Sunday, October 07, 2007

He's still... and you're still not

Still gathering my thoughts on "Mad Men" (maybe tonight, tomorrow at the latest). Meanwhile, spoilers for "Saturday Night Live" and "My Name Is Earl" coming up just as soon as I eat a pizzone...

I got to go to last night's "SNL" dress rehearsal. They're easier to snag tickets for than the live show, you get to see an extra half-hour worth of sketches (which can be a plus to some and a minus to others), and you get home at a decent hour (a bonus for a sleep-deprived soul like myself). Treats of being in the audience included Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen warming up the crowd with a faithful take on the Ike & Tina "Proud Mary," seeing Amy Poehler struggle to compose herself off-camera during the Willie Randolph/Omar Minaya segment on Weekend Update, and the realization as the stagehands wheeled out the original Update set that Chevy Chase was likely in the building.

A good show, I thought (though seeing it live is always a more intense experience than watching it at home), with my favorites being the Douchebag of the Year sketch (I need a comedy pro like Ken Levine to explain to me why the word "douchebag" is just inherently funny, as it lacks a K sound), where Andy Samberg in particular made a magnificent douche; the Rowlf/Swedish Chef duet between Seth Rogen and Samberg (the audience was going nuts during the commercial break once we realized who they were dressed as), and Rogen and Kristen Wiig as those horrific children. Plus, it was just cool to see Chevy do Update again. I haven't had a chance to go back and rewatch the episode to see how it played on TV, save to fast forward through and check which sketches made the cut.

I've had a few requests for a "My Name Is Earl" post. I'm still enjoying the prison arc, and putting Randy in there as a guard rather than a prisoner was an inspired touch. Glad to see Craig T. Nelson in an innately goofy part like this (you don't expect to see the guy from "Coach" playing Guitar Hero in his underwear), and the inter-gang love story went several steps above the easy "two macho dudes kissing" level. I like where this season is going, even though "Earl" for me is far less essential viewing than the other NBC comedies or something like "HIMYM." I rarely regret watching it, but I'm rarely in a hurry to see it, either.

What did everybody else think?

39 comments:

Kelly said...

In the douchebag sketch, what was the reference to Samberg's character "Gerard" supposed to be?

Toby said...

One of the few Saturday overnights of the year in which I didn't have to go to work,and I slept through 'SNL'. And forgot to DVR it as well. (It's been years since it's been mandatory viewing.) Based on your report and Roger Catlin's blog entry, it looks like I missed something of historical interest in the return of Chevy.

I'll just have to wait for the repeat....

'Earl' hasn't been mandatory viewing for awhile either (I dislike using that "must see tv" phrase.), but I watched this week and liked the show's new direction. I think they needed to shake things up by finding a way to move away from the list and yet still have Earl righting wrongs to improve his karma. The prison sojourn should do it, and with the warden giving him all these time-off coupons, they won't have to be stuck in the prison environment for long.

The only downside might be less of a chance to see Catalina. She wasn't even in this week's episode at all!

Kelly said...

A couple more quick things:

Chevy seemed like he was confused as to why he was there. Other than his physical presence on the show, I thought there was nothing memorable about his bit during WU.

From home, it almost seemed like there was a laugh track (not literally) throughout the show. The studio must have been serving alcohol to the audience or they were all insiders who knew all the jokes and characters ahead of time. The laughing and cheering was over the top.

Christopher said...

Until you said it, I never realized that I felt it...but 'Earl' is a show I always enjoy, but never rush to see. I wonder why that is?

Beckylooo said...

re: comedic properties of "douchebag." I'm certainly no Ken Levine but plosives are inherently funny. In other words, it's the "d, "b" and "g"

Chevy made me uncomfortable.

Andrew said...

I thought the douchebag sketch was a missed opportunity. I laughed at the beginning because it was a very funny premise, but I think I would've preferred to actually see the guys competing to be douchebags rather than just having them be judged.

I thought Chevy's bit was pretty good. He contrasted greatly with Seth and Amy because he deadpanned it with a straight face and just moved from joke to joke, rather than mugging or smiling for the camera after every joke. That's the problem I've had with Update ever since it went to the two person format. The anchors aren't playing it straight.

