Sunday, April 12, 2009

SNL: Returning non-favorites

Hoo boy, last night's "Saturday Night Live" was bad. I don't blame host Zac Efron, as he was front and center for the one funny sketch, the inevitable "High School Musical" parody. The rest, though, seemed like a contest to figure out which is the least funny current recurring character: Obama/Biden, Kathie Lee on "Today," Gilly, the celebrity blogger, etc. Painful. Just painful, and not worth spending any more time analyzing.

Ah, well. At least the season closes out with Justin Timberlake and Will Ferrell as hosts -- though, the way the season has gone (with Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin bombing, while newbies like Jon Hamm and Anne Hathaway fronted the better episodes), those two aren't guaranteed laugh riots.


Mike F said...

on the other hand, I was at the Jimmy Fallon show at the Borgata in Atlantic City last night and he pretty much killed

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't necessarily count on Will Ferrell to be funny. His one man Broadway show about Bush was PAINFULLY bad. I turned it off after 10 minutes.

Amy said...

I liked the direct mail fake commercial and the soldier goodbye sketch, but the rest was painful.

Something that ticked me off last night: In two consecutive sketches, they used male actors to play mother charactres, leaving the female actors cooling their heels backstage.

Benjamin Standig said...

Yes, it is amazing that a show that has produced so many great characters and skits over the years is apparently stuck trotting out these losers. As I mentioned on here a few weeks ago, I think they need to overhaul the cast - and perhaps the writing staff, though I generally like head man Seth Meyers - and get some better comedic actors.

I can't stand the real Kathie Lee as much as the next guy, but the skit simply isn't funny. Also, who is even watching that hour on the Today show? Relevance is a factor at times...Also, I really like Kristen Wiig, but this season her characters are too dark across the board.

Keep: Hader, Samberg, Wiig, Moynihan; also Watkins and Elliott have shown enough promise to stick for now

Can: Casey Wilson, Kenan Thompson. (has any one actor been on the show as long as Kenan without developing one popular and funny bit???)

Decide: keep one from the Armisen/Forte/Sudekis group to serve as the utility player, but new blood is needed

- Having never watched Zac Efron in anything, I was actually quasi impressed with his effort, primarily because of just that, his effort.

jcpbmg said...

i haven't watched very many episodes this year but NPH's was good and definitely deserves to be included with John Hamm and Hathaway

Jeff K. said...

Largely unfunny. I'm in agreement that the Direct Mail commercial was funny. I also liked the HSM sketch.

I don't know what it says about me or the show that I thought the P.J. Bland Applebee's commercial was the SNL fake spot until the last 10 seconds when it was obvious it wasn't...

The creepy brother had its moments.

Wiig is grating on me at this point. The characters are lacking in any sort of distinction -- she either plays parody (Kathy Lee) or unreal (WalMart checker, the idiot she played last night whose name I don't remember and am too lazy to click back since I know Alan named her, girl who loves a surprise) to the point where she's tiring. She has no basis in reality, and I just don't find it that funny.

(That said, I do find her skewering of Kathy Lee to be a good parody -- which is to say not an impression at all, but a grotesque amplification of KLG's worst traits... but the writing that surrounds it often goes way off track and on too long -- last night, no need for Fred as Penny Marshall at all. Lose those 30 seconds...)

I like the two new girls. Casey doesn't make any sort of impression on me -- when she started it seemed they were using her for her cleavage, but now that they've got the other two who are more conventionally attractive, she seems to take a backseat playing old ladies or dowdy runners...

In terms of Ben's lineup, I'd mostly agree but I think Sudekis needs to stay -- but he can't be allowed to do Joe Biden, just a dud character.

Wiig needs to go, or she needs to ground herself in some sort of reality. She was SO awesome on Joe Schmoe 2 playing it straight and daffy; that watching her chew the scenery week in / week out is just dull.

I want Fred to stay because I find him generally amusing every time I see him, tho it seems if he doesn't have a champion on the writing staff, he gets relegated to the background a lot.

Will Forte can go -- or at least drop him back to be A. Whitney Brown -- writer who steps in occasionally as featured player.

Hader is money in the bank, tho the gay Jersey dudes are a one-joke sketch that doesn't even do its one joke that well. Hopefully, he'll maintain the balance of Hollywood and SNL to keep himself happy.

Kenan should come back once a year to yell "Zoot Allures!" and past that, I can make the case to cut him loose...

Lane said...

