Archive for November 9th, 2009

Monday Morning Quarterback: SNL Seasom 35, Episode 5

At fourteen years old and eight feel tall, Taylor Swift became, I assume, one of the youngest and most towering celebrities to ever serve as both host and musical guest of Saturday Night Live. This should not be such rarified air; if this chick can do it, they should occasionally force others to pull double-duty, possibly against their will. For example, the upcoming Joseph Gordon-Levitt episode could feature JGL musical numbers instead of Dave Matthews Band, and when Beck returns for the tenth or fifteenth time, he should have to do a monologue. Let Taylor Swift’s la-la-musical-monologue pave the way, because it was way better than her actual songs lamenting how well she could service a nondescript boy if he’d only notice her.

Her sing-songy introduction to the show wasn’t hilarious, but it was sort of cute and, more importantly, in tune with her sensibilities. As it turned out, Swift fell into a pretty broad SNL host category: very game, not necessarily all that polished, and yet surprisingly good at a few odd impressions like Kristen Stewart and Shakira (I’ve never really seen that Kate Minus Jon Plus Babies show but her impression that Kate woman seemed to at least have a specific vocal cadence). I was impressed by her command of her gangly-Amazon (ganglazon?) body, even if it was just in service of, say, imitating Kenan Thompson’s pointless “Scared Straight” character.

Actually, that recurring bit was one of the less tired of the night, or at least I found it more amusing than the one billionth Penelope sketch. Not because the material is particularly good — it is not; this falls squarely on the “awful schtick” side of the Kenan awful schtick/hilarious character work divide — but because the sketch has been done so many times that the main attraction is now (a.) Jason Sudeikis’s reactions, which he obviously plays up in order to facilitate (b.) Bill Hader cracking up at the ridiculousness of everything.

If that had been the only bad recurring bit of the night, I could’ve ignored it. But, as mentioned, the show trotted out Penelope for a sketch I could barely bring myself to watch; Armisen’s conceptually clever but beyond played-out Nicholas Fehn character on Update; and the less irritating but still sort of second-rate parody of The View. This kind of laziness is understandable after three or four episodes in a row; dispiriting, though, after two weeks off.

It’s not as if every non-recurring sketch was golden; the one with Swift and Jenny Slate as crazy-in-love roommates felt like it was going somewhere funny, but instead just repeated itself and ended abruptly, despite nice physical work from Slate and Swift (I particularly liked Slate attaching herself to Swift’s leg as she left the room). But at least it required more effort than “Kristen Wiig, doing a tic, go!”

Surprisingly, at least to me, the show was best when it really focused on Swift’s presence and audience. The highlights (apart from a mostly solid Weekend Update) had her playing around with tween/teenage culture: the trailer for Firelight, in which a Kristen Stewart lookalike is torn between Frankensteins and mummies (I realize the correct term would be Frankenstein’s Monsters and I’m sure someone in the SNL writers’ room does too, but they also correctly surmised that “Frankensteins” is much, much funnier to say); and a PSA about parental automotive mistakes just as dangerous as texting while driving. I liked the ad for the soundtrack to the unfinished animated classic Bunny Business, too. Given that they are capable of writing actually-funny sketches, I don’t think it’s asking too much for the writers to limit their reprisals to say, two a week, rather than the three or four we’ve been getting for the last few shows.

Episode Grade: C+

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