Archive for October, 2010

Monday Morning Quarterback: SNL Season 36, Episode 5

I was afraid this might happen. After two good-to-great hosting gigs and several hilarious 30 Rock appearances, expectations were high for Jon Hamm’s third go-round at Saturday Night Live, and while it didn’t completely fall flat, it was arguably the weakest overall episode of the season — and certainly the most disappointing.

Hamm’s monologue, in which he attempted to prove his learned advertising acumen by coming up with product slogans from “audience” suggestions, was in keeping with his past comedic work: daft, a bit strange, and more than willing to deflate his smooth Mad Men image. That strength turned up again in the sketch about two actors with a bizarre list of what they will and won’t show or do in a stage play; Hamm, with his crazed earnestness, more or less saved it from becoming another Kristen Wiig tic-sketch. There was also another go-round with Vincent Price and his Halloween special, and, as usual, it was pretty amusing.

So after a decent opening thirty or forty minutes, I was primed for the really good stuff to happen after 12:30, which is when we got weird little masterpieces like “Jon Hamm’s John Ham,” “Hamm & Buble,” and the closet organizer sketch (and its strangely low-key sequel sketch in the same episode). But the show failed to deliver anything on this level, and after Hamm’s past triumphs, it was a little deflating.

Unlike last week’s Emma Stone episode, this one faltered in the post-Update section — the popular and usually incorrect idea of what SNL is like in its final half-hour. I admire that in general, this season has been light on recurring characters (both Vincent Price and the Rihanna-only Digital Short character Shy Ronnie have been used sparingly enough to remain funny), so I appreciated the attempts at originality in sketches like “I Didn’t Ask for This,” “Highway Cops,” and, well, okay, SNL doing its umpteenth bit about low-rent lounge singers doesn’t exactly qualify as original, but points for giving Hamm a series of bizarre parts.

The one that came the closest to working was the odd “Highway Cops” bit, but that was hamstrung by that triple-joke structure where basically the same thing happens three times — only “Highway Cops” barely escalated the jokes, barely made any jokes, in fact, so it just went on a long time. I chuckled at the wide-eyed innocence of Hamm and Sudeikis, and Kenan Thompson’s conversations with the photo of his dead wife, but the sketch just didn’t add up to anything. It was sort of cute, but last week’s Paris teenagers and “My Brother Knows Everything” sketches were cute and actually funny.

Really, one out-of-the-park sketch in that last thirty minutes would’ve made a huge difference; the episode wouldn’t become a season highlight, as last year’s Hamm visit indisputably was, but it would’ve seemed a little light rather than a substantial bummer. Instead, we’re left picking through the scraps (lots of Hader! Hamm is good in pretty much everything!) and noticing how the “Shy Ronnie” song is arguably just as catchy as Rihanna’s actual music.

Episode Grade: C+

6 comments October 31st, 2010

Who Won Thursday?

30 Rock was off last week, so it was 50/50 as to who would win this Thursday. But who did?

Community: Epidemiology
Community had a terrific Halloween episode last year, and last night’s was also really strong. Halloween just jibes well with what the show likes to do, and this one worked better for me than the other “concept” episodes this season (the Apollo 13 one and the Charlie Kaufman/Jesus one). I guess zombies are easy to adapt to any situation, so it doesn’t require a lot of setup—it gets straight to the joke-telling. (Good ones, too. “I’m a sexy Dracula.”) Even though it was another parody episode, they reigned in Abed’s meta-jokes to one or two good ones. (“Make me proud. Be the first black man to make it to the end.) The fact that it was all superfluously set to an ABBA soundtrack made it even better—it shows they had time to focus on something other than how to pull off a zombie parody. My complaint, and it’s minor, is that, at its heart, it still came down to being cool versus staying true to the study group, with Troy playing the part of Jeff.

