Saturday Night Live: “Alec Baldwin/Radiohead”
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Saturday Night Live: “Alec Baldwin/Radiohead”

Hey, everyone, SNL is back! Did anyone else feel that swell of good will as we entered our first political cold open, as well as that feeling of good will being sapped away over the next hour-and-a-half? Oh, I'm just joshin' ya, SNL. It's good to have you back, warts and all, and much like last year, you went with a very dependable host (Alec Baldwin) to ease into the new (37th!) season.

As usual, SNL seemed a little rusty but eager to unload in that Republican debate cold open that ran about twice as long as usual and managed to get a jab or two into eight different candidates. Unfortunately, almost no one in the cast has the candidates down yet (and methinks they're gonna need someone to play Rick Perry who isn't Baldwin), but I must applaud Paul Brittan for nailing Ron Paul's cantankerous/hard-of-hearing routine and Andy Samberg for realizing that the funniest thing about Rick Santorum is that he seems bewildered by all of modern-day life.

Jason Sudeikis is actually doing an OK job as the difficult-to-lampoon Mitt Romney, making an effort to nail his cadence, but it still feels like a hard impression to do because the joke about the guy is that he looks like an action figure and he tries not to hold to too many convictions. Baldwin was a good match for Perry, but while I wouldn't put it past him to show up as a guest star whenever they needed him, they might end up handing that job off to Hader or someone, which would be fine by me. This wasn't a Fey-as-Palin type situation, where you suddenly can't imagine anyone else in the role.

Anyway, the cold open was fun, if meandering, and the whole front half of the show up to Weekend Update was extremely polished and mostly funny. Steve Martin's guest appearance was expected but nicely done (I hope Seth Rogen was just in town or something, because otherwise that was a long flight from LA for not much point), and I laughed at that solitary clap for Baldwin mentioning It's Complicated (the SNL crowd tends to clap at anything, but that was a bridge too far).

Then, after the "Red Flag" commercial (no better or worse than usual), both the All My Children and the tape-delay news skits were strong. Sure, it's not searing material, but as long as SNL is putting together sketches with plenty of laugh lines and delivering them competently, I'm not going to complain too much. The All My Children thing had fun with its ridiculous names (Cornelius DeVaunch, Grover Kensington, Glenda St. Jesus), and "OR WAS I PUSHED?" got funnier each time the characters said it, especially Jason Sudeikis' deranged-looking fan operator. Plus, Vanessa Bayer is a pretty good double for Susan Lucci, considering she's 40 years younger, so I'm glad she got to break out that impression.

The tape-delay thing didn't require any of the players (Baldwin, Elliott, Wiig) to do any silly voices or even over-act that much (well, OK, they were doing Buffalo accents, but that's it). The sketch was just based on good timing and a gradual elevation of the weird things on Wiig's face, and everyone did a good job on those counts. The obviously rubbery quality of everything got a laugh from me too, especially that giant snake eating her at the end.

Then things started to slow down. Weekend Update was surprisingly flat. Meyers had become an MVP last season in my eyes, but the jokes were mostly on the corny side here, and there was only one panel guest, Baldwin doing his Tony Bennett thing (which, fine, but yawn) when the segment usually has three. I think they must have cut stuff for time because of how long the political cold open ran, plus Radiohead spent a good amount of time bleeping and blooping for their two musical numbers (I love ya, Radiohead, but King Of Limbs still doesn't do much for me).

"Who's on Top" was a clever and, even in these debauched times, somewhat risqué premise, even though SNL loves to have at least one tired game show skit a week, always with Hader as the host. But I did laugh at some of the places they went to: Depardieu is French, so of course he's a bottom, Hader asking "What? Still no sponsors?" and, of course, Baldwin stacking the cast of Entourage (with Scott Caan watching). I always like a good Entourage joke; I'm also happy with bad ones. Too bad SNL didn't commemorate that ridiculous final episode.

The Top Gun cavalcade of impressions is something I usually love to see, cause I'm a sucker for impressions, but aside from the return of Hader as Alan Alda and a brief glimpse of Taren Killam doing Tom Hanks (let's get that in somewhere else, guys!) none of the impressions were either good enough or weird enough to be funny. Also, I'm beginning to think that the reason Jay Pharoah isn't in sketches much is because he's an impressionist first and an actor second, but really, you couldn't fit him in here somewhere, but you had time for Nasim Pedrad's Paula Abdul? I felt bad for the dude, clapping front-and-center over the end credits, having been the only cast member not to appear at all.

Then, we had Pedrad in her most typical role: a weird kid. Here trying to get daddy's (Baldwin) attention while he's having dinner with Vanessa Bayer. The whole thing went on way too long and felt padded, but it at least turned nicely at the end. The final skit of the night, which should be weird or creepy or something, was instead a mildly funny, but mostly uninteresting war thing with endless repetitions of "tell x I said y," each more nonsensical than the last.

Nothing here was actively horrible, but there wasn't anything remotely like a breakout sketch either (there was no digital short at all, for whatever reason). It's nice to see SNL not disgracing itself or dusting off any overused skits from last year like What's Up With That. Let's consider this a baseline to work from, guys! Next week we have Melissa McCarthy. She's funny! She can do a lot of stuff! Use her wisely! But for now, nice to have you back, SNL.

Stray observations:

  • No cast changes; Nasim Pedrad is now a repertory player, and good for her. That makes the gender balance a little better above the line.
  • “Can you speak for 10 seconds without alienating your base?” “I believe all 10-year-old girls should be vaccinated for HPV so they can enter into meaningful sexual relationships.”
  • “In closing: Fences. Jesus. Papilloma. Eyeballs.”
  • I love Steve Martin. “I was just passing by the studio in full makeup.” “Oh, Alec Baldwin, you don’t even know how to pronounce the word nem-ee-sis.”
  • “I operate the fans. OR WAS I PUSHED?”
  • "You all tested positive for being good friends. AND ALSO AIDS!"
  • Tony Bennett praises John Garfield. “He left us too soon when he croaked on top of a chick for hire. He was a great, great Jewish leading man. I used to call him my Hebro!”
  • “Begnini’s a squirmer, but he’d be hard to hold down.”
  • “Tell my son that a cripple isn’t a full human being.”

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