Since this season is half-way over, it's time for a mid-season analysis of the episodes, sketches, Weekend Updates, hosts, cast, and the season itself.
2002-03 MID-SEASON REVIEW:
One of the rare "perfect" episodes, in which I liked everything in it. The host was great, Weekend Update was great, there were several excellent bits like the Bikini Wax, High School campaign, and the Pier 1 ad. Even the weakest bit of the night would only get a B- (I know I originally gave the Falconer sketch a bad review, but I found it a lot funnier after watching it again).
(Runner-Ups: John McCain/The White Stripes ; Al Gore/Phish)
Eric McCormack/Jay Z.
Eric was a good host stuck in an awful episode. Two really funny sketches (Rachel's Celebrity Game sketch, and Jackass the Musical) were overshadowed by a bunch of weaker material. A forgettable opening, a questions-from-the-audience monologue, the jokeless and repetitive campaign ads, Amy's one-legged character, a potentially good Paula Zahn sketch ruined by weak writing, a terrible Weekend Update, the Z-105 sketch, the usual Subway Fred borefest, and the bullhorn sketch (which was saved by Eric and Will Forte's performances).
(Runner-Ups: Sarah Michelle Gellar/Faith Hill ; Jeff Gordon/Avril Lavigne)
Nobody really knew who Nia was so I wasn't expecting much from her, but I was very pleased with how she turned out. She was such a good host and did her characters so well that she could probably be a successful castmember on the show.
(Runner-Ups: John McCain ; Matt Damon)
One of the greatest actors of our time, but none of DeNiro's great acting skills showed on SNL. He was like the typical sports host or non-actor the way he kept staring at the cue cards, blowing lines, not showing much enthusiasm, and playing basically the same character in every sketch (except for when he played Siegfried or Roy in the Versace sketch). Truthfully, even his most half-assed performance was probably funnier than Jeff Gordon and Brittany Murphy's bland, forgettable performances, but DeNiro was the bigger disappointment since Gordon and Murphy were expected to be weak.
(Runner-Ups: Jeff Gordon ; Brittany Murphy)
All the Hardball sketches.
Now that Celebrity Jeopardy is gone, this is my favorite current recurring sketch. This keeps getting funnier and funnier each season. Darrell's Chris Matthews impression is dead-on, his lines are classic, the writing is great, and the guests' crazy comments are always funny. They even did CJ one better by getting rid of their fixture guest (Paul Begala) before it got too old.
These are pointless, and even more importantly, unfunny. Now, it's obvious that these are not even meant to be funny (except maybe the one about "my breasts", but it still failed to get much laughs), but they really bore me and they feel very out of place on a comedy show. Maybe the first time they did Subway Fred last season, it was acceptable as a nice little "experiment" thing, but I saw absolutely no need to make it recurring.
(Runner-Ups: Gary's Fish Tanks/The Leather Man [different settings, same basic sketch]; The Dentist Fantasy; Santa and Elf argument; Z105; The Gillian Woodward Story)
Best Cold Opening
The Hanukkah Song, Part 3.
A great return for Adam Sandler, and this wasn't politically related like most cold openings are.
(Runner-Up: Iraqi Presidential Election)
Worst Cold Opening
Bush and Cheney address Saddam.
A decent Bush impression by Parnell, but weighed down by poor writing, a quiet audience, and an unnecessary appearance by Darrell as Cheney.
(Runner-Up: A Message from Kim Jong Il)
Al Gore chooses his running mate.
Sketches within the monologues usually don't work, but it did here. A very funny spoof of The Bachelor, and featured some funny little moments like Parnell and Gore in a hot-tub together.
(Runner-Up: East Cost vs. West Coast castmembers)
Eric McCormack dispels the gay rumors.
Questions-from-the-audience monologues are just not funny.
