Archive for January, 2011

by Brendan Wahl

(Season 36, Episode 13)

Boy oh boy, folks. I was real worried about this one. Jesse Eisenberg, recent Oscar Nominee and star of other films like Adventureland and Zombieland, was not my first pick at the next contender to host the long-running comedic institution. Jesse seems like a bundle of nervous energy and not in a good way, but in a rather Ellen Page-esque way that he might have trouble getting through the program. I set my expectations very low for this episode and hoped that by some miracle, it would surpass them. Joining Jesse is Lady Gag…err, I mean Nicki Minaj with her big hair and booty.

Yes, her booty is big.

This has got to be the worst intro I’ve ever done.

Anyway, I’m tired so let’s START!

The Show:

1. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s Response to the President’s State of the Union Address: The Second Attempt (4:12)

Wow, that’s a mouthful. Spoofing a recent YouTube favourite, Kristen Wiig reprises her role of Tea Partier Michele Bachmann and, in a very dry manner, mocks the crazy candidate’s response to the President’s State of the Union address complete with camera gaffes and wacky charts that don’t seem to tell anything. Having seen the actual video, I can safely say that it was ripe for parody and SNL sure had a blast with this one, making it another home run for Wiig and the writers (presumably Jim Downey or Seth). The Xena footage was a hoot, especially. A

2. Monologue (4:12)
-Eisenberg, Mark Zuckerberg, Lorne Michaels, Samberg

Wow, that’s a lot of ‘bergs. Jesse spends the beginning of the monologue talking about how he’s totally not a nervous ball of energy, but rather a cocky bastard who knows he’s bound to win the Oscar. After displaying his knowledge about women and their periods, he is soon joined by Mark Zuckerberg (Samberg) who talks about being a billionaire, of course. They are soon joined by the real deal, who meets Jesse for the first time and shares an awkward moment with our host. After some really stilted acting opposite Lorne Michaels, Zuckerberg does slightly better with Eisenberg. Still, it’s a fun monologue. B+

3. Once Daily Estro-Maxx (1:54)
-Armisen, Hader, Moynihan, Thompson, Brittain

Now there’s a new product for sex-changing hormones that only requires you to take ONE estrogen pill a day, which still works but is more obvious and takes way longer to complete the transformation. The sight of the male castmembers in drag (minus Kenan, who plays a security guard) was a hoot. B+

4. Mr. Wizard’s World (3:34)
-Eisenberg, Elliott, Hader, Thompson, Pedrad

Spoofing an old show from the Nickelodeon era, Mr. Wizard (Hader) teaches some children (Jesse, Elliott, Thompson, & Pedrad) about static electricity from rubbing balloons onto fabric. However, two kids (our host and Nasim) find a much better way to rub the balloons on each other and slowly discover each other’s anatomy (“Balloons make things grow”). The joke was obvious once the Van De Graaf was brought out, but the actors were game here and really sold the joke. A-

5. Don’t Forget The Lyrics (5:26)
-Eisenberg, Sudeikis

Mark McGrath (Sudeikis) has now resorted to hosting the pathetic karaoke-inspired gameshow. Jesse’s awkward singing is pretty damn funny as well as the slow-burn of McGrath and his sinking dignity. There’s not much else to say here. Jesse bombs each song he attempts with completely inappropriate lyrics while McGrath serves as a way to also make fun of the gameshow’s stupid premise. B+

6. WXPD New New York (4:17)
-Eisenberg, Hader, Samberg, Sudeikis, Thompson

Featuring the second performance of senile reporter Herb Welch (Hader), this time he investigates a drug bust while interviewing a college student (Eisenberg). His banter with the kids is only upstaged by his dialogue with the newscaster (Sudeikis) back in the studio, trying to direct the reporter on how to properly do his job. Bill came perilously close to cracking up here and it almost made everyone else lose it as well. When the newsman insults Herb’s parrish, the microphone-attack commences. I absolutely adore this character. A

7. Film: The Creep (2:41)
-John Waters, Minaj, Samberg

After a fun introduction by the conoiseur of creep, John Waters, the Lonely Island sings a new hit about “doin’ the creep’ complete with the pencil-thin moustaches and the absolutely bizarre walk. Nicki Minaj joins in on the fun and her moment at the funeral is the highlight in this otherwise-average digital short. B-

8. Nicki Minaj sings “Right Thru Me” (3:52)

Donning a big mess of white/pink hair, Nicki cruises through a decent rap-inspired tune. I know nothing about Nicki besides her being a protege of Lil Wayne (I think), but this was a pretty good performance. She certainly has presence. B+

9. Weekend Update with Seth Meyers (10:28)
-Also: Fred Armisen and Kenan Thompson

After a pretty clever swipe at Michele Bachmann, Seth’s jokes go over at a steady rate especially the joke about the NBC/Comcast deal (“Seriously, I HAVE to say that”) before welcoming the Egyptian president (Armisen), who has shut the internet down and denies his total lack of popularity. After explaining that he called Time Warner to get the issue fixed, he makes a corny joke and some Bible allusions. It’s a pretty funny commentary by Armisen and a nice change of pace with a different impression. I also LOVED the Charlie Sheen bit (“There goes Charlie Sheen with some paperwork. That fifty-year old man with sunglasses and cargo shorts must be going to an important meeting”) and the elderly driving bit as well (they don’t focus on objects in the foreground, but rather interracial couples on the sidewalk). Seth’s second and final guest is Tyler Perry (Thompson), complete with money sticking out of his suit. Perry discusses his new plans for his sure-fire Oscar nominee complete with star Jesse Eisenberg. A fine, fine edition of Update as per the norm. A-

