Saturday Night Live – “Melissa McCarthy/Lady Antebellum”

Saturday Night Live – “Melissa McCarthy/Lady Antebellum

There are people who insist that Saturday Night Live has not been funny in years. I disagree. I think what happens is they stop watching and every time one of their friends convinces them “no, really, it’s good now” they tune in and catch an episode like this one. The cold open sketch was that The Lawrence Welk Show bit they do with the singing sisters where Kristen Wiig is a borderline-deformed one. It’s not funny. It’s never been funny. Yet for some odd reason they turned it into a recurring sketch (okay I will give Fred Armisen some props for an amusing Lawrence Welk impression). And what do you know, host and Wiig’s Bridesmaids co-star Melissa McCarthy joins the sketch as basically another version of Wiig’s character, but fatter. If I was on the fence about SNL I think I’d be tuning out after this opening sketch.

Now I’m not overly familiar with Melissa McCarthy. I’ve seen Bridesmaids. It was amusing but not the instant comedy classic some people proclaimed it to be. I thought McCarthy’s character was drawn with some pretty broad strokes but she did a nice job of humanizing her a little more towards the end of the film. Looking over her imdb page, apparently I’ve also seen her in Charlie’s Angels and Go, though I remember her in neither. I don’t watch Mike and Molly, for which she just won an Emmy, but word is the woman’s got talent. From her monologue, which centered around a dance number that she kept postponing until it was obviously done by a double, she certainly seems to be game for anything. That’s why it was somewhat disappointing to see her basically just repeatedly poking fun at her own weight. Self-deprecating fat jokes can be funny but there needs to be more to it than just that (see: the late Chris Farley). That’s one of the reasons I’ve never particularly enjoyed Kevin James in anything. In one sketch McCarthy wolf’s down salad dressing before just spraying the bottle on her face. That’s not funny, just kind of uncomfortable.

So last week I spoke about how certain talented cast members are under-utilized. While Jay Pharaoh was still only in two sketches, one of them managed to be the funniest of the night. Following Chris Rock’s role in the Stephen Adly Guirgis’s play The Motherfucker With the Hat, the sketch puts Rock (imitated perfectly by Pharaoh) in a variety of other plays like Romeo and Juliet, Oliver!, and Annie.  It may only be one sketch out of eight, but Pharaoh owns it. Hopefully this convinces the writers to put him in more stuff. In an earlier sketch where Melissa McCarthy uncomfortably sexually harasses Jason Sudeikis, Pharaoh had a two-line role as a delivery person and I heard a solitary “woo!” come from someone in the audience when he came on stage. It’s not that the show undervalues impressionists. Bill Hader tends to be featured heavily. Keenan Thompson seems to get more of the black impressionist roles which is odd because he’s a far less gifted impressionist. Granted some roles, like Tyler Perry in this episode, are better suited to Thompson’s physical build, but Keenan has been over featured throughout the years mostly by virtue of being the only black guy. Well, now there’s a more talented black guy and the writers almost seem afraid of using him. It’s weird.

I had been under the impression that Lady Antebellum was a country band. Who knows? Maybe they are considered a country band. Maybe they’re country the same way Taylor Swift is a country, which is to say Top 40 pop with a light Southern flavor. My idea of country is Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard, and Waylon Jennings (and more recently Ryan Bingham and Jamey Johnson). That doesn’t seem to be the type that gets airplay. Also correct me if I’m wrong (which I easily could be) but doesn’t “Antebellum” refer to the pre-Civil War South? Is that a historical period a pop act really wants to associate itself with? Anyway, their first song “We Own the Night” was somewhat ironically titled as it failed to leave much of an impression. Their second, “Just a Kiss,” seemed like a pop-country band’s take on a 90s R & B song. All in all they sounded better (in terms of sound quality) than a lot of bands I like a whole lot more. Could it be that SNL’s mixing woes are behind them? I somehow doubt it. The next time a band plays that’s more accustomed to playing for a live audience than a TV broadcast, we’re likely to get the same too-quiet vocals as usual.

Other sketches included a Turner Classic Movies sketch about Lulu Diamonds (McCarthy), a Mae West type actress with an unfortunate tendency to fall down stairs. It wasn’t very funny, but I always do enjoy Sudeikis as TCM’s Robert Osborne in these sketches. The last sketch of the night was surprisingly funny, where an overconfident Andy Samberg hitting on McCarthy boasting that he “hasn’t had any complaints” about his sexual performance. This is of course followed by a procession of his former lovers coming by to make formal complaints about his lovemaking, which he accept with affable good humor. Usually the last half hour is a dumping ground for crap, but sometimes you get sketches that were dumped there just because they were weird. Sometimes those end up being funny and this is one of those times. There was also a sketch where internet Comments Section trolls were parodied. It had an amusing premise but never really delivered on the potential of the sketch, though it did lampoon trolls as the pathetic individuals they are. (For the record my commenters [the non-spam ones] have never been anything less than cordial.) There was also a commercial parody in which a doll called Lil Poundcake stealthily administered the HPV vaccine to little girls. It contained the horrifying visual of a bio-hazardous waste bin filled with discarded dolls… BECAUSE DOLLS ARE ALWAYS CREEPY. SNL Digital Shorts also returned this week with a Stomp parody set in a police station that culminates with the violent shooting death of the Blue Man Group (partially played by actual former Blue Man Fred Armisen).

Weekend Update seemed a little thin this week. Seth Meyers was funny as always but Update seemed shorter and over-reliant on guests, specifically Keenan Thompson as Tyler Perry and Fred Armisen and Vanessa Bayer as [inexplicably American] childhood friends of Muammar al-Gaddafi. Despite my earlier objections to Thompson being a featured impressionist more often than the superior Jay Pharaoh, I will say that he is a better match for Tyler Perry. The rich jokes were pretty funny (“I own Atlanta.”) as well as the fact that it called attention the way everyone seems so shocked that Perry is so wealthy. It even offers an explanation: “[the movies] cost $400 to make and every black person in America sees them.” Armisen and Bayer really had a one-note joke as Gaddafi’s former friends. The bit was pretty lame (and I can’t believe this is the second time they’re doing it) but the punch line with Seth Meyers was good.

So we’re only at the second episode of the season for Saturday Night Live and we’ve already had the season’s first stinker. I don’t really want to blame Melissa McCarthy. She seems like she’s game for whatever the writers came up with, so it’s just a shame the writers didn’t come up with better stuff. Next week Ben Stiller is returning to the show that started his career (he was briefly a featured player for half a season in the late 1980s)… okay being the son of Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara started his career but whatever. Hopefully the results will be better.

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