Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Saturday Night Alumni

The review is a little late this week. But that's okay. I made up for its tardiness by ensuring that it wasn't very good. Quality, quantity, both, neither ...

This week's "SNL" was hosted by a returning cast member, which always makes for an interesting program. Plus, the musical guest is someone who makes my guilty heart go pitter pat. So it's gonna be great, right? Right ...?

"Saturday Night Live" 14 March 2009. Host: Tracy Morgan. Musical Guest: Kelly Clarkson.

Cold Open -- Different kind of cold open to lead off this episode. No politics and it's over in an eye blink. Tracy returns to the "SNL" digs at 30 Rockefeller Center proclaiming himself older and wiser. He then proceeds to punch out security guards, elevator riders, NBC pages, WWE Superstar John Cena, and fellow alumnus Tina Fey.

Lots of energy and goofy fun here. No substance to speak of, but only eggheads need substance. Brevity is the soul of slapstick. 3 1/2 stars.

Monologue -- Tracy in a red safety vest thanks white people. It's about time. Allow me to speak on behalf of my entire race when I say, "You're very welcome, black guy."

The host then recounts how his fish tank recently caught on fire (true) and the racist reporting that followed. He also performs the first of many call-backs to his days as a regular when he demands of Lorne Michaels, "Get me a soda, bitch!"

It's all fairly obligatory, but Tracy's loopy timing and some decent material make for a solid intro. 3 stars.

Chewable Pampers -- Yes, again. It's funny but if you watch this show regularly -- and I'd say I do -- you've seen this three times in the last five new shows. Oh, and next week they're repeating the Steve Martin hosted program where it debuted, so that will make four times in six airings. I know we're getting to the end of the season, but let's make a token effort here, gang. No star rating due to tedium.

Brian Fellow's Safari Planet -- I'm glad they brought this recurring Tracy character back for a couple of reasons. First, I think he's a hoot. Second, it gives me a chance to ask the question I've had since back in Tracy's days as a cast member: what exactly is this guy's name? The onscreen graphic would seem to indicate that it's "Brian Fellow" with the "s" only there to indicate the possessive. But every time Morgan says his tag line, it always comes out, "I'm Brian Fellows!" As if the "s" is part of the name. And yes, I'm the only one who cares.

Ahem. Forgive me. Brian (last name withheld) welcomes his guests, a baby cow and a hawk, then fantasizes about not being invited to a tea party hosted by a cow with a monocle and attended by Kitty-achi, champion competitive mouse eater. I'm laughing just remembering it now. Very funny and, name controversy aside, a most welcome return for a great bit. 3 1/2 stars.

The View -- It's the Chewable Pampers of talk show sketches. Yet another visit to "The View" is livened up by Tracy's appearance as Sherri Shepherd. Was I the only one hoping they'd use him as Star Jones, like back in the day? Michaela Watkins as Barbara Walters appears to be an albino. Kenan Thompson as Whoopi Goldberg throws out his withering stare. Fred Armisen as Joy Behar ends every observation with "so what, who cares?" And Kristen Wiig as "Survivor fourth place finisher Elisabeth Hasselbeck is outraged about any number of things she has seen on the internet. You know. Same old same old. It's an interesting morsel of trivia that actors outnumber actresses in this scene. The "girls" discuss stem cells and dwarves, but who cares, so what? 2 1/2 stars.

Scared Straight -- And now, a recurring sketch from the Kenan Thompson oeuvre. It really is old-home week this episode. Lorenzo McIntosh (Kenan) once again gives the what-what to three juvenile delinquents, letting them know just what they're in for if they end up in prison. Spoiler alert -- It's anal rape. This time, he's joined by Kendrick McIntyre (Tracy) and the references to old films fly fast and furious tokyo drift. Unlikely plotlines are borrowed from E.T., Sideways, and Groundhog Day. Sideways? It's not my favorite bring-back tonight, but Tracy does add a little extra energy and craziness to the mix. And there's a great left-field reference to Bob Dylan. And everyone cracks up at the end, which I normally hate, but I kinda enjoyed this time. Don't make a habit of it. Sideways? 3 stars.

Dateline -- In yet another recurring routine, Bill Hader portrays the creepily salacious Keith Morrison of "Dateline," dragging the most lurid revelations possible out of the victims and perpetrators of unpleasant acts. The capper here is that Carl Collins (Tracy) is a guy who kills old dudes with an axe and enjoys the icky details as much as Morrison. Shudder. But shuddering in a good way. 3 stars.

Astronaut Jones -- THIS is the repeat sketch I was hoping for. And it does not disappoint. Tracy as Astronaut Jones explores the ice planet Krylgar (sp?) where he encounters Andy Samberg as Zerba (sp?) the Beautiful. Our hero is willing to ... forge relations with Zerba no matter what gender he/she might be. The Astronaut Jones theme song should stand with the all-time great set pieces in the show's history. It's a joke that's all set-up and only the tiniest amount of pay-off. But when the set-up is this good, that's the right ratio. Rocket! I'm taking a rocket! 4 stars.