10. The Essentials – The Bride of Blackenstein (5:55)
-Eisenberg, Minaj, Sudeikis, Thompson, Pharoah

The second appearance of this recurring sketch marks the appearance of a blaxploitation flick known as The Bride of Blackenstein. The scientist (Pharoah), however, has his dimwitted assistant Igor (Eisenberg) to retrieve the brain for the bride (Minaj) and as a result, she is a sassy black woman who wants the monster (Thompson) to settle down and get a job. This sketch nails the blaxploitation movie to a tee with the constant close-ups of her ass and especially one of the villagers’ (Hader) reactions to the booty in question, despite his wife’s (Wiig) qualms. This was a classic over-the-top bit. A+

11. Skins (4:02)
-Eisenberg, Elliott, Samberg, Brittain, Pedrad

After an introduction by the MTV exec for programming (Samberg), we learn that the controversial new show Skins has lost several of its sponsors and so they must hawk crappy new sponsors during the show. It starts out funny, but gets even more ridiculous as it goes on (“That sounds great. For young vaginas.” “I’m twelve.”). The satire of the show is pretty smart and Samberg’s executive character is funny as well. Another candidate for best sketch of the night. A

12. Spa Talk (5:24)
-Eisenberg, Elliott, Moynihan, Thompson, Wiig, Bayer

Tyla Yonders (Wiig), most likely a new character for Kristen, hosts a show in which she wistfully slips around and gives facials to her one-dimensional guests. The way in which she conducts herself had me laughing a lot harder than I probably should have. Kristen has a way in which she can take a subtle character and make it work even better than it does on paper. It’s refreshing to see a character that doesn’t rely on catchphrases, but then we’ve had a trend of those lately (Herb Welch, Tyla, Mindy Gracin, etc.) and its resulted in helping out a great season thus far. A-

13. Nicki Minaj sings “Moment 4 Life” (2:57)

Donning her Blackenstein wig, Minaj sings another tune that sounds a little like her first one but its still pretty entertaining. Slight step down from the first one. B

14. El Shrinko (2:01)
-Eisenberg, Hader, Samberg, Wiig, Bayer, Pedrad

To help explain why Arthur (Samberg) and Randy’s (Eisenberg) penises are so small, they invent a product called El Shrinko that has supposedly shrunk them down from a monstrous size that girls just wouldn’t appreciate. This was more clever than I can devote words to from the purposely forced static acting by the girls (“What’s that? Say it now? …el shrinko!”) to the random appearance by their friend Derek (Hader). B+

Jesse thanks the Zuck, Nicki, and the cast and crew before waving goodnight.

Well, that was a heck of a show. Certainly much better than I expected from the likes of Jesse Eisenberg. Just from looking at the guy, I assumed he would be a nervous wreck and I was completely wrong in that assumption. Solid stuff this week and it seems like most of the cast got at least one moment in the sun, particularly Bill Hader (like usual), but we also had a lot of Andy Samberg this week as well, which is a nice treat.

Nicki Minaj was an average musical guest, while Eisenberg was a fun host who didn’t need to be the center of attention in everything he was in.

Great stuff.

Host Rating: A-
Musical Guest Rating: B
Show Rating: A-


Retro Reviews Hiatus

Posted: January 28, 2011 by Brendan Wahl in Uncategorized

While the regular reviews for SNL‘s new episodes will still be posted, the retro reviews are going on a bit of a hiatus. They’ll be back in 2-3 weeks time.

by Brendan Wahl

(Season 3, Episode 6)

Good ol’ reliable Buck Henry. Marking his then-unprecedented fifth appearance hosting the show, this would pretty much be the last stop to hype up the Anyone Can Host contest. The five finalists were set to appear, so who better than Buck Henry to show up and guide them through the show that he knows so well? I’ve probably said this before, but Buck Henry is one of those consummate professional types that was just a ridiculously easy person to work with and even though he never had a single thing to promote, he was chosen as the host for two episodes every season during the first five years (and aside from Year 1, he hosted all the season finales as well). The network probably wouldn’t have strived to get Buck, but Lorne and the cast knew that they could get a dependable performance out of him and put on a stellar show most times.

Joining Buck is another favourite of the SNL cast and crew, that of Leon Redbone. Making his third appearance on the show, Redbone was something of an interesting character. For years and years, no one really knew too much about him like his date of birth or even who he truly was. According to a long-standing rumour at the time, many thought he was just Andy Kaufman in disguise or some even thought it could be Frank Zappa. I think its fairly obvious now that he was neither man, but it’s an interesting rumour.


The Show:

1. Anyone Can Host Finalists (2:45)
-Henry, Anyone Can Host Finalists, Morris, Radner

We are finally introduced to the five Anyone Can Host finalists: Deb Blair, a mother from Peoria, Illinois; Connie Crawford, a Vassar co-ed; Richard Kneip, the governor of South Dakota; David Lewis, an unemployed guy from Oregon; and Miskel Spillman, an octogenarian grandmother. They all quickly introduce themselves to Mr. Henry himself along with Garrett and Gilda in the locker room. Each of them have their quirks and I think its fairly obvious that Mrs. Spillman is already the most popular of the quintet. Funny way to incorporate the finalists into a sketch and it was a unique way to get the show started. B+

2. Monologue (7:03)
-Henry, Anyone Can Host Finalists

Instead of the traditional monologue, Buck trots out the five finalists to the stage and gives each of them a chance to make their case as to why they want to host the popular comedic institution. Connie is pretty cute and David Lewis’ bit falls flat and gets no reaction, but Miskel charms the audience once again. It’s another good segment; nothing outstanding, but it works well due to Buck’s charisma and the concept of the whole contest. B+

3. Little Chocolate Donuts (:57)

Spoofing the Bruce Jenner ads for Wheaties, Belushi’s Olympic career is highlighted before he shills for the breakfast of champions, Little Chocolate Donuts. John’s deadpan makes this Franken and Davis-penned parody a real winner. A

