
Proposition 8 -- Two carhops take note of a Proposition 8 protest, which they find HILARIOUS. Rudd does his best work of the night opposite the equally fine Hader. The carhops certainly understand the appeal of the gay lifestyle -- one of them does an Anne Murray show, for crying out loud -- but marriage? That's to be ridiculed. Tremendous two-hander scene, well written and flawlessly executed, that brings the issue down to a simple (if wildly self-deluded) human level. 4 stars.
"Clearing the Air," A Film by Fred, Bill and Noah -- In an intimate indie-style film conversation, Paul, Bill and Fred wend their way through a vague, inarticulate tangle of emotions over their feelings for the off-camera Tracy. Who's Noah? Silly camera zooms and good sub-lingual performances make this quick effort work. 2 1/2 stars.
And then the gang says good night, pointing at the new girls. Despite a fairly lackluster effort from the host, this was one of the better shows this year, which is remarkable considering the bread-and-butter political humor was largely off the table. Justin Timberlake's shadow-hosting helped immensely. Abby and Michaela received exactly zero chance to make an impression. As a public service, here is a picture of the two of them, since watching the show, you might not know what they look like. Michaela is on the left, Abby on the right.
Next week, Tim McGraw hosts and I spend an entire Saturday evening wishing he was Justin Timberlake. See you then!
Footnote -- I normally include some clips from the show of the best or most interesting sketches, but for some reason, NBC.com doesn't have anything from last night's show this morning. I'll check back later and see if they've posted anything. when they do, I'll share them here. for the record, I would have included the Road Trip scene and the Prop 8 Carhops. If they were available. Which they're not. Yet.