Mac said...

Chevy did seem a little confused, and botched a couple of punchlines. On the other hand, he's in his sixties, and 12:15 or so is a little late. Also, he was blinking a lot.

Ted F. said...

Chevy seemed like he phoned it in. It wasn't clear to me whether the confusion was supposed to be a joke or reflected actual confusion, but it was discomfiting. Other than one gag about Hillary Clinton raising much of her money legally, the jokes themselves were pretty lame.

It's interesting that the sketches were designed to protect Rogen, who didn't get a lot of screentime.

The show sounds like it's a lot of fun to watch live, but on television, the excitement isn't there.

Bruce Reid said...

SNL was pretty solid; some duds but no real bombs, and several good laughs. In the Swedish Chef skit it was actually Rudolph who blew me away as...Janet? Her dead-on smile might actually play better in close-up on television than it did in broadcast.

The intro promised a Smigel cartoon, though it didn't air. Care to give a brief description, Alan?

And since Rogen's likely, and deservedly, to be asked back, do you think any of the skits would work as recurring characters for him? "Douchebag of the Year" is clearly more of a plug-in-the-guest-star kind of thing should it return; while the twins were funny, by it's very nature the gag would likely get old and obnoxious pretty quick.

If anything, Earl has been rejuvinated by the type of move that usually means death for a sitcom. I think they were always looser with the formula than they were given credit. Even in the first year, the show cycled through pretty much every variation I could imagine on its core premise: items on the list Earl turned out not to be responsible for; others that were much worse and more harmful than he had imagined; some he failed to atone for and some he realized required lifelong commitment. The prison setting, as Toby said, is an ingenious opportunity to put the list aside for a bit while staying faithful to the theme of redemption through good acts.

Dennis Wilson said...

said Alan: "Earl" for me is far less essential viewing than the other NBC comedies or something like "HIMYM." I rarely regret watching it, but I'm rarely in a hurry to see it, either.

said Christopher: Until you said it, I never realized that I felt it...but "Earl" is a show I always enjoy, but never rush to see. I wonder why that is?

I'm with you guys, and the reason is, well, "Earl" isn't actually all that funny. It's whimsical, yes, and generally amusing, but count the number of times an episode actually makes you laugh. "Earl" just doesn't hit the funnybone that much, especially when compared to 30 Rock or The Office.

Bruce Reid said...

"...than it did in broadcast."

I meant live, of course. Caught that in preview and forgot to correct it.

Dennis, I'd agree that My Name is Earl isn't as consistently funny as the other shows, but when they pull off something like Foster's inspired threatening rant from the premiere ("I'm gonna rip off your head and wear it to the Ugly Ball!") or the warden's wounded reaction to Earl keeping him a work buddy from Thursday's episode, I laugh as hard as I ever have at 30 Rock or The Office.

Anonymous said...

I laughed really hard at MacGruber.

lambertman said...

Andy Samberg in particular made a magnificent douche

Well, yeah, but that's not acting :)

He may well be the funniest person ont he show, but I hate that he knows it.

Matt said...

The "Douchebag of the Year" sketch was hysterical, but it needed an ending (same was true of the Wiig/Rogen "crazy kids" sketch, and the Swedish Chef/Rowlf sketch). It also seemed like they were uncommonly dependent on bodily function jokes this week.

Donlee said...

"Earl" isn't the funniest of the sitcoms mentioned, however, it is the most well-written story wise and these last two seasons prove it.

"Earl" never gets the accolades it deserves (only Jamie Pressly won an Emmy this year), it is definitely one of the 5 best comedies on TV.

And for the record, my picks for the other 4 would be HIMYM, Office, 30 Rock, and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

BigTed said...

"SNL" and a few of his early movies are the only things I've ever liked Chevy Chase in -- and I've absolutely hated everything he's done since. So I was looking forward to seeing him come back... and, I have to say, he blew it completely. His segment was too long, poorly written, and the kind of thing Jon Stewart can do 20 times better in his sleep. What's worse, Chevy has obviously lost the timing and wisenheimer attitude that made his "Update" segments funny in the first place, so what was the point? They might as well just have given us scenes from his old talk show -- the uncomfortable laughs brought on by watching something so horrific would have far overshadowed those from the Rogen-Wiig "awful kids" sketch.

