Monday, December 7, 2009

TRASH LIKE THAT TAKES ITSELF OUT: Continuing my practice of only writing about shows several days after they air, I have a couple of things to say about the Blake Lively SNL that aired two nights ago.

The quick thought: am I the only person in the entire world who thinks it was exceedingly strange that they cut directly from a skit whose punchline was Tiger Woods being the victim of domestic abuse to a close-up of Rihanna in the digital short? I guess the way the show is built, and with Rihanna carrying the digital short, that skit was going to come either immediately before or immediately after a Rihanna performance, but I might have tried to use something -- anything -- as a buffer. One of the fake UPS ads?

The somewhat more labored thought: the show is not particularly funny these days, but it's also not as unfunny as the Internets would have it, and a lot of the stuff that doesn't work is a result of the pressure for SNL to be funny in the exact same way that it was funny before. I read a lot of stuff suggesting that the show was only funny in one or more of the the Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time-Players/Eddie Murphy/Bill Hartman-Dana Carvey/Will Ferrell eras, with the current cast paling in comparison. One of the reasons the current cast pales in comparison, though, is that it's trying to do what past casts were good at. Fey's first Palin sketch aside, though, this is the wrong age for SNL to do either political satire or send-ups of talk shows, because the bar has been raised too high for that stuff, and the current cast isn't cut out for it. It feels like they think they have to do it, because that's what SNL does (this also works as a summary of Joe Piscopo's entire SNL ouevre).

The most memorable SNL performances, though, came from people who weren't trying to repeat an earlier cast's success. The original cast created something completely different from what was then on TV, Eddie Murphy saved the show by running in an entirely different direction, and, as people now seem to forget, Will Ferrell created some extravagantly and defiantly weird TV (the Lord of the Flies morning TV sketch with Grier and Oteri that predicted the gang fight in Anchorman; "more cowbell"; his Neil Diamond). It took people several years to warm to Ferrell. To me, the show is at its worst whenever Jason Sudeikis's Biden is on-screen, because it's a bad impression with no convincing hook done out of duty to SNL's traditions rather than any comic imperative, a cheap Phil Hartman ripoff (though, in candor, I never enjoyed much of Phil Hartman's work until News Radio). The show needs more people trying weird things, not more Sudeikises echoing Piscopo echoing Aykroyd (and note: head writer Seth Myers was the boyish guitar-playing successor to Jimmy Fallon, who was just a cut-rate Adam Sandler).

So I agree with the consensus (where "consensus" = Hitfix) that this week's was a good, but not great episode, and completely disagree with the "why." When Spacewoman said to me something that I hear a lot -- "nothing after the news is ever any good" -- I had to disagree. To me, that's where all the good stuff, the really weird stuff, is. The best thing on the show was the last -- the bizarre NASA-potato chip sketch with the inexplicable accents, antebellum costuming, 70s set dressing, and weird melodrama. That may be my favorite thing on SNL all year. And I loved the "To Catch a Predator" talk show, not for the talk show part of it, but for the way it absolutely nailed the feel of the source material (particularly Chris Hansen hiding under the desk). Though it came before the news, I also thought the "Under-Underground Festival" ad was very funny. Which, oddly, makes two sketches where I enjoyed Sudeikis. Then again, I had no need for the compulsories -- the political bit, the dig at reality stars, the parody of the guest's show, the notion that anything making fun of one of the boroughs or of New Jersey is itself a punch line (all of which came before the news).

Incidentally, despite the fact that he appears as a performer in just about every movie there is, I can't shake the thought that when Bill Hader leaves the show, he is going to write and run a transcendently funny TV show. And one other thing: If you took the "over" on Matt's query about the number of mentions of Blake Lively's breasts, you lost some money.

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