Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Saturday Night ... "Squeal" ... Jonas

No one has hosted "SNL" more often than Alec Baldwin (except for some banjo player). No one is hotter than the -- "Squeal" -- Jonas Brothers. No one reviews "SNL" better than me. All the pieces are in place.

"Saturday Night Live" February 14, 2009. Host: Alec Baldwin. Musical Guest: The Jonas Brothers.

Cold Open -- The Congressional Republican leadership gathers together to celebrate their irrelevance and to mock the obviously unpopular and clueless new President. Dan Aykroyd rises from the dead to assay House Minority Leader John Boehner, whose name does NOT rhyme with "stoner." Other "SNL'ers" play other GOPpies, but since the sketch doesn't really name names, it's hard to tell who's who. A "Tom" is mentioned. Must be Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. "Dave" must be David Vitter from Louisiana. Is it a measure of Republican irrelevancy that I have to go researching to discover who they're making fun of? Or is it sloppy satire?

Anyway, the GOPpies find it amusing that the new President gives lengthy, thoughtful answers to questions (you'd never catch the last guy doing that) and they bat around the notion of bringing impeachment proceedings. They debate the relative merits of Sean Hannity versus Rush Limbaugh (they're a big tent party so supporters of both are welcome) and gear up to take potshots at the Obama girls and their sleepover plans.

It's all a little flat and I have some ideas as to why. First, it's always harder to satirize the folks who are out of power. Comedy works better when you take your shots at a big, strong target, but the "SNL" staff still hasn't quite figured out how to go after the new President. Second, the writing in this sketch never pushes the ideas far enough. There are hints at the most fruitful direction for the concept ("Unless I'm politically tone-deaf ..."), but it's never fully explored. Finally, we need to have no doubt about who's being mocked. Except for Aykroyd's Boehner -- which does NOT rhyme with "moaner" -- these could be any Congressional nobodies. Sharp satire is always specific and this isn't. 1 1/2 stars.

A Brief Note: The Obama girls are well-known to be rabid Jonas Brothers fans and are almost certainly watching, so I wonder if naming them in this sketch and even producing a poster with their picture on it ("Where's the outrage?") is some sort of sly nod in their direction. If Michelle lets them stay up and watch. Ah, why not? It ain't a school night.

Monologue -- Fourteen-time host Alec Baldwin thanks Christian Bale for bumping him in the ranks of celebrity meltdowns, introduces his "30 Rock" co-star Jack "Kenneth the Page" McBrayer, and is then dismayed as the audience questions ignore him and focus on McBrayer. McBrayer points out that he'd like to host the show some time, but he doesn't want to appear desperate by hosting a lot. Zing! A nice if unspectacular introductory effort. It must be hard for the staff to come up with a new thing for Baldwin to do. They've used all their usual host bits with him before. 2 1/2 stars.

Gary, the Other Jonas Brother -- The Jonas Brothers confront their less-known older brother Gary (Baldwin) and despite his objections, oust him from the band. Baldwin is a hoot as the fourth Jonas, though he appears to be catching Christopher Walken disease: he cannot tear his eyes away from his cue cards. The crowd is curiously subdued as the scene opens on the scream-tastic Jonas boys. They must have muzzled all the twelve-year-old girls. Gags of note: Gary would like to rename the band "The Donut Brothers" in order to scam free pastry. And it appears that Gary's purity ring wasn't as effective as one might hope. In fact, he isn't Gary Jonas at all! That last is probably a comic bridge to far, but all in all, a nice effort. 3 stars.

The Cougar Den -- The over-aged, predatory "girls" are back, this time with Michaela Watkins taking over for the departed Amy Poehler. I wonder if John Boehner pronounces Amy's name "paler." Anyway, lead cougar Kristen Wiig gets very little help from her co-cougars. Michaela gets all of one non-descript line and Casey Wilson continues to underwhelm. But the scene is saved by Cameron Diaz bounding in as Hispanic cougar Kiki and the host's portrayal of Coo-Gay Blaine, both very funny. Why is Diaz here? I dunno, but she's a riot, so who cares? Towards the end of the piece, three would-be boytoys are trafficked out, played by Andy Samberg, Bill Hader and Will Forte. Were they supposed to be the Jonas kids? That would have delivered more comic pop. Perhaps those boys are too pure to even pretend to be sexually active. 3 stars, one each for Kristen, Diaz and Baldwin.

The "SNL" Digital Short, "The Jig Is Up" -- Andy confronts the Jonas lads with a VCR tape of their secret origins as an 80s hair band called "Property of the Queen." Bobby Moynihan is their drummer and Kenan Thompson rocks the Key-Tar. Cute. I especially enjoyed Andy trying to force the VHS tape into a DVD player. Technology does march on, does it not? A deal with a wizard keeps the Jonases young, but does it keep them pure? 3 stars.