The Office: Costume Contest
The cold open was great. They never really pay too much attention to Stanley, so it was kind of amazing to see how he doesn’t pay much attention to anyone else, either. I also loved the twisted logic that surrounded the Scranton coupon book—how they all believed it was worth $15,000, and how they gave it to Oscar based on dim Survivor-style logic. I’m not, however, really that interested in The Office continuity. I’m interested to see who they get to replace Michael at the end of the season, but I don’t really want to follow a trail of breadcrumbs to get there. To me, the show is much more about the characters that then overarching story. I know they need one to put the characters in different situations, but I don’t tune in every week to find out who is going to replace Michael. (Maybe it’s because I got really frustrated with the way they advance things, then regress them. Jim’s in Stamford! Now he’s back! Now he’s co-manager! Now he’s back! Now Michael, Pam, and Ryan are gone! Now they’re back! Except Pam’s a salesperson now! Except she’s not!) So, since I’m not really invested in the future of the company, the Darryl storyline kind of fell flat for me. And I love Olyphant, but I don’t care why he didn’t call Pam back, and they still haven’t allowed him to be funny yet.

It will never be Outsourced. I watch the beginning of Outsourced because the DVR catches it. As far as I can tell, most episodes start with the staff being startled by and screaming at the novelties they’re selling. This week, a staff member didn’t believe that the spider on his desk was remote controlled, even after it was demonstrated for him. Now tell me the show isn’t offensive and condescending.

So, who won Thursday?

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2 comments October 29th, 2010

Glee vs. Kids Incorporated: Who Scored It Best?

It’s weird hearing kids sing this song, no doubt about it. But which kids sang it better?

(From Kids Incorporated, Season 6)

(From Glee, Season 1, Episode 9)

Glee certainly takes the song in a new direction, but is it a good one?

2 comments October 26th, 2010

Monday Morning Quarterback: SNL Season 36, Episode 4

Let’s start with the good stuff: check out the last half-hour or so of the Emma Stone episode of Saturday Night Live. If not for what I assume are music-clearance issues, I would be linking the most delightful sketch of the evening, the thing with the dancing French teenagers. I’m not sure how they got away with doing a sketch that was more cute than laugh-out-loud funny, and also entirely in French, but it’s the kind of non-formulaic experiment that the show should indulge more often, as long as it’s this adorable.

The sketch I’m linking above instead is another one of Nasrim Pedrad’s earnest-little-kids bits, and I’m also fairly delighted that she gets these on the air, even if I’d love to see her explore other types of characters with the same knack for sweet-natured (but not saccharine) observational humor. “My Brother Knows Everything,” like “New Boyfriend Talk Show” from a couple of weeks ago, took what could be a one-joke premise and actually fleshed it out without outstaying its welcome. It was followed immediately by the ad for Sex Ed Vincent’s Sex Symposium, with newcomer Paul Brittain playing a creepy self-styled sex educator running sad, weird sex seminars — yet without any real mean-spiritedness.

“Sex Symposium” was one of four (!) fake ads of the night; the other was for Kenan Thompson’s budget Halloween costumes. I know it’s kind of a go-to move for this era of the show, to do an ad for some kind of sleazy broken-down discount house, but it almost always gets me. Easy, sure, but it’s all in the details, like how the shop offers to cover any stain with an incongruous object, like a gladiator shield or a pot of chili.

So that was four sketches in a row that I really liked. Most impressive was the way this run was driven almost entirely by cast members added in the past two or three years, with the able assistance of Emma Stone, offering a glimpse of what the show may be like when Sudeikis, Hader, and Wiig start thinking about departing in a year or two.

Before that, though, I was a little worried. With her work in Superbad, The House Bunny, Zombieland, and Easy A, Stone has built a breezy comic career without resorting to Heigl-level romantic comedies; no easy feat for a young actress. And young actresses have often been served well by SNL: Scarlett Johansson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Gwyneth Paltrow (she was young once!), Anne Hathaway… all were surprisingly funny as hosts, without Stone’s background in comedy.

