Glee vs. Kids Incorporated: Who Scored It Best

Posted by Marisa

Both shows turn “Jump” into male/female duets, but which one is less likely to make Van Halen throw up in its mouth?

(From Kids Incorporated, Season 1)

(From Glee, Season 1, Episode 12)

November 16th, 2010 at 9:10 am Filed under: Glee Kids Incorporated Who Scored It Best

Monday Morning Quarterback: SNL Season 36, Episode 7

Posted by Jesse

This is getting to be a little troubling. Saturday Night Live has had a pretty epic run of great host choices this season. Seemingly few of them have been chosen to promote any particular blockbuster of the moment, but rather to capitalize on generally good feelings about their strong, not-quite-household-name work: Bryan Cranston, Jane Lynch, and Emma Stone. Other hosts have been established friends of the show: Amy Poehler, Jon Hamm, and, this week, Scarlett Johansson. Unfortunately, all three of these episodes have represented some degree of disappointment, Hamm and Johansson in particular: they both hosted twice before to surprisingly strong effect, and both had their weakest of three this season.

Johansson’s episode was a bit better than Hamm’s, but it may have been just as disappointing, because I’d argue that her two previous gigs were even better, on average, than Hamm’s. She even has a recurring character: Lexy, the daughter of Fred Armisen’s Long Islandy pitchman urging people to buy classy stuff like marble columns, chandeliers, and, in this week’s episode, “ceramic busts.” It’s pretty much just one joke, but if more one-joke recurring characters only came back once every year or two, they would seem a lot less intolerable.

I should point out, though, that Johansson seemed to use that Long Island/Jersey-ish accent as a go-to whenever she was unsure of how her character should sound — odd, because one of the very funny promos running this week had Jason Sudeikis prompting her to perform in a couple of reasonably convincing silly accents (English, pirate). I haven’t seen the Millionaire Matchmaker on TV, but some who have tell me that the sketch pretty much nailed her behavior but not her voice, which sounded suspiciously like Lexy which sounded suspiciously like her non-impression of Rosario Dawson in the nonetheless very funny Unstoppable trailer.

But I don’t want to blame ScarJo, because generally she’s a game and engaging comedienne; based on her SNL work, she should mix some more film comedies into her acting gigs. No, the problem with this week’s episode was rooted in the show’s insistence on note-for-note repeats of awful sketches.

The Obama opener is always pretty bad, but if they’re getting to the point where they’re not even writing new bad Obama sketches, but reprising past non-triumphs almost word for word, maybe, just fucking maybe, they could consider not doing an Obama sketch. I won’t qualify matters with “The Manuel Ortiz Show”: Never do this sketch again. No matter how much Fred Armisen loves it and no matter how much Lorne Michaels loves Fred Armisen, which in both cases I’d classify as “beyond all reason” (and I say this as someone who admires a lot of Armisen’s earlier work on the show), stop taking up precious sketch real estate with a sketch about people dancing, sometimes slightly faster or slightly slower.

With better sketches in place of those, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten so irritated that the show wasted a good five to eight minutes on that weird, rootless, baseless Disney Channel sketch with middle schoolers with too much faith in the power of positive thinking. I mean, yes, I get it, the power of positive thinking is overstated to children. Kind of funny. But why in the name of all that is even sort of holy did they determine the best way to critique this was to repeat the same obvious joke as slowly and methodically as possible? The sketch felt like it was missing some key piece, a first scene or a last scene that would make it make more sense or drove home the long set-up.

By comparison, the recurring Hollywood Dish sketch seemed almost refreshing. I’m getting kind of a Vinny Vedecci vibe from this bit, where it was kind of tired after a few times, but now they’re actually finding more ways to make it sillier and funnier. I wasn’t expecting to laugh much at the outset (and it’s still kind of a waste of Johansson to have her playing herself; let’s save that for the athletes and singers, guys), but I did, especially at the sustained take of Kristen Wiig covered in slushie and spaghetti while Bill Hader maintained his play-shocked face.

And I did laugh elsewhere, throughout the episode: I loved the “Stars of Tomorrow” sketch with Johansson and newcomer Vanessa Bayer doing pitch-perfect child-star stage acting. The digital short was funny. The Unstoppable bit found a better, more concise outlet for Jay Pharoah’s fantastic Denzel impression. I liked ScarJo’s classy-ladies song in the monologue. It’s just that the dead weight this week felt deader and weightier than it should’ve.

However: Arcade Fire did perform two excellent songs. In most cases, the musical guest doesn’t affect my grading much; I can usually fast-forward or ignore the bad stuff, and even the better performances rarely wash away bad-comedy aftertaste. But Arcade Fire (who also appeared in their second Digital Short) kicks ass, even if I wish they had been the icing and not a decent portion of the cake.

Episode Grade: B-

November 14th, 2010 at 2:10 pm Filed under: SNL

Who Won Thursday?

Posted by Marisa

It was a strong night overall, so it’s going to be close.

