Thursday, October 23, 2008

SNL: Thursday night live, take three

Spoilers for the third and final Thursday night, pre-election "Saturday Night Live" thingee coming right up...

Took 'em three tries, but that one was solid just about all the way through. Maybe it was the fact that there was no debate this week and therefore they didn't have to be beholden to a format that hasn't worked much for the show lately, or maybe it was Will Ferrell cameo'ing in the show's best Dubya sketch in a long time, or maybe they just had better ideas this week, but this one was solid virtually all-around. (Outside of the predictable and predictably lame repetition of Keenan's "Fix it!" guy.)

Getting back to President Bush, Seth Meyers was on Bill Simmons' podcast a couple of weeks ago, and he talked about how the show really struggled to do Bush sketches in the wake of 9/11. Ferrell's impression hadn't changed, but people's willingness to laugh at it had. Seven years later, and the president reduced to either an afterthought or someone that both presidential candidates are attempting to run against the memory of, and Ferrell's Bush is funny again. It helped that he was paired with Tina Fey's continually brilliant Sarah Palin -- and that the writers seemed willing to be take a point of view in suggesting that Bush and Palin might be kindred spirits. Regardless of which side you're voting for, political comedy is always better when it has a specific point of view; the reason that last week's debate sketch was so lame, for instance, is that you could tell the writers had nothing to say, other than to keep invoking the name of Joe the Plumber early and often. This one was about something, it had bite, and it was a vast improvement.

Keenan aside, I liked most of the Weekend Update segments, whether it was Fred Armisen making fun of John King's interactive map on CNN, or the recreation of the first cell phone conversation, or, especially, Andy Samberg's "Jam the Vote!" Samberg's stuff always operates on such a strange wavelength that it either strikes you perfectly or it's a complete disaster. For whatever reason, this one clicked, and the moment when Andy asked for some crackers to settle his stomach, only to be handed the spicy hot dog that caused the problems in the first place, made me wheeze with laughter for a good 30 seconds. (It would have been longer, but my wife finally demanded that I press play so we could finish watching.)

Once again, I'm going to ask you to try to be civil here, and apparently I wasn't clear enough the last time, so I'll put it this way: Play nice. Talk about the show -- not the candidates, and not each other. Any comment I find to be the slightest bit questionable -- no matter what your party affiliation -- will be deleted, and if we get more than a few, I'm shutting down comments altogether. Are we clear?

Keeping that in mind, what did everybody else think?

45 comments:

Nicole said...

I did like the first skit. Ferrell was almost always a good Dubya and continued to do well tonight. I especially loved the reluctant John McCain and how Dubya kept pulling him back in.

The interactive map is just cool and I want one of my own. I have become so used to seeing it that I found the Canadian election night coverage lacking a bit without it. I guess that fancy pants technology isn't yet available north of the border. Ours would also require 6 colours so maybe it's more complicated to do that.

Mark said...

I really enjoyed this one as well. Alan, I'm glad you liked Andy Samberg's "Jam the Vote" bit, because I felt kind of embarrased for enjoying it so much. Throw in a great cold open and a very funny Fred Armisen routine with the interactive map, and it made for a very solid outing.

Nicole said...

It's also funny that they made a reference to the No Bummer Zone because I was watching the BBC documentary on the Monarchy, which featured the Queen's recent visit to the US. In it, the chief of staff revealed that every president gets to pick a new carpet design for the Oval Office, and that Laura Bush was charged with this task, and created a design to represent "optimism". It wasn't that far from the No Bummer Zone.

SteveInHouston said...

I think what Myers was talking about with respect to GWB and 9/11 is also what we're seeing now with Barack. I just get the sense that anytime they try to parody him comes off as forced because they're really uncomfortable with it. Poking fun at the Repubs is much more in their wheelhouse, and they do it pretty well much of the time.

Whether that's self-censorship, or honestly not seeing much to parody there I don't know. If/when Obama has an inevitable screw-up in office - because he is, after all a human being and a politician - maybe that will change. But I wonder.

IMO, they've been much better about parodying Obama's minions and party-mates than the man himself (see: Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, Bill and Hill). I imagine that's precisely how his campaign wants it. If/when he's president, will the same dynamic take place?

