Monday Morning Quarterback: SNL Season 35, Episode 4

Posted by Jesse October 19th, 2009 at 09:01am In SNL

In the short history of SNL running episodes on four successive weekends — this week’s show capped only the third time they’ve done this — the fourth installment has rarely been much good. Usually, predicting SNL episode quality based on logical scheduling patterns proves fruitless; returns after long breaks, which you might assume would result in a build up of decent material, are sometimes disappointing (perhaps because even after a long break, the show is still more or less written and produced in a single week), and often a good episode will turn up during a dismal run, or vice versa. But there was a clear sense of burnout running through this episode that it would be difficult not to attribute to this being the seventh SNL production in five weeks (counting the three Weekend Update Thursday installments).

Gerard Butler was the nominal host, but for some reason the first chunk of the show consisted of reprising bits from last season’s standout Dwayne The Rock Johnson-hosted episode. Johnson himself actually reappeared to play The Rock Obama, a clever riff on the Incredible Hulk that had little to say in its second go-round. Curiously, Johnson wasn’t on hand for a reprisal of the sketch where Bill Hader plays a sportscaster who is clearly a malevolent alien beast; he originally appeared as Hader’s human co-anchor inexplicably attempting to cover up the alien’s nature.  It was one of last season’s most inspired moments, and although there’s still fun in watching Hader’s brilliant physical and vocal work as the alien, no one provided a real reason for essentially remaking the sketch without a sense of surprise.

At least The Rock Obama and the alien sportscaster killed the first time; I can understand the temptation to go back, even if the writers didn’t rise to the challenge. But that was far from the worst of the episode’s many returns to the well. As if to assure us that any funny voice Kristen Wiig comes up with will be awarded recurring-character status, we got another installment of Wiig playing… honestly, I don’t even know how to describe it. A lady who says “Thomas” a lot and does the Wiig patented shoulder-wiggling tic? And is mentally challenged? Or just weird? I have no idea. In a recent Entertainment Weekly; article, Lorne Michaels prematurely rated Wiig as one of the “two or three” best women in SNL’s history, which goes a long way towards explaining how anyone could think this non-character should’ve made it to air once, let alone twice. Even more frustrating, the incidental dialogue in the sketch, between adman Gerard Butler and client Jason Sudeikis, was actually funny, weird stuff about how to make cottage cheese sexy.  The Wiig-acts-freaky bit felt like an actual intrusion upon a sketch that could’ve been funny.

Really, just about every sketch on this episode was some kind of a rerun.  One of the night’s few highlights, the Beauty and the Beast; riff embedded above, clearly stands along Aladdin and Mary Poppins sketches from last year as a loving (and lovingly out-of-date) tribute-to-slash-desecration-of Disney classics. The deep silliness of dressing Butler and cast members up like cartoons made the sketch fun, but what was the reason for doing a 300 sketch two and a half years after that movie was the talk of the town? (Oh, right: no one cares about anything Butler has done since then.) Or the idea behind doing a vaguely amusing but pretty wan Braveheart; spoof fourteen years after that movie came out even though Butler wasn’t actually in it? (Oh, right: Butler being Scottish is more notable than anything he’s done since 300.)  I was giving this acceptable-if-not-great season some time to warm up, but this can easily stand with last season’s worst.

Episode Grade: C-


  • 1. Maggie  |  October 19th, 2009 at 10:31 am

    I agree with you: the reprises of The Rock Obama and the alien sportscaster bit actually made me wonder why I’d liked the first go-arounds so much, so they retroactively ruined two good bits. But on the positive side I also have to call out What’s Up With That — in particular, Jason Sudeikis’s awesome background dancing — as a sketch that I should’ve hated* but ended up loving. Just Sudeikis on his own: The wig? The tracksuit? Re-creating every move done in the U Can’t Touch This video? I was on board.

    *Because I usually hate the “add more crazy things to the stage picture while someone sings!” sketches.

  • 2. jesse  |  October 19th, 2009 at 10:41 am

    Nothing can really make me disparage the original Hader alien sketch because that was one of my favorite bits of the last bunch of years… but doing it again was sort of like when an awesome movie gets unnecessarily sequelized. You’ll always have the original, but you’d prefer the sequel not exist.

    I did giggle at Sudeikis’s dancing during What Up with That, even as I fought to stay awake. And I actually thought of you during that sketch because you hated that other game show sketch that just descended into ridiculous dancing. But I liked that one better, possibly because of Wiig’s awesome-terrible dancing (which is my favorite tic of hers, far more than the voice thing or the shoulder thing; it even makes me laugh during stupid Gilly sketches).

  • 3. sara  |  October 19th, 2009 at 10:49 am

    I actually laughed a lot during this episode, but I did think it was strange that three of the stronger sketches (Beauty and the Beast, What Up With That, and Daveheart) could have run 10 years ago or more. I mean, Phil Hartman would not have looked out of place as Cogsworth.

    I love The Rock Obama. I will watch that as many times as The Dwayne wants to come back and do it. It just makes me feel better to see someone playing Max Baucus get thrown out a window.


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