Saturday Night Live: "Helen Mirren/Foo Fighters"
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Saturday Night Live: "Helen Mirren/Foo Fighters"

B

Saturday Night Live

"Helen Mirren/Foo Fighters"

Season 36, Episode 19

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So, at the start of Helen Mirren's monologue, there was a winking joke to last week's show: She was afraid they'd have her playing a queen in every sketch, "but they did that last week with Elton John." It's as if she's been reading my reviews! Well, if Ms. Mirren is reading my work, she'll probably be pretty happy with my write-up for her here, since this was a pretty solid episode to lift us out of last week's doldrums and only once was Mirren forced to play a prim English woman who turns out to have a gruff accent, and that was OK, because she murdered someone in that sketch.

Remember how last week, I bitched and moaned, because they didn't have a political cold open, and I thought SNL was falling down on the job? Well, after this week's pitiful attempt, I'm beginning to understand why they hate doing these things. Now, I'm not exactly crying "BRING BACK LAWRENCE WELK!" but they have got to do something about this. Fred Armisen's Obama is a real momentum-stopper at this point. He delivers everything totally flat, the impression has gotten worse rather than better the more he does it, and it's just become this huge bummer to watch him do it when you know there's others who could do it better (including one cast member). With Sarah Palin, I'm almost glad that Tina Fey's casting in that role has limited them from doing impressions of her, because she's such an easy target, they just wouldn't be able to resist. But they have to do Obama impressions, and they have to do them better than this, cause it's just the worst way to get everything going.

Happily, we're at the point where we know a political cold open isn't a sign of the show being at all good or bad; it just sits there, sucking quietly, and we wait for it to go away. Mirren's monologue was typical for a non-comedian host: short, focused on one joke (dude, she's totally old AND YET HOT!) and they threw in a musical number just to make it interesting (I thought the boys were very cute in their sailor outfits). And you know that one joke about Mirren being hot and yet old? Yeah, that's basically what they stuck with for the rest of the night.

She had some bits that didn't focus on that, like her costume-heavy (but still amusing) Helena Bonham Carter, or Mary Shelley, or the crazy Arizona border lady talking about reverse anchor babies (which relied mostly on a manic stare that she held, unflinchingly, for several minutes). But the digital short? About her boobs. Was there a sketch where she was a stripper? Yes. Did she make out with Abby Elliott? Yes. Not that there's anything wrong with that, folks! And unlike Elton John, they did at least give her a little variety.

The Mort Feingold sketch (Samberg in old Jewface, big glasses and all) didn't really seem strong enough to be the leading sketch of the night but it definitely would have fit perfectly a little later on. I have a weakness for Samberg, so I like him even when he's doing a lazier character like this one (I also have a weakness for knowingly ironic Borscht belt humor). "LOX AND BAGELS, WHAT A BUNCHA WEIRDOS!" Nice to see Paul Brittan break out two of his better impressions here—James Franco and, very briefly, Johnny Depp—because that poor guy just isn't getting much work ever since Taren Killam became the breakout star of the first-year cast members. Note how Killam was in just about every sketch this episode. For the first half of the season he was barely in anything at all, but that's changed pretty quickly.

The digital short was in one way very lazy (boob joke, montage, and you're done) but still provoked some solid laughs for what was in the montage (clips from the film Rudy and O.J. Simpson trying on the glove were my personal favorites). Following that was the Fox & Friends spoof, which at least had more energy than the Obama skit but took some pretty lazy shots at birthers and their general idiocy without ever really connecting. There's a lot of fun to be had at Fox News' expense, but you have to nail the insane atmosphere of the shows, rather than just have them crack jokes about Mexicans liking burritos. I'm sure someone's working on that list of mistakes, though. The one at the start I liked was "Obama's middle name is not 'danger.'"

The last half of the show was enjoyably solid, lacking a real standout skit but also lacking a total dud. The Mary Shelley thing was another of Fred Armisen's things where he shows up with an incongruous accent in a period setting, but he actually dialed it back enough to not completely stink up the room. Weekend Update went well as usual, and Hader's Jimmy Carville was particularly on (the extended bit about him being raised by eels was genius). And Samberg hosting a chat show as Hugh Jackman about actors with "TWO SIDES!" was funny when you had Kenan Thompson coming in as Ice Cube, looking around and saying, "I already hate this." And then it was really funny when he and Julie Andrews brutally murdered someone. Sometimes, going big is the best way to do something. Plus, Samberg, when he wasn't breaking, made for a funny Hugh Jackman.

The "Under Underground Records" thing kept piling on jokes, so it started funny, got tiresome, then looped around to being funny again (there were too many things to list here, but the screening of Juwaana Man and the live sex show with the green M&M were good). The joke about showing how inaccurate The Kennedys is by doing The Roosevelts was fine, but all the jokes seemed kinda obvious… until Kenan showed up as Teddy, spying for the Russians. Now there's a character I'd love to see spun off (they'd never give him his own sketch, but Kenan really is a physical match for Teddy Roosevelt). The penis thing was a penis thing, and the final strip-show sketch was interminably long and not very funny, but I've gotta give Sudeikis props for wringing as many laughs as he could out of that material.

Look, it wasn't art, and I wasn't rolling on the floor at any point, and Helen Mirren didn't get that much to do, but all-in-all, if more sketches than not are vaguely funny, then I'm a happy camper. Goodnight, folks! I don't think the show is back until May, when a visibly pregnant Tina Fey will host and hopefully bring the house down (read her book! It's pretty good, and it has some cute SNL tidbits!) See you then.

Stray observations:

  • "Mitt Romney is unhappy, both with the size of the deficit in general and with his inability to emotionally connect with people."
  • "Have you ever seen Caligula? I'm in the orgy scene."
  • Some of James Franco's jobs: "Matador, sniper, cobbler's apprentice." Mort tacks his Oscar work to his Verizon bill. "CAUSE YOU PHONED IT IN!"
  • We all know Frankenstein's monster isn't green with a flat head in the book, right?
  • Every Thursday James Carville catches a gopher naked. "The nudity is not necessary but I prefer it."
  • With his quoting of Lou Vega and the Eagle Eye Cherry mention in the Under Underground Records skit, there sure was a lot of late 90s one-hit-wonder jokes!
  • "I screamed, I hope you're done reading the Girl Who Played With Fire because you're not getting those back!"
  • "You know what they say about french parties right? They start with crudites and they end with nudites!"
  • "Oh, come on now Julie, don't be a coy dingo."
  • "These bands would give Jesus nightmares."
  • "They call her Lace because she's thin, white, and full of holes. One's from a bullet!"

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