Regarding the financial guy, I thought "FIX IT!" was great the first time around: The exact right mix of vapid talking-head self-importance and sheer panic that you see on CNBC these days. But as with so many things SNL, now it's "MILK IT!"

Ditto on "Jam the Vote!" Nice shot at the whole "Rock the Vote!" silliness, with your noted Samberg weirdness.

Pamela Jaye said...

I think maybe I'm watching this stuff out of Tina Fey loyalty. Not only is she awesome, but I loved it when she (or 30 Rock) won (the Emmy?) the first time and she thanked "our dozens of viewers"

the map - I'm avoiding reality, so I'd never seen it. The Fix it got old really fast, the cell phone was kinda cool (even though I watched this right after Life on Mars - which did give me a little Journeyman vibe mixed with flashes of Chuck... ) My favorite part of the vomit scene (other than "two weeks ago") was seeing the boom mike operator :-)

The open was good. (and i have no idea what Sarah Palin's husband looks like)

Jim said...

Everybody saw Newt Gingrich said Palin should sue SNL for slander, right?

Jim said...

I imagine that's precisely how his campaign wants it. If/when he's president, will the same dynamic take place?

That preternatural calm is hard to mock. Stewart got frustrated with his audience once, "It's okay to laugh at him, you know." Trouble was, the bit wasn't funny. As president, they'll make fun of him. Presidents have to do stuff, and what they (have to) do is often absurd and frequently controversial. They'll find the hooks.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Everybody saw Newt Gingrich said Palin should sue SNL for slander, right?

Someone needs to explain the concept of satirizing public figures to Newt Gingrich.

Anonymous said...

To the best of my knowledge, SNL hasn't yet suggested that Sarah Palin had sex with her father while drunk in an outhouse yet. And even if they did, there's that pesky 8-0 verdict Larry threw up there.

Anthony Foglia said...

I have to disagree on nearly everything Alan. First, I liked last week's debate sketch. It wasn't great political satire, but the way the insanity kept building kept me laughing non-stop.

This week's cold open wasn't as funny, but did have a sharper bite which more than made up for it.

The Weekend Update was the worst of the three. The map bit I've seen better on other shows. Did The Daily Show do it? I know Talk Show had a much better one. This one just wasn't funny.

Agree on the "fix it" guy. Barely worth it the first time.

The "Jam the Vote" was juvenile and stupid. I'm usually a fan of Andy Samberg's stuff, but what started out as a weak parody of overly-hip and forceful "Rock the Vote"-type ads, just became nothing but puke gags. (Taking a second bit of the hot dog was worth a chuckle.)

Worst of all, how incompetent is Silverman? You have the best platform to promote your Emmy-award-winning sitcom, and the star is reduced to mouthing a plug with no audio while the credits role. I hoped he'd be smart enough to take a few minutes from these Thursday SNLs and play a long clip of "30 Rock" (e.g. Tracy and Jack in therapy or Tracy's Jefferson film). But Silverman hasn't shown any intelligence before; why start now?

David J. Loehr said...

Someone should take a look at Kenan's routine and fix it.

Better yet, drop it.

Zeke said...

Not to be one to defend Ben Silverman but it was he who made the American version of The Office possible (and yes, all Glen Daniels, his writers, and that incredible cast who made the magic.) And it was he who decided when the schedule was announced to do the prime time SNL episodes we all watched tonight. So he gave me a good hour of programming tonight and I'm thankful for that. The other new shows are terrible for sure, but give him his due for this (not for Kath and Kim though, which remains strangely unwatchable.)

I saw Adam McKay was given a credit for writing "Additional Skit" -- which I have to assume is the opening one as it featured his boy Will Ferrell. Nice job Mr. McKay!

I too thought this episode was the strongest. More Forte would've been better though (his Bush, while not as good as Ferrell's was always pretty great. Rather than go the dumb route he went with playing Bush as the guy in over his head who is trying really hard and flailing about.)

ruder said...

It's about time they came through with a consistently funny show. Too bad they weren't as sharp last Thursday/Saturday with that huge audience. I'm curious to see the ratings for this one, to see whether the uneven shows last week turned people off.

About that Simmons podcast, I listened to it over a week ago, but I recall Seth Meyers coming off curt and douchey. Tonight he was smirking throughout the Update, like he usually does, especially when playing straight man to the guest bits. It bugged me.