(Runner-Up: Sarah Michelle Gellar offends vampires in the studio audience)
The Aflac duck ad was hilarious, the second one with Carrot-Top was even better, and they ended it right there. They could've ran these into the ground by doing more, less-funnier ones throughout the episode, but they wisely ended it in the right place.
(Runner-Ups: Joe Millionaire parodies ; Pier 1 ; The War on Iraq)
Embarrassingly lame and Amy's facial expressions were annoying.
No need to explain. This was classic Smigel right here.
(Runner-Up: The Religetables)
Worst TV Funhouse
The Smurfette Show.
I was happy to see Smigel taking a shot at the Anna Buffalo Show, but I didn't like the whole Smurfs cross-over. I thought Smigel could've done a better job with this.
(Runner-Up: The Ambiguously Gay Duo - I didn't think this was bad at all, but it gets put here by default)
Best Weekend Update
Consistently great jokes, the funny "celebrity walking detector" bit, and the usual great Seth Meyers commentary.
(Runner-Ups: 10.19.02 ; 1.11.03)
Worst Weekend Update
I only liked about maybe 2 of the jokes; the rest either bombed or were forgettable. I didn't understand the Phil Collins bit, and the commentaries by Gene Shalit and Baby K. were horrible.
(Runner-Ups: 12.7.02 ; 10.5.02)
Rachel's getting more to do this season, especially in the November shows, and I'm glad because she's really underrated. I was tired of her being given nothing last season but basically the roles of old ladies and her recurring characters. She's improved a lot now, and 2 of her original sketches (Celebrity Game and Bikini Wax) have been big highlights of the season.
Best Performance: Celebrity Game (from 11.02.02)
The most popular current castmember, but Jimmy's seriously going downhill as far as his actual performances go. I'm not just talking about this character breaking here (he's been doing that since his second season), but ever since he's gotten very well-known, he seems to be phoning it in on the show. All he's doing this season is Update and old recurring characters, and he never seems as into the show as he was a few seasons ago. The only new thing he's starred in this season was the Z-105 sketch, and even that was bad. What the heck happened to his impressions? That's where his strength is really at, but he's only done 1 so far this season, and it was just a small part of a sketch. I hate to see him act like this because I think he still has a lot of potential.
Best Performance: from Weekend Update: 1.11.03 / non-Update: Sully and Denise at the Fleet Center (from 10.5.02)
I have a lot of stuff to say about Weekend Update, but I'll save it later in this review so I'll make this part short. Basically, Tina and Jimmy haven't been doing Weekend Update this season as well as they used to and Tina's patented rants have gotten weaker. She got a chance to star in a non-Update sketch for once and she did well in that, so let's hope that's a sign of more sketches with her in the future.
Best Performance: from Weekend Update: 11.9.02 / non-Update: American Morning (from 11.2.02)
I like Darrell a lot, but he's just been doing the same impressions this season that he's done before, and his only new one, Saddam Hussein, was inexplicably taken away from him after only 1 episode. He still has Hardball going for him, and at least he finally has a recurring character, Ferey Muhtar's sidekick, but his character acting talents are still not showcased enough. I blame that on Lorne. He's gotten very little to do in the recent shows, and I'm getting the feeling that this will be his last season. If he stays on next year, he'll beat Phil Hartman and Kevin Nealon's record for most years as an official cast member, and I don't think that should happen. He's only done impressions, whereas Hartman and Nealon were given a bigger variety of things to do during their time on the show.
Best Performance: All the Hardball sketches
I'm gonna just keep this brief so I don't piss off any Kattan fans again. The only performance from Chris that I enjoyed this season was in the Leslie's Bedtime Stories sketch. Other than that, his roles have either been useless, annoying, or both, and I don't see a reason for him to still be on the show.
