• Okay, first the good news: A non-political cold opening! For the very first time since Steve Carrell/Usher in May '08! Finally! But the bad news? It's another Lawrence Welk/singing sisters/baby hands sketch. Ugh... I barely liked this the first time with Anne Hathaway (I think it was the only sketch I wasn't crazy about from that otherwise-great show), was upset when they wasted Will Ferrell in this the second time, and here they go trotting it out an unnecessary third time... and with almost all the original actresses who played the other three sisters being replaced by the two new girls. I can't even remember who exactly played the other three sisters the very first time they did this sketch, since they keep having to replace them every time this sketch appears.
• While I'm happy to see SNL finally listen to our pleas to take a break from political openings, having Wiig do her wacky character shtick isn't much better. I did say in my last review that I would try to cut back on my anti-Kristen Wiig rants, so I'll keep this short and sweet. I disliked this sketch, it was also yet another lazy rewrite with nothing new, and Wiig annoyed me as usual, but this still may be a small step in the right direction as far as going outside of the box of political openings, because it at least shows SNL realizes how stale and tired their political openings have been as of late. Just try to open with an actual FUNNY non-political sketch next time, SNL.
• It was kinda nice to see Franco in the cold opening, though. This opening contained two rarities: non-political content and the host being in it.
Monologue - James Franco
• Not too much to say about this. It was okay, and it was good that Franco was able to carry this by himself and do a true monologue, with no interruptions from cast/audience members or anything. I also liked his “This isn't an election year, so we're all getting by with a little less” comment.
• I was actually kinda hoping before the show, though, that they'd do a follow-up to the Willem Dafoe mirror bit from Franco's last episode and have Bill show up as Dafoe in Franco's monologue and maybe try to convince Franco to do another dirty deed for him.
Sketch - What Up With That?
• Oh, here we go again...
• A quote from my review of the second What Up With That, from the Joseph Gordon-Levitt show: "I hope they just leave it at this and don't do anymore future installments, or if they do, at least wait until more than THREE episodes." -- Well, here we are three episodes later, and what do we get? Another What Up With That. Thanks for listening, SNL... [/end sarcasm]
• How long until they have a What Up With That sketch every single week? Cause you know SNL wants to do that. You just know it.
• I seriously think they're trying to make me forget why I loved the first What Up With That so much. I was lenient in my review of the second WUWT installment because that installment was still able to re-capture some of the magic of the first one. But now, WUWT has definitely worn out its welcome.
• Mike Tyson was certainly a funny surprise, though. I don't think anyone was expecting to see ever see him on SNL. And a Jack McBrayer cameo is always welcome.
• Franco and Wiig's singing duo looked like rejects from a Deep House Dish sketch... and that's not a good thing. How could they follow up Gerard Butler as “The Sexecutioner” or even JGL as Klaus Future with THIS?
• Andy as John Stockton? Oh, come on, this sketch is just getting desperate now. There's no way they could top Bobby as a tap-dancing Jake the Snake from last time.
• At this point, the only two things WUWT has going for it anymore are the celebrity special guest cameos and Jason Sudeikis dancing. At least they were wise enough this time to have the cameras capture Jason's dancing a lot more than usual. He was wild tonight!
Sketch - The Kissing Family
• And the 2009-2010 season continues its theme of bringing back EVERY single sketch that has no business being a recurring sketch and that nobody would have ever expected to be brought back. When will this madness end?
• Seriously, WHY are we seeing this stupid sketch again? It was lame and desperate enough the first time and basically just came off as an inferior kissing version of the classic Bird Family sketch with Will Ferrell, Chris Parnell, and Julianna Margulies.
• We narrowly escaped having to put up with this mess in last week's show thanks to it getting cut after dress, but we weren't so lucky tonight.
• As usual with recurring sketches these days, they just used a carbon copy of the original script from the first Kissing Family installment and added nothing new. Only things remotely different this time was the addition of the UPS guy, and Abby as the odd person out this time instead of Andy like in the first one. Abby's facial reactions weren't even funny; she just sat there.
• Did this sketch have the same living room set used in the Surprise Sue sketch from last week? It looked like it.
• And was the ending with Abby joining in kissing the guys even supposed to be funny? At least throw us male viewers a bone and have Abby smooching Kristen (or as I would prefer to see, an Abby/Nasim kiss)... oh, but I guess girl-on-girl kissing isn't as hilarious as guy-on-guy, right SNL? [/end sarcasm]
Digital Short - The Tizzle Wizzle Show
• A strange but hilarious dark-humored short, and a bit of a change-of-pace from the style of the last few digital shorts. I loved this!
• I like how they got all the featured players involved here, too.
• I know I always go on about Nasim's cuteness, but she was looking especially good in this short with that pigtail and those pajamas.
