Sunday, March 8, 2009

Saturday Night Champ

After a two-week hiatus, "SNL" is back with an all-new show. And this time it really is all new, not padded out with old commercials like the last "new" one. Plus it features The People's Champ! How can it go wrong?

"Saturday Night Live" 7 March 2009. Host: Dwayne Johnson. Musical Guest: Ray LaMontagne.

Cold Open -- Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner has a plan to rescue the failing American banking system. He has set aside 420 Billion dollars to offer as a reward to anyone who has a plan to save the failing American banking system.

Will Forte not really doing an impression here because, well, what's the point? Who besides the wonkiest policy mavens would even know if he was accurate? The callers to 1-800-IDEAS? are not terribly helpful, contradicting each other's advice or holding their ideas for ransom. When one woman from Bradenton, Florida asks if the winner would have to pay taxes on the 420 billion dollar prize, Geithner turns and sternly intones directly to the camera that everyone has to pay taxes. He has had a tax problem or two himself, you see. Irony.

Nice open. One joke. Could stand a bit of focusing. But uses a complicated issue as the springboard for some human-level comedy. Solid opener. 3 stars.

Monologue -- It's Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock for his third hosting stint. Of course, he's a big deal Disney family movie star now, so he doesn't go by "The Rock" any more. In fact, he's so far removed from his old wrestling gig, he wasn't even considered for the title role in The Wrestler. But don't let that make you believe he's gone Hollywood soft. No sir. And to prove it, he performs a splashy heartfelt Broadway number about how tough he is. With Abby Elliott and Kristen Wiig done up as castmembers from the musical Chicago flanking him, he dances and sings up a veritable storm. Very funny musical bit marred by a little awkward banter with the girls and some indifferent dancing (Abby dear? We need you to stay in time, honey. 'Kay? Thanks). Fred Armisen appears as Dwayne's choreographer/roommate. One of the better monologue spots this year. 3 1/2 stars.

MacGruber I -- MacGruber's back and so is MacGyver! How many of these spots did they shoot that one day when Richard Dean Anderson was free? Anyway, this one reveals that, just as we all suspected, MacGyver is indeed the father of MacGruber. MacGruber MacGyver. Lovely name. Daddy...? 3 1/2 stars.

The Rock Obama -- White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel admonishes President Obama to get angry about Republican obstructionism, but the Prez is just too cool. However, when Senators John McCain, Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Tom Coburn arrive to voice yet more opposition to the administration, Obama's anger rises and he turns from Barack Obama to The Rock Obama. The Rock Obama is just like Barack Obama, only stronger and more impulsive. And, I can't help noticing, more black. Some great stuff here. Dwayne Johnson's first appearance as The Rock Obama is a highlight for the season thus far. I also loved Andy Samberg as Rahm, prodding the President to anger. Once The Rock Obama is revealed, though, the sketch really doesn't have anywhere else to go. Johnson's Hulky speech patterns are cute. Me like. 3 1/2 stars.

MacGruber II -- MacGruber and his Dad are now working together over at the Smuggler's Compound. They're getting along well and love each other a bunchy-bunch until MacGruber starts examining his abandonment issues. On further review, it turns out MacGruber's Dad's a dick. Still funny. 3 1/2 stars.

Activia Yogurt -- At yet another Activia yogurt commercial shoot, yogurt vacuum Jamie Lee Curtis (Kristen) is ready to tout the regulatory effects of her favorite non-dairy dairy product. She's joined this time by Andrea (Abby) and sure enough, there are accidents aplenty. I will say here what I said the first time they did this bit: Jamie Lee Curtis must have passed on some "SNL" writer's spec script to end up the target of such mean-spirited humor. Through shear repetition, this joke has started to break down my resistance. It still isn't a proud moment in the show's history, but I (embarrassed) confess I laughed more than before. 1 1/2 stars.

Hawaiian Resort -- Two local Hawaiian brothers (Fred and the host) entertain tourists at a posh Hawaiian resort with ukulele music and bitterness. One reason (besides cash) why I've never indulged in one of these places is exactly what the sketch implies: they are oases of opulence amid the reality of ... well, let's not call it squalor. Let's call it anti-opulence. Fred and Dwayne give voice to their distaste for the clueless vacationers, sometimes in very funny ways, sometimes in ways that make me wonder what the joke is supposed to be. At one point, Johnson simply calls the people at one table "garbage." Seems a bit unfunnily rough, even in this context. I do like Johnson's little knee dance under his grass skirt. Aloha can mean "Hello," "Good-bye," and "Suck it." Who knew? 2 1/2 stars.