But after another labored-yet-seemingly-effort-free Obama opener, an okay but uninspired monologue, a one-joke fake ad for Baby Spanx, another one-tic Kristen Wiig mess about a prize-dispensing TV host vexed by a non-reacting Stone (a sketch only partially redeemed by everyone else in the sketch having funnier ideas about what to do with their characters), and another listless run-through of The View (aren’t there a billion other talk shows the show could turn its attentions to spoofing after, you know, twelve or fifteen years/!), suddenly we were at Weekend Update with exactly one decent sketch — the one about the parent-alarming teen trends on local news — and one inspired Digital Short featuring Stone’s broken limbs and rapping grape jelly.

Even Update itself has felt off its game this year; you can hear Seth Meyers’ voice in the jokes, which I like, but they’ve so often felt toothless or obvious, with just the occasional cutting remark. And really, as amusing as it is to see Kenan playing the Rent is Too Damn High guy, is it that much funnier than just watching the real guy? Stefon is still funny, through.

But the show really proved the power of a last-half-hour rally; by 1AM, there had been a half-dozen good-or-better segments, which offhand I’d say beats any episode this season, and I give bonus points for a minimum of recurring characters. It’s far from unbeatable — Jon Hamm, fingers crossed, should prove a season high point next weekend — but it’s another decent notch in Emma Stone’s belt.

Episode Grade: B

2 comments October 24th, 2010

Who Won Thursday?

Let’s take a look at what happened last night:

Community: Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples
I’m worried a little bit for this show, because, between this week and last week, it’s lost its groove. Last night pushed the least funny thing about Abed so, so hard to the point that it lost sight of what it was parodying—or maybe it never really had an angle on what it was satirizing at all. It’s a shame, because Abed/Shirley episodes are rare. Then again, Pierce’s acting like a surly teenager towards Jeff and Britta was pure gold. (“Go wait in the car.”)

30 Rock: Reganing
It’s usually the third subplot that sinks a 30 Rock episode, and  I often wonder why they insist on doing them. But, when they pull them off, the whole episode comes together. Jenna and Kenneth working together completely fell flat during the episode when she was trying to get him back into the page program. Last night, it was as if they said, “Wait, we could have done it better.” And they did. Usually I have no use for Kelsey Grammer outside of Sideshow Bob, but he totally nailed his cameo. (“I’ll just need fifty dollars to get started.”)

The Office: The Sting
This episode of The Office had a few of my personal favorite things. I love it when Jim and Dwight go out on sales calls together. I love it when Michael lands a pitch/sale (because you can see how he got promoted in the first place—he actually is a good salesman). And, most of all, I love Timothy Olyphant! Squee!

It will never be Outsourced.

So, who won Thursday?

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3 comments October 22nd, 2010

Glee vs. Kids Incorporated: Who Scored It Best?

Apologies as both videos this week are of less-than-stellar quality. Still, who wins in this week’s Glee/Kids Incorporated match-up?

(From Kids Incorporated, Season 2)

(From Glee, Season 1, Episode 6)

What do you think? Does the presence of Beyonce help or hinder the Glee kids?

October 19th, 2010

Who Won Thursday?

It was hard for me to determine who won Thursday this week, because I didn’t particularly love any of it. It’s like we’ve reached that part in the semester when the novelty of our new classes has worn off, and now the homework is starting to be a slog. Let’s take a look:

Community: Basic Rocket Science
I feel like this is what they were referring to when the creators said they wanted to do more episodes like the paintball one, but this was no paintball episode. The whole school-pride aspect of the plot felt forced, like they just wanted to give Jeff some kind of reason for a pithy speech, and I didn’t for a second believe it or believe that Annie would transfer. It was all very superficial.

30 Rock: Live Show (East Coast version)
Yes, yes. It was live. There were lots of funny only-in-a-live-episode gags (Julia Louis-Dreyfus!) and meta-live jokes. But how was it as an episode of 30 Rock? Not so great. For one thing, I found audience laughter off-putting. It really slowed down the pacing of the show. Then, did they really do an everybody-forgot-my-birthday plot? 30 Rock, you’re better than that.