4. Samurai Psychiatrist (5:36)
-Henry, Belushi

Like any other appearance by Buck Henry (except for Year 5, when Belushi was no longer a castmember), the Samurai appears again with another random occupation that he has taken up. This time, Futaba (Belushi) plays Freud to Mr. Dantley’s (Henry) stories of his inadequacies. These sketches are based mostly on the interplay between Buck and John, but most of them depend on some great visual gags as well. For some reason, despite a reliance on several of the same gags, this character never grew old. The twist on the traditional ending of these sketches was pretty terrific as well. A

5. Stunt Baby (4:31)
-Henry, Curtin, Murray, Newman (voice), Radner

While filming a scene for a movie involving a psychopathic father (Henry), the director (Murray) shmoozes his cast like a typical Hollywood phony. But then the greatest thing ever happens: Buck is just about to get violent with the baby and Murray yells for the stunt baby to be brought in. After some humourous instructions, Buck starts beating on the baby in over-the-top and ridiculous ways. At the time, this sketch was attacked by many censorship groups for its violence and disturbing content, but the way its handled here is so funny and it is the best sketch of the night. A+

6. A.M.O.A. Sanitized Motel (1:56)

A spokesman (Aykroyd) for sanitized motel glasses and toilets explains how these things actually get sanitized (with the assistance of some helpful pictures). This was funny enough, but why did Garrett dress up like a female just for the pictures? B

7. Leon Redbone sings “Champagne Charlie” (2:45)

Accompanied by a few other musicians, Leon sits center-stage and sings a ditty about a fella named Charlie, a song that originated way back in 1867. Leon’s unique voice and cadence makes for a very entertaining musical number and it doesn’t hurt that his guitar-picking is tremendous as well. A-

8. Weekend Update with Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin (6:45)
-Also: Anyone Can Host Finalists, Laraine Newman, & Gilda Radner

Lillian Carter gets quite an electric shock in a funny story by Jane but Dan also gets some chuckles with his artist’s rendering of how a baby becomes a male or female. Unlike most of the renderings during Chevy’s reign at the desk, this is a pretty amusing little bit and culminates in the two anchors lighting up a couple of cigars afterwards. Jane brings up the Anyone Can Host contest again and this time, sends it over to Laraine Newman to get some more words from the finalists. Laraine stumbles over her words a bit here, but we do get another great bit from Miskel (“You’re old. How do you feel?” “Tired.”). Finally, Baba Wawa (Radner) reports from Jerusalem and instead of concentrating on the story concerning some dignitaries in Egypt, Baba focuses on herself and talks about the security and her lunch date with Omar Shariff. Not much in the way of actual stories this week, but still a solid edition of Update. B+

9. Reunion In Kiev (4:48)
-Henry, Belushi, Newman, Radner

Reminiscing about her upcoming visit to her sister, a young Russian woman (Radner) has constant flashbacks of her time on the train, some memories more succinct than others. We also get a flashback from the waiter (Henry) as well as some musician (Belushi) that sits with her. Eventually, she is joined by her sister (Newman) and the confusion starts to pile on with the ridiculous amount of flashbacks. Whoever wrote this was pretty clever. A-

10. Mr. Mike’s Rickey Rat Club (6:10)
-Henry, Aykroyd, Belushi, Curtin, Morris, Murray, Newman, Radner

In an obvious spoof of the Disney ode to the eponymous mouse, Mr. Mike presents a tribute to the rickiest of rats, Rickey Rat. Bucky plays ringleader to the proceedings and guides the entire cast in a discussion about several of the experiments that they’ve conducted with their little furry friend. When Rickey himself is brought out, the Ratketeers recognize that it is not the correct rat, but Bucky explains that Rickey is busy helping science and now enjoying his stay in the hospital. It’s a decidedly dark criticism of animal testing and is another classic Mr. Mike piece. A

11. The Franken and Davis Show (5:41)
-Radner, Davis, Franken

Intermittent featured players during seasons 3-5, Franken and Davis were two of the sharpest young writers on the show and were finally able to showcase their performing skills on this recurring variety-show piece. Starting off by showing highlights of their careers, Franken and Davis then introduce Jackie Onassis (Radner) to perform a sketch with them where Tom Davis chokes at the dinner table. There’s some clever stuff here and although this wasn’t one of their stronger bits, it was still good. B+

12. Gary Weis Film: The Five Finalists (3:29)
-Henry, Anyone Can Host Finalists

Buck introduces a short film showing each finalist in the Anyone Can Host contest meeting up with our host in a hotel room and trying to find another way to guarantee their hosting stint on the Christmas episode of SNL. Connie comes on to Buck, Lewis explains how he likes to squeeze chipmunk heads, Deb tells Buck she’s not going to be able to afford Christmas this year, the governor tries to buy his way in, and Miskel says that she’s “going to kick” around New Year’s. More fun. B+

13. Leon Redbone sings “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” (3:28)

Leon slows things down for a second number, begging people not to reminisce about him when the day comes that he finally passes from this world. Sorry, Mr. Redbone, but you are too legendary to not reminisce about. It’s another terrific performance here, of course. A

14. Schiller’s Reel: Life After Death (2:14)

The second film by Tom Schiller sees a number of people claim to have experienced near-death situations and some having even died completely and then came back when resuscitated. The best part is that the patients lament that they had to wait in line and take a number, but the whole film was good if a little short. B+

Bucky reminds everyone of the December 17th show that the Anyone Can Host contest winner will host and lets all the finalists make thier last stand and then the cast joins in to wave goodnight to everyone.

