Monday, March 09, 2009

SNL: The Rock Obama rocks

Spoilers for the excellent latest episode of "Saturday Night Live" coming up just as soon as I once and for all abandon my dreams of a Hawaiian vacation...

Dwayne Johnson is, in many ways, the ideal "SNL" host. He combines the game-for-anything attitude that most pro athlete hosts bring to the show (think Peyton Manning hitting underprivileged kids with footballs, or Tom Brady sexually harassing people in his underwear, or, here, the musical monologue about how Hollywood has changed him) with the kind of versatility (at least, as versatile as a guy built like The Rock can be, like his Dennis Rodman impression in the "Celebrity Apprentice" promo sketch) you get out of the better actor-hosts.

Because of those two traits, and some decent premises to go with them, Johnson was at the center of one of this season's stronger episodes. It may not have had some of the highs of the Jon Hamm or Anne Hathaway shows, but it was more consistently funny throughout. And I don't think it's a coincidence that the few sketches that didn't work -- the Tim Geithner cold open (which had a decent idea but took way too long to get to it and then went on too long with it), another Jamie Lee Curtis Activia commercial -- didn't feature Johnson at all.

(One Johnson-less bit that did work: the return of MacGruber vs. MacGyver, this time actually playing off the rivalry instead of using it to sell a soft-drink. Or did the Pepsuber incident ruin the character for those people who didn't already hate him?)

The Rock Obama was the first really funny Obama sketch they've done in a long time (probably going back to the first Obama/Clinton debate bit), in part because they sidelined Fred Armisen for most of it in favor of Johnson (who did a nice blend of Armisen-as-Obama impression and '70s comic book Hulk impression), and because there was an interesting idea behind it. Also, you can kind of tell that the "SNL" writers are just as frustrated with Obama as Rahm Emmanuel was in the sketch, maybe not because he won't get angry, but because he won't give them any kind of personality quirk that's easy to parody.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the point in the review where I have to remind you of this blog's No Politics rule. If you can't discuss the sketch and only the sketch, don't comment. Period.)

Johnson was mainly a straight man in "Gametime with Dave & Greg," which started off with what seemed like a lame presence (alien not-so-secretly co-hosts a sports-talk TV show) but embraced that premise with such insane abandon (helped by a great Bill Hader performance) that I laughed harder at that than any sketch in recent memory.

Johnson and Armisen as bitter entertainers at a Hawaiian hotel also seemed like a premise that could have gotten one-note quickly, but had enough variations within that note, plus the image of Johnson doing a good grass skirt dance, to carry it. And the lighthouse sketch was the sort of amusingly weird thing they can throw up at 12:50 a.m. just for the hell of it. (It also featured a classic element of live sketch comedy, dating back to Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca in "From Here to Obscurity": seeing actors try to keep a straight face when they're getting repeatedly doused with water.

The two best things in Weekend Update unfortunately aren't up. One was Seth Meyers' list of things Iran would have to apologize for before America apologized for "The Wrestler," proving once again that Meyers is often at his best when he's just getting mad. The other was the bit with Andy Samberg as Cathy from the comic strips, and then cameos by Justin Timberlake as Irving and Jessica Biel as Jessica Rabbit. (See, it's funny because they're both named Jessica...) Samberg's Cathy isn't as good as Tina Fey's Cathy ("Chocolate chocolate chocolate! Ack!"), but Timberlake was brilliant as usual, and I can't figure out why this one's not available on-line. (Though if you poke around on YouTube, you might find a version before the NBC legal team goes to work.) Unlike the Timberlake/Beyonce sketch from the Paul Rudd episode, there aren't any music rights issues at work.

What did everybody else think?

37 comments:

bsangs said...

Agree wholeheartedly Alan - laughed more than during any episode since the election ended and seemingly cut the creativity/humor cord.