The Office: Sex Ed
I can see how episodes like this are necessary to give a proper send-off to Michael Scott. It was neat to see him go back through all of his love interests, and it was a nice, meaty storyline for him. It just wasn’t very funny, and a lot of the women kept hitting the same exasperated-with-Michael beat. (Understandably, but it’s kind of a slog.) Jan’s was the only scene that was pitched differently, and that made me squirm.

It will never be Outsourced.

So, who won Thursday?

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1 comment October 15th, 2010

Glee vs. Kids Incorporated: Who Scored It Best?

Inspired by my last post on the similarities between Glee and Kids Incorporated, I dug up another side-by-side comparison. This time, you be the judge: Which video do you prefer?

(From Glee, Season 1, Episode 1)

(From Kids Incorporated, Season 1)

Not to influence opinion at all, but I do think Kids Incorporated deserves some credit for changing the lyrics from “I need a man” to “I need someone.” Way to be accidentally progressive, Disney.

October 12th, 2010

Monday Morning Quarterback: SNL Season 36, Episode 3

This is (somewhat) more like it. The Jane Lynch-hosted episode of SNL was not excellent straight through, but it had the kinds of major peaks that can keep the show worth watching during its usual unevenness. There were three sketches that I straight-up loved, most prominently the “New Boyfriend Talk Show” bit with Andy Samberg playing a sweetly dorky little kid who interviews the suitors of his single mom (Jane Lynch). This could’ve been pretty mean-spirited, but it managed to exploit several angles after announcing its clever premise: the upbeat neediness of Samberg’s kid character, the growing dismay of new “boyfriend” Jason Sudeikis learning about Lynch’s many past conquests, and Lynch’s unflappable encouragement of her son. In fact, I think the sketch works especially well because Lynch and Samberg affect a weirdly sweet, affectionate relationship, rather than a darkly antagonistic (this helps the darker stuff — Lynch apparently having slept with Magic Johnson — go down easier). It’s telling that when I see a sketch like this, part of me is just relieved that the host played a central role that probably wouldn’t be recast, thus hopefully discouraging the writers from repeating it several more times.

The other two standout sketches were shorter: the parody of Christine O’Donnell’s already-kinda-hilarious “I’m not a witch” ads; it may have been an easy target, but they went after it with gusto, especially when the camera pulls out to reveal a skeleton playing the piano. I also adored the flat-out weirdness of parodying those Tax Masters ads by supposing that the pitchman is always filmed in profile due to a tiny identical twin growing out of his head.

Between three hilarious sketches, another decent musical monologue, a decent commercial parody for the “Damn, my mom’s on Facebook” app, and a serviceable (if still not top-level) Weekend Update, this was certainly the best episode of the young Season 36 and, as such, excused some stumbles.

It’s a little strange, for example, that new cast member Jay Pharoah has been shown exclusively as an impressionist; building an entire sketch around his (excellent, uncanny) Denzel Washington imitation, for example, is the kind of thin, cheap stuff you expect from middling stand-up comedy or that Frank Caliendo guy who apparently used to have a show on TBS. The impression was spot-on, as was his Will Smith from a few weeks ago, but that kind of impression-for-impression’s sake material works better either on Weekend Update, where it’s not burdened with a half-premise, or in one of those goofy impression showcases where they throw together five or six celebrities in a waiting room or an ad or a red carpet or something.

Pharoah, though, is still new, and it’s nice that they’re giving him a showcase (even if it’s strange that the other featured players haven’t been afforded such an opportunity). The Denzel sketch was fun to watch even if it wasn’t much in the way of actual comedy. Like a lot of good impressions, it pointed out tics you might have only noticed subliminally, but also engendered a weird kind of affection toward the target; it kinda made me want to go and watch some Denzel movies (luckily, Unstoppable is barreling toward us; come to think of, why didn’t they save Pharoah’s Denzel for next month, when he’ll presumably be all over the place promoting his newest Tony Scott train disaster movie?!).

