SNL Fred Armisen, Courtney Barnett – Saving the Best for Last (Review)

 Saturday Night Live - Season 41

SNL saved the best for last with a golden hosting job by alumnus Fred Armisen and Aussie singer, songwriter Courtney Barnett. The cold open was not bad either with a Hilary/Bernie tete a tete that turned into to a Fred and Ginger moment. While not overly amusing there were some moments that stood out and the entire cast (with Pete Davidson leaping up, using Lesley Jones as a push off point) gathering for the final dance and all shouting “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”

Armisen killed it with his opening monologue. His “one man show” about being accepting into the SNL world was truly funny and could be one of the best monologues ever on the series. To show how good Fred was, over and above the video below, it has to be noted that not one current member of the cast came out during the monologue. (There was no need.)

“Is this a dream? Is this a dream? Is this a d…”

The first sketch has Aidy Bryant as a teacher inviting the local acting troupe who reenact the Lewis Clark expedition. All about the sexual urges of the trio (including Cecily Strong’s Sacagawea) and the class’s reaction to it. Pete Davidson is excellent at the end of the skit, all bulging eyes and tremors as he states he is finally engaged in education.

The music video, was performed by @Connor4Real (Andy Samberg) and Lonely Island. The song was an extended parody of ‘Finest Girl’ and this slated to go stupid viral. Catchy, funny, clever and toe-tapping this is an example of what comedy should do.

The next memorable sketch was the “New Girlfriend” (a ‘la http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082405/?ref_=nv_sr_1) where Armisen is the new girlfriend; all jet black hair, glasses and snotty attitude, whom turns her nose up at everything her fella’s friends have to offer. Throughout the entire sketch the boyfriend “show’s off” his new gal’s reactions to things like neck kissing, ear blowing and so on.

This was hysterical, all the more so because of the cast’s reactions. Aidy Bryant kept corpsing and then using every bit of willpower she had to control her laughter. Vanessa Bayer trying to control her laughter while saying her line and Bryant’s (and Armisen’s) reaction to it. Just brilliant, as was the guacamole bit.

While the SNL digital short has the award for best SNL music video parody ever, the dead poet sketch was a 41 episode high. Not even back in the halcyon days of Chase, Ackroyd, Belushi, et al, has there been a moment so unexpected and funny that it never gets old. Repeated viewing still results in the same level of reaction; laughing wildly.

Pete Davidson (again) standing up in the scene was done brilliantly. Evoking enough “real” emotion that what happens next is truly a surprise (The best “Never saw that coming” moment in the history of SNL.) and hysterically funny.

Next up was Weekend Update with Jost and Che and for once it was not the highlight of the episode. The Theatre student sketch, a regular motif on the show was next and was easily the least funny thing about the finale.

Kudos to the two other SNL alumni who appeared in the finale: Jason Sudeikis for great turn in the “new girlfriend” sketch and Maya Rudolph who was the best bit of the update.

The final sketch, musical in nature, was headed by Armisen and was a song about Fayetteville, Arkansas. In keeping with the topical nature of SNL this can only mean the writers caught the “best place” to live in America title given the southern city in polls this year.

SNL had a season that was very uneven and had some of the worst choices of hosts in the history of the show. This season’s finale was SNL as it should be. Shocked and surprised laughter, skits that do not quite work but are still darned amusing (The Theatre skit, for example.) and each sketch being better than the one before (except, once again, the theatre skit).

The reality seems to be that, to paraphrase guest star Christopher Walken, the show needs more Fred Armisen. Courtney Barnett was raw, real rock and a delightful discovery, more please.

The season finale of SNL was an all time high of comedy and bringing it to the audience. Like the old days but better. Armisen was the key here and perhaps should become a part of the next season? (Come back Fred, come back…) The quality was top notch, for the first time in ages, and everyone loves comedy that cracks up the comics.