A super fun show. Buck proved that once again, he was one of the great hosts of the day and one that wouldn’t necessarily hog the spotlight either like some future hosts. Buck was entirely comfortable in playing straight man to the cast’s antics but he was often given some funny stuff to do because he was so beloved by all of the cast. Bucky clearly had fun with the Anyone Can Host contest aspect of the show as well and the finalists themselves must have had an absolute blast being involved in this episode.

Meanwhile, Leon Redbone provided some really solid musical accompaniment and proved to be one of the favourites of the first five years.

Overall, it was a really solid show that keeps the good episode streak going strong.

Host Rating: A
Musical Guest Rating: A-
Show Rating: A-

by Brendan Wahl

(Season 36, Episode 12)

I overrated last week’s episode. Granted, it was a great one but giving almost every other sketch an A grade was going a little too far. Jim was a dominant presence in a night full of laughs and it might be a strong contender for one of the top broadcasts thus far, but it was not as amazing as I first stated. With that in mind, I head into the next episode review with a deep breath and an attempt to not be so positive all the time. It’s really hard to be negative on a show I truly adore and even on bad nights, I can usually find something I like about it. That brings us to tonight’s broadcast.

That’s right, Shakespeare’s lover herself, Gwyneth Paltrow, makes her third hosting appearance and her first in almost ten years. It’s been far too long since the talented young actress has taken center-stage in 8H and the day has finally come when she once again comes by to promote her latest film. This time it’s Country Strong, a movie about a washed-up country singer played by Paltrow who’s set to make her comeback with the help of a young up-and-comer. I probably won’t ever see this but just like I said last week, if it gives a good host a reason to be there, I’m all for it.

Joining Gwyneth is Cee Lo Green, he of the number one hit “Fuck You.” Or as you may know it on the radio, “Forget You.” Yes, the radio edit is mighty annoying and there is no way in heck that we’re going to hear the original version tonight. Nevertheless, Cee Lo has proven himself over the last few years with his time in Gnarls Barkley and his successful solo career as well, which should make for some good performances. It is also worth noting that there is a connection between Ms. Paltrow and Green here, as she performed his song on “Glee” a little while back. I didn’t watch that episode (I can’t force myself to watch the show in general), but I would imagine that she did well.


The Show:

1. FOX News (4:27)
-Elliott, Hader, Moynihan, Sudeikis, Wiig, Pedrad

Embracing the nation and promising to be a lot more civil in terms of their strong political viewpoints, Greta Van Susteren (Wiig) and her panel of Sean Hannity (Moynihan), Michelle Malkin (Pedrad), and Glenn Beck (Sudeikis) do their best to not be crazy. Their attempts to censor themselves are pathetic, as they change the Job-Killing Healthcare Bill to the Job-Euthanizing Healthcare Bill, followed by something much more one-sided. Their efforts are thwarted when they’re visited by an excited James Carville (Hader) and a hijacking of Beck’s chalkboard by leftist Rachel Maddow (Elliott). The FOX News parodies are always pretty bang-on and this was no exception. Terrific cold open. A

2. Monologue (4:37)
-Paltrow, Cee Lo, Sudeikis, Wiig

After professing her love and admiration for country music despite a very limited knowledge of it, she is soon joined by Kenny Rogers (Sudeikis) (or “Garth Brooks!,” sez Gwyn), but she is completely lost on the singing of “Islands in the Stream.” Dolly Parton (Wiig) stops by, but it is Cee Lo Green who finally puts Paltrow’s worries at ease at the thought of a duet with him, but turns things around when he wants to join in on the country jammin’ as well. Paltrow’s attempts at singing the lyrics were pretty hilarious. A-

3. The Cape (1:42)
-Armisen, Hader, Moynihan, Samberg, Sudeikis, Thompson, Wiig, Pedrad

I don’t know if any of you have seen or heard of this new NBC series about the man with the magical cape, but it looks absolutely ridiculous. Either way, this quick and clever parody takes it to a ridiculous measure with other types of magical apparel with my absolute favourite being the leg warmer (“He’s kicking crime’s ass with a warmed-up calf!”). B+

4. Secret Word (5:09)
-Paltrow, Hader, Thompson, Wiig, Killam

The fourth appearance of the recurring 1960s gameshow sees Mindy Grayson (Wiig) facing stiff competition with a borderline-racist rich lady (Paltrow), who also has trouble relaying clues to her partner (Thompson). They switch it up a bit this time with Mindy finally getting the hang of the game at first but approaching it like a game of Charades ruins her momentum. This sketch always gets a laugh out of me, especially Wiig’s antics and that they usually give her a humourous opponent too (Gordon-Levitt, Law, Lynch, and now Gwyn). B+

5. Film: Andy and Pee Wee (3:18)
-Pee Wee Herman, Samberg

Excuse me for a second. HOLY SHIT!!! Pee Wee Herman himself appears in this digital short to do shots with Andy Samberg and wreck havoc around town like smashing a chair over Anderson Cooper’s back (“Here’s a headline!”) and a police officer (using the same punchline in hilarious nonsensical fashion). Eventually, some friends (Armisen, Thompson, Wiig) provide an intervention along with some of Pee Wee’s Playhouse buddies. This was absolutely wonderful and easily the best digital short of the season. A+

6. Rockin’ Bar Mitzvah (5:24)
-Paltrow, Cee Lo, Armisen, Bayer

Hosting a bar mitzvah for his son, Jacob (Bayer), his father (Armisen) has managed to reach out to some big-time musicians to appear and sing some Jewish-inspired versions of their hit songs. These include Taylor Swift (Paltrow), Jay-Z (Pharoah) and Alicia Keys (Pedrad), Katy Perry (Elliott), and Cee Lo himself. The sketch is mainly an excuse for some impressions by the cast and they are good ones, but there’s not much else to it. Granted, Vanessa Bayer is wonderfully understated as the young Jewish boy becoming a man. B