R.A. Porter said...

Not only does douchebag have the plosives as beckyloo pointed out - the labial, the dental, and that hard palatial stop - but "oosh" is an inherently funny sound.

That super-long pucker for the "oo", and the diphthong release of the "sh" is just fun to say and fun to hear.

And everyone who read this comment should now ponder how silly they looked with their mouths on the "oo" shape like a chimp for the last 30 seconds. C'mon, admit it. You've been going "oosh-oosh" silently while reading.

Joshua said...

How was Spoon during the rehearsal?

Rich Heldenfels said...

Thought Chevy was just sad, reprising gags that were getting tired, oh, by the time he had his late-night talk show. And the show still has a problem coming up with endings for bits. Great night for Armisen, though, and Poehler's Sharon Osbourne was hilarious. As for "douchebag," it's an "SNL" readymade, having already scored with the "Lord and Lady Douchebag" sketch at the end of the fifth season.

Alan Sepinwall said...

In the douchebag sketch, what was the reference to Samberg's character "Gerard" supposed to be?

As far as I know, he was the previous Douchebag of the Year winner. And very douche-y he was.

Alan Sepinwall said...

From home, it almost seemed like there was a laugh track (not literally) throughout the show. The studio must have been serving alcohol to the audience or they were all insiders who knew all the jokes and characters ahead of time. The laughing and cheering was over the top.

I wasn't there for the live telecast, but that's not unusual, whether for "SNL" or any other kind of live studio audience comedy taping.

I used to think the laughtrack for "Titus" had to be artificially enhanced (or "sweetened"), because even though I liked the show, the crowd was reacting like they were seeing "I Love Lucy" in its prime. Then I went to a taping sometime in the second season, and they were genuinely that loud and raucous.

Comedy is just funnier in person, unless it's a joke that can't be adequately conveyed without the TV. (For instance, in the ugly twins sketch, I couldn't hear what was on the tape recorded conversation until I came home and rewatched it.)

Alan Sepinwall said...

I thought the douchebag sketch was a missed opportunity. I laughed at the beginning because it was a very funny premise, but I think I would've preferred to actually see the guys competing to be douchebags rather than just having them be judged.

I don't disagree, though I felt we got little tastes of douchey behavior, whether it was Hader trotting out the holy trinity of douchebag impressions (Borat, Austin Powers and Ace Ventura) or the various cuts to Samberg. Could have stood for more, but on the other hand, Armisen's Gene Simmons was the highlight of the sketch.

Alan Sepinwall said...

It's interesting that the sketches were designed to protect Rogen, who didn't get a lot of screentime.

From what I understand, Rogen was very active in writing sketches this week (he has lots of writing experience and he and Hader are buds from "Superbad"), but I have no idea how many of the sketches that made it to air he had a hand in. It didn't seem to me that he was in less of the show than your average host, though he didn't necessarily dominate every sketch the way a Baldwin or Walken does.

Alan Sepinwall said...

The intro promised a Smigel cartoon, though it didn't air. Care to give a brief description, Alan?

Part of the deal of going to the dress is that I'm not really supposed to talk about the stuff that didn't make it to air. If/when that Smigel short (which was actually live-action, and more in the vein of his Comedy Central show) makes it to air, I'm going to be very curious to see how the audience reacts to it.

Alan Sepinwall said...

He may well be the funniest person ont he show, but I hate that he knows it.

Kinda hard for him not to, though. The NY Times runs a story every single time he does a Digital Short music video, Justin Timberlake invites him onstage for concert duets, etc.

It's interesting, though, how he was (I think) only in the Digital Short last week because it took so long to put it together, where here he was in practically every sketch because there wasn't a Digital Short to keep him busy. There's definitely a middle ground (I remember him being in a lot of sketches the week "Lazy Sunday" aired), but just for argument's sake, if you had to pick one or the other for Samberg, which would it be?