Alan, what's the deal when Amy Poehler leaves -- will Seth do the Update alone? Hope not. Kristin Wiig would be a good replacement, as her star on SNL and in film is definitely rising.

Brandon said...

Does anyone else get a kick out of these actors appearing together? For instance, Sarah and Todd Palin are the same as Palin and Biden (and Liz and Floyd!) which for some reason always tickles me. And then there's the added bonus of seeing Will Ferrell and Darrell Hammond back together after a few years of Bush/Cheney, Bush/Gore, and Bill Clinton/Janet Reno.

Anonymous said...

sorry alan,

that entire opening sketch was nothing more than an extension of that obama political ad that has been running for the last few weeks.

a vote for mccain is a vote for bush. ha ha. and y'all don't get the one side-ed-ness of this here.

obama will appear on the final snl before the election, yet snl will not make fun of him.

and a special snl will air on monday before the election. once again poking fun at the republicans.

ha ha.

alan? seriously. put on you objective tv critic hat here... if it were the other way around? if all of the snl sketches were anti-obama in these last few weeks before the election... would you find it so amusing?

think about that before (and if you have the courage) to answer...

Alan Sepinwall said...

obama will appear on the final snl before the election, yet snl will not make fun of him.

As I've been saying all season, if they knew how to make fun of him, they would. Obama's persona doesn't lend itself as easily to parody as some other politicians, and Armisen isn't helping.

(Bush Sr. wasn't necessarily easy to caricature, either, but Dana Carvey's take on him was just funny in its own right.)

alan? seriously. put on you objective tv critic hat here... if it were the other way around? if all of the snl sketches were anti-obama in these last few weeks before the election... would you find it so amusing?

If they were funny? Sure. I enjoyed Darrell Hammond's skewering of Al Gore during the 2000 election. At the time, the show beat up on Gore a whole lot more than Bush, arguably helping drive the press' narrative of Gore the smug elitist, Bush as the man of the people, etc., etc. I didn't always find it fair, but it was a funny bit.

jana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BF said...

To the best of my knowledge, SNL hasn't yet suggested that Sarah Palin had sex with her father while drunk in an outhouse yet.

No, but they did suggest that Todd Palin commited incest with one of his kids.

Otto Man said...

this one was solid virtually all-around. (Outside of the predictable and predictably lame repetition of Keenan's "Fix it!" guy.)

I hit fast-forward on the TiVo the second he appeared and never looked back.

How is someone so painfully unfunny still on this show? Is he fucking Lorne Michaels?

zapkrafty said...

It's a bit unsettling when I glance up at the TV at work that's always tuned to CNN and see Palin and think to myself, "ooh, I wonder what Tina Fey's doing on the news." Way hotter in person...

Anonymous said...

To the best of my knowledge, SNL hasn't yet suggested that Sarah Palin had sex with her father while drunk in an outhouse yet.

No, but they did suggest that Todd Palin commited incest with one of his kids.

Do you two buy your tinfoil hats at the same outlet store?

Tom said...

In some of the the best showbiz news of recent days, Will Ferrell is bringing his W impersonation to Broadway:

"You're Welcome America. A Final Night With George W. Bush."

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/10/17/will-ferrell-heading-to-b_n_135510.html

Anonymous said...

BF - CONTEXT FAIL
"No, but they did suggest that Todd Palin commited incest with one of his kids."

No. What they were mocking in that sketch was the press's ability to come up with a controversial story with no factual basis whatsoever, i.e. Todd Palin has NOT done any of those things.

Context matters.

--bad dad

bill said...

How is someone so painfully unfunny still on this show? Is he fucking Lorne Michaels?

It's like they've always had an outreach program for unfunny people: Garrett Morris, Charles Rocket, Adam Sandler...it's a pretty long list now that I think about it.

Adam said...

As I've been saying all season, if they knew how to make fun of him, they would. Obama's persona doesn't lend itself as easily to parody as some other politicians, and Armisen isn't helping.

You play up the messiah aspects. You light him to give a halo above him. You have audiences react the way the Oprah's Favorite Things audience did.

Bobman said...

About that Simmons podcast, I listened to it over a week ago, but I recall Seth Meyers coming off curt and douchey. Tonight he was smirking throughout the Update, like he usually does, especially when playing straight man to the guest bits. It bugged me.