Best Performance: Leslie's Bedtime Story (from 12.7.02)
I knew Tracy was good before, but he's REALLY improved this season. I think it's obvious that he's inherited Will Ferrell's ability of stealing sketches just with his mere presence. Some of his own recurring characters like Brian Fellow and Astronaut Jones are one-note, but his delivery keeps the characters funny. He can't really do anything for the Subway Fred sketches, though, but nobody can save those. Tracy really doesn't have much range, but he can get away with it because he's just naturally hilarious and a likeable guy. He's been the highlight of many sketches this season and the standout performer of almost each episode. Jimmy may be the most popular in this season's cast, but Tracy has been the real star.
Best Performance: Tracy chats with Sarah Michelle Gellar backstage (from 10.12.02)
Chris has a lot of potential to be the utility man/star of the cast. He makes a great straight-man, but he can also play the goofy character, can carry a sketch when given the chance, does good impressions, plays the President, and has a natural and likeable presence - all important qualities for the star of the show to have, and Parnell has them all. Yet the guy's still sitting there, waiting to break out. Occasionally, he's been given chances to shine, like in the Matt Damon, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Jeff Gordon episodes; all 3 shows he dominated, and I thought he generally performed great in them all. Other than those, they've been giving him too many background roles, and they're not helping him get the popularity he deserves.
Best Performance: Matt Damon meets Matt Damon (from 10.5.02)
I've been kind of disappointed in Amy this season. I loved in her first season, but she hasn't been doing much special or new stuff this year. She's not hogging up the airtime anymore like the second half of last season and this season's 10.12.02 episode; that is good since it gives leaves more airtime for the other castmembers, but it's bad because Amy herself hasn't been left with much. I'm not saying she should go back to hogging up the screen-time, but they need to give her better parts like she had last season.
Best Performance: Angry Dance-Off (from 10.5.02)
I like Maya a lot, but a lot of others seem to like her a lot less this season, judging from their comments. I've even seen some Molly Shannon comparisons. I don't understand why a lot of them feel this way. I admit, she has had some poor moments this season (Fiesta Politica, Subway Fred rehashes, and her formerly good Versace impression which has been toned down to absolutely nothing this season), but I'd even take Maya at her worst over any Molly Shannon "catchphrase" character. Maya's talented, funny, has amazing versatility, can play any role and nationality, always does a great job of staying in character, and her being fine-looking as hell doesn't hurt, either :) She should stay away from the recurring stuff and stick to her good supporting roles and her creative sketches like Glenda Goodwin and Scott Joplin.
Best Performance: Tennis Talk with Scott Joplin (from 11.16.02)
Horatio can be irritating as hell sometimes, but it only seems to be whenever he's in sketches with Jimmy. Other than that, I have to give him credit for saving several poor sketches this season with quick walk-ons (Rosie O'Donnell in Versace Pockets, and Fat Saddam in the Saddam Look-a-likes sketch), and I really enjoyed his two sketches from the Nia Vardalos episode (Ferey Muhtar and Community Accents). He needs more of his own characters and more walk-on roles, and less sketches with Jimmy.
Best Performance: Community Accents with Vasquez Gomez-Vasquez (from 11.9.02)
THE FEATURED PLAYERS
Fred had an impressive debut with the safety instructor and getting his own popular recurring character already in his first 3 shows. He hasn't really gotten much since then, but he's funny even in small parts. I hope they give him more to do later in the season.
Best Performance: All the Fericito sketches
Dean's doing even less this season than last season, and that's saying a lot! He's been absent in a lot of episodes this season, and when he is in the show, it's usually one sketch and just a bit part. Only notable thing he's done was the Stripper Pole with Tracy, and that was a forgettable 12:56 sketch. Until they finally start giving Dean chances to show what kind of a performer he is, he's only taking up space in the cast.
Best Performance: Stripper Pole (from 1.11.03)
I really didn't like Will at first for some reason, but that changed with his hilarious Tim Calhoun segment on Weekend Update. He's starred in some other good sketches since, like The Falconer and the courtroom judge, does well in supporting roles like the Thomas Jefferson sketch, and like Fred, he's funny even in most of his bit parts.