SNL: Drake – Was That Chris Rock? (Review)

Saturday Night Live - Season 41

Another ‘Saturday Night Live’ (SNL) another musical host doing double duty and to give Canadian rapper Drake credit he manages to get four tunes crammed into the show. In the first proper number, Chris Rock popped up to announce the rapper. Nice split second cameo by Rock who must be a fan.

Drake had the world’s shortest spoken monologue as it morphed into a rap about the performer being turned into memes on the Internet and it was funny. Mad props to the man Amanda Bynes had a love/hate Twitter crush on. The singer/songwriter has a self-depreciating sense of humor and he used it well.

The rapper/singer/songwriter did a pretty good job on the show, but unfortunately the material was a little lacking. The Jeopardy riff, sans Alex Trebek (or Will Farrell), was funny, it poked fun at Drake’s Canadian background and there were some pretty funny bits; like Drake using “fam” and giving Canadian answers to “American questions.”

It is interesting to note that Canadian rapper slang appears to have much in common with British gangster slang: Fam (family, gang), Beef (argument, problem) Blood (Bruh), et al. Another one of the skits, where the performer sneaks in another rap, is Drake’s Beef:

One of the funniest sketches of the evening has Drake as a secondary character to Beck Bennett as the “man-baby” (a recurring character for the SNL regular) and Bennett was truly hysterical. The gun and the signing paperwork on the floor had me in stitches. Admittedly it took some time for this comic’s baby act to amuse but the presidential replacement candidate gag was just perfection. Sadly it is not available to share from the SNL YouTube channel.

Bobby Moynihan as Captain Tornado was excellent. Poking fun at American Ninja was a great followup skit to Drake as the “drama queen” car rental clerk with no cars. In that particular skit, Drake was quite good but it was Jay Pharoah who killed it as the eclectic manager who offers up his own car for the price of a 2015 convertible.

Moynihan did provide a more consistent SNL moment, or two, with his “doing it for my peeps” contestant who loses his dignity in the competition:

Pharoah comes back and kills it later in the Weekend Update with more of his impressions, including his “Drake.” Although Jay had competition from McKinnon’s Russian peasant woman. Kate actually tied with Jay with her aggressive “blank-stare” which she directed to Colin Jost after his “God bless you,” and her response of “He never has and he never will.”

While Pharoah and McKinnon killed it with their respective guest spots on Update, it was Jost’s “Bathroom Bill” gag that not only won him a personal best on the news segment but the show as well and quite possibly for the entire season:

Drake’s dual function as host and musical guest was better than Russell Crowe‘s single function (You had one job Russell…) and while Drake was not hysterically funny, he was good enough. Sneaking those extra musical numbers into the show no doubt helped.

Black Jeopardy was funny although not as crushingly funny as the old Celebrity Jeopardy skits. The sketch did, however, prove that in term of American culture, if it is does not happen within these borders it does not exist. Slyly funny and, as mentioned above, a chance to see how well the old Canadian commonwealth resembles the UK in terms of language.

The PBS skit, that featured Drake in a “Tony Orlando” type get up with two female backup singers was a bit of a miss as was the chaperone sketch. The latter skit was the show’s closing comedic offering and it was not the best gag in the show.

Drake’s turn at hosting and singing for an episode was better than some of the other season 41 offering and had the added bonus of SNL alumnus Chris Rock popping up to introduce Drake’s first proper musical number.This was the penultimate episode of the season and the finale will air next week where the projected host is another SNL alumnus Fred Armisen and the musical guest will be Courtney Barnett.

SNL: Brie Larson/Alicia Keys With Dana Carvey Open (Review)

Saturday Night Live - Season 41

Saturday Night Live (SNL) got off to a pretty good start, to its four episode back-to-back run,  with Oscar winner Brie Larson and Alicia Keys. Although the cold open with a touch of nostalgia in the form of Dana Carvey and his Church Lady was funnier than Larson’s monologue but that can be blamed more on the writers than Larson herself.  Mother’s Day has never been so…bland in terms of comedy.

(To be fair, however, the Beck Bennett “look ma it’s my new girlfriend” gag with Larson was pretty funny.)

