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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Saturday Night Live: Lena Dunham & The National


Though by no means one of the season's standout episodes, this was a marked improvement over last week's limp Jim Parsons-hosted affair. Lena Dunham wasn't exactly asked to stretch, mostly just playing it straight (though she did get in a decent Liza Minelli impression towards the end), and was occasionally overshadowed by a surprising bevy of guests, but she handled herself well, even recovering nicely from a flubbed line at one point. It might just be the timing of it, but this seemed like a pretty strong episode, continuing the season-long up-and-down streak.

Other Thoughts
Liam Neeson popping up in the cold open made for a decent joke in and of itself (I'm a sucker for "actors are really their characters" bits), but the payoff (Obama starring in an action film parody) wasn't all that great.

That first pre-filmed bit was well-written, taking a genuinely surprising and dark turn just when it seemed like the central gag (Dunham getting interrupted by GPS whenever it was her turn to sing along) was running out of steam and there wasn't much more to it. A great example of an out-of-left-field ending that elevates a sketch, instead of just making it clear the writers had no idea how to end it.

The Scandal parody sketch probably would have been better, if I watched the show, but the main gag was still funny enough to keep it from being a complete waste for me. I'm aware enough of the show to get a kick out of the mooney interaction between Olivia and the President, and lampooning the hyper-efficiency of the supporting characters on these types of shows ("I can do it in 24 hours./I need you to do it in one minute./ I’ll see what I can do—it’s done.") certainly doesn't require specific knowledge of Scandal to appreciate.
 
Colin Jost seemed much more relaxed his second time behind the desk, and as a result, seemed a lot funnier. Taran Killam's Matthew McConaughey was eerily spot-on (especially in terms of the voice) and was easily the highlight of the episode. I wouldn't mind seeing him recur on Update a la Nicolas Cage. Bringing Fred Armisen back, meanwhile, (who I assume as there to pimp the new season of Portlandia) just to do that tired "childhood friends of the political villain du jour" bit seemed like a waste.

The Katt Williams sketch suffered from some pretty lukewarm impressions, but I can't deny I didn't laugh at Taran Killam's Harrison Ford shouting out his characters' well known lines.

This episode's now-regular "pre-filmed end-of-the-night sketch featuring some combination of the still-unknown white guy featured players" wasn't as bad as some of the more recent such outings, but a few bits aside, I just don't think whatever comedic aesthetic they're going for in these sketches is for me.  

Least Favorite Sketch: “What Are You Even Doing? You’re Being Crazy!” - this wasn't awful (Bobby Moynihan's older brother was consistently funny), but the central gag felt too much like "Girlfriends Talk Show", which by now has far stronger and more realized characters. Not even a surprise appearance by Jon Hamm could save it (though I also enjoyed his frustration at the lack of pizza).

Favorite Sketch: the "O-o-oh Child" pre-filmed segment, for making me laugh both on the central premise and the twist ending. 

Granny Dunham: In the 1940s, only cool girls went to third base. And I was cool as hell.

Kelsey: I wish my dating problem’s that my boyfriend’s the president

Matthew McConaughey: Don’t congratulate me, congratulate the man who never existed
Jost: Who’s that?
McConaughy: That’s me.

Episodes Featuring a Game Show: 5/15
Episodes Featuring a Talk Show: 10/15
Episodes with a Monologue Featuring a Song: 7/15
Episodes with a Monologue Technically Featuring a Song That Is Not a Song for the Purposes of "Episodes with a Monologue Featuring a Song": 1/15 

9 comments:

  1. Well...I think this is just going to be one big old "agree to disagree."

    Perhaps it'll just be quicker to go over what I did agree with:

    "Liam Neeson popping up in the cold open made for a decent joke." Agreed.

    "The Scandal parody sketch probably would have been better, if I watched the show." Agreed.

    "Bringing Fred Armisen back, meanwhile, (who I assume as there to pimp the new season of Portlandia) just to do that tired "childhood friends of the political villain du jour" bit seemed like a waste." Agreed. Oddly enough, I was thinking about Fred Armisen before Weekend Update and thought about how I have an unnatural dislike of him. I realized that it's not really him I dislike it's just that I hated nearly every recurring character he played on SNL. Then he showed up for this skit and I'm thinking, "Exhibit H, right there."