Alan, shouldn't your title have been "Bitch, please?!"

agreed, pretty meh throughout

my heart sank when the Gilly sketch was so high up on the card, I knew we were in for a bad show

it seemed like Sudeikis was in every sketch, maybe this is his swan song, as he has been in more movies and tv shows recently. Hader is now in the Apatow mafia with a sidejob with the South Park guys, and also was in Tropic Thunder, he may be moving on too?

Alan Sepinwall said...

The thing about the blogger character is that Watkins' performance is very good, but the writing is terrible. It's like they've never actually been to Perez Hilton or Defamer or the other sites they're trying to skewer.

Andrew said...

I don't think the issue with the terrible SNL is the cast. The writing is terrible. Who thought the Gilly sketch was an idea the first time? ANd then who brought it back again? The sketches that weren't recurring characters-- The High School Musical, direct mail and departing soldier sketch were between not bad and funny, but the rest was painful, in large part because we've seen the same ideas before. Except for the Non-Bon Jovi bit. Not a great one, but amusing.

J.J. said...

Not a great episode, but much better than I expected based on who the host was (I feared it would be a full show like the awful Jonas Brothers sketches).

In particular, I loved the High School Musical sketch. Although I found myself feeling like they dialed it down too much. As bad as the guy made his post-High School life sound, I think they should have been way more brutal about it. I mean, I think he understated how badly things would go if you went through life breaking into song.

And I enjoyed the woman running along with the train.

I liked the sketch with Sudeikis giving Efron romantic advice too. Although it brings up one of my frustrations with the show -- sometimes they're not really clear on how old a character is supposed to be. I mean it seemed like Efron's character is old enough to be interested in scoring with a chick with his parents out of town (or is he supposed to be so young that he's just hoping to kiss the girl?), but he seemed to not catch on to all the masturbation references. What teenage boy is that oblivious to such things?

Also, did I miss the Digital Short, or did they not run one this week? With a guest who has some kind of background in singing/dancing, seemed like a perfect week for a funny Digital Short music video.

Anonymous said...

Having watched SNL semi-regularly for the last 15 years, in my opinion you will get one genuinely funny live bit for every two shows of material. The batting average for their pre-taped stuff is usually much higher. During my teens Robert Smigel's cartoons are pretty much the only thing I tuned in for. Post Lazy Sunday, I have given up on watching the show all the way through and just read the extensive video reviews that get published the next day. The writers need to take a page from Tina Fey and leave us wanting more Obama, not drowning us in it every week.

Hyde said...

Along with the HSM sketch (and I particularly liked the randomness of Walt Disney showing up), I also thought the commercial shoot was pretty good. I don't recall Armisen playing so many women before this season, but while I usually don't go for that sort of thing, he's amusing when he does it.

But the rest of it: no. I wonder who it is at SNL that finds the Kathie Lee Gifford sketches so can't miss? Maybe it's because I have never once watched the hour of Today that she appears on, but poking fun at her seems very 1995 to me.

I would agree with Jeff that Hader is the closest thing to an indispensable cast member SNL has these days. I wouldn't mind keeping Armisen either, but he would have to accept an impeachment from his current role as Obama, and he might not be willing to do that.

Unknown said...

Like any comedy, it begins and ends with the writing. They could have the return of John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Phil Hartman and Chris Farley from the great beyond. And give them those skits and they would still be clunkers.

DonBoy said...

I liked the Bar That Doesn't Card, because a) it went on no longer than necessary, b) I'm a comedy pushover for a four-year-old holding a police badge, and c) I'm also easy for a sketch that veers off halfway through (Spitzer). Not much else besides the HSM bit, though.

OnceADaydream said...

worst SNL this year. Hate Gilly, don't love Kathy Lee, & was totally creeped out by the brother sketch. Why did it have to be the last one of the night. I remember when....

Pamela Jaye said...

oh, the direct mail was on SNL? I did see it - but not most of the rest of the show. I spent a bit of time FFing thru MADtv, which had a nice Cable TV Automated Service Line bit and one other thing that I can't remember... Sounds Like The 80's (CD set) was a good idea... it could have been better (gee, I miss Almost Live!)

Anonymous said...

Fortunately I didn't tune in until update, so I missed the Gilly sketch everyone hated. I watched a little bit of the Kathie Lee one this morning and while the writing was terrible, I enjoyed the performances. A creepy Kathie Lee/Cody relationship at least gave Wiig and Efron something interesting to do.

