Archive for September, 2010

Monday Morning (or Tuesday Afternoon) Quarterback: SNL Season 36, Episode 1

I realize that Saturday Night Live probably spends a lot of time in a “transitional” phase, especially considering that since the mid-nineties there hasn’t been the kind of cast shake-up that used to occur about every five or six years. Since the 1995 overhaul that introduced Will Ferrell, Molly Shannon, Cheri Oteri, and Darrell Hammond, among others, cast changes have been more gradual. A near-complete turnover from that cast didn’t really happen until 2003, when Ferrell and Chris Kattan left in quick succession, still leaving Darrell Hammond, and cast members added between ’95 and ’00 were still going strong in 2005 when Bill Hader, Andy Samberg, Jason Sudeikis, and Kristen Wiig jumped on. Since then, new cast members have seemed minor, performing in the shadow of still-popular mid-decade additions.

That said, the Amy Poehler-hosted season opener of SNL seemed like a particularly transitional episode. Newcomer Jenny Slate is gone, as is long-timer Will Forte, while Nasim Pedrad, Abby Elliott, and Bobby Moynihan receive promotions and aging cast members Fred Armisen and Kenan Thompson remain, at seasons eight and seven, respectively. Four new cast members have been added, perhaps in expectation that Armisen, Thompson, and even some of the 2005 crew may be departing soon.

To confuse matters further, relatively recent cast departure Poehler returned to host and brought cameos from Tina Fey, Jimmy Fallon, Rachel Dratch, and Maya Rudolph. No one in the actual cast appeared in the first post-monologue sketch, with Poehler and Rudolph reviving Bronx Beat, a sketch that seems like it’s been revived as often as it was actually done when both women were cast members, with Katy Perry playing the busty guest, in a mildly clever nod to her Sesame Street ban.

Bronx Beat as a whole is not the most inspired first sketch of a new season, but it’s enjoyable to watch simply for how well Poehler and Rudolph know these characters, and how much of the humor is in pure dialogue and delivery, not “funny” behavior. As far as revived Poehler characters, I prefer the petulant one-legged cretin Amber, brought back as a character on a Showtime series — a funny premise, though it wasn’t the most hilarious Amber outing.

That applies to most of the material on Saturday’s premiere: pretty amusing, rarely the best example of its form. Bronx Beat and Amber provided okay recurring characters (not so much with Fred Armisen’s surly old guy producer character; funny on paper, less so in repeated sketches); the Digital Short was suitably bizarre but not top-tier; the fake ads for pubic hair transplants and The Even More Expendables were good enough shots at east targets; the “tiny hats” bit was funny and weird, but not on the level of, say, last year’s potato chip sketch.

The best material was quick: an ad for the “Ground Zero Mosque” merrily trumpeting gay weddings and more, revealed to be Republican fear-mongering; and “Actor II Actor” with Andy Samberg screaming at Justin Timberlake (another cameo!) about getting back to music. Oh, and Poehler’s monologue with all of those cameos was funny, but then, Poehler, Dratch, Fey, and Fallon tend to be pretty funny together. Update, as usual, was quite good, and newcomer Jay Pharoah did a killer Will Smith impression. (He has an Obama impression too! Please, please let him use it! Far better impressions than Armisen’s have been unceremoniously retired!)

So: a mostly funny episode, but with sort of a clearinghouse feel; it would’ve felt better as a mid-season break — bring in Poehler and her buddies to do some heavy lifting while the regular cast rests. Instead, we’re left waiting to figure out how this new mutation of the cast will gel.

But hey, if you want to hear some alarmist silliness combined with some awful, awful advice, Flavorwire is there for you!

Grade: B-

1 comment September 28th, 2010

Who Won Thursday?

Because…why not?

I started “Who Won Thursday,” though, because I thought that, any given week, any of NBC’s Thursday comedy lineup had a shot at offering the night’s funniest episode. That premise is no longer true.

Outsourced is not funny. Even giving it some freshmen-year leeway, it is not in the same league as the other NBC comedies.

Outsourced is dumb. Really dumb. So dumb it’s almost confusing.

Take this little exchange, for example: At one part in the show, main-dim-bulb Todd is explaining what American novelties are to his Indian staff, and why they are funny. One of the items is a mistletoe belt. Todd thinks it’s hilarious. He explains what mistletoe is. Someone on his staff asks why someone would then put mistletoe on a belt. Todd explains some more. The staffer is all, “That’s how you celebrate the birth of the son of your God?” and Todd is all offended that she doesn’t think it’s funny.

This scene leaves me with complicated feelings. Is it true that people in India don’t know what mistletoe is? I don’t know—possibly. But, once it’s explained, is it weird that the staff needs further explanations of why it’s cheeky to put mistletoe on a belt? Have they really never heard of blowjobs, either? Or was it because Todd did a bad job of explaining the purpose of mistletoe? And are they thick for not finding that sort of thing funny, or is Todd thick because he does? Who is the one that’s being made fun of in this situation? I don’t think, as the show’s creators would like you to believe, that they’re givin’ it to both sides equally. It’s just a confused, poorly written scene that’s so murky it’s hard to even pinpoint how offensive it is. But, most of all, it’s not funny. It hardly approaches funny. It can’t compete with shows that actually are. And so, I’m taking it out of the running, because I am not watching it again. (If you want more of a rant about the many failures of Outsourced, read my PopMatters review.)

Enough about Outsourced. Let’s move on to the actually good shows—all three of which posted strong premieres.

Community: Anthropology 101
Often, the fuzzy-wuzzy aspects of this show bother me, so it’s good to see the claws come out this week. And, even though the characters were being downright mean to each other, it still managed to get the most out-loud laughs all night. (Although, I admit that many of those came out during the end credits, when they were all singing Toto’s “Africa.” Man, I love that song.) Still, I could’ve done without a lot of the gimmicks: The multiple Twitter feeds, Abed’s meta-meta comments about how being meta was so last season, and the stunt-casting of Betty White.

30 Rock: The Fabian Strategy
I wish 30 Rock were still on after The Office. (That’s another thing you’ve robbed from me, Outsourced.) Like TiFaux Maggie once said, you need a 30 Rock chaser after the grimness of The Office. Then again, this time, it’s 30 Rock that feels like it has the cloud of doom hanging over its head. I know that Matt Damon’s character can’t be on the show forever–because it’s Matt-Friggin’-Damon—so the relationship with Liz is doomed to fail. For me, the whole arc is just waiting for the shoe to drop. I don’t want to become too invested, no matter how—or especially because of how—great Matt Damon is. Then again, it would open the door for a return appearance by Wesley Snipes. Gang way!

The Office: Nepotism
Mostly, I love the return of Jim the Prankster. He wasn’t the stressed-out co-boss or the put-upon new husband and father. I think it’s been a while since we’ve even seen Jim smile. (And, come on, his Peanuts dance in the beginning for-no-reason musical number was pretty great.) I also love how Jim described the prank as his Christmas present to himself. I also like how there were subtle changes since we last checked in on the Office staff: Dwight bought the building (and got drunk off a moderate amount of power, like in that Kids in the Hall sketch), and Gabe and Erin started dating. Hopefully that’ll give Gabe more to do, and not just be yet another stolen girlfriend for Andy. (Also, the show has to be careful with how they treat Erin’s intelligence. I like it when she’s goofy and naïve, but not flat-out stupid.)

So, who won Thursday?

Click to continue reading “Who Won Thursday?”

1 comment September 24th, 2010


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