Archive for April, 2010

Monday Morning Quarterback: SNL Season 35, Episode 20

I think the elevated expectations for the Gabourey Sidibe episode of Saturday Night Live must speak to Sidibe’s innate likability; most people have only seen her in the movie Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire if at all, which makes sense because while she’s shot some episodes of an upcoming TV show since, her hosting gig was really only her second acting gig. Yet everyone I talked to seemed to be psyched for her appearance based on her charming (and very non-Precious) interview presence.

She played up those differences, of course, in a jubilant monologue, singing about being herself to the tune of “It’s in His Kiss,” and singing quite well. For the rest of the show, she stumbled over lines pretty regularly, but it made sense: her only other acting that anyone has seen didn’t require a ton of dialogue, and her actual personality is far more exuberant. Her fumbles felt like excitement more than nerves.

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3 comments April 25th, 2010

Who Won Thursday: Quick & Dirty Edition

Okay, so I’m late with this week’s Who Won Thursday. Honestly, my tardiness can be directly related to the activities of volcano Eyjafjallajokull, but it’s not really worth explaining. And, according to me, this post isn’t officially late unless Jesse beats me with his SNL recap. I’m in more of a grace period here.

Still, we don’t have time for screwing around. This is this quick and dirty edition of Who Won Thursday. I’m just going to announce the winner.

Here goes.

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2 comments April 25th, 2010

I’m Sick of Your Shit: Whiny Soda Lady

Hi, guys. Long time no whine. I’m just popping in here to rant briefly about how much I hate this ad the cumbersomely named New Yorkers Against Unfair Taxes is running against Governor Paterson (NEW JERSEY!)’s proposed tax on bottled drinks like soda and juice.

Oh my Christ on a tiny little crutch. Seriously, she might as well be saying, “How dare you infringe on my right to feed my child highly processed corn sugar in liquid form! Respect mah authoritah!”

Now, I don’t watch a lot of commercials. I have a tifaux, after all. And even though my new HD box (YEEEEESSSSS, HD BOX) is kind of glitchy and bitchy and likes to randomly NOT RECORD THE SOUP, I still record almost everything and watch it at least a little delayed. But I do occasionally watch live TV. Take, for instance, last Sunday, when I watched like seventeen consecutive hours of USA’s Law & Order: SVU Ripped From the Headlines marathon. And I saw that commercial like thirty times. I was ready to punch that whingeing hag by the end of it. God, lady. Suck it the fuck up. Don’t make me list all the things I can see in that kitchen of yours that indicate you can afford an extra five frigging bucks a week. Give your kid water. Mix your whiskey with seltzer, like I do. Brew your own damn iced tea. Or just save up the bottles and get the deposits back. VoilĂ , taxes canceled out.

And tell the American Beverage Association, which paid for that ad, to shove it. Same to the state of Iowa, with their billion dollars a year in corn subsidies.

P.S. Friends, I promise my shameful hiatus will end soon. I plan to write about Justified and In Plain Sight quite soon, and at the end of the month the fourth season of Friday Night Lights will begin airing on NBC, and I’ll start up the recaps again. Sorry for sucking lately.

3 comments April 19th, 2010

Monday Morning Quarterback: SNL Season 35, Episode 19

After a couple of shows that didn’t rely heavily on recurring characters, the Ryan Phillipe-hosted episode of SNL brought them roaring back. They even wedged three into Phillipe’s monologue, referring to his appearance in the upcoming MacGruber movie. MacGruber is the first SNL character to get a movie in about a decade, but Target Lady, Dick in a Box guy, and What Up with That host all wanted to know when they could cash their movie checks, prospects that seem unlikely, not least because I watch this show every week and I don’t know any of these characters’ names. Forte seems quite sage, in retrospect, putting his character’s name in the sketch title.

MacGruber himself was absent from the episode (I guess it would seem crass, although on the other hand, he shilled for Pepsi directly). But if you count Fred Armisen’s Larry King and at least one returning celebrity impressions from the Mort Mort Feingold sketch, there was a recurring character around for everything until the first Ke$ha performance (note: I’ve almost typed her name out as Ke&ha or possibly Kes&ha just about every time I’ve ever typed it; I think my normally decent keyboarding skills are trying to tell me something), plus several more post-Update.

This included SNL’s practice of returning to sketches long after they first aired, something that really began in earnest, I think, with Will Ferrell’s seven-year run on the show, and has blossomed as players like Forte and Armisen have come surprisingly close to the ten-year mark. Hence the Hip-Hop Kids, last seen fighting monsters from The Descent four years ago, made a surprise return appearance to deal with a bear problem, though without the help of Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph. More repeated but still sort of erratically is the sketch where four old friends reminisce while singing along to an inane rock song; the sketch has been done so often that what started with cheesy hits from the seventies and eighties has now caught up to Deep Blue Something’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

Both of these were reasonably funny, though, and Phillipe, while perhaps not distinct in his performances, certainly jumped in and blended with the cast. Less successful was a return to the ESPN Classic sketch; hopefully this fifth goddamned appearance is the last we’ve seen for the season. Not because the sketch isn’t funny — Sudeikis and Forte’s cheerfully out-of-sync banter can get laughs no matter how many damn times they repeat it — but because I’m sick of seeing it (and writing about it) even though it is kind of funny, and as much fun as the leads can have, there are so many grimacing sports guises Kristen Wiig and some host can take on; that half of the sketch hasn’t been particularly funny for months.

The show also continued to indulge Fred Armisen’s unpleasant recurring characters, though his insensitive substitute host of Teen Talk is, admittedly, the funniest, most believable, and least all-out irritating of the characters he’s given us this year. He was also front and center for a Larry King imitation that, while not particularly funny, was notable for replacing his own crummy Obama impression, and starting the episode off with a few actual laughs, rather than prolonged discomfort.