• Shortest digital short ever? It sure felt like it to me. I was surprised when this was over as quick as it was, but that's probably a good thing that they ended this at the right time without letting it go on too long.
Sketch - The Manuel Ortiz Show
• At this point, I was so relieved to see an original, non-recurring sketch for the first time all night. This didn't turn out to be all that great, though. Silly Spanish-themed sketches usually always get laughs, and the dance interludes were a dead-on parody of those types of Telemundo shows. But the dance interludes got old after a while when they kept repeating it over and over and it became the main joke of the whole sketch.
• The gleeful expression on Fred's face every time they danced cracked me up, though.
• Kristen wasn't believable-looking as a Hispanic woman at all. At this point, it feels like they're throwing her into every sketch just for the hell of it.
• In that wig, Nasim was a dead-ringer for Andrea Martin from SCTV. I think I pointed that out about Nasim before in another sketch from the beginning of the season, but her resemblance to Andrea Martin at times is quite uncanny.
• Kenan actually made me laugh here with his walk-ons, especially how he kept spilling the water while dancing onto the set.
• Best jokes: Time Magazine, missing e-mails, Palin, iPhone, Hanukkah Moose
• Seth seemed to make an unusual amount of ad-libs/little side comments in between almost every single joke tonight. It got kinda annoying.
• Bobby was hilarious as the chick from Jersey Shore, and it was nice seeing Bobby get his own Update commentary for the first time in quite a while. His delivery and facial expressions had me cracking up throughout, and he had several great lines like the “derogatony” and Garfield comments.
• Bill's walk-on as The Situation was very funny, especially how his back also had a six pack and even a belly button.
• I have no idea what the hell Fred and Kristen's commentary was supposed to be exactly, but it sure wasn't funny. And I know this was the point of the whole bit, but it seemed like they actually WERE improvising the lyrics for real. You could tell by the way Fred almost burst out laughing during several parts.
Sketch - Sigma Lambda Omega
• An okay sketch overall, but I felt it should've gone further. The idiot fratboys not knowing simple stuff like how to tie their own shoes or what an “Obama” is was a pretty funny premise.
• Bobby seems to be getting good airtime tonight.
• It looked like Andy was trying hard not to laugh after Franco clapped his hands in front of his face. That was a funny moment. Did Franco accidentally spit on Andy or something, because I noticed Andy wiped something off the side of his face after almost laughing?
• Most of my biggest laughs in this sketch came from Sudeikis, who seemed to be channeling his inner-Ferrell as the loud, deep-voiced, backwards cap-wearing fratboy. I wish he was given a few more lines, though.
Sketch - Vincent Price's Christmas Special
• The opening “You're watching TV Land - which means you're a cat in an empty apartment” line was very good.
• Now this is a recurring sketch I actually LIKE seeing and is actually DIFFERENT each time they do it. I always love these Vincent Price sketches and tonight did not disappoint.
• Even before Franco walked on, I knew he'd be showing up as James Dean; that was a given. Also, didn't he play James Dean in a sketch that got cut after dress last time he hosted? I think I remember reading that one also had Fred as Liberace hitting on him.
• I was surprised to see Kristen as Katherine Hepburn again, since she already played her in a Vincent Price sketch before; the one from the Matt Dillon episode, back when Kristen was just a featured player. She usually plays different classical actresses in each of these Price sketches, but I guess she's run out of classical stars that she knows how to impersonate. I didn't mind seeing her Hepburn return, though, since it was funny again this time and honestly, these Price sketches are just about the only way I seem to be able to tolerate Wiig anymore these days.
• The Marilyn Monroe asbestos commercial with Abby was pretty funny.
• Fred stole the sketch as Liberace once again, especially the comment about how he likes balls in every color except blue, and the whole thing at the end with him “experimenting” with Franco under the piano. I also loved the way Bill panicked after that and yelled “Go to commercial!!!” His reactions to Liberace are always funny.
• The ending with a rabies-infected Kristen suddenly popping up in front of the camera while screaming reminded me of the ending of the Greg the Alien sketch (a.k.a. Game Time with Dave and Greg) from earlier this season which ended with Bill doing that exact same thing as Kristen.
• When you think about it, these Vincent Price sketches are kinda like SNL's current-era Celebrity Jeopardy, with Bill's Vincent Price being the new Trebek, the silly celebrity visitors in each one being like the idiot celebrity contestants on CJ, Kristen showing up as a different celebrity (almost) each time like how Jimmy Fallon would play various celebrities on CJ, and Fred's Liberace being the returning guest each time, like how every CJ had Norm's Burt Reynolds and later Darrell's Connery.