Sir Mix-a-Lot's PhotoShop -- The legendary (?) rapper promotes a photo enhancement service that plays into his own well-delineated predilictions. Give it up to the Mix: few one-hit wonders have gotten this much juice from their brief fame. Kenan plays the title character and since he really convinced me that he likes big butts, I'm gonna call the portrayal a triumph. For a scene that's some sixteen years too late, it ain't bad, I guess. 2 stars.

The Jonas Brothers perform "Tonight" -- Okay. Confession time. I've had a lot of fun cracking wise at the boys' expense, but this is the first time I've ever actually sat down and listened to their music. It's terrible. But it's terrible in a surprising way. I expected typical gloppy boy-band fare. You know. "Oo girl, I'm gonna dance and romance and also dance." That kind of tripe. But this is not that. No, this genuinely has the trappings of rock and roll to it. Actual guitars. Vocals by humans rather than their robot proxies. The slightest semblance of a hook. But scratch the surface even a little, and it's as empty as can be. I've heard better musicianship at a Guitar Hero demo. The lyrics are slightly better than horrible. It's as if DisneyWorld had a ride called "The Rock and Roll Experience!" where nice average suburban kids get to pretend that they're big time rockers. I might have liked a boy band better. 1 star.

Weekend Update -- Seth Meyers on the stimulus. And on Alex Rodriguez's steroid use. His line about A-Rod not using his performance-enhancers in October is a peach; i'm sure the New York crowd ate it up. Kenan does his financial expert character Oscar Rodgers again. Why? I dunno. This time he loudly proclaims the economy "fixed." Then encourages Americans to "do it." Though when he says it, it comes out "deux it." Sigh. Abby Elliott once again shows up as a baby-hunting Angelina Jolie. Funny but it's the exact same joke as two shows ago. Find somewhere else for that impression. Maybe if Angelina wins an Oscar next Sunday that will lead to sketch fodder. Michaela sends up those pathetic bloggers who sit around in their parents' basements and take cruel shots at people more talented than they are. Good! I hate those useless blogging cretins who ... Hey! Finally, Jason Sudeikis is Joaquin Phoenix, cycling through his rap career to a new joke-telling effort. I wonder if that's supposed to be a tie Seth's wearing or if his neck threw up! Bitch, please! 3 stars.

The Vincent Price 1966 Valentine's Day Special -- And I thought the Sir Mix-a-Lot skit was out of date. But being out of date is sort of the point of these Price bits. The Master of the Macabre welcomes us to yet another seasonal special plagued by malfunctioning equipment and barely functioning celebrities of yesteryear. Baldwin is dead on as Richard Burton, not that the target "SNL" audience would know. Kristen does a breathy, toothy Carol Channing and Fred chips in with his Liberace impression again, just in case the show was running low on gay jokes. Bill Hader's Price impression is always fun and this is actually a pretty tight entry. Casey may even have found her calling; she's a physical match for post-sex symbol Liz Taylor. Bitch, please! 3 1/2 stars.

Scheduling Conflicts -- Three businessmen have a devil of a time synching up their schedules for a big meeting. Bill, Will and Baldwin do a variation on an old improv "Can You Top This" game with their increasingly ridiculous and embarrassing previous engagements. In his ridiculous bald cap, Will looks like an Al Capp character. Hey! I can make out of date references too! Carol, hold my calls! 3 stars.

The Jonas Brothers perform "Video Girl" -- Doing a little research, I see that Rolling Stone named this song the 49th best single of 2008. Rolling Stone remains as relevant as ever! One of the Jonases can play the drums (badly). I believe one of the girls who does the band intro is the one Baldwin called a "rude little pig" in his infamous phone call. I wonder if this means all is forgiven. Not Music: An Incredible Simulation! 1 star.

Nintendo Wii -- Bill and Jason coax their Dad (Baldwin) into playing Nintendo Wii with them. Videogame controllers have been used as ... ahem ... adult playthings ever since Nintendo gave us the Rumble Pack and Sony introduced the DualShock. The Wii is a kind of apotheosis for that alternate usage. Baldwin's vigorous gameplay is a riot. Warrior Shake looks like a really fun game. Hysterical. 4 stars.

Chewable Pampers -- A repeat from the Steve Martin show. Funny. Gross. Clearly used as filler here. Which is ironic. 2 stars.

Virgania Horsen's Hot Air Balloon Rides -- And suddenly it's a Kristen Wiig Best-Of. What's with all the stock footage? The show must have clocked in short. Anyway, this is from the Tina Fey-hosted show from early last year. I like it, but I didn't need to see it again. 2 1/2 stars.

Alec Baldwin's Acting Techniques for Actors, Volume 72: First Coughs -- Award-winning actor Alec Baldwin (Baldwin) hawks a DVD that shows you how to pull off those tell-tale coughs early in a movie that foreshadow a character's death. Cough in the first act, die in the third. That's what they say in the theater. I'm told. Funny and quick. 3 stars.

And then it's a crowded homebase for the good nights. Everyone is there! Baldwin and Diaz and McBrayer and Aykroyd and all sixteen Jonas brothers. Next week they rerun the Hugh Laurie show from December, so refer to the previous review here. Spoiler alert, there are Christmas scenes.

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