Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Saturday Night Clouseau

We're a little late on the "SNL" recap this week. Blame the Super Bowl. And Obama. Blame him too. What the hey?

Anyway, the most prolific host in the history of "Saturday Night Live" appeared this past weekend. With a track record like he has, the show had to be great, right? Right?

"Saturday Night Live" Host: Steve Martin. Musical Guest: Jason Mraz with Colbie Caillat.

Cold Open -- Barack Obama used to embody hope. Now, he's the "Mayor of Bummer City." The President tries to remind us of how hopeful we all were (well, most of us) a short time ago while simultaneously breaking the bad news about ... Well, about everything. Then Joe Biden shows up. He is not helpful.

Fred Armisen's Obama impression has yet to make the great leap forward. It's not the race thing; I have no problem with white guys playing black guys or black guys playing white guys or humans playing Martians. It's the fact that some key Obama-isms seem to continue to elude him. The deep baritone. The carefully considered wording. The physicality of the man. You don't need to be 100% accurate to make the impression fly, but you gotta find the comic hook and Fred still ain't quite there.

Case in point: Jason Sudeikis as Joe Biden. He simply plays the guy as a glad-handing loon with only the most cursory nod to any of the man's vocal mannerisms. And it works because we all perceive the real Biden as kind of a glad-handing loon.

There are some nice jokes here: the note from 43 to 44 is a gem. Obama's admission that "I couldn't pick Hillary (for VP). I just couldn't." But if this is all the comic juice they can squeeze out of the guy, we're going to see a lot of Joe Biden openers. 2 stars.

Monologue -- Out comes Steve Martin to homebase for the fifteenth time in the show's 34 seasons. Only Alec Baldwin is even close to that record. So what nutty thing will they do with him this time? A song? A wacky Q & A with the audience? Nope. Steve does a real live honest-to-gosh monologue. Like an actual comedian. Will wonders never cease? Frankly, he doesn't seem completely up to the task. It's a bit like seeing your favorite ballplayer from twenty years ago play in an Old-Timer's Game. But, like an Old-Timer's Game, it's just nice to have an old favorite back. He also plugs his movie, bless him. 2 1/2 stars.

Chewable Pampers -- Ecologically friendly diapers are delicious! Kristen Wiig is at center stage and she delivers the solitary gag nicely. It's no Oops I Crapped My Pants, but a decent, gross diaper joke. 3 stars.

MacGruber I -- Okay. I admit I'm writing this after the MacGruber ad appeared on the Super Bowl, so I know the answer to this question. But in my notes on the show I asked if this was real or a parody of a soda ad. It is a real soda ad. Besides the meta post-ironic pseudo-sell-out of it all, the news here is that Richard Dean Anderson shows up in the role of MacGruber's other assistant, aptly named "MacGyver." Patty and Selma take note. There's always time for Pep ... 3 stars.

Super Bowl Sports Bar -- Recurring characters Jean and Neil (Kristen and Will Forte) accompany their friend Glen (Steve) to a sports bar on Super Sunday and are surprised to find it a hub of activity. Abby Elliott is a waitress, and Bill Hader and Kenan Thompson appear as boisterous fans. I like the three main characters, especially Will's understated, droning Neil, a less sweaty, less bonkers cousin to his droning understated all-purpose politico Tim Calhoun. Jokes about the Bud Bowl, a tower made of bunnies, and a three-story, denim representation of the female genitalia, are all winners. Less successful is the out line, which they've been pushing with these characters since they debuted; Kristen musing that, "It's a problem." I would also like to ask Jesus, "What's the deal?" 3 1/2 stars.

The "SNL" Digital Short: Laser Cats 4 -- Captain Spaceship (Andy Samberg) and Nitro (Bill) are back! And this time they've convinced Steve to shill for the latest edition of Laser Cats. I do enjoy Laser Cats; it has a nice homemade, youtube feel and usually pulls a solid, ridiculous performance from the host. Maybe because this one focuses for too long on Kenan as Cyberface (half human, half laser cat, half Robocop), it seems a little lackluster. There are a few laughs here, but honestly, I thought the funniest thing about it was the Three Amigos poster in Lorne Michaels' office. 2 stars.

Issues -- Buck-toothed host Clarence Dernigan (Kenan) presents a show where people with obvious physical problems try to discuss deeper, emotional issues. Casey Wilson is Sara Stokes who has issues with her sister ... and rampant acne. Steve is Tyler French who wants to talk about his fear of water and not his prominent man-boobs. Not much here. You get the joke before the guests can even open their mouths. Back to the writer's room with it! 1 star.