7. Forget You, FCC (3:23)
-Paltrow, Cee Lo, Samberg, Sudeikis, Brittain

A record exec (Paltrow) hosts a meeting with her assistants (Samberg & Sudeikis) where they discuss the censorship of his newest song. Throughout the entire sketch, they use some pretty hilarious replacement words for all of the cursing and there is a great moment from Cee Lo in response to him using the word “pussy.” It’s hard to describe the sketch without giving it proper justice, but suffice to say it’s quite clever and my favourite sketch of the night. A+

8. Cee Lo Green sings “Forget You” (3:24)

Sure enough, the sketch segues right into Cee Lo’s performance of his giant hit and yes, it is the censored version. However, the preceding sketch was a pretty brilliant way to screw the FCC in the ear just before succumbing to them and performing this very entertaining ditty. A-

9. Weekend Update with Seth Meyers (13:45)
-Also: Gwyneth Paltrow, Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Bobby Moynihan, Kenan Thompson, Kristen Wiig, Vanessa Bayer, & Nasim Pedrad

The segment is loaded with guests this week but not before Seth launches into a brilliant rant concerning the founding fathers and what they would think of gun control today. His diatribe goes in the direction of the founding fathers and how they would be more distracted by things like the strange metal dragons that roam our streets and why the slaves are allowed to roam free. Seth’s jokes are pretty sharp this week as well with a story on baboon (“Baboons aren’t that good at science”). The commentaries then arrive in the form of Jimmy McMillan (Thompson), who announces his candidacy for the 2012 Republican Party. The guy is clinically insane and this was amusing the first time Kenan did it, but this time he really swung for the fences and was even better. Vanessa Bayer then chimes in to report from the Golden Globes and interview Christina Aguilera (Pedrad), Cher (Hader), and Cher’s son/daughter, Chastity (Moynihan). This was an okay segment that was made all the funnier by Hader’s manic Cher impression. Finally, “Mick Jagger’s favourite singing duo” Garth (Armisen) & Kat (Wiig) swing by for another visit, but this time they bring along companion Kim Castle (Paltrow) to help out. More goofy fun with these singers (“I’LL DIE!”) and Gwyneth only adds to the fun. Overall, a fairly solid edition of Update this week. A-

10. False History (3:21)
-Paltrow, Armisen, Hader, Moynihan, Samberg, Sudeikis, Thompson, Wiig, Bayer, Killam, Pharoah

The setting is the Globe Theatre in Shakespeare’s time where several patrons (Samberg, Sudeikis, Wiig, Bayer, Pharoah) are anxiously awaiting The Taming of the Shrew but are first thwarted by several previews for other upcoming Shakespeare plays. This was a pretty clever juxtaposition and made for some good voice work from Hader. Much like the FCC sketch, talking about this too much would give away the joke but suffice to say, it was very funny. A

11. Fresh Prince of Bel Air 20th Anniversary (2:53)
-Paltrow, Thompson, Pharoah

Focusing on the over-the-top reactions that Will Smith (Pharoah) usually delivered on Fresh Prince of Bel Air, this sketch has Will and Carlton (Thompson) talking about the difficulties working with a very green Fresh Prince. His reaction to a friend being injured in a car accident was probably the highlight as he chooses to react to the attractiveness of the female police officer (Paltrow) reporting the news. Another good excuse to have Pharoah roll out his impressive Will Smith impression. B+

12. Sportscenter Deportes (3:17)
-Paltrow, Armisen, Moynihan, Brittain, Killam, Pedrad, Pharoah

The Spanish version of the long-running sports panel show features two anchors (Paltrow, Brittain) reporting on various happenings while resorting to very awkward English for peoples’ names and catchphrases. This was a very accurate portrayal of “foreign-language” news/sports programs as they do seem to resort to very straight-forward and awkward English so that they can be understood by one and all, I guess. One of the weaker sketches thus far, but still fairly entertaining. B-

13. Cee Lo Green sings “Bright Lights Bigger City” (3:37)

The second song by Cee Lo is quite a bit different than the first tune, but that’s not a bad thing. Green is positively electric here and his song fits the tone of the show very closely, so whoever coaxed him to choose this song is pretty smart. A-

14. Parker/Spitzer Co-Host Auditions (2:54)
-Paltrow, Armisen, Hader, Killam, Pedrad

Due to Kathleen Parker leaving the panel show with Eliot Spitzer (Hader), several people are tested for the show to take her place. Christiane Amanpour (Pedrad) finds herself bickering with Spitzer (“I once convinced an escort to accept a Borders gift card!”), Heidi Klum (Paltrow) is a top pick for Spitzer, but she can’t seem to pronounce words properly and thus only one man can be brought in for the job: Governor David Paterson (Armisen). Basic filler, but it worked well. B+

Gwyneth thanks Cee Lo and the incredible cast before giving Jay Pharoah a monster hug. Aaaaand we’re out.

Well, that was another strong episode that only adds to the large number of great episodes we’ve gotten this season. Gwyneth was a stalwart host and made a superhuman effort throughout the entire night. It really showed in her performances as well. I know this will probably never happen, but she deserves to become a five-timer. This episode also continued the tradition of strong hosts this season as I believe the only bad one so far was Robert DeNiro… and even he showed a lot more effort than previous stints.

Cee Lo Green was a terrific musical guest and despite only playing himself in the sketches he appeared in, it was just nice to see him have fun with the rest of the cast as well. They took a very clever approach with him as well and it just gives the show an extra boost of enjoyment when the musical guest gets involved as well.