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  2. @Dr. Bitz: Well...I think this is just going to be one big old "agree to disagree."

    We can't even agree this was better than last week's episode? That's a pretty low bar...

    I realized that it's not really him I dislike it's just that I hated nearly every recurring character he played on SNL.

    I know what you mean. When I first thought "what a waste to bring him back for this bit", I proceeded to try and think of a recurring Armisen character I'd have preferred they brought him back to reprise, and I couldn't think of one. Still can't.

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  3. You guys are both wrong about Armisen, the guy is hilarious. I guess his comedy can be a bit "Inside Baseball" as he's at his best mocking personalities in entertainment, but he's always been a favorite of mine, even with his mediocre Obama impression. His One Man Show bit just kills me: http://youtu.be/kcyJW-GeMDc

    But man, Killam's McC bit was really firing on all cylinders. Also I may or may not have gotten irrationally excited to see Killam at the beginning of "12 Years a Slave" last week. I had no idea he was in that movie. I hope he used the opportunity to refine his goofy Brad Pitt impression.

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  4. @Dobson: You guys are both wrong about Armisen, the guy is hilarious.

    To be clear, I have nothing against Armisen's comedy. I'm just not terribly familiar with his work outside SNL. Though I have friends who love it, I've never watched Portlandia, and while I have enjoyed Armisen in bit parts in other things (like on Brooklyn Nine-Nine), I can't say I have extensive non-SNL experience with his work.

    And I even liked him on SNL for the most part - I just didn't care for many of his recurring characters. Some more than others, but certainly none that I feel like I'm dying to see again, and quite a few that actively bugged me/did nothing for me (this, Garth of "Garth & Kat", Laurence Welk).

    I had no idea he was in that movie.

    Nor did I. And I like to think his time working on that movie contributed to his spot-on Brad Pitt. :)


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  5. I'll be even quicker than Dr. Bitz and just agree with pretty much everything you said, Teebore. Killam's McConaughey was spot-on, but otherwise Update felt awfully lean; that might be my only other comment. I got a kick out of the Neeson bit, laughed at the Scandal parody even though I never watched past the first couple of episodes, thought Dunham acquitted herself fine even though she was basically doing what she does, and would put the GPS filmed sketch on top. The Neeson and Hamm appearances come close, but neither ended well enough; the video in the cold open went too far and, for me, Hamm's cameo would've been funnier without the pizza remark, if he'd just left it at his agent having told him to show up. Although to be honest Dr. Bitz's succinct, damning use of "Exhibit H" might be more clever than anything on the show.

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  6. @Dobson: As Teebore said, it isn't really being against Armisen, just the characters SNL created for him.

    @Austin: "We can't even agree this was better than last week's episode? That's a pretty low bar..."

    We can't agree. I think it hit that bar.

    @Blam: "Hamm's cameo would've been funnier without the pizza remark"

    I actually liked the pizza remark. I also like the Chris Hansen line and the "Is that friggin' Josh Hamm!?" line. It was actually my favorite sketch of the night.

    But I seemed to be outnumbered. Perhaps my humor sensor was misaligned for this episode?

    Also, I appreciate you caught my Exhibit H jab!

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  7. @DrBitz: // Perhaps my humor sensor was misaligned for this episode? //

    That's not necessarily for me to say. I thought it was a way better episode than last week's. As far as the pizza line goes: funny on its own, even better as a running gag with the other dude's comment, but incompatible (for me) with the earlier and better line. I feel like "My agent just said to show up" and "I was told there'd be pizza" are either/or. Humor is a delicate thing.

    My sense is that most of Armisen's characters on SNL were created by or with him rather than for him. They have a certain similarity at their base, and while I haven't seen Portlandia either I get the feeling just from seeing him do his laid-back but insistent shtick a couple of times as Seth Myers' bandleader that it's where he lives as a comedian.

    I hope I wasn't underthinking "Exhibit H" because now I find myself overthinking it.

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  8. You weren't underthinking it but don't overthink it either. I don't even think I could come up with 8 recurring Fred Armisen characters.

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  9. @DrBitz: // You weren't underthinking it but don't overthink it either. I don't even think I could come up with 8 recurring Fred Armisen characters. //

    I just came up with 7, so thanks a lo-- um, I mean, I am pleased to find based on your reply that we were indeed on the same wavelength.

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