I've heard Myers on the podcast a few times before, and I never got that impression. I think he's a hilarious guy, and it has nothing to do with politics (as I'm sure he and I would disagree a lot), he just seems to have a great combination of intelligence and sense of humor. And it's because of him and Amy that Weekend Update has really been a consistent strong point of SNL even during its biggest slumps.

Full disclosure, Seth grew up like two towns over from me in New Hampshire so I may have some regional bias towards him. :)

Grunt said...

Since both Jim Downey (head political writer for SNL) and Lorne Michaels (Producer) have gone on record as being (or at least regularly voting) Republican I doubt that there is any actual bias. They have both consistently said that they make fun of the people, not the political parties or viewpoints. I think that's true. The problem with Obama is he comes across as so measured it's very hard to find something to make fun off. Mark my words; if Obama is elected they're going to have a blast making fun of his Messiah complex.

Mark Madel said...

if Obama is elected they're going to have a blast making fun of his Messiah complex.

Although some of his supporters seem to treat him that way, Obama doesn't appear to have a Messiah complex - that's the point.

I saw them make some 'Messiah' jokes on the Daily Show - but they weren't all that funny - because they're parodying other people's impressions - and not Obama's.

Anonymous said...

Solid all the way through? What irked me was NO Biden bits. And he's been gaffing all over the place this last week. NBC is so in the tank for Obama, it's starting to get irritating. Used to be they at least tried to be somewhat evenhanded, but this time around it's been one ding after the other on one party only.

Bobman said...

Aside from being old, they haven't really parodied McCain much either. Palin basically saved political parody during this race, because (again aside from age) the only physical things that you can really use for parody on the real candidates are completely off limits (McCain's odd mannerisms mostly a result from wartime injuries and whatnot, and with Obama they're afraid to tread on anything race-related - rightfully so in both cases I might add).

Anonymous said...

"Obama's persona doesn't lend itself as easily to parody as some other politicians"

Alan, you have to be joking if this is the reason you think they aren't parodying Obama. Please tell me you are not that naive!

Obama could be mocked in so many ways...his stumbling when answering direct, off-the-cuff questions, the whole Joe the Plumber/socialist relationship, his claims about giving everything to everyone, etc. Plenty of good material.

Just because he has no personality doesn't mean they can't ding him on his policies, speeches, campaign trail happenings.

They just want Obama to win so badly, they would NEVER do anything to ding him.

Mark Madel said...

...his stumbling when answering direct, off-the-cuff questions, the whole Joe the Plumber/socialist relationship, his claims about giving everything to everyone, etc.

As someone who lives overseas and doesn't get the 24/7 coverage of these things, the above text sounds like it could be applied to either candidate equally. In fact, if I read it without a name attached, I wouldn't know who you were talking about.

If you'd like to see something which mocks both candidates equally and hilariously (as well as the whole pandering process that the general election has turned into), I would suggest checking this out.

Jaynee said...

I LOVED the Fred Armisen bit with the screen. You know he played with it all day long. (That's what she said).

Anonymous said...

Do you two buy your tinfoil hats at the same outlet store?

No. Do you know the facts behind Hustler Magazine v. Falwell? Do you know why that case, of all Supreme Court cases, matters when discussing Gingrich's idiotic statement?

Or let me put it another way. If you read my post as anything but a sarcastic slam of Gingrich, then you are too ignorant on the subject of First Amendment law to be accusing anyone of wearing a tinfoil hat.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Just because he has no personality doesn't mean they can't ding him on his policies,

SNL has almost never -- not even in the '70s, when it was much more of an outlaw series -- done anything attacking politicians for their policy decisions. They pick one or two personality traits that are easy to exaggerate -- Ford is a klutz, Carter's very well-read, Reagan's spacey, Bush Sr. tends to babble, Clinton's a horndog, Bush Jr is inarticulate -- and blow them out as big as they can. They aren't any more interested in the substance than most political reporters.

And by the show's historical standard, Obama's not giving them much to work with.

Alan Sepinwall said...

All talk of tinfoil hats ends right freaking now, okay?

How many times do I have to ask everyone to behave in these "SNL" discussions?

That First Andrew said...

If the SNL people want anyone to win, it is McCain. An old man is far easier to parody than a charming charismatic black man. And I don't say that politically. It is just an easier joke.