MacGruber II -- More Pepsi shilling from the team. MacGruber acknowledges his sell-out and even insists on being referred to as "Pepsuber." This is the one that aired during the Super Bowl. I feel refreshed, but also kinda dirty. 2 1/2 stars.

Bernie Madoff -- Pyramid-scheme impressario Bernie Madoff calls people up and invites them over to his apartment for a Super Bowl party. He can't go out, you see, because he's under house arrest for being an enormous douche. Fred's generic Jewish accent serves him well. It's quick (a lot of the segments tonight have been quick), so the one joke doesn't overstay it's welcome. That's a plus, but it still never really stings. There's an uncomfortable reference to Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, who is one of the many that Madoff is alleged to have swindled. Alleged. 2 stars.

Everybody Loves Steve -- Casey buttonholes the host in the hallway and tries to get his thoughts on comedy theory. Soon Kristen accuses her of having a crush on Steve, only to stand revealed as more than a little monny-eyed for the host herself. Abby and Michaela Watkins round things out as "Bimbo 1" and "Bimbo 2." Cute backstage scene that benefits from Steve pretending (?) to be a pompous jerk offstage. He claims he doesn't usually talk to cast members until they've been around for at least three years. Casey sings a few bars of "Close to You." Kristen does "Unforgettable." The two Bimbos (their word, not mine) sing "At Last." Then it's off to the orgy. If you're curious, according to Steve, Comedy = Time+Precision-Hope/Puns+Wigs. 3 stars.

MacGruber III -- Pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi. MacGruber! 3 stars.

Jason Mraz performs "I'm Yours" -- The singer sports a kicky pork-pie hat that went out of fashion somewhere circa always. He sounds like a Backstreet Boy trying to wrap his severely limited larynx around an old UB40 tune. And he needs to buy a vowel. Kudos for use of the word, "scooch." Am I spelling that correctly? Strangely, he plays out past the commercial break. It's all slight and dull and inoffensive, I guess. 1 1/2 stars.

Weekend Update -- Solo Seth Meyers anchors another solid edition of the fake news. I continue to miss the back-and-forth when Amy was here. I'm telling you "SNL" guys, Michaela needs something to do. Seth's bits all revolve around the usual comedy news suspects: Blagojevich, the new RNC chairman Michael Steele, the Icelandic lesbian Prime Minister, etc. He also touches on some odd reference points like the Sham-Wow, Hootie and the Blowfish and a Nigerian goat. Nice mix. Guest spots include another appearance by Jason as an ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich who sounds like a refugee from one of the old Super Fans "Da Bears" sketches. And Fred goes to the David Paterson well again. After the last time, there was a bit of a hue and cry over his impression. The "SNL" crowd does NOT back off this second time around (Good!), if anything making the New York Governor appear even more incompetent and corrupt than last time. And he uses binoculars to read 3x5 cards. Genuinely edgy stuff. 3 1/2 stars.



Cosmetics Counter -- Thomas (Steve) tries to work his station at the cosmetics counter despite repeated interruptions from his wife Trina (Kristen). If the way Kristen repeats the name "Thomas" is enough to crack you up, this is the scene for you. Some decent beats here and there: Trina's inability to distinguish a white balloon from a dove, for instance. I have a friend who insists that all Kristen ever does is play creepy. This scene would be exhibit A. 2 stars.

Steve Martin (with some friends) performs "Late for School" -- Wow, it really seems like the late seventies with Steve doing a full monologue and pulling out the banjo. The song is mildly amusing. Steve is a better singer than Jason Mraz. He gets an extra half star for rhyming "grammar" and "slammer." 3 stars.

Forefathers of the Game -- An ESPN Classic presentation details the colorful history of Billy "The Gun" Van Goff, who lived up to his nickname a little more literally than his opponents might have liked. Hysterical idea played note-perfect by the whole ensemble. Darrell Hammond puts in his only appearance on the show as Billy's crusty old retired coach. And the host himself does a lovely job as The Gun. The crew gets the ESPN Classic look just right, as well. Best-Of worthy. 4 stars.




Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat perform "Lucky" -- A breezy, laid-back trifle. This time out, Mraz sounds like John Sebastian's less talented younger nephew. Colbie Caillat has a pleasant voice. Too bad she didn't duet with Steve. 2 stars.

And then it's good night, roll credits and on to next week. Your host then will be Bradley Cooper (who?) with the overrated TV on the Radio providing music. The lead singer did a nice job in Rachel Getting Married, I'll admit. See you then.

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