Posted by Jesse January 18th, 2010 at 04:31am In SNL
Outside forces boosted this week’s episode of Saturday Night Live; it wasn’t particularly stellar in the area of writing or even of regular-cast performance, but the host and musical guest both pulled more weight than usual. More surprising: the Ting Tings, whose songs have always struck me as the bad kind of catchy, the nyah-nyah approach to earworms. They were semi-inexplicably booked to play a couple of songs that have been making the rounds for like two years now, but given that old-news quality, their stripped-down performances were actually quite engaging, seeming to shrink the SNL stage to a more intimate size. The live version of “That’s Not My Name,” with its minimalist beginning building into a more familiar, noisy climax, was actually more fun than the radio cut; “Shut Up and Let Me Go” was less transformed, but included an enjoyable cowbell shout-out.
Less surprising, due to her general awesomeness, was Sigourney Weaver as host. I speculated last week that Charles Barkley might’ve had the longest gap between hosting gigs, but Weaver actually broke that record this week; she last appeared in 1986, fresh off of Aliens. Fitting, then, that she matched her second collaboration with James Cameron with another go at SNL — and hey, the show finally managed to book the star of an already-out movie that hasn’t bombed and has in fact grossed a bajillion dollars. I guess they did that with Taylor Lautner, too, but Sigourney Weaver is a sixtysomething lady — not exactly the demo SNL chases.
The break from the usual starlets and Twilights and novelty hosts paid off; Weaver was game and often delightful throughout. Even when playing herself, as in the sketch about reading asinine internet comments, she made a great show of sincere silliness, wondering aloud if a YouTube comment consisting of “dat ass” was a good thing, and threatening to use her unusual female height in a scuffle with any haters. Weaver also did a nice job singing through a couple of enjoyably weird (if somewhat thin) sketches: a routine about a distressed nightclub singer to close out the show, and a Kenan-hosted disco show with the good sense to feature more than one type of joke, even if the reason for its existence may have been a willingness to greenlight any Kenan-hosted retro-singing sketch in the wake of the puzzling success of “What Up with That.”
Avatar, as expected, loomed: Weaver flat-out reprised her role in that film for a Navi-sex sketch that took a good idea about halfway there, if that, and just sort of trailed off. The better James Cameron homage came with the low-budget world of Laser Cats, accompanied by not just Weaver but Cameron himself; Andy Samberg and Bill Hader packed an excellent number of DIY references into their latest basement-quality sci-fi epic.
So that’s a fair amount of amusement, really; just a lack of massive laughs. As such, there were a couple of okay character reprisals — Kenan’s Grady Stiles and the fumbling ESPN Classic commentators who get stuck covering obscure female sports sponsored by feminine care products — that didn’t particularly help or hurt, and only one really horrible bit. In a frightening bid for a recurring character, Fred Armisen played Riley, a grade-schooler with the voice and personality of an aggressively haggard drag queen. The idea of a kid talking with such a near-demonic voice and awful personality was sort of funny for a few seconds, but Armisen’s special affection for one-note characters is wearing thin. This is what happens when people routinely stay on the show for seven or eight years rather than four or five; they have time to develop and establish themselves, but they also have the time to break out their third-tier material. On the flipside, Weaver brought an A-game after a nearly 24-year gap. She should definitely return before 2034.
Episode Grade: C+