Agreed with everyone that the HSM sketch was funny and the high point, but I actually sort of liked the brothers sketch. It was creepy and gross, but I thought Efron nailed it and Sudeikis brought the appropriate amount of uncomfortable without making me feel totally skeeved out. In fact, of everything I saw, Efron was fantastic and a total natural. The writing was just so blah.

And as far as Update goes, that's always been the bright spot for me, but I'm so tired of the unfunny recurring characters. I don't like Jon Bovi and I don't like the French Def Jam comic and I don't like Nicholas Fehn. I do like the gay guys (Hader's my favorite dude on the show right now) and the bit telling Seth to google himself was very, very funny. But, most of it is just filler and just dragging that segment down.

Fingers crossed for the Timberlake ep next month. I hope that my expectations aren't so high that it's a huge dissapointment.

Tyroc said...

The majority of the cast is pretty damn great. The writing stinks.

Lorne needs to find a new way to write the show. Under whatever system they're currently using, It all feels like last minute first drafts.

Undercover Black Man said...

Gilly was a return engagement? This was my first time seeing it. I thought it was silly-funny at first... but was fed up two-thirds of the way through.

I never did think Kristen Wiig was in the same class as Amy Poehler, Molly Shannon or Cheri Oteri as a sketch player.

Do enjoy her Kathie Lee, however.

Anonymous said...
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Alan Sepinwall said...

No political comments. Talk about the show. Period.

BigTed said...

This is the way "SNL" has always operated. (I assume Lorne Michaels should get the credit/blame for it.) They'll repeat a character -- including the middling-to-awful ones -- over and over again, presumably because we in the audience seek familiarity over brand-new sketches every week. (What that misses, of course, is how annoying characters get even more annoying with repetition.)

Eventually, I assume they're hoping a character will break out in popularity, so they can make yet another awful "SNL"-based movie.

The Gilly character doesn't even make any sense to me, and the "celebrity blogger" is a poorly executed idea that should have been put away after the first time. Meanwhile, the "gay guys from New Jersey" were actually funny the first time or two, but have now become annoying through sheer familiarity.

This is a talented cast, and it would make a lot more sense to let them try out different characters and find ones that work, instead of just beating us over the head with the same ones that don't.

On the plus side, Zac Ephron was far better than I expected. He could be a real actor someday if he gets rid of that ridiculous haircut.

Karen said...

Not having any tween girls in my family, I've never seen the High School Musicals. I did see Zac Efron for the first time last week on "The Graham Norton Show" -- with fellow guest David Walliams(from "Little Britain," of all people -- and was really impressed by his good humor and naturalness. So I was interested to see how he'd do on SNL.

I thought the open went well--especially the part about parents being grateful to anyone who could hold their kids' attention--but, to echo everyone else, there were just too many recurring characters and too much bad writing.

I've never found Gilly remotely funny, and it's a perfect example of the writers' worst flaw: simply repeating the same joke over and over, rather than building on the original joke to some sort of climax. Gilly doesn't even say anything different from one time to the next.

I've never found the Kathie Lee Gifford sketches at all funny, either, although seeing "Cody" hump-dancing his mom did make me giggle a little. But there was so much crap to get to before that--there was no reason not to bring out Cody immediately.

I don't have a problem with the cast--even Kenan Thompson--but Kristen Wiig just seems to one-note when she's playing her characters. I find her far funnier when she's playing someone straight.

The HSM sketch was funny enough to make me think the writers have it in them to do better work than they've been doing. Maybe it's time to cut SNL down to an hour, and keep from overtaxing their talents. The two brothers sketch also cracked me up, but that may have been more from the goodwill generated by Efron and Sudekis than the quality of the material. The underage bar sketch was short enough and well-shaped enough to work, also.

But mostly it was pretty bad, despite good work from the majority of those involved.

The Gregarious Misanthrope said...

I like Seth Myers and I think he's doing a good job on Weekend Update. If Parks & Recreation bombs, might Amy Poehler return? One can hope, because they were a great team.

I like Kristen Wiig. I blame the writers for not providing her with funny material.

Best cast member: Bill Hader. Love Vinnie Vedecci. I bet he's gone soon.

Devin McCullen said...

I just want to say that the joke about the Kosher Pet Food made me laugh and laugh.

dez said...

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs were good. Also liked the HSM sketch and the underage bar one.

(gee, I miss Almost Live!)

Is that the show that had The Lame List and High-Fivin' White Guys? I loved that show!

Steve said...

