I experienced a powerful bifurcated response to watching 30 Rock as a civilian this last Thursday. The critic in me felt like it shared many of the weaknesses of recent episodes and paled in comparison to shows from 30 Rock’s 2007-2008 heyday. The fan in me, however, wondered why that asshole Nathan Rabin guy who reviewed 30 Rock for TV Club couldn’t lighten the fuck up and stop hating on a show that was still pretty fucking funny.
Why did The A.V Club feel the need to build up, then tear down this beloved comedy institution? Oh yeah, because it was a corporate dictate laid down at the Legion of Hipsters, a sinister organization in which the skinny jeans-wearing, Decembrists-loving tastemakers of your nightmares decide to arbitrary smite some phenomenon in a fit of rage while elevating other unworthy figures to the level of Gods. I don’t want to give too much away but look for a Wire backlash and a surge of ironic appreciation for eighties boy bands in the near future.
Freed from the burden of high expectations and the responsibilities that come with always having to be so goddamned critical, it was much easier to appreciate the show. It was liberating not having to drag along all the baggage that comes with being a critic. I felt sort of the same way about this week’s Saturday Night Live. The critic in me realized that it wasn’t that good, that it was dumb and puerile and that they perhaps could have come up with an Avatar parody that didn’t revolve around the lead character getting sodomized with a giant gourd. Similarly, I'm saddened that they spoofed the Conan/Leno feud in a manner that didn't involve someone getting sodomized with a giant gourd. From now on, I would like for SNL to serve as the epicenter for the world's gourd-based sodomy comedy. Is that too much to ask?
But I kind of enjoyed it all the same, so I today I’m going to try something new: I’m going to forego a rigorous critical analysis and talk about the show the way we do at the titty bar where I hang out: it was kinda funny and Sigourney Weaver is still pretty hot. Crap! That only takes up three hundred words. So, how about that local sports team? How do you feel about their chances for the upcoming season?
Tonight’s episode began really the only way it could, with a cold open about the great Conan O’Brien/Jay Leno War of 2010. It was a perversely misguided and non-firing sketch. They brought back Darrell Hammond to do a really, really shitty Jay Leno, which seemed like a phenomenal waste. Really, Lorne, everyone and their fucking mother does a Jay Leno impersonation and this was the best you could muster? Ah, but Hammond was a cunning chameleon compared to a strangely off Bill Hader, who made a bold choice not to look or sound anything like Conan O’Brien while playing the red-haired cut-up. He just sat there with an icy glare and a decidedly un-Coco-like look of grim concentration.
Lorne Michaels, of course, created Conan O’Brien’s career, so perhaps it’s not surprising that the show seems to be treating the matter with kid gloves. It’s also interesting to note that as things at NBC get uglier by the moment the show was hosted by the daughter of a former NBC President, a fact that was clumsily acknowledged in Weaver’s plucky but uninspired monologue. Actually, that last fact wasn't interesting at all; I apologize for suggesting it was.
I have bagged on Kenan Thompson in the past, mainly for not being funny and spending every sketch in a dress or singing but tonight he killed as the straight man in a sketch called “Disco Booty Junction” as the host of a disco dance show who is flummoxed by a team called Amber and Cream’s unwillingness to disclose which of them is Amber and which is named Cream (ironically they were both named Milli Vanilli). It was a profoundly stupid premise and at first it looked like a sad knock-off of Delicious Dish, but Thompson’s deadpan reaction shots sold the sketch and I liked his opening response to discovering the mouse in his dressing room.
I also liked Thompson in a sketch about novel sex positions featuring Sigourney Weaver as a prostitute. I’m not too proud to concede that I enjoy sketches featuring attractive actresses dressed as sex workers; they’re like receiving a, “See some cleavage free” card. The Saturday Night Live writers being enlightened souls skilled at writing meaty, respectful roles for women, we get to see an awful lot of those sketches.
On to the other sketches: it’s always good to see Fred Armisen anchor a sketch but I was underwhelmed by “Riley”, a potential recurring character that asks the timeless question, what if Paul Lynde were reborn as a bitchy adolescent? And a sketch about a woman’s dart league was a bit of a stiff. And the Avatar sketch: dear Lord, for a film that begs to be mocked and ridiculed Avatar has inspired surprisingly few spoofs of note. It seemed strange that the show couldn’t find a fresher angle of attack than the lead character contorting in his tank as he has sex, while the scientists look on obliviously.
That just leaves two kick-ass performances by The Ting Tings, a lively new duo the young people to enjoy with the dancing and the rocking out and the crazy costumes, “Weekend Update” and a sketch where Weaver becomes obsessed with what anonymous internet commenters think about her that started off slow but rose to the level of mild amusement.
Oh, and what felt like the longest Laser Cats digital video in existence, an endless homage to James Cameron (who showed up to support Laser Cats) filled with loving references to many of his films. I feel like I should love Laser Cats. I love cats. I’m a big fan of Andy Samberg and Bill Hader. I enjoy inside-baseball sketches with Lorne and I’m a fan of weird meta-comedy, even of the intentionally dumb variety. Yet I so do not love Laser Cats. For me, it crosses the line separating meta-stupidity and just plain stupidity.
So yeah, all in all a most mediocre episodes. Weaver still looks great, though, and isn’t that what ultimately really matters?
—Have any of you seen this Avatar movie she's promoting? Is it any good?