The skits this week were more on par with what one expects from this show. Clever, witty, a few laugh out loud moments and one very topical one, the “Slow Snow” gag.  It must have been hard to work something in about Jon Snow coming back to life in ‘Game of Thrones‘ but it all worked out despite a few cold spots.

Saturday Night Live - Season 41
Jon Snow is alive…Not yet!

The pre-taped faux commercial for President Barbie  was a shout out for feminism and a sly dig, possibly, at Hilary Clinton. With a “Hilary-do” the doll was a mini-me version of the real presidential hopeful and about as equally popular…

The first live sequence gave another look at a favorite skit, the AMA interviewing “survivors.” This time the near death experiences of three women who died in a car accident. Kate McKinnon was on a roll with her euphemisms for her nether regions: Fun bun and mud gun, drainer and stainer and so on. The real fun, apart from watching McKinnon mine comedy gold was seeing Bobby Moynihan and Aidy Bryant struggle to not completely corpse. This was, by far, the funniest skit of the evening.

This was followed by the “Stepford Wives” “mom cut” sketch. This was not the funniest gag in the episode but was by far the cleverest with its homage to the films. Guest star Larson was quite good as the newly pregnant mom who changes from her long hair to the mother cut of “soft in the front, iron throne in the back.”

Weekend Update was all about Donald Trump. Vanessa Bayer killed it with her Tomorrow’s News Caster Laura Parsons. (Seriously hysterical and impossible to watch without cracking up…More please.) Colin Jost’s Brazilian strip gag was beyond brilliant. Sasheer Zamata had a great time with her “McGriddle” analogy as did Jost with his “McGridda.” The “thinly-veiled” racist terms were a highlight of the skit: Thug, ghetto and athletic.

Saturday Night Live - Season 41

Sidenote: Sasheer Zamata got a lot of screen time in this episode and its about time. However, this may be a one-off, as it was Sasheer’s birthday.

Next up was the “Slow Snow” skit which made much of the Game of Throne’s resurrection plot:

The most socially relevant skit of the night was the Cruz Quiz sketch which was spot on with the end; disturbing and funny.

Saturday Night Live - Season 41

Another pre-taped segment poked fun at Kickstarter and indie productions with laughable reward systems for “investors.” Not as overly funny as the other sketches it was still spot on in terms of relevance.

The last “faux-advert” was the ‘Dead Bopz’ commercial with a “doobie, doobie dead Bing Crosby flogging dead singers doing new songs via holographic technology. This was another throwback to the good old days when those pretend commercials were seriously funny. Highlight of the gag had to be Jay Pharoah’s Tupac with Aidy Bryant’s glitchy Ethel Merman a close second.

This episode of SNL was a definite step up from the fiasco of Russell Crowe. With a Dana Carvey open and some clever gags and Alicia Keys how could this not be a win. Brie Larson did well, miles better than Crowe, and hopefully the ‘Room‘ star will be asked back. For those who really missed Carvey’s Church Lady, here is the show’s cold open courtesy of NBC SNL:

As a last note on SNL episode 20, Keys killed it and the cast having some of their mom’s turn up was a lovely touch.

SNL Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and Nick Jonas (Dead Gay Boone) – Review

Saturday Night Live - Season 41

SNL tried to bounce back after the fiasco that was Russell Crowe hosting, to bring in a big gun, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss. (As apparently Tina Fey was too busy doing credit card commercials.) they also got dead gay Boone (sorry) Nick Jonas to show up as musical guest and comedic cameo character.

Last week’s episode was an all time low for the SNL gang which left this week’s host and writers a chance to redeem themselves. Louis-Dreyfuss gave great monologue, in the time given, and the Seinfeld/Veep performer got to reference her Veep show, which is starting its fifth season  April 24 in seven days time.

Part of Julia’s monologue dealt with her time on SNL as a regular. Similar to former alumnus Sarah Silverman, Louis-Dreyfuss mentions her “under-use” on a show that has a hard time knowing what to do with attractive and funny women who do not fit “the mold.”