I love the Celebrity Blogger sketch. I don't know why, but it cracks me up. Watkins is great in it.

Victor said...

I thought the PJ Blands spot was hilarious.
What? It was a real commercial and not an SNL commercial?

Oh well, then, that means I smiled at exactly ZERO skits in the show.

Anonymous said...

Kenan Thompson has had one funny character, DJ Dynasty Handbag from the "Deep House Dish" skits, which would have worked really well last night with a host who can actually sing, especially since all of the ladies in the cast now are also singers. I was expecting to see Zac Efron in a ridiculous outfit singing a hilarious "house" song, but no.

Kristin Wiig irritates me. Outside of her parodies, all of her characters are formulaic to an extreme 1 part wig + 1 part silly/unnatural voice + 1 part bizarre facial expression/bodily gesture + 1 part absurd comments = Kristin Wiig characters. Target Cashier, Gilly, Woman Who One Ups Everybody (you bought a new car? I bought a new car, it's a Mercedes... ), Aunt Whosis the Movie Reviewer on Weekend Update, and her one-off characters too.

lungfish said...

Agreed- that was pretty bad. I thought Seth Rogan was good last week though, although I was bummed that they seem to have ran out of time and bumped a muppet skit (during the farewell and closing credits, much of the cast was dressed in muppet costumes).

TC said...

The muppet sketch aired last week. It wasn't bumped.

Abbie said...

That was the third Gilly sketch. I hate that character too, as with most of Kristin Wiig's recurring characters. But I love Kristin Wiig and I think she's by far the best of any of the females on the show.

If they wouldn't try so hard to make every damn character a recurring character, this might be a better show.

I don't understand how this show can have a whole week to get it together, but is consistently blown out of the water by the writing on for Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert. I would never compare SNL with any classic sketch comedy troupes (KiTH or the State), but you'd think they could pull off something as funny as Comedy Central does almost every weeknight.

Also, we did see a Muppet sketch last week with Seth Rogan. It was not cut (I'm in Central Time). The Muppets shot a cop or something. It was more about the Muppet impressions than an actual sketch.

Anonymous said...

As documented in "Live From New York," Lorne Michaels originally embodied the writer's mentality and eschewed repeition.

Even beloved sketches like "The Coneheads" only ran four or five times.

After Dick Ebersol took over, he introduced a standard network mentality: if the viewers like something, show it as often as you can.

This fit perfectly with a cast that featured one dominant performer with several distinct characters.

Sometimes, Ebersol even rammed mediocre characters down viewers' throats ("The Whiners" were mentioned) until people "realized" that "this must be a funny sketch, because they show it every week."

While Lorne still looks down his nose at the Ebersol years, he adopted that philosophy upon his return after the Crystal/Short year.

Tosy And Cosh said...

I only saw two sketches and part of Update, but thought that Watkins was so good as the blogger character that I kind of glossed over the fact that the writing was so anemic. I get the feeling Watkins is going to start giving Wiig a run for her money next year in terms of screen time.

Victor said...

Is there really any benefit for the show still being "live"? It seems that every single sketch would work better if they had time to shoot it and edit it down to what's actually funny.
The best bits are always the Digtal Shorts, or the commercials.

Anonymous said...

The writing is just soooooo bad. Gilly is unwatchable, but a sign that it's not the cast's fault (they're doing the best they can with unfunny and uninspired writing -- Kenan got some giggles out of me based on almost nothing). I like Seth Meyers on Weekend Update (a lot), so I suspect he's just phoning it in on the rest of the show. Though I have to agree with the person who said how strange it is that men often play female characters while there are talented women in the cast. (And my pet peeve is Fred Armisen as Obama, and no black women cast members. We have a black First Family, and nobody black who can play them in what's supposed to be the #1 political sketch comedy show in the country?)

Alan Sepinwall said...

The No Politics rule is in effect because everytime the discussion becomes even slightly partisan for either side, things get ugly in a hurry. Nobody seems to know how to politely disagree about politics anymore, so I've banned it all.

Tyroc said...

Abbie wrote... (I don't know how to do the italics)

"That was the third Gilly sketch. I hate that character too, as with most of Kristin Wiig's recurring characters. But I love Kristin Wiig and I think she's by far the best of any of the females on the show."

Why compare her only to the other females? Can't we just say she's one of the best performers on the show?

For me, she, Forte, Armisen, and Hader are the top right now. Sudeikis is great, but I see him as more of a real actor than a comedic character actor (he was awesome on 30 Rock. But very real, too.)