Best Performance: Tim Calhoun on Weekend Update (from 10.19.02)
I'm starting to worry about Seth. Yeah, he is used the most frequently out of all the featured players and should be promoted, and his frequent Weekend Update correspondent bits are continuing to be strong, but he's starred in some pretty lackluster sketches this season: Paul Burrell, Bossy Car Salesman, Career Day. "Top O' the Mornin'" was only okay, but nowhere near as good as Seth sketches usually were last season. He really doesn't have anything funny to do in the Jarret's Room sketches anymore since they dropped the fake English accent thing with his character. I don't know if this is his fault, or if the writers keep giving him bad material. His performances are usually okay even in the bad sketches, so I think he just needs better sketch material to work with.
Best Performance: Dell Computer Kid on Weekend Update (10.12.02)
Jeff had some pretty bad moments early in the season, particularly that Baby K nonsense on Weekend Update. Luckily, the 1.11.03 episode came along and let Jeff return to what he does best: impressions. He got to showcase two impressions in that episode, and did great with both of them. He already showed his impersonation talent last season, but they rarely let him do anymore these days. Since Darrell might be leaving and since Jimmy doesn't give a damn anymore, they need Jeff to showcase more of his great impressions, and less Drunk Girl and Baby K.
Best Performance: Star Dates (from 1.11.03)
THE 2002-03 SEASON IN GENERAL
I think a comment I read on Jordan Davidson's SNL message board earlier this week perfectly sums up this half-season: "This season has been a mixed bag, with more bad than good". This had 1 excellent show (Vardalos), 2 good ones (McCain, Gore), 3 fairly mediocre ones (Damon, Murphy, DeNiro), and 3 terrible ones (McCormack, SMG, Gordon). The bad outnumbers the good here. Still, this is far from 1994-95 levels. No episode this season has been entirely unwatchable; even the worst one has had at least 1 or 2 great sketches. But this season has its low-points; the Horatio/Jimmy crap alone is this year's equivalent to 94-95's Chris Farley yelling and falling down in every sketch.
Weekend Update in particular has been a huge step down from last season. It's not as consistently good as it used to be, everything is starting to feel formulaic, and Jimmy and Tina don't appear to be having as much fun as they did before (except for in the 1.11.03 Update). Even the best Update from this season isn't at the level of the best ones from the first 2 seasons; it doesn't have the same feel. As for the correspondent segments, with the exception of Tim Calhoun, Fericito, and the Seth Meyers bits, they have ranged from forgettable (the clone segment from last week) to downright horrible (Baby K. and Gene Shalit).
There's a lot of improvement that needs to be made, and I hope the 2nd half turns out better.
- Darrell's Rumsfeld impression. He got very little to do with the impression in last week's Charlie Rose sketch, so I was happy to see him get do it in his own sketch.
- The musical at the end was pretty well-done.
- Wasn't really that funny, and what was the point of the Nancy Sinatra thing?
- I notice that Maya always plays reporters whenever they do these press conference sketches.
(MONOLOGUE) Ray Liotta gets to know us
- A good musical monologue and Ray was really funny here.
- Ray punching Jimmy in the stomach at the end, and Jimmy's reaction.
(SKETCH) Live with Regis and Kelly
- The return of Darrell's Regis impression. He still looks nothing like him, but he has the voice down pat.
- Amy also did a good Kelly Ripa, impression, and Ray was good as David Caruso.
(SKETCH) Maria's growth spurt
- Any sketch centered around Rachel's rack has to be good.
- What the hell was with the ending???
- Horribly lame ending aside, this sketch goes right up there with Celebrity Game and Bikini Wax as another great original Dratch sketch of the season.
(NEXT LIVE SHOW) February 8, 2003 Matthew McConaughey
I don't really care for him much, but I think he'll turn out to be a surprisingly funny host.
(SKETCH) The Falconer
- Good to see this brought back. Like I said earlier, I found the first one funnier after a second viewing.
