Saturday Night Live: “Anna Faris/Drake”
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Saturday Night Live: “Anna Faris/Drake”

So, forget all that guff I was saying about how SNL would be running on fumes this week, its fourth episode in a row, because this was its strongest effort of the season so far. Sadly, not much credit goes to Anna Faris, who was fine but often backgrounded, not appearing at all for a good half hour in the middle of the show.

But I’m not complaining, because I enjoyed almost every sketch the show did. Partially that’s because I’ve developed a weakness for the Manuel Ortiz Show even though it has all the same problems as the recurring sketches I dislike. It’s the same joke every time, it always gets placed way too high up on the roster, etc. But for whatever reason, it always works for me anyway (Hader was particularly and predictably hilarious this time). I can’t defend the sketch, and a lot of Armisen’s other recurring characters do nothing for me, but that’s the situation.

A lot of the other traditional SNL formats got a nice new angle, though. One of the standouts was “What’s Wrong With Tanya?” a fun spin on the game show that also mocked the forced drama of Lifetime movies. The questions were funny and the prizes even better (“you win a Volvo full of groceries!”), but things really got good when Hader, in his usual host role, manhandled Faris onto her mark and screamed “WHO’S GONNA BELIEVE YOU!” when she complained that he was hurting her. Rarely does an SNL audience sound generally surprised, but that’s what happened right there. Hader’s always good as the game show host, but he was a real standout here. He was in lots of sketches this week after not being in much last week; with Taren Killam mostly absent this week, I suspect a division of labor thing because of the string of episodes in a row.

The GOP debate worked too, because it got to tweak the usual approach of lining up all the candidates and having them say one joke each. Bachmann and Newt were put in a closet to fight it out; Ron Paul defended himself from attackers in a parking garage; Rick Santorum is at a gay bar in the Castro; Rick Perry is forced to face a wall, and so on. Unfortunately, Kenan’s impression of Herman Cain has not gained any energy which is too bad, because there are a lot of fun places to take that guy. Sudeikis, on the other hand, has found what’s funny about Mitt Romney, which is that he’s constantly put-upon and despised, but also constantly smiling about it, and his Forrest Gump speech made me laugh a lot more than Cain’s various number plans.

I’m bouncing all around the show’s lineup tonight, so let me revisit the cold open and monologue, briefly: They were short. Bloomberg’s speech had a couple of good lines, but I got a major Armisen-as-Obama snoozeville vibe there, although I think even Bloomberg would admit he’s not as dynamic a speaker as Obama, so it makes more sense from that perspective. Still, it kinda feels like the writing staff is still looking for a good angle on Occupy Wall Street. Faris’ monologue basically amounted to her being escorted offstage after a couple of questions, which foreshadowed her lack of an appearance in the digital short, the GOP debate, and Weekend Update.

Again, I’m not going to complain that much. The only role she could have played in the GOP debate was the host, not a very exciting character (although she would have done better than Vanessa Bayer, who flubbed like three lines). The digital short was great. Drake, as we learned from his rap on Weekend Update with Jay Pharoah, is not funny, but he didn’t need to be, nailing the one important line during the “Racist” interview portion (“Don’t do it.” “Yeah, not worth it”).

After Weekend Update, with all the usual formats exhausted, we got some more idiosyncratic stuff. You basically got the “Tell Him” number in the diner after a couple of minutes, but all of the jokes worked for me except the closing punchline about pretending to be pregnant, which was too broad and silly. I get that in a musical sketch you want to end big, but most of the singing was just there to disguise funny little observational humor, none of it shockingly original, but fresh enough for SNL. Faris also made her big return after being gone for a while here, as…a background singer.

The J-Pop America Fun Time Now thing was brought down again by Bayer, who wasn’t actively bad in the sketch but was totally outshone by Killam, who nailed that exaggerated style and faux-Japanese manner of speech perfectly. Plus, I have to admire a sketch where many of the “punchlines” were nonsense singing and which found great use for Sudeikis’ exasperated teacher routine (“don’t you dare put this on me!”)

Sudeikis as suburban dad, another role he finds himself in frequently, was also mined well in the hilarious Cecil skit, which I applaud for giving Paul Brittan a starring role and also for completely shocking me in how funny I found it. Sure, here’s another meet-the-parents skit… is this the one where they kiss all the time? Or maybe the one where they sit and stare awkwardly while something weird happens? It seemed like the second was about to happen when Sudeikis’ dad character kicked into gear and fell in love with Cecil, screaming at his son to get him candy and that he did, in fact, want a birthday present (an oil painting of Cecil and a Great Dane). Earlier in the night, this might not have landed as well as it did, but as a close-to-midnight effort, it was perfect.

So, finally, our tired SNL buddies are gonna get a break, then we’re back in November with Charlie Day, and I am salivating at the prospect. Don’t screw this up, SNL!

Stray observations:

  • The Ferrari calendar thing was a fine, classic end-of-the-night skit, but I would have been happy with Cecil closing out the episode.
  • Bloomberg had a couple good lines. “I hope you've all recovered from the traumatic, leaf-rustling hurricane.”
  • “DO YOU WANT TO CHEAT WITH ME?” “YES, I WOULD LIKE TO CHEAT WITH YOU.” “LOOK AT THE HIDDEN CAMERA!”
  • Lifetime: “Television for women. White women.”
  • Faris was the standout in the Lifetime sketch. I loved her introduction. “It says here that you have the perfect life.” “Perfect from the outside.”
  • “Your English teacher caught you cheating, and he made you take naked pictures, and now they're online, and it's giving you an eating disorder, and also you can't read!”
  • Rick Perry was thinking about giving Mitt a sham trial in Texas and executing him. Mitt doesn’t mind. “That's okay. I'm incapable of rage.”
  • “Tell him that you're not grossed out when he says the word panties.” “Well what do you want us to call them?” “UNDERWEAR.”

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