• Are there any holidays that the Vincent Price sketches haven't covered yet by now? I remember there was Thanksgiving (which was this sketch's debut, back when Eva Longoria hosted in '05), St. Patrick's Day (the Matt Dillon installment), Halloween (Hamm), Valentine's Day (Baldwin), and now Christmas (Franco). There was also supposed to be a Memorial Day one with Kevin Spacey in '06 (I remember reading that Spacey played Jack Lemmon in it, I think), but it got cut after dress. When they inevitably run out of holidays, will they stop these sketches, or just cover the same holiday again but set in a different year?
Sketch - Tree Salesman
• I read a comment from someone who said this sketch had an 80-81 feel to it. Honestly, I got that exact same eerie vibe from this the whole time.
• Franco did try his best and I have to give him some credit, but this didn't completely work with him and it kinda fell flat. Some other people said that this sketch would've been much better-suited for an oddball older host like Walken or Malkovich, and I definitely agree. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to find out that this sketch was cut from last December's Malkovich show, although it probably wasn't.
• Sorta continuing my earlier comment about how Abby and Kristen should've made out in Kissing Family: when they showed up in this sketch together, I thought they were playing a lesbian couple at first until Abby referred to Kristen as “mom”.
• I give Kristen Wiig a lot of slack constantly, but I have to admit her creeped-out facial reaction to Franco talking to the tree made me laugh. See, this is the second sketch in a row where I was able to say positive things about Kristen.
• I didn't like the ending with the tree actually mumbling back to Franco; it was too silly and forced for my personal likes.
Sketch - Office Christmas Presents
• So, Carl and Jerry, the two “Fartface” businessmen guys played by Forte and Hader, are back for a third time. This is another recurring sketch I actually don't mind seeing, along with Vincent Price (BTW, notice they both involve Hader? He always seems to star in the more-tolerable recurring sketches these days). The second one with Alec Baldwin was very funny, and this one started out good, too.
• Just seeing Will with that ridiculous tiny toupee again made me burst out laughing from the start.
• Franco's gruff voice in this made me laugh, although he didn't look very convincing as a middle-aged businessman.
• Also, was Franco supposed to be playing the same character Baldwin played in the last one? Franco's name in this sketch was Troy, which I swear I remember also being the name of Baldwin's character.
• The way Will says “Carol, hold my caaallllls!” always cracks me up.
• Fred has appeared in just about every single sketch tonight, it feels like.
• This sketch started losing me towards the end, with the unnecessary callback to the first Carl/Jerry sketch with the all "fartface" taunting in this one... why did they do that? So many people hated the first Fartface sketch (I personally thought it was okay, but only because of Forte and Hader's performances, certainly not the material itself), but they were able to redeem themselves with the Baldwin one and then the first half of this one. So why go back to reminding people of that universally-panned first Fartface sketch?
• The way Hader looked when they were all yelling at Fred was kinda funny, though. Watch Hader again; he gets completely over-the-top mad for a few seconds while yelling and it was priceless.
• And then, there was the "ending"... WTF happened? Right after Fred left while Hader, Forte, and Franco were repeatedly yelling "Freakin' fartface!" at him, the screen abruptly went black, then the audience quickly applauded as we cut to the next sketch suddenly. Did they run out of time or something? It felt like they cut this off mid-sketch when there was supposed to be more to it. At least I'd like to THINK there was supposed to be more, because if not, then that sure was one weak-ass ending. Maybe we'll find out from Jamie Klein or anyone else who went to dress if this sketch was supposed to be longer.
• Continuing tonight's sub-theme of castmembers almost breaking character and laughing, did anyone notice right at the end as Fred left, it looked like Bill was gonna crack up? I think he was amused by Will Forte's screaming.
Miscellaneous - Mark Wahlberg Talks to Christmas Animals
• As if the abrupt cut from the last sketch to this one didn't confuse me enough, this sketch begins with Pardo's voice-over saying "This has been Mark Wahlberg Talks to Christmas Animals", as if the sketch was already ending. Oh, that wacky Don Pardo...
• Oh, and this is yet ANOTHER recurring sketch tonight. This is insane; did the writers take an early vacation this week? Some people would argue the writers have been on vacation ALL SEASON...
• I almost wasn't even paying attention to Andy's actual dialogue because the whole time, I was expecting them to go to commercial mid-sketch considering how short they were running on time and how Andy was very obviously rushing through this. They barely made it to the end; before Andy even finished saying his last line, they quickly cut back to the "Mark Wahlberg Talks to Christmas Animals" title screen, and then before Pardo's ending voice-over was finished, they abruptly dissolved to the SNL bumper of Franco and quickly went to commercial.
• The parts with Andy talking to the partridge and the snowman were pretty decent and got a few laughs from me. But really, this sketch was no different from the first Wahlberg animals sketch and that worked MUCH better as a random one-off piece. And after the weak Tree Salesman sketch earlier in this episode, I already had my fill tonight of sketches with characters talking to non-responsive things; we didn't need another one.