As for the cast, Bill Hader continues to be the best castmember, but there were solid performances throughout the night from the likes of Vanessa Bayer and Jay Pharoah, especially. Plus… Paul Brittain finally got some solid screentime! The most he’s gotten since Stone/KOL.

Host Rating: A-
Musical Guest Rating: A-
Show Rating: B+/A-

by Brendan Wahl

NOTE: Sorry for the late posting.

(Season 3, Episode 5)

Cue cards. Without these helpful items, most live shows would be completely lost. Even some taped shows would be lost. They are the foundation of many a program and even when it’s not obvious that the performers are glued to the cards or reading directly off them, that is precisely what is going on 90% of the time. Whether you’re Phil Hartman or Rob Schneider, one is always dependant on those cards to make it through a scene without making an ass of one’s self. So, how hard would this be if you were blind?! That question is posed to this week’s host, legendary performer Ray Charles. Of course, Ray had another method and this would involve someone speaking into a device that transmits into his ear to help him along, but think of how this would still probably end up being slightly difficult. Having to repeat someone’s line right after they deliver it on top of having to react appropriately to the other performer seems like a small accomplishment all on its own.

Usually, I would discuss the musical guest too but in this case, Ray Charles is also the musician for this episode (as one might expect that he would be) and surely has brought along many longtime friends to help him out. However, stand-up comedian Franklin Ajaye is booked as a special guest on the show, a trend that SNL would incorporate in the first few years and many, many times in the Ebersol years and the early years of Lorne Michaels’ return to the show.

I can see clearly now, it’s time to start…

The Show:

1. Godfather on TV (2:19)
-Belushi, Murray

Tired of the violence being shown on television, Don Corleone (Belushi) talks to his consigliere (Murray) about how The Godfather portrayed the family in a negative light. During this discussion, the homogenization of television is spoofed a bit too as Murray announces some spin-offs that have resulted from the popular television airing of the film. Quick and funny opening. B+

2. Monologue (1:40)

Ray sits at his piano and says that he did not want to host this tasteless show unless some of his conditions were met like the show being broadcast live from Carnegie Hall. However, the joke is on the producers as Ray announces that he’s not the real Ray Charles and that the real one is, in fact, at the legendary music hall. B

3. Ray Charles sings “I Can See Clearly Now” (3:49)

With the assistance of the Raelettes, Charles opens the show on a big, bouncy note with a terrific performance of an old classic. Ray seems ecstatic to be there and the backup performances by his many friends are quite entertaining as well. A

4. Carter’s Energy Program (1:45)

After a quick introduction by our host, President Carter (Aykroyd) discusses his new energy program and announces that despite his slow, clear, one-syllable explanations, the American public has failed to comprehend the urgency of the energy crisis. Carter adds that because of this, he won’t be able to balance the budget or get re-elected (wow, was he ever right about that one). B+

5. Mamorex (2:23)
-Charles, Morris

The lovely Ella Fitzgerald (Morris) shows off the strength of her vocal chords, which breaks a wine glass. The second time, Ella plays her own voice on Mamorex and this time Ray’s glasses crack. It’s a cute bit, but nothing special. C+

6. The Doody Girls (3:10)
-Murray, Newman, Radner

Following the demise of Howdy Doody (as announced on a previous edition of Weekend Update last season, his widow Debbie (Radner) plans to go on a date so that she can get back in the social environment. Despite the advice of her friend (Newman), Debbie can barely hold it together and everytime the question is posed as to what time it is, she breaks down crying. The performances in the sketch are quite good as they move around effortlessly on strings and just like puppets. Murray also does this perfectly and it results in a pretty dark, but hilarious sketch. A

7. Tomorrow (5:12)
-Charles, Aykroyd

Dan brings back his ridiculously accurate Tom Snyder impression and this time, he interviews legendary musician Ray Charles. Dan’s cadence as Snyder is all over the place, constantly questioning himself and coming up with responses like “Alright, sir” and “fair enough.” His follow-up questions, particularly one in response to Ray’s description of blues music, are pretty damn funny. One would think Charles would be stilted and awkward here but he seems rather comfortable given the circumstances and Aykroyd gives him good foil. A-

8. The Young Caucasians (4:55)
-Charles, Aykroyd, Belushi, Curtin, Morris, Murray, Newman, Radner

The setting is a Memphis rehearsal hall in 1957 and Ray awaits the arrival of a new, young group of white folks preparing to do a version of his hit, “What Did I Say.” Most of the cast portrays this group (except Garrett, of course, who plays Ray’s manager). The real meat and potatoes of the sketch is the group’s whitebread performance of the number and their stilted, awkward body motions as they croon. This was a wonderful sketch and quite possibly my favourite of the entire episode. A+

9. Ray Charles sings “What’d I Say” (3:01)

Immediately following that classic bit, Ray and the Raelettes (along with several other backup musicians) perform one of Charles’ biggest hits and do it the proper way. Ray hasn’t lost a step by this point and it results in another terrific performance. A

10. Weekend Update with Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin (6:17)
-Also: Bill Murray

“And now… Weekend Update with CHEVY CHASE!” Following Curtin’s cluelessness as to who Chevy is, Pardo responds… “Sorry, old script.” Whoa, an O.J. joke from 1977! Both anchorpersons are on their game here as Curtin does a funny bit about Lillian Carter and then with the help of Aykroyd’s foaming at the mouth, she discusses a warning from the health board regarding the telltale signs of rabies infections. Bill Murray stops by to initially review “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” but TIME Magazine ruined the movie for him so instead of ignoring it, Murray vomits out a spoiler of the entire film by mistake. The Dancing N makes another appearance this week and this time the bulletin reads “To hell with the bulletin, will you dance with me?” Curtin is all for it, but Aykroyd doesn’t want to discredit their news credibility. Eventually, cooler heads prevail though and the dancing occurs. It’s a shorter-than-average edition of Update but one that is entertaining nonetheless. B+

