Sunday, December 14, 2008

Saturday Night House, M. D.

And so we have the final new "Saturday Night Live" for the calendar year 2008. It seems like only yesterday it was twenty-four hours earlier.

Time. Always a mystery.

It's a historic episode for more reasons than that, as we shall see. Onward!

Cold Open -- Illinois Governor Rod Balgovaj ... Rod Boljag ... Rod Balrogovich. Yes. I'm going with that. Illinois Governor Rob Flangenhocker appears before a congressional committee to extort cash from them.

The Illinois Governor Cash-for-a-Senate-Seat scandal was a sure thing to occupy the political slot this week, but why do it this way? For all of Old Helmet Hair's many (alleged) misdeeds, the one thing he's not accused of doing is going to Capitol Hill to shake down the Feds. Maybe they had the set left over from last week's auto bailout scene. Did I mention that this is the last show before 2009?

Anyway, the usual mixed bag of Senatorial impressions parades by with skilled mimics Darrell Hammond and Bill Hader scoring the highest. After a week off, Jason Sudeikis gets the plummy opportunity to curse like a youth soccer coach as the Governor. Kristen Wiig does one of her patented walk-ons as the First Lady of Illinois, the equally foul-mouthed Patti Bagojel ... Bologaj ... Blog-O-Licious. Bingo! 2 stars.

One note: As the New Year approaches and we all look forward to new beginnings and resolutions and the such-like, I have a request of my local NBC affiliate, WESH-TV from Orlando. RUN "SNL" IN THE PROPER ASPECT RATIO! The show is broadcast in wide screen, but my NBC affiliate, WESH-TV from Orlando insists on running it without letterboxing, effectively slicing off about half the picture. How hard is this? Push a button!

Sorry.

Monologue -- "House" star Hugh Laurie, sporting a jacket that appears to be made of red brick and mortar, performs a medley of Christmas favorites that avoids licensing and copyright infringement by keeping each selection under three seconds. Laurie is confident and at ease, which is probably why he gets more raw monologue than most other hosts. He points out how great it was that we in the U. S. of Archie had a historic election ... and how lousy everything else has been this year. He even mentions 'Sweet Cheeks," a reference to his previous hosting stint. And he gives a tiny cheap gift -- a slightly used Chap-Stick -- to a member of the audience. Good start for him. 3 1/2 stars.

Bronx Beat with Betty and Jodi -- Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph present yet another installment of their local New York chat fest. It really has been old-home year for "SNL," hasn't it? Besides Maya we've seen visits from former cast members all through this 2008 year, starting back when the writer's strike ended and Tina Fey hosted the first 2008 episode back in February. Once an SNL'er, always an SNL'er.

Bronx Beat isn't my first choice for a recurring Maya scene -- Can a brother get a "Prince Show" up in here? -- but Amy and Maya have an undeniable chemistry and once Laurie joins them as the proprietor of the Jeffrey Billings Butcher Shoppe, the scene takes off. "I wish we had accents," Amy muses in thick New York-ese. And they are absolutely right about head cheese and blood pudding. Revolting! The sketch on the other hand, while slow to get rolling, ends up a winner. 3 1/2 stars.

Christmas Dinner -- At a family Christmas dinner featuring Jason, Kristen, Casey Wilson, Will Forte and Laurie, every tiny utterance is met with withering sarcasm and bitter glares. Good family scene with some excellent comic beats -- every time Kristen's Judith stands up, she's greeted with a chorus admonishing her to sit down, for example. Ending with the family sweetly harmonizing on "Silent Night" is strange, but appropriate, giving us a sense why people at such odds with each other would be sharing a holiday meal. 3 stars.

Culhane Wedding -- The toasts just keep coming at the wedding of David and Tina Culhane (Andy Samberg and Abby Elliott). Laurie as Bob Kemp, a family friend, is a hoot as he can't remember insignificant details, but insists on speaking anyway. I have sat through those toasts more than once. Otherwise, Fred Armisen as an ex of Tina's, Will as a Brian Jones-esque racist, and Kristen as an oxygen sucking invalid all score laughs. Even Bobby Moynihan delivers. 3 stars.



Kanye West performs "Love Lockdown" -- Standing before a multi-screen display of gathering clouds and raging storms, Kanye sings (!) a ballad about ... well, something heartbreaking, I'm sure. Give the man credit: he's always a watchable performer and he genuinely seems to be stretching as a vocalist. But there's still a reliance on auto-tune and the song is limited and plodding. Great stagecraft can't be denied, though. 2 stars.

Weekend Update -- The last fake news segment of the year features the predictable plethora of jokes about Illinois Governor Rod Badgerlips, culminating in a very funny "Really!?!" sequence that reveals something I've always expected: those aren't really circus tickets! Fred takes on the comedy minefield of impersonating the legally blind Governor of New York, David Paterson, who is much easier to spell than that other guy. After his editorial, Paterson wanders around the Update set, talking on his cell phone, ripping New Jersey, and ordering circus tickets. Hey, wait a minute ...

It's Amy's last show! Aw. I'm gonna miss that little towhead. Of course, I thought i was gonna miss Maya and Tina and Chris and Will and Bill and everyone else who wandered back in to the "SNL" studio this year. See you real soon Amy.

Hope Abby is working on her Hillary Clinton impression. 3 1/2 stars.



Lamps! -- When the kindly proprietors of a lamp shop (Fred and Michaela Watkins) close up for the night, the lamps in their store spring magically to life! When the proprietors come back earlier then expected, the lamps act aggressively to protect their secret. Cute, silly scene that should have been harder edged. As in the Night School Musical scene from the Ben Affleck show, the group singing is nearly incomprehensible. Tighten up those vocals, kids! 2 stars.

Christmas Letter -- The Sorensons compose their annual Christmas letter to friends and family in the voice of Godfrey, their dead cat. Kristen always does a nice job on these crazy obsessives while Laurie is the voice of (slightly more) reason. Good idea for a relationship scene, but the two leads never really connect. Still, there's something charmingly horrifying about ghost-writing for a ghost-cat. Meow-y Christmas! 2 1/2 stars.

SNL Digital Short "Cookies" -- Last week the Digital Shorts came back with a vengeance. This week, it's back to mediocrity. While lay-offs loom, Marcus (Fred) from Online Sales can't stop eating the free cookies his firm supplies, only to discover that they contain a dark secret. Fred does a kind of modernized Paul Lynde act here. I'd like to see what the Lonely Island guys could achieve if they pushed themselves to include more than one joke or one over-the-top character per short. 1 1/2 stars.

Kanye West performs "Heartless" -- Meanwhile, back at the elaborate jumbotron set, Kanye goes back to his roots with a more traditional hippity-hoppity number about a woman who done him wrong. She helpfully appears in animated form behind him, wearing a starry dress and a rainbow mini. Or maybe he's referring to Elroy Jetson, who also appears on the big screen. Did George's boy Elroy do Kanye wrong? That little minx! Good thing he didn't get mixed up with Rosie the Robot. 2 stars.

And then it's time to say good night. Hey! Wait a minute! No five to one sketch? What the what what? Did I miss something? Did WESH-TV cut that off too? Still, a nice episode that petered out a bit at the end. Bye Amy! See the rest of you in 2009!

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