Alan Sepinwall said...

How was Spoon during the rehearsal?

They were good, though the horns on "Underdog" were a lot more muted than they are on the recording. Not sure if that was intentional or a sound problem that got worked out between rehearsal and broadcast.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I forgot to mention, by the way, in all my discussion of the episode's highlights: the latest "Really?" segment from Weekend Update. For the most part, The Daily Show makes WU look really tired and jokey, but I like those "Really?" segments.

Mac said...

Before last night, the obvious answer on Samberg would have been that he's much better in the shorts than he is in live segments. But he was great in those last night, and maybe doing the shorts has held him back. I dunno.

DonBoy said...

Ah. The missing Smigel explains my impression that the Fred Thompson was a second-choice cold open, and probably replaced something that got dropped at the last minute. (Although something always gets dropped, I suppose...)

When you see Chevy Chase, just remember: for about a year, this man was the hot new thing in American comedy. But this was just painful.

Matt said...

The "Swedish Chef and Rowlf" thing was a digital short in all-but-execution, I'd submit. (Music, check. Samberg playing central role, check. Brief and absurd, check.)

Samberg works when he's doing something that's him, and it only works for no more than 5 minutes. It's why he's going to have a problem finding a post-SNL career (neither sitcom nor movie works for him), while Sudeikis and Hader will likely thrive post-SNL. (My understanding was that "Hot Rod" was little more than a bunch of 5 minute sketches about the same character.)

Weepingorilla said...

Wow, you people are a lot easier to amuse than I am; so much for readers of this blog being a "tough crowd". I thought literally every sketch blew. And no, I'm not one of those people who says that of every show. As for Rogen (I'm a fan): minutes after it was over I honestly couldn't remember who had hosted. Spoon was awful. If it weren't for the jaw-dropping appearance of Rudolph in the "Rowlf/Chef" sketch I would have NO good memories of this... disaster. I don't remember you announcing your attendance of the dress rehearsal, Alan, or do you go all the time?

Alan Sepinwall said...

I don't remember you announcing your attendance of the dress rehearsal, Alan, or do you go all the time?

I've only been once before, five years ago (Springsteen was just starting "The Rising" tour).

Nicole said...

I think this is a case of lowered expectations. SNL has been pretty bad for years and now occasionally there is a funny sketch which seems that much funnier because we are normally used to garbage.

The douchebag contest was a great idea, but I think it fell flat pretty quick. The bad kids were okay for a bit and then turned silly. The Rowlf/Swedish Chef idea was good and was probably the only memorable thing about this episode. I don't remember the rest.

I can see how watching this live might make it more funny, but on television, a lot of this is just boring. And considering Weekend Update only airs once a week, it consistently fails to be as funny as the Daily Show or the Colbert Report, who do this 4 times a week and are much funnier much more often. The Really segment would be funny if I never watched TDS or CR, but I do, and as such the jokes were made, and more insightful political commentary was offered, days before.

I expected more of Rogen's monologue, but then I guess they are normally supposed to be boring. At least he blended in with the cast, which may be why some people don't recall that he was the host.

If there was actual competition on late night Saturdays, this show would be cancelled, but since stars still want to host it, it will go on.

Anonymous said...

It's been YEARS since SNL has been any good, except for the ep. that Peyton Manning hosted.

Alan Sepinwall said...

It's been YEARS since SNL has been any good, except for the ep. that Peyton Manning hosted.

Says someone who clearly didn't see the Justin Timberlake episode last year. Or the Alec Baldwin one. Or the Hugh Laurie one, for that matter.

Anonymous said...

Ya know, as sad but true as it is, Timberlake did a great job hosting last year.

Anonymous said...

SNL is generally mediocre, with a few laughs here and there. Before I got here, everyone else I spoke to said this episode ranked with the worst ever. I almost wished I saw it now...almost.

dez said...

I want to know how bad the sketches that got dropped were because WU lasted a good 15 minutes and it's usually not that long of a segment. And most of it sucked, too (except the "Really!?! thing, which I liked).

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