How dull would this election be if McCain hadn't picked such an easy punchline for a running mate? He wasn't courting Hillary supporters. He was trying to win Jon Stewart's vote.

jim treacher said...

How is someone so painfully unfunny still on this show? Is he fucking Lorne Michaels?

It might be related to an issue in the campaign itself, but I probably shouldn't go there.

How dull would this election be if McCain hadn't picked such an easy punchline for a running mate?

Well, that's his two-letter word: j-o-b. Which reminds me of something FDR said on TV after the stock market crash of '29...

Will Farrell looks good. Did you guys see Step Brothers? Hilarious! Not as funny as Baby Mama, but close.

Bryan Murray said...

Hard to believe you listen to Bill Simmons's podcasts too, Alan. Between your recommendations of Freaks & Geeks, HIMYM, and of course, The Wire, my life wouldn't quite be the same without this blog. But enough of the creepy Creed Bratton-like talk. Seth Meyers is a really good source of info on those podcasts for SNL-related material. He is pretty diplomatic but very honest at the same time. His point was that the audience didn't want to see Bush Jr. being made fun of even though there was still material; he was our commander in chief for a little while there.

Meyers admitted that Ferrell set the bar so high for W that no one has really been able to match it since. They've used 3 or 4 actors to play Bush since Ferrell left. Meyers and Simmons were talking about who would play Palin if Tina Fey were unavailable (mainly if McCain and Palin won the election.)

If these Thursday night editions have proven anything to SNL though, it's that maybe they should rethink the 1.5 hour format.

Nicole said...

I agree with whoever said that SNL hasn't gone after McCain or Obama as much as they have Palin. SNL goes for the easy target and in one skit basically acted out the Couric interview. Parodying McCain or Obama requires the intended audience to really follow the campaign and the humour would have to be more nuanced, which is not an SNL forte. I certainly don't think that there is a liberal conspiracy on SNL, but I do think that they have been lazy in not getting more with the Biden gaffes. Those have been fairly easy ones to mock and the Daily Show did a good job with that last night.

Then again Lorne Michaels was born in Canada so he is probably an evil socialist.

That First Andrew said...

I actually think SNL has a tougher job than The Daily show in making political jokes. TDS sets itself up as a mock news show, so they are able to show clips of exactly what the candidates have said and done and then immediatley follow that up with a joke. You don't have to follow politics to get the joke.

SNL doesn't get that luxury, and so they have to cater to the masses and present their political commentary to as broad an audience as possible. Being sketch based rather than commentary based, they don't get to air clips of Sarah Palin interviews before Tina Fey comes out.

That's why SNL doesn't parody policy, only characters. The general perception of BUsh is that he is dumb, so that was the entire joke of Will Ferrall's impression of him. Admittedly, they found fantastically hilarious ways of telling that same joke, but it is a very different version of "political humor" than what TDS does.

Anonymous said...

In the Jam the Vote video, Samberg heads over to a guy who looks like Michael K Williams, stops immediately once the man looks up at him, and turns around to puke on someone else. I know I would not want to puke on Omar!

Anthony Foglia said...

That First Andrew said...
I actually think SNL has a tougher job than The Daily show in making political jokes. TDS sets itself up as a mock news show, so they are able to show clips of exactly what the candidates have said and done and then immediatley follow that up with a joke. You don't have to follow politics to get the joke.

SNL doesn't get that luxury, and so they have to cater to the masses and present their political commentary to as broad an audience as possible. Being sketch based rather than commentary based, they don't get to air clips of Sarah Palin interviews before Tina Fey comes out.


Except that "Weekend Update" is a fake news show and could show clips to set up jokes.

The skits are always mixed, but when compared to "The Daily Show", "Weekend Update" is an embarrassment.

filmcricket said...

This was the first one of these I watched more than a few seconds of. SNL remains unbelievably unfunny, as it has been for years, but I will admit Fey's vocal impression of Palin is scarily accurate.

I couldn't agree more with Bryan Murray that 1.5 hours is way too long for the regular show. I'm certain that's one of the reasons 30 Rock is so awesome, while SNL, even when Fey was the head writer, still pretty much sucked.

Nicole said...

Why isn't there a post for the SNL with Jon Hamm? I know you watched it and I want to know what you thought about Hamm's James Mason.