The whole episode was like that: doing small things right, like the commercial for a DVD that loops the porny-looking Shake Weight commercial, and “I Got This,” an amusing little observational sketch about paying the check. They also introduced actual new characters on Weekend Update, including Forte’s hilarious Father Swimcoach Scoutmaster.

Little was flat-out brilliant, but on the other hand, nothing completely tanked for me; it was one of those solid episodes were every sketch had at least a few chuckles. Then, putting the show over the top into acceptable territory for me while utilizing that more measured approach to recurring bits was this last sketch of the night:

A strange combination of obscurity (spoofing an internet circulation) and easiness (Insane Clown Posse is not exactly the most nuanced target), yes, but really funny. Something to bask in while ignoring Ke&*a’s poor-lady’s Lady Gaga shtick and waiting for the writers to turn the charming Gabourey Sidibe into Kenan Thompson’s newest ghetto daughter next week.

Episode Grade: B

2 comments April 18th, 2010

Monday Morning Quarterback: SNL Season 35, Episode 18

When Tina Fey returns to host SNL, it feels a bit like a delightful form of cheating, even compared to other return engagements from former cast members. Though we usually have to wait for incidental mentions in newspaper articles or comedy-history type books to figure out who actually wrote individual sketches, Fey, as a former head writer, has her fingerprints all over her full-episode returns to the show. You have to figure she’s pitching at least a few sketches, if not necessarily writing everything herself, Studio 60-style. So in her two hosting gigs so far, we’ve gotten sort of a Fey supershow.

This effect is compounded by the fact that while Fey was head writer during much of her time on the show, she was never a pronounced on-camera presence, sticking to her showcase Weekend Update and the occasional sketch; she never had a character as popular as the Sarah Palin imitation she honed as an occasional guest star. Since leaving SNL, Fey, always an engaging performer, has only gotten better; compare her early episodes of 30 Rock to where she is now, or even her charming supporting role in the movie of her screenplay Mean Girls versus her strong leading work in the inferior but enjoyable Date Night, which she was promoting this weekend. She’s always been funny, but she’s only gained confidence in her time away from sketch comedy.

So a Tina-hosted episode becomes sort of a peek into an alternate-world SNL, where Fey got as much screentime as, say, Amy Poehler. For her “record” second go-around, she was front and center in almost every sketch, including several near-solo performances: not just her monologue, but the Brownie Husband ad (not quite as brilliant as her Annuale piece from her first time hosting, but pretty funny), the teacher sketch that had her playing almost exclusively off of Justin Beiber, and her Women’s News segment on her old Weekend Update stomping ground.

The latter came off like a Tina Fey mission statement, and a scathing refusal to alter her personal style and irritations to answer any criticisms of “Liz Lemon feminism.” Fey has covered a lot of this ground before; call it her anti-slut platform. The piece was funny, though, and had a distinct point of view, which is more than you can say for a lot of SNL (or stand-up comedy, for that matter). In fact, Fey has such confidence now that, unlike the typical SNL hodgepodge, her episode had a distinctly personal feel, with riffs on pet Fey topics like lonely single women, attention-whore skanks, and nerdy awkward girls. The latter came through with this sketch about a girl (Nasrim Pedrad) whose best friend is her mother (Fey):

It’s the kind of thing that could come off one-note or condescending, but the sketch was disarmingly sweet, anchored by a lovely performance from Pedrad, who after this and Talk Show with Ravish, among others, has emerged as a solid breakout performer Again, I have no idea what role Fey played behind the scenes in getting this sketch to air, if any, but it certainly felt right that she’d have a part in such a well-written female-driven bit — and that she’d let Pedrad get so many of the biggest laughs.

Not everything worked swimmingly. The Al Roker sketch would’ve been a lot funnier if Kenan Thompson bothered to work up a decent Al Roker impression to better contrast with his amusingly absurd pimped-out dance-party version — and Fey’s Dina Lohan was probably one attention-whore character too many after a funny Tiger Woods riff earlier in the episode (which was itself, though well-played by Fey and Jason Sudeikis, not quite as inspired as Nasrim Pedrad’s mistress character from earlier in the season).

Fey’s Sarah Palin Network sketch was as funny as you’d expect, which makes me wonder why they didn’t make that the standard political cold open rather than the abysmal Obama census sketch. Not only was the latter completely muddled about what, exactly, it was satirizing (and, like so many Obama sketches, it flirted with “making fun” of the president only by flirting with creepy Fox News-style tropes, maybe out of a desire to make fun of the tropes themselves, but, regardless, not coming up with a decent satirical angle of their own on anything), it was just plain boring to watch, consisting primarily of of Fred Armisen reading words on the screen in his mediocre Obama voice. Strange that this was the one aspect of a routine SNL that they preserved as the rest was remade more or less in Fey’s image.

The show worked with one other handicap: involving Justin Beiber in two sketches. It made sense in the bit about the teacher; Beiber was awkward, but Fey’s character lustily pushing him a stroller certainly, you know, went for it. But shoehorning him into the above-mentioned school dance was pointless; it only brought muffed, nervous line readings into an otherwise lovely piece. Also, he sang two songs. That wasn’t so cool either.

Still, sketch for sketch, this was one of the best episodes of the season. Between Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, and Jon Hamm, it seems like maybe 30 Rock is producing the odd side benefit of an excellent SNL host farm team. But hopefully we won’t have to wait for Grizz or Dotcom to host before we get another strong showing.

Episode Grade: B+

April 11th, 2010


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