Posted by Jesse January 19th, 2009 at 10:01am In SNL
So obviously the Rosario Dawson episode of SNL is going to suffer greatly, to many eyes, for not living up to the Neil Patrick Harris episode, which seems to have elicited positive reactions from both fans and, perhaps especially, people who don’t particularly care about SNL (and which, fine, I could’ve maybe bumped up to a B, but was still too heavy on proficient but uninspired pop culture riffs for my tastes). But hear me out: what I liked about this admittedly mixed-bag episode was that it seemed a little more adventurous, trying weird conceptual stuff alongside crowd-pleasing impersonations of celebrities. Also, it gets major points for actually offering a musical guest I was interested to hear more of, not just catching me up on terrible radio songs that I hadn’t previously heard all the way through.
That said, boy, the episode started out rough.
The Dick Cheney interview opener should’ve been half as long, and stuck in the middle of the show somewhere; as a two-minute side bit, it would’ve been amusing enough, but it was upgraded to a five-minute opener based on the pointless tradition of, well, making political stuff into five-minute openers no matter what (and hoping, I guess, that most of the rest of the non-Update show is almost 100% current-events free outside of the second half of a presidential election year).
The one-joke Cheney affair was followed by a one-joke monologue that revived Fred Armisen’s long-dormant Ferecito character to little effect, immediately chased by yet another one-joke sketch: Da Learnin’ Train, a ridiculously elaborate bit about an intelligence-challenged children’s show that required a lot more performance energy from a lot more of the cast than it was worth. With Cheney, Ferecito, and a hip-hop kids’ show, the whole first twenty minutes felt slightly retro, like a bad chunk of SNL circa 2003 or so.
Time-travel to the early aughts might also explain why January 2009 was deemed the right moment for a tribute to the tenth anniversary of Disney’s Aladdin. Then again, it may just be the latest from whoever wrote those Of Mice and Men and Mary Poppins sketches from earlier in the season, and I have to say, I kind of liked it, sucker as I am for inexplicably musical sketches.
It was around this point that the show began to turn a little. The Gitmo going-out-of-business ad was quick and funny, the Digital Short was amusing as always, and lord help me, but I enjoyed Gilly, Kristen Wiig’s latest blatant grab for a tic-heavy recurring character. The sketch worked first because it was weirder and creepier than, say, Penelope; and second because it wasn’t just cast members standing around reacting to Wiig. Will Forte repurposed the passive, unassuming, mustachioed persona he’s donned in a few other sketches; Casey Wilson made some strangely vaudevillian jokes as a fellow teacher; and Kenan Thompson gave deadpan reactions, his secret strength. I also loved the creepy little dance Gilly did to her theme music.
Wiig and Forte reteamed for a fine almost-1AM sketch, What’s Your Excuse? — the cutaways to a deserted, cat-prowled studio audience might’ve been my favorite joke of the night. The other post-Update sketches — a Mexican cop show written by beginning Spanish students, and a trip back to a rejiggered View spoof that will have to work hard to eclipse the meaner Tina Fey-penned editions from, hey, the late nineties/early aughts — were just OK, though if I can make one last defensive maneuver: they could go up against last week’s Today sketch and, say, Frost/Other People with absolutely no problem.
One element that was without question superior on the NPH episode: NPH himself. Rosario Dawson was game and mostly sufficient, but I found it distracting how often her Latina background was stressed at the expense of having her do much else, especially in the service of something like Da Learnin’ Train. Seriously, who put that in the first half-hour? Or on the air at all?
I’m also disappointed that they re-upped another technically impressive but broadly derivative Judy Grimes Weekend Update appearance while apparently scotching this bit in dress rehearsal:
Episode Grade: B-/C+ — I’m sort of on the fence.