There’s no such excuse in place for trotting out three different Kristen Wiig characters. Someone at the show seemed to be under the twin incorrect (twincorrect?) assumptions that (a.) Jane Lynch, being a funny lady, would have to play mostly opposite other funny ladies; and (b.) Wiig is the only woman on the show, not one of four. So we got three Wiig-centric bits that varied from lousy to passable (sometimes in the space of a single sketch).

Admittedly, the Glee stuff diluted the punishing sameness of every Gilly sketch, but it also took out the incidental pleasures of those sketches (like the non-Gilly characters) and forced Sudeikis to imitate the Will Forte lightly-admonishing teacher voice that is more or less my favorite thing about that stupid sketch (well, that and Gilly’s dancing; I’m sorry, Wiig can just be funny to watch, which is probably why the writers get incredibly lazy when creating sketches for her).

At least that sketch also parodied Glee, although I can’t say how well, because I don’t watch that shit. I can appreciate that it saved us from sitting through separate sketches about Glee and Gilly. But I’m not sure why they keep bringing back “Secret Word” — or at least, not in the way that they insist on doing it, with Wiig’s pretentious-stage-actress character always eating up half the screentime. It’s not a great sketch on its own, but the other character bungling the secret-word concept is reliably more entertaining than Wiig by simple virtue of newness. Lynch had fun playing a Phyllis Diller-ish stand-up, and I loved Bill Hader’s host getting genuinely angry when she suggested that he was “full of bananas,” but there was plenty of dead-air Wiig mugging to ensure that the sketch wasn’t worth watching. The Suze Orman sketch managed to feel like like a relief, because it’s a more dexterous character for Wiig than most of her one-note jobs.

Still, a couple of time-wasters couldn’t fully undermine the best moments of the show, or the general fun of seeing an older, hilarious comedienne jumping into the SNL formula. Lynch fit into almost everything, including the often host-free Digital Shorts and fake commercial. Can’t she quit Glee and join this show instead?

Episode Grade: B

1 comment October 10th, 2010

Who Won Thursday?

It wasn’t the strongest of weeks for the NBC shows, but each episode did have some big laughs. Let’s get to it:

Community: The Psychology of Letting Go
Finally! A story that wasn’t “study group vs. rest of Greendale,” or “Jeff’s old life vs. Jeff’s new life.” I actually enjoyed the fact that they had petty disagreements and intra-group dynamics (like Shirley’s feeling left out) and somehow didn’t end the episode with a huge group hug. It earns extra points for that crack about Britta’s ever-so-slightly curled hair, because that always bothers me, too. But Pierce’s strange qualities, like his laser-oriented religion, seem forced and precious compared to Creed’s in The Office.

30 Rock: Let’s Stay Together
Remember what I said last week about 30 Rock getting bogged down in its insistence on having three storylines in each episode? This is what I’m taking about. The Kenneth and Jenna plot had weak, easy material for both of them that just wasn’t very funny. It’s a shame, too, since they built up Kenneth re-applying to the NBC page program so much, only to have him re-hired by Jack the way Jack offered to do last week. They didn’t really squeeze in any good jokes about it between last week and this one.

The Office: Andy’s Play
So painful! This episode didn’t reach the “Scott’s Tots” level of cringe-worthiness, but Michael’s, “what part do I play?” really twisted the knife. (Even hearing second-hand about his Law & Order audition was uncomfortable, before we see it in the credit sequence.) However, he was allowed to redeem himself with his pick-me-up speech to Andy, which made me feel better about life, and they had Erin be the correct amount of stupid this time.

It will never be Outsourced.

So, who won Thursday?

Click to continue reading “Who Won Thursday?”

2 comments October 8th, 2010

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