Monday Morning Quarterback: SNL Season 34, Episode 4

Posted by Jesse October 6th, 2008 at 10:30am In General SNL

I realize that, week to week, the number of segments on SNL do not change dramatically. In fact, this season’s first four episodes have all operated in the twelve-to-fourteen segment range (counting music and Update; not counting opening or closing credits). But this week’s installment felt unusually packed with short and funny, if sometimes insubstantial, sketches. The Lawrence Welk sketch, in which an old-timey singing family contended with a misfit sister (Kristen Wiig playing a derivative but funny cross between Rachel Dratch’s Angelina Jolie lovechild and those non-SNL “baby hands” sketches online), set the pace: quick set-up, hammer a central joke, garnish with optional side jokes, and get out.

Not surprisingly, this strategy tends to work best when the central joke is somewhat inexplicable, as with Welk or the dancing courtship between Bobby Moynihan and host Anne Hathaway. A later sketch, withHathaway as Mary Poppins explaining the meaning of “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” to Moynihan and Casey Wilson, was a less successful of echo of Moynihan’s Of Mice and Men sketch from the James Franco episode a few weeks back. You can picture how these sketches probably came about, with writers riffing on pop-culture obsessions and eventually writing it out. But the Of Mice and Men bit somehow avoided sounding like a “what’s up with that?” observation, while the Mary Poppins sketch went on autopilot almost immediately (or maybe it just paled in comparison to the episode-long Simpsons version of the source material).

But the pop-culture-debris approach worked more often than not: I loved Casey Wilson’s caricature of Katy Perry (hawking a CD of her “less provocative” songs). Thin political impressions can grow tiresome, but sometimes the simplest celebrity skewerings work best. Every blog covering politics and/or SNL will probably link to the VP debate sketch, so let me shine a spotlight on something far less zeitgeisty yet still hilarious:

Andy Samberg has never fancied himself an impressionist — he’s appeared in several sketches flaunting his supposed total lack of facility in this department — but damned if he doesn’t do an absolutely spot-on Mark Wahlberg. Between the above sketch and another excellent digital short, Samberg owned several of the night’s best moments. He started his tenure on the show as an overhyped next-gen Jimmy Fallon; somehow, though, he’s since wound up one of SNL’s most underrated talents.

While the non-political sketches were pitched as goofy and efficient throwaways, the two political bits were by far the longest of the night; the writers seem to be emboldened by the suggestion that they’re contributing to the political conversation, even when the material isn’t really there. The VP debate sketch was fine, of course, a better synthesis of obvious and semi-obvious jokes than its presidential counterpart (helped immeasurably by Tina Fey’s version of Palin). But the bailout press-conference sketch felt muddled; once again, the writers seemed to be satirizing “all sides” more out of obligation than inspiration.

If I haven’t said much about Anne Hathaway’s work as host, it’s because she often wasn’t in the spotlight, as screentime was doled out with unusual equality this week. Just about everyone (save Darrell Hammond, who routinely sits out most of any episode that doesn’t require him to impersonate an older political figure no one else in the cast can handle) found strong moments: Will Forte singing on Weekend Update; Bill Hader’s mincing fake gay walk followed by a manly stride; Fred Armisen’s muppety Barney Frank. This evenness extended to Hathaway, who seemed happy to blend in (the monologue, her one solo showcase, was about a minute long). Scarlett Johansson still (somewhat inexplicably) sets the gold standard for recent starlet hosts, but Hathaway was clearly game, sending up her relationship problems (in that brief monologue) and her Disney heritage.

The Killers were okay; they seem to have dialed things back from their inadvertent empty-grandeur phase, back when they made the mistake of trying to release a Springsteen-esque album within a few weeks of the Hold Steady. But their acceptable, well-oiled song machines fit right in with this solid, well-crafted episode.

Episode Grade: B


  • 1. sara  |  October 6th, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    Mincing fake gay Bill Hader made my night. And I am completely amazed that no one thought to do an impression of Mark Wahlberg earlier. “Say hi to your mother for me, okay?” Precious.

  • 2. Maggie  |  October 6th, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    I could just picture Samberg walking around for the past six months saying “Say hi to your mother for me, okay?” to everyone he met. That was a weirdly delightful bit.

    However, I disagree on one big point — I thought the Mary Poppins sketch was great! Of course Hader does a brilliant Dick Van Dyke, but her Julie Andrews was solid, too (and she worked with Andrews in the Princess Diaries movies, so I chose to interpret it as a sort of off-kilter but sweet tribute). Maybe I just love the idea that Mary and Bert had a thing going on. I don’t know. I thought it was hilarious.

    Also, I too enjoyed the club dancing bit (even if the audience didn’t react, even at the perfect fake slo-mo thing), but it had the worst ending which almost ruined the whole thing for me. I know endings are hard, but come on!

  • 3. jesse  |  October 6th, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    The Poppins thing, I can definitely appreciate the performance elements (especially the degree of difficulty of Hader doing Van Dyke doing a terrible cockney accent), and it wasn’t completely painful — I’d love to something of that quality be my least favorite moment every week — but it seemed like a lot of effort for an okay joke (like that sketch last year about why the pirates aren’t able to just up and kill Peter Pan). It does make me want to peek behind the scenes and see who wrote what, and see if my sometime-assumptions are correct. I was listening to the commentary track for You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (for a review), and it’s not especially interesting, but my ears perk up whenever they talk about which bits were Smigel’s, which were Apatow’s, and which were Sandler’s.

    And yeah, I feel like a lot of the sketches didn’t really have much in the way of endings (like the gay-roommate thing) — but at least they get to that nowhere point faster than they sometimes did in the past.

  • 4. Maggie  |  October 6th, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    Oh, and I have to mention my favorite Anne Hathaway moment: In that mostly uneven/depressing sketch about the bailout, I loved the way she walked out of the frame staring sideways at the camera. With that and Bill Hader’s walk in the roommate sketch, it was a good week for funny walks.

  • 5. TV Blog Coalition: Oct. 1&hellip  |  October 11th, 2008 at 8:43 am

    […] Aided by the lovely and charming Anne Hathaway, the gang at Saturday Night Live turned in one of the stronger episodes of the season thus far. (TiFaux) […]

  • 6. TV Talk From Fellow TV Ad&hellip  |  October 11th, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    […] Aided by the lovely and charming Anne Hathaway, the gang at Saturday Night Live turned in one of the stronger episodes of the season thus far. (TiFaux) […]

  • 7. This Week in TV Blog Bant&hellip  |  October 13th, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    […] Aided by the lovely and charming Anne Hathaway, the gang at Saturday Night Live turned in one of the stronger episodes of the season thus far. (TiFaux) […]

  • 8. TV Blog Coalition - Octob&hellip  |  October 14th, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    […] Aided by the lovely and charming Anne Hathaway, the gang at Saturday Night Live turned in one of the stronger episodes of the season thus far. (TiFaux) […]


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