Posted by Jesse October 4th, 2010 at 01:03pm In SNL
So they’re not making Armisen give up Obama, for reasons unknown apart from what I assume is general Lorne Michaels stubbornness. SNL continues, though, to at least work around it; Obama had only the set-up for one of the better political cold-opens in awhile, which made excellent use of Andy Samberg’s Rahm Emmanuel. Samberg isn’t really an impressionist by trade, and when he does dip into imitations, they tend to be Hollywood people who he can push into absurdity with ease. His Emmanuel, though, is one of the only political bits on the current iteration of SNL that has any kind of satirical take; an obvious one (Rahm as the profane, sinister puppetmaster and dealmaker), sure, but at least it’s fun.
For the first thirty minutes or so, the Bryan Cranston-hosted episode of SNL appeared to be business as usual, but running smooth: a decent political cold open; an amusing musically inclined monologue; an ad for Pepto Bismol ice; an obvious bid for a recurring sketch, “The Miley Cyrus Show,” that didn’t wear out its welcome yet (give it a few weeks, although newcomer Vanessa Bayer does a spot-on and very funny Miley); and an actual recurring sketch with this season’s first “What Up with That.”
So far, so decent. But then the show went and scraped bottom with the laziness of Kristen Wiig’s breathy-voiced-but-gross mock-sexy Shana character, a sketch that was very funny once and, guess what, isn’t that funny three or four times. Here, it felt like no one was even making the minimal effort, starting with the premise: so Cranston was playing a basketball coach? And the three cast members were on the team? So they were kids, right? And so is Abby Elliot, who is the coach’s assistant or something? Which is kind of weird, right, to have a teenage girl assisting a basketball coach of teenage boys? And who is Shana in relation to these people? A lady who shows up at basketball practice? What are the relationships here? Little things, yes, but when a sketch’s set-up is neither logical nor defiantly absurdist, it seems like the writers thought this one would take care of itself. Wiig got off some chuckleworthy physical bits, particularly her unsexy “mixing” of a protein shake, but I almost felt guilty laughing at it, because easy laughter is actually the kind of unearned reward sketches like this feed on.
After this, it was back to more or less business as usual: a funny Digital Short; music; Weekend Update; a game-show sketch that mostly didn’t work; a post-Update bit of absurdity; and a nice character-driven sketch from Nasim Pedrad. There was a slight change of balance, Kanye West’s performances being more compelling than the average musical guest and Weekend Update having some uncharacteristically lame jokes, but it was pretty much a normal SNL episode.
But after that Shana sketch, everything felt slightly diminished. I love Nasrim Pedrad’s fondness for young, nerdy characters, but as funny as her meek mural-loving boy character was, it also shared a cadence with the girl who really admires her parents from last season. The “bottle of sparking apple juice” sketch was nicely ridiculous but I feel like Will Forte would’ve really sold the hell out of it. The “Kidz Smarts” game show bit didn’t really go anywhere except maybe knocking off the “kissing family” sketch that I’m sure will turn up before October’s end.
So following a season premiere that felt scattered in the face of so many guest stars, this was pretty much standard issue SNL sans inspiration: entertaining, uneven, a little tired.