Also, I haven't watched wrestling since the early to mid 80s, but I love The Rock. Not just on SNL, but in most of his movies as well. He is charismatic, funny and as you mentioned, game for anything. The lighthouse skit, when he tells his date that the whales will accept a, umm, well former President Clinton's favorite thing in lieu of sex, made me about spit beer through my nose. I thought that was an hysterical bit for a late, throw away skit.
Well done SNL. Now try to keep it up.

Bryan said...

I was so bored with the show by the end of the news I stopped watching- sounds like I missed all the good sketches.

As for "The Rock Obama" I thought it was a great idea the The Rock did a very capable job, but it had no bite. It could've been a classic I think with some better writing. This seems to happen a lot with this cast I think - good ideas that aren't followed through on. Maybe coke/speed free (as they supposedly are) isn't the way to go for this show. They get a good idea and a couple jokes and then stop.

Anonymous said...

This show either grabs me right in the beginning, or I turn in. Unfortunately, reading your review, Alan, this was a "turn in" episode for me, and I probably missed the good parts.

In the first three bits, we saw the two biggest problems with SNL. In the Geithner opening, we saw the "interesting idea for a sketch that should last 90 seconds, but seems to go on for 90 minutes" problem.

The Rock was great in the opening, and I mentioned that to my wife, who was in bed reading when I gave up after the...

...McGruber bit, which is my BIGGEST issue with SNL: taking an idea that was funny ONCE, and re-hashing it over, and over, and OVER again, until the first few notes of the faux-theme song make you cringe at the thought of having to sit through the SAME IDEA done OVER AND OVER AGAIN with NO NEW JOKES!

I'll try to get a U-Tube on the Rock Obama, and on Seth Myers' Weekend Update which both sound worthwhile.

lungfish said...

What's interesting is that people have drawn comparisons to the similarities in the Rock's voice vs Obama's voice... specifically the Rock as a wrestler in the ring on the mike vs Obama is giving an address.

dronkmunk said...

No, this episode was not funny. Your standards for this show must really be slipping, all the re-hashed bits like Cathy, which was never funny (and has Timberlake joined the cast already, or what?) and the long-stale McGruber.

SNL has always had its peaks and valleys, but it's time this show be put out of it's misery,

Michael said...

I didn't think this was a very strong episode. Not exactly a shocker there. However, Dwayne Johnson was really good. It's pretty rare that a guest host actually learns his lines and isn't annoyingly fixated on the teleprompter.

Andrew said...

Even the best episodes of SNL are hit and miss. Some of the sketches work, and some fail epically.

The lighthouse sketch was funnier on screen than on the page, because when is it ever not funny to watch people try to act as they're pelted with buckets of water?

andythesaint said...

I too laughed at "Gametime with Dave & Greg" might've harder than any other sketch in recent memory. What a bizarre idea for a sketch.

dvlman said...

I did not fast forward through any sketch in this episode and I actually laughed out loud during several of them.

It actually took me more than an hour to watch this.

That is an SNL record that stretches back at least to the beginning of the DVR era and possibly even to the VHS era.

dez said...

The lighthouse sketch was funnier on screen than on the page, because when is it ever not funny to watch people try to act as they're pelted with buckets of water?

I kept cracking up every time Jason Sudiekis wiped the water out of his eyes after his character was supposed to be dead.

My fave sketch was the Hawaiian restaurant one. I'm not a wrestling fan, but I do like The Rock. He's a good host.

Of course, what do I know? I crack up at every MacGruber sketch (how many times have we seen Will Forte's behind now, btw?).

Sammy said...

I felt that this was one of the worst episodes. The only time I laughed was at Bill Hader doing the alien sport talkshow host character. He's so awesome and should be used more often. Ray LaMontagne was the only reason I tuned in. I wish he was the musical guest next week when Tracy Morgan hosts. Would have saved me from watching this week.

JD said...

