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-