- The sight of the falcon doing all those weird things is always funny.
- This felt really short; I would've liked this to be a little longer.
- Does anyone else notice the major emphasis on Rachel's rack tonight? First the growth spurt sketch, now her flashing here.
- In the dress rehearsal promo, they showed a clip from this sketch with the girls having a pillow-fight with the falcon, but they didn't show that here.
(COMMERCIAL) Global Century Investments
- Smart and subtly hilarious.
- Parnell does great in deadpan roles like this.
- Parnell's only actual appearance of the night (everything else was voice-overs), and it was taped.
- I bet Jim Downey wrote this, since he made a cameo in it and this felt like his type of humor.
- Darrell's Hannibal Lecter impression. He's really having a strong night.
- Tina in a sketch!
- Dean's Wayne Brady impression was really good; I hope they do an actual Wayne Brady Show sketch soon to showcase it more (and so Dean can finally get to star in a sketch already!). I heard they did one earlier this season but it got cut.
- This had a lot of potential, but fell flat. The Access Hollywood thing didn't work out like it should have.
- Is Jimmy going to do any more impressions other than Pat O'Brien? This isn't even one of his better ones. LET THE MAN DO OTHER IMPRESSIONS!!
(WEEKEND UPDATE) Fallon & Fey, Tim Calhoun, Tracy Morgan
- Jimmy's AOL Time Warner joke.
- Jimmy's MTA joke.
- The return of Tim Calhoun. Forte's voice and lines for this character always have me dying.
- Tina's Tom Cruise joke.
- Tracy's Update segments are always good.
- Tina's Bush/MLK Day joke.
- Tina really screwed up the Madonna joke, but she made a good-lib afterwards.
- Tina's tampon joke.
- The Bill Gates bit was dumb and bombed with the audience.
- What was with Tina tonight? She seemed really off and had a lot of lousy jokes, and even Jimmy looked better.
- Will Forte gets two recurring characters in one night. Go Will!
- The Joke-Off was okay, but not as good as the first one.
- Isn't it weird how Tracy mentioned being "the star of the show" when I just said that about him myself in the mid-season review?
- I liked the "burglar" taking Jimmy's pencil away from him at the end. I guess they're going to come up with different creative ways for Jimmy to put away his pencil at the end of each Update from now on.
(SKETCH) The Hangman
- A funny and well-written sketch.
- Good performances from all here. And Forte does great in another big role; he's on fire tonight.
- Rachel plays the old lady once again
- The way Ray looked at the camera and paused when in the middle of saying "I amThe Hangman!" reminded me of Forte's way of saying "The Falconer."
(SKETCH) Top O' the Morning
- The Jamison's Irish Whiskey bit at the beginning.
- This sketch isn't all that funny, but it is acceptable in this time slot.
- I'm surprised they didn't bring back Jeff as the human 8 ball or whatever that was he played last time. At least it would've given him something to do tonight.
- Can't Jimmy ever punch a hole through that wall without cracking up?
(SKETCH) The Rialto Grande Show
- Kattan actually wasn't too bad in this, and this was the first original thing I've seen him do on the show in years.
- Ray was good as Kattan's sidekick.
- Fred as the old drummer.
- Tina in another sketch!
- The sketch itself was weak, typical for this late in the show.
- Fred plays a lot of drummers on the show, probably because he's one in real life.
A pretty good episode and Ray Liotta did a nice job as host. I'd place this episode in between the Vardalos episode and the Gore/McCain episodes. And this is the first time this season I expected a show to be good, and it turned out that way.
Overall Highlights of Tonight's Show:
- Rachel's rack.
- Ray Liotta; he was one of the better hosts of the season.
- Investments ad.
- Maria's Growth Spurt sketch.
- Tim Calhoun.
- The Hangman.
- The Monologue.
- The Falconer.
Overall Lowlights of Tonight's Show:
- The cold opening.
