Thanks to Governor Sarah Palin and a very funny impression by Tina Fey, the 2008 presidential race gave Saturday Night Live some of its strongest material -- and best ratings -- in years. Now, the race is over, leaving SNL to ask: what's next? How do we stay as relevant as we've been and keep all those viewers? This week's show attempted to answer some of those questions with two words: Justin Timberlake.
Hosted by Paul Rudd
But first things first. Paul Rudd -- out promoting his leading man turn in David Wain's excellent Role Models -- was the host of Saturday's show, and once again demonstrated that he's one of the best and most underused comic actors currently working. He showed great comic timing in his monologue (more on that in a minute) and fit in incredibly well among the ensemble. Someone needs to put him in more movies (as long as they're not Over Her Dead Body).
Whether it was because the show is so used to starting off with something political or because they were trying to still prove they're relevant, Saturday's episode kicked off with an address from Vice-Presidential elect Joe Biden (Jason Sudekis) blathering on about how he's really going to put his foot in his mouth over the next four years. It was mercifully -- and uncharacteristically -- short, but pretty much underlined the fact that for the time being, Saturday Night Live's got nothing, politically speaking. (Watch the video)
Then, as if to basically admit the show had nothing, Paul Rudd came out to do his monologue and joked about how if you liked Fey's Palin, you are going to love Kristin Wiig as potential Attorney General, Arizona Senator Janet Napolitano. It was a funny bit, and I appreciated SNL acknowledging the fact that they're now in the tricky position of not having much to goof on.
A Visit from JT
The biggest bit of the night -- and the one people are likely going to talk about on Monday -- was a visit from pop star Justin Timberlake to "Weekend Update." Since he isn't able to host the upcoming Thanksgiving show, Timberlake gave a rundown of exactly how that show would go. On the one hand, it was a funny one-man performance, and Timberlake once again proved he's a much more able and comedically adept host than he has any right to be; the episodes he hosts are always strong (anyone remember "Hip Hop Kidz?" A totally overlooked classic). (Watch the video)
But, on the other hand, his pretty accurate play-by-play of a typical episode of SNL pulled the curtain back on just how formulaic and predictable the show can be -- it was essentially just a series of recurring characters (some specific to Timberlake) that I have no doubt would have made an appearance. Maybe there was another layer to the joke, and the acknowledgment of creative bankruptcy was intentional. That's just too "meta" for me.
Overall, Saturday's show wasn't terrible but was sort of unremarkable. The majority of the sketches had a couple of good laughs, though I did notice a strange trend going on: much of the humor on Saturday's show was based around homosexuality. Whether it was the sight of two men kissing, or effeminate back-up dancers, or two Jersey guys declaring their love for each other, or two guys painting each other in the nude (seriously, these are all sketches from the same show), there was a heavy reliance on people finding gay behavior funny. I'd like to think it was a reaction to the recent passage of Proposition 8 (banning gay marriage) in California, but I think that I would be overestimating the motives.
That's too bad, considering the talent they had in host Rudd and the fact that they had two new female cast members in Abby Elliott and Michaela Watkins. Of course, neither lady was really used at all (underscored by Casey Wilson's frantic pointing to the two new females during the "Goodnights") -- nice one, SNL -- and the show in general was very, very male-centric. Even the usually ubiquitous Wiig barely showed up in sketches.
Other Sketch Highlights:
- "Kissing Family" - The first of many sketches built around the audience finding homosexuality funny focused on a family that's way too close kissing each other repeatedly. Obviously, I recognize that that's not gay -- it's incestuous -- but there's no arguing that the laughs came from watching two male cast members open mouth kiss. Essentially a one-joke sketch, but short, and I do admire the cast's commitment to the bit. "Bird Family" from a couple of years ago (when Julianna Margulies hosted) did the same uncomfortable family joke better. (Watch the video)
- "Snagglepuss" - Another sketch based around homosexuality. Hanna-Barbera character Snagglepuss drops by "Weekend Update" to talk about Prop 8 and eventually come out of the closet. I can only assume someone found out that Bobby Moynihan does a pretty good Snagglepuss. (Watch the video)
- "Digital Short: Everyone's a Critic" - One of my favorite bits from Saturday's show begins as a pretty lame Titanic parody with Andy Samberg and Paul Rudd painting each other in the nude (homoerotic = funny), but takes a good turn when they decide to auction the painting with disastrous consequences. The sketch combined two of my loves: taking something to its furthest extreme with uncomfortable and inappropriate violence. Sadly, the "coda" to the sketch only repeats the joke, suggesting that SNL still hasn't learned that when crafting a punchline, you have to figure out how to twist the joke in a new way for it to be funny. (Watch the video)
- Original Air Date: 11/15/08
- Host: Paul Rudd
- Musical Guest: Beyonce