11. Ray Charles & Friends sing a medley (7:03)

Starting out with a classy introduction of all his musician friends, Ray and the Raelettes leaps into some snippets of some of his most popular songs like “Golddigger,” “I Believe In My Soul,” and “Hit The Road Jack” to name a few. It’s a slam-bang performance and his best one thus far. A+

12. Franklin Ajaye (4:47)

The most whitebread black comedian ever spends his entire time discussing Star Trek and its various quirks and characters. His routine is actually not that great, however, as his material is rather tired and drab. There’s a couple of funny lines here and there, but nothing too amazing. It also looks like he wasn’t sure how much time he had and walks off the stage looking a little pissed (“Hey, are we off?”). C

13. Evelyn Woodski Slow Reading Course (2:03)
-Charles, Aykroyd (voice), Curtin, Morris, Murray

Offering a course for people who are normally speed-readers that gives them the opportunity to enjoy the material that they read. The funniest parts of the whole thing are Bill as a surgeon, who admits that he has been rushing through medical journals and making a lot of mistakes as well as Ray himself complaining about how he used to get blisters on his fingers from speed-reading braille. B+

14. Blackout Burglary (2:26)
-Charles, Aykroyd, Morris

Ray stays in a nice little apartment in the Big Apple, but is interrupted by a couple of guys (Aykroyd & Morris) who attempt to rob it. All of a sudden, the lights go out and when they come back, the baddies are in a heap and Ray is calling room service. It’s a quick bit, but rather harmless. C+

15. Next Week (:27)

Buck Henry makes an appearance to announce that he will host next week along with the five finalists of the Anyone Can Host contest. “America is in a lot of trouble,” sez Buck.

16. Ray Charles sings “Oh! What a Beautiful Morning” (4:28)

Quite a musical episode this week, huh? Marking his fourth musical performance of the night, Ray slows it down a bit for this upbeat tune about a positive day. B+

17. Ray Charles and the cast sing “I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You” (1:12)

The cast (plus Belushi doing a hilarious Ray Charles impression) lead into a one-minute portion of another classic Charles tune. Not really a rating for this, as it was just an amusing little bit.

18. Mr. Mike’s Monet Painting (2:17)
-Charles, Aykroyd, Belushi, Curtin, Morris, Murray, Newman, Radner

Mr. Mike reveals a Monet painting that they are donating to the Lighthouse for the Blind (of course, there’s nothing there) but the joke is on Mr. Mike himself, as Ray announces that at the party, some big black guys are gonna beat on the head writer and break all his bones. B+

Ray announces that there’s a whole minute left, so he gives out an extended thanks to everyone on-stage with him and closes out the show with a big, bouncy lively tune and lets the SNL Band follow along while the credits roll.

Another superb show, making it two in a row so far after last week’s brilliant Grodin episode. The choice of Ray Charles was obviously a risky one but it seemed to have paid off in spades here as he commanded the helm of a very entertaining broadcast, albeit a very musical one, that proved that even without the sense of sight, Ray could still take part in a comedic institution and even poke fun at himself at times.

The cast was also there to support Mr. Charles all the way leading to some good performances and ample time for pretty much everyone tonight. I guess you could say Aykroyd shone the most possibly, but there really wasn’t anyone left in the dark this week.

Host & Musical Guest Rating: B+
Show Rating: A-

by Brendan Wahl

(Season 36, Episode 11)

Well, the time has arrived. Many have anticipated the return of Jim Carrey to Saturday Night Live and though it took almost fourteen years for it to happen, it is a very pleasant surprise to have Mr. Rubberface himself make a return to sketch comedy. Jim has kinda been out of the limelight a little bit lately and hasn’t really shown his face since Yes Man and that was two years ago. Sure, you could count A Christmas Carol, but he was only doing a voice role rather than appearing in it in the flesh and thus, it has been a while since we’ve seen him do what he does best: comedy. Tonight marks another special occasion. It is the first episode of the new decade! So let’s see if we can get this decade started on a good note.

Joining Jim are the Black Keys, the Ohio-based bluesy rock band that have been dazzling listeners for about ten years but have only really been discovered as of a few years ago. After having made a successful appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (who happens to acquire a number of talented musicians), the Keys have garnered quite a fanbase and have really earned this appearance on SNL.


The Show:

1. A Message From The Mayor (4:22)
-Armisen, Wiig (voice)

For the first time since 2001, we get a castmember doing an impression of New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg. The lucky individual? Why, that would be Fred Armisen. Out of all honesty, I’ve never heard the real mayor speak so I can’t judge how accurate his impression is but that’s not to take away from the content of the topical piece. Mayor Bloomberg takes time to warn New Yorkers of the large amounts of snowfall that they just experienced and, in the a very serious tone, tells everyone to not be a hero during this time of crisis. I love sketches that take a little problem and blow it out of proportion so this really worked for me. A-

2. Monologue (3:30)

After congratulating the Jets on their football win just before the show, Carrey promises to make lots of positive energy happen tonight. After complimenting a large man for his breasts, our host then approaches a female audience member (a real one) and proposes. A-

3. Bosley Hair Restoration (1:30)

Repeat from Poehler/Perry. B+

4. Black Swan (5:10)
-Carrey, Hader, Wiig, Killam, Pedrad

Just like the movie, Thomas (Hader), the only heterosexual French choreographer in the world, has another woman (Carrey) audition to be the Black Swan as opposed to Nina (Pedrad) playing the white one. This is here as an exhibit of Jim’s physical comedy and the fist-in-the-mouth gag was tremendously hilarious. Killam is aces as an accompanying dancer, particularly when he throws bread crumbs to the black swan. A