I'm glad you highlighted this funnier than usual installment of SNL. I still think Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin mostly coasted through those shows, hoping their built up cred in bringing the funny would carry over on their shows. Whereas Dwayne Johnson has something to prove and I think tried harder (and succeeded) during what would have normally been a middling episode with another guest host not up to par with Johnson's talent. And good lord, I wish I had his guns to be able to strike that goofy/hammy pose at the end of his monologue.

Bryan Murray said...

I really liked the episode as well and thought 3-4 of the sketches were a great mix of weird and hilarious. I wish they would turn the show over to Bill Hader like they did with Will Ferrell. Will Forte and Kenan are on-screen way too much and each do one thing (not that well).

-Loved the alien sketch.
-Aloha, aloha hard.
-It's a little sad that Timberlake is better than half the performers in the cast.
-Seriously, Kenan and Will Forte need to go.
-Whooah! Dying on a prayer!

jim treacher said...

Also, you can kind of tell that the "SNL" writers are just as frustrated with Obama as Rahm Emmanuel was in the sketch, maybe not because he won't get angry, but because he won't give them any kind of personality quirk that's easy to parody.

Uhhhhhhh...

Anonymous said...

Too bad SNL didn't trust the audience to know some of Rock the wrestler's catch phrases. Examples, " Finally baRock has come back, to the White House. Another great one occurs when a wrestler or ( congressman) is talking and Rock interupts and says "It doesn't matter what your name is" or "Know your role and shut your mouth" and finally " If your smelllllla what baRock is cooking" (to end the sketch)

During the election I was waiting for SNL or Funny or Die to realize the similarities between the speech tactics of Obama and the Rock. This sketch failed me because it didn't even bother to reference the speech similarities angle.

Finally why didn't Fred Armasen raise the (peoples)eyebrow at the end of the sketch to acknowledge it a little?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Timberlake/Biel/Cathy is up on the YouTubes.

Karen said...

This episode really worked for me. The Geithner opening was not a shining spot (except for how much Will Forte actually looked like Geithner), but everything else seemed to be firing on all cylinders. I think I could have watched the Rock work his hula legs for the full 90 minutes, in fact. Everytime he started back up again, I cracked up all over.

So perhaps I'm not the best or most critical judge of how the episode went. Full disclosure: I love the MacGruber bits, every time. Yes, it's the same gag, but the new lyrics to the theme song in each episode sell it for me. And the story of Oedipal conflict this time around added to the fun.

I didn't realize that was Jessica Biel until the credits, though. I thought it might have been Christina Applegate, although that seemed less likely in light of her recent surgery. Didn't look like Biel at all, which helped sell the bit for me, because I LOATHE Jessica Biel.

So, in the context of this season, the show made me laugh more often than most of the others and, while that may be setting the bar pretty low, it's still a win.

ap said...

Thanks for posting that Sid Caesar/Imogene Coca sketch. Now I wonder how cold the water in the lighthouse sketch was.

Molly said...

I still have to watch the second half of the episode, but I have to agree about the MacGruber sketches... so not funny anymore. Even seeing Richard Dean Anderson wasn't worthwhile, as all I could think was how old he looks (and therefore, how old I am getting - yeah, I fondly remember his General Hospital days as Dr. Jeff Webber.)

What's worse of course is that it's never on just once an episode, but multiple times - I was watching with a friend who is not a regular SNL watcher, and her response was, "Didn't they do this sketch already?"

Oh, yes, they did.

Dan Coyle said...

Holy shit, that's Jessica Biel?

Figures, the one night I decide to skip SNL it's one of the best ones they did recently.

All joking aside, Samberg does a startling Cathy Likeness.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Didn't look like Biel at all, which helped sell the bit for me, because I LOATHE Jessica Biel.

Any particular reason?

TC said...

I remember reading back when the Timberlake and Beyonce sketch happened that the reason NBC didn't put it online wasn't because of a music clearance issue, but rather because Timberlake negotiated a fee that compensated him for any revenue earned from online streaming. That would make sense as to why this one wasn't put online either.

Anonymous said...