It still goes on; this apparent difficulty in letting all its female players have more than a cameo spot. Ask Sasheer Zamata if you doubt the veracity of this statement, some female comics and writers just do not fit into the “groove” and are relegated to the background with the odd line now and then.

Still, there is life after SNL as proved by both Silverman and Julia.  Back to the show, it is interesting to note that the best bits of the entire episode dealt with the good old-fashioned faux adverts on offer. The Heroin AM commercial was funny and the Mercedes battery operated car was almost on par with the old “circumcision” commercial (1977 Royal Deluxe II) but then SNL have prior for good car advertisements parodies.

The pre-taped segments worked fairly well but were not overly topical. An edge that SNL have seemingly lost with their penchant for retreading old material dressed in a new performer. Unfortunately the writers have forgotten one old trick; sexual innuendo is funnier when done slyly.

One pre-taped gag was the “God is a Boob Man” segment with Vanessa Bayer as the straight baker bullied by a gay couple who refuses to bake them a wedding cake. Funny? Yes. Topical, not so much, the wedding cake thing has been around for awhile guys and girls.

Perhaps the best, of a not quite mediocre lot, was the pre-taped “The Pool Boy” where Julia Louis-Dreyfuss shows the realities of having your very own “toy boy” (or pool boy). Pete Davidson ruled the sketch as the totally vapid 20 something pool maintenance man who could not think his way out of a damp paper bag.

Julia does get the punch line, quite a feat after Davidson’s dead squirrel in the pool gag, when dead gay Boone Nick Jonas arrives as the new “lawn boy” and the 50 something cougar ends the sketch with “I’m going to *bleep* that kid.”

The best of the non-pre-taped segments is, hands down, the CVS “Who Works Here?” game show skit. It is biting and witty and also features Sasheer; giving her what may be the most lines in this season.

Nick Jonas performed twice musically and on his first time up, he was not alone. Nick was joined by Tove Lo a Swedish pop star who threatened to overshadow the singer. Jonas made up for that musical miscalculation by turning things up his second time up by performing solo.

(On a sidenote here…Having missed out on the whole Jonas Brothers phenom the first time, this reviewer ever encountered Nick was in his stint as dead gay Boone. Needless to say his performance was good enough that it struck a chord. Now whenever Jonas appears in anything the immediate thought is, “Oh look. It’s dead gay Boone.” Ergo, each time Nick showed up on SNL the DGB thing got in the way.)

Other skits made fun of Match.com; Kate McKinnon and Louis-Dreyfuss as female aliens who need to procreate and the Cinema Classics (which was surprisingly good) had Julia as an “old time” actress who had her dialogue written everywhere. (Best Line in the entire skit was “Made in China.”) Another odd gag, on par with the flat “Match.com” sketch was “Huge Jewelry” (Yuge) another yawn fest skit that allowed Jonas another cameo.

Once again, Weekend Update was the overall winner with Che and Jost as the most consistent in terms of delivery. The most pertinent skit of the night was Cecily Strong’s “One-Dimensional Female Character From A Male-Driven Comedy.” This one had a Stepford Wives feel to it at the end that sold the entire gag.

Overall a good followup to the Russell Crowe debacle of last week, but then, it could hardly be worse…Could it?

Thumbs Up:

The political opening shot with Julia.

God is a Boob Man.

Pool Boy.

Who Works Here.

Tove Lo and Nick Jonas.

One-Dimensional Female Character From A Male-Driven Comedy.

The Malaysian snake gag. [Weekend Update]

Thumbs down:

Everything else.

Having been a fan of SNL since its inception (yes the reviewer is that old) it is all too easy to take pot shots at things that do not work and bad habits from being on the air so long. However, this is still the place where there are more hits than misses and a great show for pop culture references, topical humor and a decided irreverence for all things political.

So despite ill advised episodes, *cough* Russell Crowe *cough,* there is still a lot of love for SNL. It has given us a plethora of talented and incredibly funny performers, some who have gone on to solo stardom and others who have not. Regardless of personal successes, without Lorne Michaels and his show, where would all the talented comics hang out?

