Ah, Saturday Night Live. You're back, and with you, you brought some new names, a huge gaffe on the first night, a much-ballyhooed guest star, Jesus, Ghandi, and every bar in Midtown East's favorite band, U2. How'd you do?
Typically, we'll get to this a lot earlier in the day, but there was a special kind of fun going on this weekend.
First off, let's talk rules. A commenter made a very astute observation (it happens) about much of the conversation regarding Saturday Night Live these days. It bears repeating here, because it was so spot-on:
Standardized Responses for SNL Threads.
1. SNL is still on?
2. I might have to watch this SNL sometime.
3. SNL hasn't been funny since _____ (insert name) was president.
4. The Tina Fey era was the (Choose one:) Best/ Worst.
5. (Canadians/Brits/Aussies:) You Americans can't say Fuck on the telly?
6. (Me, other Oldes:) Jane Curtin/ Dan Aykroyd - now there was a Weekend Update.
7. And I remember when Charles Rocket said Fuck. I got on my Commodore computer and typed a letter about it.
Saturday Night Live's still on TV because people still watch it. Why? Because it's live, because there are celebrities in skits, because there's music, because sometimes there's nothing better than staying home on a Saturday night, but mostly because sometimes, it can be funny. If you're going to be old and assy, please: now would be the best time to go the fuck away.
So! Let's talk the hype on this thing. Lorne shitcanned Michaela Watkins and Casey Wilson, which Brian thinks dooms them to lives of obscurity, and which some people think had to do with one of them being "fat." He replaced them with Jenny Slate and Nasim Perdrad, whom bloggers were blogging about.
First guest lineup: Megan Fox and U2. Hype rating: B.
Opening sketch: a little underwhelming for the first of the season. It was lampooning Moammar Gadhafi's rambling UN speech, which is an obscure political flub for SNL to dive into. Maybe that's what made it so funny: the comedy of being semi-lost in translation, the comedy of foreign diplomacy (inherently funny IRL), and, well, foreigners (easy stuff for SNL). It won me over, but still: I'd expect bigger. Also: too long. That makeup job, however, is great, and hysterically accurate. Grade: B-
Megan Fox's opening monologue was about guys photoshopping her head onto the bodies of other people on the internet. First joke ("Feels like being here is a dream. Based on the way they dressed me: a 13 year-old boy's dream.") was great, but the play on nudie pics got old, quick. They threw an "audience" internerd in for good measure. Fox was charismatic, but also, looked strangely into the camera, like she wanted to eat it. A photoshopped picture of U2, however childish, was funny. This was the second most entertaining thing involving U2 last night, and they played three songs. Grade: C
Kristen Wiig's first skit of the night was her and Fox as flight attendants to terrified passengers. The conventions on bad flight attendants were cute, but it dissolved into a headache-inducing, screechy conversation about Monk, which is funnier out of context than it is when you're watching it. SNL Writers, learn: play on conventions, funny, overkill of characters, not. To be fair, Fox and Wiig were solid. Grade: C-
My next note read the following: "LADY GAGA IS ON NEXT WEEK OMFG YOU GUYS." I had to be reminded that the guest was Ryan Reynolds. Hype Level: A- Gags better deliver. Reynolds knows how to do comedy. But they really—really—need to put Gags in a skit. Please, for the love of Gag, put her in a skit.
Next: Bill Hader doing the Russian Bride suitor joke. Megan Fox and Fred Armison are the Russian Brides. This is funny because Fred Armison looks fucking ridiculous, and making fun of Russian sexuality: funny. Megan Fox as Katya put her best "bitchface" on to great effect. Fred Armison singing "The Groove": amazing. Just silly. Grade: A-
The first of the two digital shorts (yes, two) wasn't that great. Maybe great in an art-house humor way, but: I didn't get it. Megan Fox is on a date with someone mentally challenged? What'd the description say, "effete retard?" Fox knows how to work a camera far better than a live stage, and it showed. She played this one really, really well. Too bad it just wasn't that great. Grade: D.
Keenan Thompson: sore spot for plenty of people. Remember: Tracy Morgan had his haters, too. Some people despised the Brian Fellows character. Don't count Thompson out. Keenan as "Grady Wilson" with sex positions? Nothing new, but: funny, especially since the Megan-Fox-having-sex innuendo plays really, really dirty. "Speaking in Tounges?" "The Jabberwocky?" Those are funny. Watch Megan Fox break character at the very end of the "Wild Boar." Grade: B.
I'm not wasting any words on U2's first two performances, suffice to say that Bono thinks he's Jesus, tried to freestyle during one of them (not joking), and that the new songs sound like murky Pop b-sides we could definitely live without. Musical Guest U2: D, if only for spectacle.
Next few skits were nothing special:
Weekend Update was decent, but Seth Meyers tore through the one-liners too quickly for any of them to be funny. Kennan played a Def Jam Paris correspondent (Huh?) and Kristen Wiig did the "just kidding" nervous travel correspondent, which was kind of amazing. Still waiting to see Seth Meyers carry this thing alone slightly better, but he's got a decent handle on it for the moment. Grade: C+, for Kristen Wiig. Less a feat of humor, more one of endurance.
A late-night party line ad skit was bizarre and somewhat uncomfortable. The second digital short—about Megan Fox's roommate being Optimus Prime—wasn't great either, aside from a bizarre cameo at the very end. I won't ruin it for you, but really: was that worth it? Meh. They should stick to making celebrities rap. It doesn't get old. It really doesn't. Phone Sex grade: D. Optimus Prime grade: D.
Final skit of the night: Your Mom Talks to Megan Fox. Kristen Wiig played your mom. Not a character they can go anywhere with, because the joke's too subtle. But: points for depicting a bizarre situation accurately. Grade: D+
Finally: U2 came out to play their last song over the credits. Bono was full of lazers and swung around on this red lavawheel microphone thing, it's just something to look at. He looks like a Spider Man villain. The song sounded better than the other two, but that wasn't saying much. When will a band just go on Saturday Night Live and play a crowdpleaser? When will U2 learn that the best way to sell new albums is to sell old albums? Etc.
Ah: there's one skit you won't find on Hulu today. Wonder why that is. Jenny Slate was the first of the two new cast members to go live, and it was fuck-ing exciting. The skit? It almost felt like a setup for Slate to say "fucking," because every other word was "frickin." It was the old talk show format, starring biker chicks. You can imagine how this went. We'll omit this from the judging because who can be funny when they think their life as they know it just ended? You could tell she was shocked, and the premise wasn't that great to begin with.
Verdict: C-. Megan Fox: great guest. But used in the same kinds of sketches we're used to, with exceptions to a few. The bad ones were bad: gratingly so. Fred Armisen was underused. Kennan Thompson showed the potential I want him to have (that plenty of SNL viewers don't, for whatever reason). U2 was...U2. SNL needs to make their performances exciting again, and they're not going to do that with lasers. Remember when Elvis Costello "sabatoged" the Beastie Boys with "Radio Radio" on the 25th Anniversary? It doesn't take much to pull that kind of thing off. When the most shocking thing about SNL is someone accidentally saying "fuck" their first night on the job, something's gotta give.