Happy New Year! It’s a brand new decade and Saturday Night Live is back. But don’t get your hopes up too high. Winter break, it seems, did little to inspire the show’s writers.
Let’s face it, when you’ve got a former basketball star with no acting range as your first host of the decade, you’re probably not expecting to score the big laughs. So, let’s look at host Charles Barkley’s monotone monologue for what it accomplished. It may not have been hilarious, but it was certainly honest, and quite informative.
First, he foreshadowed a few of the sketches to come, pointing out his affinity for gambling and the show’s lack of black hosts. They manifested as some of the least funny bits of the night: MacGruber as a racist and Barkley Bank, where you either lose or double your deposit. Kenan Thompson offered a snappy, spot-on Barkley impression. As obvious as it might have been, a full sketch (perhaps a la Robin Williams and Dana Carvey as Robin Williams?) probably would have been quite funny.
Next, if you were paying close attention, you caught the face-time given to three writers… and fine comedians in their own right.
• John Lutz – “He’s got the ugliest shirt I’ve ever seen, but you know what, he came to the show anyway!”
• Jessi Klein – “You’re pretty in a kinda Jewish way!”
• Hannibal Buress – “Look at us, a handsome Hall of Fame millionaire and a black nerd.”
Klein and Buress got quick-response lines, too. “Yes… No” and “It’s okay, I guess.” Stay tuned. We may just see these folks getting serious screen-time in future seasons.
Finally, Barkley demonstrated his self-proclaimed honesty as he admitted, where most would say simply “We’ve got a great show tonight,” that “Some of it is great… actually some of it we’re gonna do anyway.” So, let’s get to the great stuff.
Peeper’s Insurance was a twisted delight of a mock commercial offering equal parts creepy and clever. It was funny enough when the tone turned on a dime and Bill Hader found himself running from the house he’s casing. But the laughs truly shifted to overdrive with a three-part montage of Hader looking through windows. Pay particular attention to the reflection in the window during the clogged drain if you’re interested in the genius of details and/or sophomoric dirty humor.
Andy Samberg’s fantastic impression of Nicolas Cage came in handy during Weekend Update, as Seth Meyers desperately tried to get him to discuss his role as Goodwill UN Ambassador… to no avail. If you’re not laughing out loud by the time Samberg demands “Switch faces with me Seth!” then you probably have an injured funny bone. Get a doctor to check that out.
Scared Straight was, as it has been, a great vehicle for Kenan Thompson as ex-con Lorenzo Macintosh. Barkley joins this episode as Macintosh, Sr. and the two discuss the dangers of trespassing with Bobby Moynahan, Andy Samberg and Bill Hader at sheriff Jason Sudeikis’s request. The talk again consists of appropriating film plots, threats of prison rape and a cast that has never entirely been able to keep a straight face. The humor is, of course, found in the creativity of incorporating silly plot lines and finding new, inventive ways to describe being violently violated. “This here is real!” Real funny, as usual!
And yet, will we one day utter the name Lorenzo Macintosh alongside Mr. Robinson, Linda Richman, Samurai Futaba? Probably not. It must be said that something has been lost when it comes to truly successful, timeless character writing. It’s not as simple as accusing the writers of being formulaic. Just look at some of the classics. Each was absolutely formulaic in its own way.
Roseanne Roseannadanna always read a letter from the same guy, always digressed and always wound up saying “It just goes to show you, it’s always something!” Wayne and Garth always opened their show by singing “Wayne’s World, Wayne’s World, party time, excellent” and always inserted the same catch phrases (“Schawing!”) or scenarios (dream sequences).
The Church Lady never failed to blame Satan. Matt Foley always reminded us that he was living in a van down by the river. And “I must say…” Ed Grimley had plenty of go-to elements, such as playing the triangle and discussing Pat Sajak.
And yet, these pop cultural phenomena have something that today’s SNL characters simply lack. This became painfully obvious during the Basketball Commentators sketch Saturday night.
First, let’s rewind to Jan. 20, 2007. Host Jeremy Piven and Jason Sudeikis portray sports commentators covering the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game. They’re joined by Danny Hoover (Andy Samberg) from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Piven grows increasingly frustrated as Hoover repeats a take on “That’ll move the chains” for every play, regardless of whether it fits. Upon learning that the disease Hoover suffers from is ADD, Piven loses it, only to learn that ADD stands for Automatic Death Disease. Hoover takes over until he drops dead. Now let’s look at last night’s sketch.
Honestly, how much creativity did it take to simply swap basketball for football, Charles Barkley for Jeremy Piven, “That’ll move the chains” for “Nothing but the bottom of the net” and OCD for ADD?! It is, for all intents and purposes, the exact same sketch.
Along those lines, the bimbette Sexy Shana (whom you may recall from the Dec. 6, 2008 episode at an office birthday party with John Malkovich) wriggles into the sketch Ski Resort. Again, same sketch with minor differences. Kristen Wiig and the writing staff really need to figure out how to either develop her character premises with an eye for longevity or embrace the fact that after they debut, her one-dimensional concoctions are nothing more than one-offs when it comes to laughs.
Let’s, while we’re at it, have Fred Armisen either expand upon or give up on the “I’m blind and I mock New Jersey” David Paterson impression. And can anyone give me insight into how an already overcooked character idea (MacGruber) is intended to sustain a full-length feature film? It’s true!
Next week’s host is Sigourney Weaver with musical guest The Ting Tings.