MacGruber III -- Ah the comedy rule of threes. Always observed in these MacGruber bits. Our capper here finds MacGruber making a particularly unpleasant threat to his father, then flashes forward to the year 2040 to watch as the threat is carried out. Nice shot of Will Forte's posterior here. No. Wait. Not "nice." What's the word I'm looking for? Oh yeah. Horrifying. And for some reason, I really want a Pepsi. 3 1/2 stars.

Ray LaMontagne performs "You Are the Best Thing" -- Adult contemporary fave Ray LaMontagne steps up and gives us a soulful, horn-driven take on the lead track of his most recent album. I don't know if it's his voice or the way their mixing him, but his vocal is getting lost in the arrangement. After all the teeny-boppers and robotic rappers, it's nice to hear a real person sing a song on "SNL." Hopefully there are more acts like LaMontagne (and TV on the Radio from a couple of shows ago) for the rest of this year. 3 1/2 stars.

Weekend Update -- Seth Meyers delivers another dandy fake newscast. He has become a reliable source of funny news gags since Amy Poehler abandoned him. His run about Iran's recent demands for apologies is especially sharp. Lots of guests this time. First it's RNC chair Michael Steele. This is not the good Michael Steele, the one who played bass for The Bangles. This is a different one. Kenan Thompson portrays the beleaguered politician as under the direct and painful control of Rush Limbaugh. Nothing beats operant conditioning.

Then Seth is joined by Sexiest Cartoon Character Non-Winner Cathy who complains that she came in behind Beetle Bailey and Marmaduke. Ouch. Cathy is eventually joined by her boyfriend Irving (Husband? I'm not up on the doings in "Cathy"), played by none other than Justin Timberlake, who is starting to approach Jon Lovitz territory for hanging around the show. Sexiest Cartoon Character Winner Jessica Rabbit also shows up, played by Jessica Biel, whose real last name is, ironically, "Tortoise."

Finally (and this was a very long Update, a good 50% longer than an average one), Bon Jovi opposite band Jon Bovi arrives to squash rumors that they sound just like Bon Jovi. They display how their song "Alive and Dead" is nothing like the Bon Jovi standard "Dead or Alive." And "Dying on a Prayer" is different from "Living on a Prayer." Shouldn't that be "Dying off a Curse?" Soon they'll be spearheading the opposite rap movement as a "Hop Hip" band.

All the bits are remarkably strong this time through the news. Sweat drops! Sweat drops! 4 stars.

Game Time with Dave and Greg -- Nothing at all like Pop Culture America with John and Dave. Dave (Johnson) introduces a sports talk show about March Madness and not -- repeat Not! -- about the fact that his co-host Greg is a muscle-eating, wing-sporting, ageless alien. Bill Hader as the alien Greg gets to show off his vocal talents outside the context of a celebrity impression. Water burns Greg like acid! Decent joke milked for about all it's worth. 3 stars.

Donald Trump for "The Celebrity Apprentice" -- The Donald does promo spots for the new season of his dreadful reality show, aided by some of the "celebrities" who will be co-starring with him, like Tom Green, Joan Rivers and Dennis Rodman. Darrell Hammond's Trump impression is always welcome. Fred is appropriately retarded as Green. Michaela Watkins does a passable Rivers. Johnson's Rodman isn't much of an impression, but he gets the crazy arrogance nicely. Trump calls it a "parade of ding-dongs." Bingo! 3 stars.

Ray LaMontagne performs "Trouble" -- LaMontagne gives us an older number that's become an "American Idol" staple. But don't hold that against it. For the record, he does it a lot better than the "Idol" kids. Frankly, the song feels more pedestrian and less soulful than the first number. But it's pleasant enough. LaMontagne's vocals are where they should be in the mix this time, which helps. I miss the horn section. 3 stars.

Lighthouse -- Johnson as a lighthouse-keeper invites a lovely young lady (Kristen) up to the beacon room for a late night tryst. When he attempts to set the mood by dimming the lights, the effects on nearby mariners are disastrous. Cute idea. I actually wanted more of Johnson and Wiig in the lighthouse and less of the broader stuff from the sailors on the rocks. But it's a good chance for stagehands to throw buckets of water on the cast. Hit Bobby Moynihan again! 2 stars.

Good show. One of the best of the year, up there with the Anne Hathaway show back in October. Next time it's Alumni Week with ex-castmember Tracy Morgan and previous musical guest Kelly Clarkson. See you right here then.

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