Saturday Night Live – “Alec Baldwin/Radiohead”

Saturday Night Live – “Alec Baldwin/Radiohead

Oh Saturday Night LiveSNL is a show I will always defend. People say it’s not as funny as it used to be… and that’s true but it’s still funny enough often enough. I know that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement but I think they often have great sketches that get overshadowed (and I’ll be honest outnumbered) by the more forgettable ones. To me one brilliant sketch forgives five mediocre ones. That’s probably while I’ll always be a fan of the show. In recent years, the political material has been the highlight of the show for me and tonight was no exception. The cold open sketch about the “7th or 8th GOP Debate” was the highlight of the show. Lorne Michaels is a firm believer in putting the A material at the top of the show (which is why the last 30 minutes earned the reputation as a dumping ground… though occasionally it also has some daring material [not tonight]) and tonight I found the debate sketch to be the funniest of the show. Bill Hader’s Shepherd Smith just captures the innate weirdness of that dude. I’m not going to lie: I’m a liberal. My biases can more or less be determined as such. Five minutes picking on notable Republicans is an easy way to get me to laugh.

Taran Killam’s impression of Jon Huntsman as someone who is turning into a stereotypical Chinese person was weird and kind of racist (and not funny-racist, which is a real thing [just watch Daniel Tosh]). He was funny in a couple sketches last year, but he kind of sucked tonight. He’s better as a straight man I think, and I don’t see why another straight man is necessary with Jason Sudeikis around (though with his movie career taking off maybe he won’t be sticking around SNL too much longer?). I don’t know that the show necessarily knows how to use people well. In recent years there’s been too much Kristen Wiig and Keenan Thompson and not enough Jay Pharaoh. Keenan basically plays every black person on the show, even ones he’s not at all physically appropriate for and when you have a gifted impressionist like Pharaoh around it’s not entirely clear why. Hell, our black president (half-black if you want to get technical) is impersonated by a white dude. It’s a good impression to be fair but it begs the question of why they hired Pharaoh in the first place. I don’t remember seeing him in any sketches tonight. Kristen Wiig wasn’t overused tonight like she often is. I think the success of Bridesmaids should prove that she’s better at playing real people than her weird-voiced characters. Though I do like her “crazy lady running for President” character… oh, that’s a real person? Shit, I forgot… Wiig appears in a commercial parody for “Red Flag” perfume, in which I guess she’s supposed to be hot. Wiig’s not an unattractive woman by any means but castmates Abby Elliot and Nassim Pedrad seem to fit the whole “hot” thing better. Luckily, Wiig’s character is also supposed to be “fucking crazy,” and her ability to play that makes her casting worthwhile.

The big story with tonight’s episode is Alec Baldwin hosting for the 16th time. That makes him the most frequent host in SNL’s history. The previous record-holder Steve Martin turned up for a “surprise” guest appearance, testing Baldwin for performance-enhancing drugs with the aid of “drug expert” Seth Rogen, who didn’t really do anything (although it’s good to see he lost the weight that he gained back after losing all that weight the first time). Baldwin also discusses Ben and Jerry’s recent decision to pay tribute to his many SNL appearances with a flavor called “Schweddy Balls,” after Baldwin’s most famous SNL moment. He mentioned the real conservative group protesting the flavor and says Ben and Jerry’s is honoring them as well with a flavor called “Go Fudge Yourself.” Beyond the monologue, Baldwin does some decent impressions through the episode. He does his Tony Bennett during Weekend Update (great impression but he’s not so good with the singing). He plays Al Pacino well (but not as well as Bill Hader) in a Top Gun screen tests sketch (in which Killam sucks as both Tom Hanks and Bobcat Goldthwait). He also plays Rick Perry during the cold open. If Perry doesn’t entirely flame out in the coming weeks I wouldn’t mind seeing Baldwin drop by a lot (he works in the same building) in a Tina-Fey-as-Sarah-Palin-style recurring fashion.

The musical guest was Radiohead. I was pretty stoked as Radiohead has in the past year and a half become one of my favorite bands (yes, I know I’m late to the party on that one). I was also worried. Everyone kind of sucks on SNL. The mix is all funny. I know they always boast about the space being perfectly set up for musical performances but almost every week the vocals sound completely separate from the music and the effect is weird. I’ve seen more than a few of my favorite bands stink it up on this show (including ones who’ve shows I’ve been to and know they do well live) and feared it would happen again. And given how much of Radiohead’s sound comes from production? I was worried. They played two songs: “Lotus Flower” from The King of Limbs and “Staircase” from From the Basement. They sounded great. I know Thom Yorke’s falsetto isn’t for everyone (and his dancing is for even fewer) but they did their crazy Radiohead thing and I dug it.

As usual, Seth Meyers’ Weekend Update provided a lot of the funniest lines of the night (including the great bumper sticker “Naïve, arrogant, misguided, and dangerous. Perry 2012.”). The post-Update segment of the show was a dumping ground for the weaker and/or weirder material as usual, including a game show dedicated to speculating on the gay sex positions of straight celebrities, a child psychologists dysfunctional date, and an old war movie, but it’s not the pre-Update section of the show’s sketches about an All My Children wrap party and a satellite-delayed interview with a reporter and a giant spider (fuckin’ spiders) were gems. All had a chuckle or two, even though they were for the most part one-joke sketches. Saturday Night Live is unlike narrative shows because the season premiere doesn’t necessarily indicate the tone for the coming season. It could get way better or way worse week-to-week. You could have the worst episode the show has ever done followed by the best. Hell even the sketches within a given episode could be a roller coaster. Brilliant or bizarre, uproarious or unfunny, I’ll keep watching.

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