- Hannibal/Access Hollywood sketch.
- Tina on Weekend Update.
- The Grande Rialto show.
Funniest Single Moment:
- The puppet falcon doing the limbo and all those other things in the Falconer sketch.
- Ray Liotta as David Caruso: "Sometimes when a show is new, it takes time to find the right balance between me, the main character, and the other talking meat sticks."
- Jimmy Fallon as Pat O'Brien: "Good evening. I just took five Allegras, and I still can't breathe out of my nose."
- Jimmy Fallon: "The MTA will hold hearings next month to discuss ending the use of subway tokens in New York. Apparently, the only joy MTA workers get is watching people incorrectly swipe a metro card and then slam their groins into the turnstile."
- Will Forte as Tim Calhoun: "I propose a little more California, and a little less Mexico."
- Will Forte as Tim Calhoun: "When's there going to be a China person on the Supreme Court? I propose never."
- Will Forte as Tim Calhoun: "Horsey sex is bad. I want to make a law against that. Horseys are for riding."
- Tina Fey: "Actor Tom Cruise was awarded $10 million in his lawsuit against a gay porn star who claims that they had a sexual encounter. The gay porn star could not be reached for comment because his mouth was very busy trying to earn $10 million."
- Tracy Morgan: "You know me, baby. It's Big Tracy from the group home."
- Amy Poehler as Bart's wife: "I'm not gonna ask my Grandma to bone the Hangman!"
- Seth Meyers as William Fitzpatrick: "Today's show is brought to you by the sniffing, sneezing, coughing, achy, stuffy head, fever, so you can get rest medicine"
Jimmy Fallon as Patrick Fitzwilliam: "Jamison's Irish Whiskey."
CAST MEMBER COUNT DOWN
DRATCH: 5 sketches (Maria's growth spurt; The Falconer; Global Century Investments; The Hangman; The Rialto Grande Show)
FALLON: 7 sketches (Monologue; Maria's growth spurt; Global Century Investments; Hannibal; Weekend Update; Top O' the Morning; The Rialto Grande Show)
FEY: 3 sketches (Hannibal; Weekend Update; The Rialto Grande Show)
HAMMOND: 3 sketches (Donald Rumsfeld Press Briefing; Live with Regis and Kelly; Hannibal)
KATTAN: 5 sketches (Donald Rumsfeld Press Briefing; Monologue; Live with Regis and Kelly; Global Century Investments; The Rialto Grande Show)
MORGAN: 2 sketches (Monologue; Weekend UPdate)
PARNELL: 3 sketches (Live with Regis and Kelly; Global Century Investments; Hannibal)
POEHLER: 7 sketches (Donald Rumsfeld Press Briefing; Live with Regis and Kelly; The Falconer; Global Century Investments; Hannibal; The Hangman; The Rialto Grande Show)
RUDOLPH: 5 sketches (Donald Rumsfeld Press Briefing; The Falconer; Global Century Investments; Hannibal; The Rialto Grande Show)
SANZ: 0 sketches
ARMISEN: 3 sketches (Donald Rumsfeld Press Briefing; Global Century Investments; The Rialto Grande Show)
EDWARDS: 2 sketches (Global Century Investments; Hannibal)
FORTE: 4 sketches (The Falconer; Global Century Investments; Weekend Update; The Hangman)
MEYERS: 3 sketches (Donald Rumsfeld Press Briefing; Global Century Investments; Top O' the Morning)
RICHARDS: 0 sketches
Stars of the night were Jimmy, Darrell (!), and Will (!!). Really surprised to see Darrell and Forte getting this much attention tonight. Horatio and Jeff both got surprisingly nothing, and Parnell's only segments were all taped. This would normally give me yet another chance to bitch about how underused Parnell is, but I'll refrain this time considering how much sketches he had in the last episode. And at least we didn't have to put up with another unfunny sketch with Horatio and Jimmy.