Community: Cooperative Calligraphy
I’d never heard the term “bottle episode” before, and I’m ambivalent about Community‘s meta-jokes in general, but I dug how craven they were about admitting they were doing a bottle episode. Mostly, I loved how, in addition to the strange contrivances they created to keep everyone in the study room, they nakedly twisted the knife by constantly calling attention to how amazing it was outside. (A puppy parade!) The ending was also really clever—they thought they were pinning the blame for Annie’s missing pen on something bizarre and impossible to save their friendship, but it really turned out to be something bizarre and nearly impossible.

30 Rock: Brooklyn Without Limits
Hot jeans visual gags aside (“I will haunt your dreams”), this episode was entirely owned by John Slattery. “I will clean up this government like the bathroom of a paintball facility.” “If you’re blind, I am the wrestler Steve Austin.” “If you’re senile, I am the Six Million Dollar Man.” “Hand me that shovel so I can dig a grave for her.” And the political ad where he comes out of the woman’s womb and then cocks a shotgun! Who says this show isn’t genius?

The Office: Viewing Party
I feel like this episode advanced a lot of the emotional storylines: with Andy and Erin, with Michael and Gabe, with Michael and Erin, with Dwight and Angela. I also love seeing Andy’s budding friendship with Darryl—and Pam’s with Dwight, too, I guess. (“Remember your concussion?”) There were a lot of sweet character moments. It just wasn’t very funny.

It will never be Outsourced, although last night’s cold open remained novelty-free. Between that and the crotch-joke development from last week, the show may be getting better.

So, who won Thursday?

Click to continue reading “Who Won Thursday?”

November 12th, 2010 at 1:10 pm Filed under: 30 Rock Community The Office Who Won Thursday?

Glee vs. Kids Incorporated: Who Scored It Best?

Posted by Marisa

Another earnest classic, but who did it better?

(From Kids Incorporated, Season 4)

(From Glee, Season 1, Episode 11)

Hint: Only one involves fake tears!

November 9th, 2010 at 9:44 am Filed under: Glee Kids Incorporated Who Scored It Best

Who Won Thursday?

Posted by Marisa

All the shows were back. Hooray!

Community: The Aerodynamics of Gender
I like how, in its second season, Community is breaking the larger study group apart and exploring how the characters relate to each other in smaller segments. This episode also featured a lot of Troy, who I adore, and it didn’t end with them all vowing to be best friends forever and never do things in smaller groups again, which I appreciate. But the trampoline thing was more odd than funny until the very end, and the funniest thing about the mean-girls plot was Chang’s reaction to it.

30 Rock: Gentleman’s Intermission
First off, the phrase “gentleman’s intermission” is just hilarious by itself—that’s not really a thing, is it? Otherwise, the episode started off exploring thoroughly charted territory—didn’t Salma Hayek also find Liz an intrusion on her relationship with Jack?—but it got stronger and stronger as it went on. For another example, Tracy’s “I haven’t done anything with my life” plot felt too familiar at first—isn’t that why he created a porn video game?—but I pretty much died when his story culminated in him shouting “I left Tracy Junior in Atlantic City!”

The Office: Christening
When this episode got to the scene where Pam had to make sure that Michael knew he wasn’t the baby’s godfather, I thought we were in trouble. I wanted to turn off the TV. Turns out, it wasn’t as painful as I feared it would be. Michael was actually kind of right when he hissed at all the Dunder Miffln/Sabre people to stop being rude at the christening luncheon. (Of course, he took it too far, but no one got hurt.) And I like Jim and Pam as harried parents—it gives them something to do. When they don’t have baby conflict, it seems like they’re just hanging around the show.

It will never be Outsourced. In the one minute picked up on my DVR, this episode started off the same way as the rest of them: one of the call center employees got caught off guard by one of the novelties they sell. (He’ll never suspect a water balloon! Classic.) But then, something totally different happened. The white guy got hit with a balloon in the crotch! (Hilarity!) Yes, they’ve moved on to crotch jokes! Now the show is at least as funny as America’s Funniest Home Videos, right?

So, who won Thursday?

Click to continue reading “Who Won Thursday?”

November 5th, 2010 at 9:37 am Filed under: 30 Rock Community General The Office Who Won Thursday?

Glee vs. Kids Incorporated: Who Scored It Best?

Posted by Marisa

“Lean on Me” is a high school chorus staple. But who did it best, the Kids Incorporated, or Glee?

(From Kids Incorporated, Season 6)

(From Glee, Season 1, Episode 10)

November 2nd, 2010 at 9:38 am Filed under: Glee Kids Incorporated Who Scored It Best

Monday Morning Quarterback: SNL Season 36, Episode 5

Posted by Jesse

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+

October 31st, 2010 at 12:29 pm Filed under: SNL

Who Won Thursday?

Posted by Marisa

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?

Click to continue reading “Who Won Thursday?”

October 29th, 2010 at 9:38 am Filed under: Community The Office Who Won Thursday?

Glee vs. Kids Incorporated: Who Scored It Best?

Posted by Marisa

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?

October 26th, 2010 at 9:20 am Filed under: Glee Kids Incorporated Who Scored It Best

Monday Morning Quarterback: SNL Season 36, Episode 4

Posted by Jesse

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

October 24th, 2010 at 2:18 pm Filed under: SNL

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