SNL; NBC Saturday nights because there is no substitute.

SNL: Russell Crowe and Margo Price – Epic Fail (Review)

 Saturday Night Live - Season 41

SNL had Russell Crowe and Margo Price as host and musical guest respectively. Out of the two, Price delivered beautifully (performing as a more traditional country artist) but Crowe and the rest of the show turned out to be an epic fail.  It should be pointed out that this was not the Oscar winning actor’s fault; not entirely.

The entire show was bland and fell short of the comic mark.  There were moments that the audience responded well to but once again these were set up around sex as being both gag and punchline.

Sidenote: Sure sex is funny, anyone who says the word vagina, clitoris or cunnilingus in front of a live audience will get a chuckle but this marks two episodes where the most laughs garnered did so because the subject matter was sexual.  SNL used to be funny without relying on a one trick pony to get laughs.

The show felt rushed, like Crowe’s opening monologue, and even the “cold” open of Kate McKinnon’s Hilary Clinton was short and, unusually for McKinnon, a bit flat.  Weekend update also suffered from being uneven and the funniest bit was Colin Jost corpsing at McKinnon (who also came close to laughing) stuffing that mystery food into her mouth as “Denny” somebody’s mom.

Keenan Thompson’s Al Sharpton gag, where the real Sharpton popped in for a cameo was amusing, especially the Black Ratings for Candidates portion. Perhaps the most eclectic, and funny, skit of the episode was SNL’s Leslie Jones as a Ninja.

 Saturday Night Live - Season 41
Leslie Jones as a ninja, clear winner of the night.

Although the funniest bit in the skit had to be Crowe’s weird version of a Russian accent. (We will not discuss Crowe’s accent prowess as the actor tends to take these criticism’s badly.)

It is hard to pick out which sketch was the oddest. Mike O’Brien‘s “Oprah” which closed out the show was a firm candidate as it just made no real sense, nor was it that funny. However there were bits that worked so, despite the mystery of “why,” it was not the winner of the night.

Saturday Night Live - Season 41

Even the “Mix and Match” skit that featured Crowe (with another “accent”) playing the ponytailed German raised by a group of old women, was not the oddest. It was the most sexually “charged” and definitely got the most laughs from the studio audience so that too was not the winner.

 Saturday Night Live - Season 41

The “Henry the VIII” skit was another one that missed the mark although the Aidy Bryant boob grapple managed to pull it back from the brink at the tail end of the segment. “100 Days in the Jungle” was the strangest although Leslie Jones’ tearful credit card thief was funny as was Crowe’s weird friend of “Uncle Terry” who grabs the duck vagina and shoves it in his mouth in a nano-second.

It is interesting to note that in the photo below, no-one appears to be very happy in this skit.

Saturday Night Live - Season 41

The one pre-taped sequence that was almost as weird as the food that McKinnon’s character was eating during the Weekend Update, was the Pogie Pepperoni skit. It was amusing yet annoying at the same time, although the thing seemed strangely apt for an episode that featured so many lackluster sketches.

Saturday Night Live - Season 41

“Henry the VIII,” despite competition from the “Preparation H” advert, “Pogie Pepperoni” and “Oprah,” has to be the clear winner of oddest and, perhaps, most pointless skit of the night. Russell Crowe asking every female visitor to the exhibit to have his son was miles from funny, until the boob grab at the end, as mentioned above.

Margo Price was brilliant, both her songs were a throwback to more traditional country music and it was refreshing and toe tapping. It was also a nice change to see a country artist versus the usual offerings of Hip Hop, Rap, and mainstream rock entertainers that usual grace the stage.

This episode of SNL was an epic fail in terms of comedy and while it may not necessarily be Russell Crowe’s fault the dramatic actor was not able to raise the bar at all. Perhaps the writers were having an bad day or their biorhythms were off…

Or maybe it is time for a re-think or re-shuffle.