Kelly Clarkson performs "My Life Would Suck Without You" -- Please notice how I do not write the name of a certain reality contest show at any time during this review. Admirable restraint on my part, I'd say. Kelly fascinates me because it's clear there's an artist, a genuine artist, buried beneath all the mounds of marketing and slick corporate rock. The paradox for her is that when she got a chance to prove it by taking the reins of her previous album, things fell apart. She excels at putting over exactly the sort of second-rate focus-group rock that the marketing department foists upon her, like this little ditty right here. Maybe she's directing the sentiment of the song towards those very cubicle jockeys. Her career would apparently suck without long-term fiscal objectives and a synergistic promotional strategy. 3 stars.

Weekend Update -- Seth Meyer's fake news is predictably focused on matters financial this week, which doesn't make for the greatest joke fodder. He's joined by John Malkovich (Bill), a victim of the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme. Hader's Malkovich is meticulous, but doesn't have a lot of comic life, despite Seth's prodding. Tracy jumps in with a "Really!?!" run about how he really really really doesn't like paying a strip-club tax. The highlight of this news segment is Kristen's appearance as 50-year-old (!) Barbie. She's a rather reflective and melancholic Barbie, but she's always up for a tickle fight! Oh, Barbie! 2 1/2 stars.

Big Love -- On the HBO bigamy show "Big Love," Bill Paxton (Jason Sudeikis) introduces his new wife to the family. Fantasia DeVine has some short-comings -- not the least of which is that she's a dude -- but love can make it all work. Tracy has some moments as Fantasia, but not enough to lift the scene. Casey Wilson appears. I mention her because if I don't, no one will. There's a late tape cue at the end. 1 1/2 stars.

The "SNL" Digital Short "I Hate These Parties" -- Andy and Bill hang around at a party, criticizing all the various attendees. An exercise in comic literalism where common idiomatic personality descriptions are turned into physical realities, i.e. a bunch of jokers becomes a group of guys dressed as Batman's arch-foe. A grab bag of variably inspired visual puns; I liked the numb nuts, the turd burglar, and Kenan as a beaming, sash-sporting Mr. Personality. More funny than not and quick hitting. 3 stars.

SuppresSex -- Sure, there are plenty of medications that help you achieve erections, but what about those times when you can't afford to ... display your interest? Not to worry. There's SuppresSex. It's ideal if you're a department store Santa, a favorite uncle driving his cheerleader niece and all her friends to a sleep-over, or just turned on by that sexy green M&M. Very funny with nice turns for Tracy, Bill and a recently woken Will Forte. 3 1/2 stars.

High IQ -- A game show for brainiacs is livened up by an appearance from ... well, everybody. Tracy is host Paul Bartlett introducing the game show for people who are smarter than you. I thought that was "Hole in the Wall." Dispensing with the normal tick-tock think music, Bartlett plays a peppy tune, has his friend Beth (Kristen) dance about, then fills the stage with any number of bizarre and misplaced characters. I particularly enjoyed Kenan as Harry Potter, Will as a Matrix dude, and Bobby Moynihan as a silver-clad angel. Totally silly. 3 1/2 stars.

Kelly Clarkson performs "I Do Not Hook Up" -- Kelly gives her all to another song-by-committee, a committee that includes "I Kissed a Girl" chanteuse Katy Perry who co-wrote this number. Kelly's voice is in good form. The band is professional and strong. The material, a paean to chaste friendships, is as rote as can be. I still haven't mentioned that certain television reality contest often associated with Clarkson. I think I deserve a cookie. 2 1/2 stars.

Family Flix -- Writer/Director Percy T. Douglas introduces clips from his latest opus, Rocket Dog. I don't know about this sketch, but Rocket Dog looks GREAT! When's the drop date? It turns out jet packs aren't great for dogs. The film clips are all punctuated with "In Memoriam" pictures of the many many dogs and people (and one cat!) who died during the filming of this heartfelt family film. Even Douglas himself is eulogized. Anyone who knows the disturbing stories about the filming of such animal-based pre-digital films -- movies like Milo and Otis -- knows that these stories are only slightly exaggerated. Tracy is a riot again and howzabout a little praise for Andy doing a great job as the little boy whose step-dad said it was stupid to have dreams. Great ender for the night. 4 stars.

Gas Right -- Yet another repeat commercial, this one from the Malkovich show. Like the Chewable Pampers one earlier, this functions as nothing but filler. Of course, Chewable Pampers is a different kind of filler. Funny enough to merit one -- I repeat, ONE -- repeat airing. No pun intended. 2 stars.

Tina Fey and Kelly Clarkson flank Tracy as he signs off. I don't know when the next new "SNL" will air, but when it does, you can be sure it will get picked apart here at Pop Culture America!

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