• If they were going to make the Wahlberg segment recurring, they should have Andy's Wahlberg interacting with/doing different unusual things each time instead of talking to just animals again. There's a variety of crazy ideas they could do with Wahlberg. But of course, I shouldn't expect that much originality from these lazy current writers.
• At any rate, this has the honor of being the final sketch of the whole decade. I was hoping the 2000s would end on a better note than this, though.
Overall, a very middling, mildly-disappointing effort - which also pretty much describes my opinion of this season in general so far (more on that at the end of this review...). The episode wasn't horrible overall, but it was definitely a let-down for Christmas show standards. There were two very strong segments tonight (the digital short and Vincent Price) and a few okay things, but the episode mostly suffered from the same old plague we've been seeing all season - way too many unnecessary recurring sketches. I mean, there were only THREE original sketches all night, and not even any of those were really outstanding. And most of the recurring sketches were the usual carbon-copied rewrites - Lawrence Welk, What Up With That?, Kissing Family, and Mark Wahlberg... those had nothing new added to their scripts. Wahlberg was still somewhat decent, though; can't say the same for the other three. I should just be happy they didn't also bring back that weak Agent 420 sketch from Franco's last show.
James Franco was actually a slightly better host this time compared to his forgettable first hosting efforts. He seemed to get more involved in this episode, even appearing in both the cold opening and digital short, being able to carry his own monologue, and he looked like he was having more fun this time. This episode itself, though, wasn't anywhere near as good as his episode from last year.
Before I finish up tonight's review with the cast/host stats, I want to talk about some of my thoughts on this season. As I said my last review: "I think next week's Christmas episode with James Franco will finally make-or-break this season for me. If the episode turns out to be good, then I will continue having hope for this season and keeping a positive outlook. If the episode is bad, then that's when I'll start really worrying about the current state of SNL and start agreeing with others that some BIG changes need to be made."
Well, the Franco episode ended up being more middling than outright bad, but it's still not exactly good. And it's made me look back at this season with a more critical eye.
Now, some people are going far enough to compare the quality of this year to two infamously bad seasons - 04-05 and 94-95, and I think that comparison is inaccurate and over-the-top. However, I've been thinking about it and I've started to notice this season actually has much more in common with the 1993-94 season. Think about it - 93-94 came after a very strong season (92-93) which was also an election year. 93-94 is known by many SNL fans to be a somewhat weak year overall; while that's true, 93-94 actually started out okay in the first half of the season. Though right from the start, there was a noticeable step down in quality from 92-93 and some problems with the show were definitely becoming evident. And to quote SNL Transcripts in their summary of 93-94: "1993 is also the onset of "SNL"'s habit to return characters that pulled out all the necessary stops during the first installment - ie. Tiny Elvis, Matt Foley, "The Denise Show", and the Herlihy Boy." But the show overall was still decent in the first half of the season. It was the second half of the season starting with the Jason Patric episode, when the downhill slide started to REALLY kick into full-gear. Great episodes were becoming fewer and farther between (like Patrick Stewart, Helen Hunt, Emilio Estevez, and John Goodman) while weak and unfunny episodes were happening more and more frequently (particularly Jason Patric, Nancy Kerrigan, Martin Lawrence, Alec Baldwin & Kim Basinger, and Kelsey Grammer). And we all know what this downhill slide led to... the horrific 94-95 season.
Now, compare all of the above about 93-94 with the current 2009-10 season. 09-10 comes after a strong season (08-09) which was also an election year. The first half of this new season so far is just okay, but there's definitely a noticeable step down in quality and problems are really starting to become evident. And this season also has a particularly annoying habit of returning way too many characters that pulled out all the necessary stops during the first installment - i.e. What Up With That, Dysfunctional Holiday Dinner, ESPN Classic, etc. .... All of this sound familiar? If 09-10 continues to emulate/parallel 93-94, then the second half of this season will get even worse than the first half has been, like the second half of 93-94 did, and we'll REALLY see a downhill slide. And we could possibly be headed for the next TRUE 94-95 in the following 2010-11 season if Lorne doesn't step up and fix the problems with the show soon by making some serious changes. In other words, all of you who keep saying this season is horrible now ain't seen nothing yet... unless SNL can get its act together very soon.
Now, I could be looking a little too much into things, but this is just how I see it, and don't be surprised if that's how the second half of this season ends up playing out. After all, history does repeat itself sometimes. But hey, we'll wait and see what happens in '10 after the Christmas break. Charles Barkley hosting the first show of the new year doesn't exactly give me much hope, though. Barkley did a "tuh-rrible" job on SNL last time and was the typical awkward, stiff, unfunny athlete host. Oh, and by the way, guess which season was the one he last hosted in? 93-94... (*cue foreshadowing music*)