5. Finding Your Power (4:39)
-Carrey, Samberg, Sudeikis, Bayer

Licensed therapist Zack Twinefeld (Sudeikis) hosts a motivational talk show featuring several guests who talk about how they finally confronted their fears and the targets of their emotion. This is turned on its head though as Zack then shows footage of how their confrontations REALLY went. It seems like a simple concept, but Sudeikis sells it very well and the “footage” is hilarious, particularly the one of Carrey being filmed on a camera from inside his wife’s mouth. A-

6. Grady Wilson’s Tantric ‘n Tasty (3:29)
-Carrey, Thompson

Yes, the sexmeister is back once again with more tips for one’s sex life. Unlike some of the other overheated segments of his though, this one works a bit better thanks to a perfect sparring partner in our host. This was not even close to the strongest segment of the night however, but I still loved the “Sneaky Baboon” technique. B-

7. The Worst of Soul Train (4:35)
-Carrey, Moynihan, Samberg, Sudeikis, Thompson, Wiig, Brittain, Killam, Pedrad, Pharoah

Smokey Robinson’s white half-brother, Coughy (Moynihan), introduces a brand new DVD compilation with the absolute worst performances in the history of the once long-running show. Highlights include the 26-member Maxwell Family, Shooting Star (Pharoah) and his song about Rheumatoid Arthritis, Triangle Sally (Wiig), D’Versity (Carrey) singing a hilarious song about how he only wants to see one thing, but the best was Ocean Billy (Sudeikis) singing a maniacal song about sticking some unfortunate soul into his trunk. B+

8. The Black Keys sing “Howlin’ For You” (3:14)

Just when I thought the Keys were outstanding on a studio recording that’s been polished and fixed up, they proceed to blow my mind with an amazing tear-the-house-down performance of one of their top hits. The guitar work in this song is tremendous and the vocals are pretty great too. A+

9. Weekend Update with Seth Meyers (13:29)
-Also: Bill Hader, Bobby Moynihan, Andy Samberg, Kristen Wiig, & Taran Killam

“Look out, Nancy! He’s got a hammer!” After a funny string of jokes involving John Boehner becoming the new Speaker of the House and John Edwards being a horrible human being, the new Speaker (Hader) and Pelosi (Wiig) show up to comment on the proceedings. What starts out as a humble discussion turns into a game by Pelosi to see what she can say to make Boehner cry. There’s a jab at Pelosi at the same time that is very funny too. Also joining Seth is second-hand news correspondent, Anthony Crispino (Moynihan), who once again bungles up the stories and doesn’t quite know what he’s talking about due to his shady sources. Moynihan is wonderful and this is one of my favourite Update correspondents. My favourite jokes this week are definitely the Mickey Rourke one and the one involving old people walking fast. Finally, Cameron the red-winged blackbird (Samberg) stops by to comment on all the blackbirds falling out of the sky in Arkansas and declares it the “AFLOCKALYPSE.” Soon joining him though is Everett the Fish (Killam) who declares it the “APOCAFISH.” It seems like a stupid bit and it kind of is, but I laughed nonetheless. A

10. Merryville Trolley Ride (2:39)
-Carrey, Hader, Moynihan, Thompson, Wiig, Killam

During a routine trip through one of those creepy amusement park rides with the robotic people, one couple (Thompson & Wiig) is faced with the possibility that these particular happy-go-lucky bots are probably real. Carrey and Killam’s antics and movements are perfect and very accurately represent those hideously creepy rides ala It’s a Small World. This was the best sketch of the night. A+

11. Psychic Medium (5:12)
-Carrey, Sudeikis, Bayer, Pedrad

During a hesitant visit to a psychic (Carrey), one surveyor’s (Sudeikis) mood is changed when it’s discovered that the psychic in question is a former comedian who merely uses this occupation as an excuse for him to do some of his best celebrity impressions. This sketch acts as an excuse for Carrey to do his great impressions, but it is a very funny setup and there are many hilarious moments (“NO one does a Thicke!”). A great premise and hilarious performances equal another great sketch. A-

12. The Black Keys sing “Tighten Up” (3:24)

After a superb first performance, the Keys deliver another great one with some more terrific vocals/guitar work. That’s not to discount the drum section either. Sorry Kanye. Looks like we have a new contender for best musical guest of the season. A+

13. A Taste of New York (4:33)
-Carrey, Armisen, Elliott, Hader, Samberg, Wiig, Bayer, Brittain

Giving an audience a true slice of New York life, an emcee (Hader) introduces a band known as “A Taste of New York” (comprised of Carrey, Armisen, & Wiig) that sing some downer songs and look like a trio of homeless people. The song is terrific and it is hilarious to see Wiig almost struggle through her part of the song without laughing. A very low-key performance from Jim here too, which contrasts from everything else he’s done tonight but is still most entertaining. Another candidate for best sketch of the night. A+

Jim thanks the Black Keys, the wonderful cast, Lorne, his friends in the audience, and tells everyone to never lose their BOING.

What a fantastic show. I don’t really have too much to comment on except that Jim was an amazing host (unsurprisingly), the Black Keys tore the house down, and Taran Killam came into his own this week. Best episode of the season thus far. I would try and type more but I am so very, very tired.

Bring on the criticism that I overrated this episode, but that’s okay. I loved just about everything and I’m a die-hard Jim Carrey fan as well…

SNL Retro Review this Thursday!

Host Rating: A+

Musical Guest Rating: A+

Show Rating: A+

Reviews return this week!

Posted: January 3, 2011 by Brendan Wahl in Uncategorized

Took the holidays off, folks, but I’m returning this Saturday with a review of Jim Carrey/The Black Keys! The retro reviews will return the following week.