Monday Morning Quarterback: SNL Season 36, Episode 3

Posted by Jesse October 10th, 2010 at 01:11pm In SNL

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

  • 1. sara  |  October 11th, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    As a Glee-watcher, I can tell you that the parody was spot-on in every way. All the characters are incredibly obnoxious now and I wish Gilly would show up to throw things at them.


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