Did you really say Timberlake was brilliant? Alan, Alan, Alan, I have always enjoyed reading your reviews and I am usually in agreement with them. But Timberlake, brilliant? At best, I will concede that he is a mildly talented mimic of 70's soul music but other than that I find him extremely creepy, and never would the concept of brilliance come to mind.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I have no opinion about his music, as I don't pay attention to most of what the young people are listening to, but on "SNL"? Timberlake is brilliant. Given Baldwin and Martin's recent whiffs at hosting, I'd say he's currently the host I most look forward to.

Tyroc said...

I think Timberlake can be really funny. But thought the Cathy sketch was an odd choice and he didn't add much to it. And hard to forget Tina Fey's "Ack!"

I seem to be the only one, but I really liked the opening sketch. Went on a little too long, but just barely for me.

But I also feel you can never have too much McGruber.

Jordan said...

Was I the only one half expecting them to drop a "I don't know Butchie instead" in there? Of course I was.

Dan Coyle said...

Treacher: I agree... that Obama's... use of... Ellipses... would be a good source... for... for... uh... comedy.

Tiana said...

I think I could have watched the Rock work his hula legs for the full 90 minutes, in fact. Everytime he started back up again, I cracked up all over.

I completely agree! The clap did it for me! Very funny!

This is the 2nd time that Justin Timberlake has made me choke on a beverage! His impression of Michael McDonald on Jimmy Fallon was hilarious too!

Gotta love any Barack with tattoos!

Anonymous said...

when snl actually rips obama instead of laying off of him it will get a lot funnier

Anonymous said...

Timberlake is freaking hilarious. I have zero interest in his music, but I always love his SNL cameos.

The hardest I laughed, though, was at the Michael Steele bit.

Mark said...

The Timberlake bit is finally up on nbc.com:

http://www.nbc.com/Saturday_Night_Live/video/clips/update-cathy-and-jessica-rabbit/1056905/

I think the story about Timberlake getting paid for online streaming turned out to be inaccurate. Plus, while his sketch with Beyonce wasn't posted online, his Weekend Update appearance from the same episode was, so that would seem to disprove the theory.

Very much liked this episode. To those who didn't, I would ask: Did you see the recent Rosario Dawson or Steve Martin episodes? This one was classic by comparison.

jim treacher said...

Treacher: I agree... that Obama's... use of... Ellipses... would be a good source... for... for... uh... comedy.

The difference in his speaking style on and off his teleprompter might also be a source of humor.

Michael said...

I actually saw both Biel and Timberlake at a bar in NYC on friday night. I asked him about the Fallon show and whether or not the DeNiro interview was as awkward as it seemed. He took the diplomatic route and said it was intentionally that awkward. He was in the back of the bar with six people but everytime someone stopped to talk to both he and Jessica they were kind enough to answer questions and say hello. Though this has nothing to do with SNL it was really cool to see them on TV the next night.

I also think that Dwayne Johnson missed a huge opportunity during his wrestler to actor phase when he didn't combine his names to becom "Rock Johnson". Who wouldn't go see a movie starring Rock Johnson. The guy is a pro though and I even respect the work he does in his kids movies.

Anthony Foglia said...

Johnson was mainly a straight man in "Gametime with Dave & Greg," which started off with what seemed like a lame presence (alien not-so-secretly co-hosts a sports-talk TV show) but embraced that premise with such insane abandon (helped by a great Bill Hader performance) that I laughed harder at that than any sketch in recent memory.

It helped that it was short too. Usually they'd drag that out with an additional "break" and either another three or four callers, or the interview.

I think you're a little too kind though. "The Rock" Obama didn't live up to it's potential. If it wasn't for Timberlake and Biel, the Cathy bit would have been completely forgettable.

Dan Coyle said...

Treacher: Uh, what are you talking, uh, about, uh, Obama's, uh, off the, uh, cuff speaking, uh, style?

jim treacher said...

Yes.

Anonymous said...

STILL laughing hysterically over Gametime.

EmeraldLiz