A few years back something strange and unexpected happened. People started paying attention to Saturday Night Live again. After years of being ignored or casually dismissed, it became appointment television. Fate and circumstances had rendered it relevant. This curious phenomenon was attributable largely to the fortuitous cosmic accident that former headwriter/castmemeber/universal girlcrush Tina Fey looks uncannily like a former Alaskan governor/former Vice Presidential candidate with an endless assortment of tics, mannerisms and verbal gaffes that had the comedy world salivating with glee over the prospect of mocking a faux-folksy instant folk hero/national nightmare who already lustily embraced self-parody.
Inhabiting Palin’s cornball soul catapulted Fey to stardom, especially when Palin stopped by 30 Rock to show what a good sport she was for all the Joe Six-Packs and Soccer Moms, you betcha. Saturday Night Live’s heat has cooled from red-hot to its lukewarm default state since the election of President Obama but it got some of its sizzle back with the announcement that Fey would be returning to host and breaking out her Sarah Palin glasses. In a somewhat ridiculous development, it was treated as news that a popular comic performer would be spoofing a prominent politician on Saturday Night Live.
So I am pleased to report that last night’s much buzzed-about Saturday Night Live rose to the occasion. So let’s cut the foreplay and get right to the fucking: the Palin sketch. To the glee of latte-sipping Liberals everywhere, Fey slipped on her Palin glasses to announce the launch of her very own cable channel, a folksy, all-American enclave home to Lifetime-style TV movies about a young woman powerless before the sinister powers of Obama’s death panels, a cop show about an Alaska snowmobile cop in the big city starring Todd Palin, a 30 Rock parody with Stephen Baldwin and Bobby Jindall, a “gotcha” interview show where Fey’s interviews are re-edited to make the interviewees look bad and, of course, The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. It was a spoof that perfectly captured Palin’s homespun cult of personality and the them-against-us paranoia of the Far Right.
If Palin is God’s gift to comedy writers, Obama has proven vexingly difficult to lampoon. Yet the show’s cold open found a smart way to glean comedy out of a man who embodies dignity and self-respect to many Americans by having him introduce, in that soothing, reassuring voice of his, an American census that has been changed to now peer creepily through the window shades of Americans with comically invasive questions about their sexual kinks, political quirks and most shameful secrets. It was a simple joke but the juxtaposition of solemnity and ridiculousness proved inspired.
30 Rock has gone out of its way to depict Fey as a dowdy, unattractive spinster-in-the-making yet tonight featured Fey at her most glamorous. Fey may or may not have delivered the greatest opening monologue in the history of Saturday Night Live: I was too hypnotized by her cleavage to pay much attention.
Later, Fey traded in her trademark spectacles for contact lenses, put on a wig and push-up bra and played a skank hired to provide a trollop’s perspective on Tiger Woods’ return to golf. Like the spoof of Tiger Woods’ almost avant-garde latest Nike commercial, it was obvious but funny and Fey was clearly having a ball.
Fey reverted back to her schoolmarmish persona for a sketch in which she played a lonely teacher who develops a huge crush on a student played by Justin Bieber, a young performer I know largely for being a perennially trending topic on Twitter. Apparently this clean-cut young man inspires a level of hysteria among bobbysoxers and malt-shop-frequenters unseen since the heyday of Troy Donahue.
Being an old person disinterested in pop culture, I had never heard this young man’s music before so I wondered what the fuss was about. I think it’s mainly the hair; never before have I seen hair so shiny and hypnotic on a man so young. Fey’s character was similarly hypnotized by his hair and the way it seems to know just where to go; while Fey rhapsodized about this adorable young man he crooned a series of mini-songs playing unabashedly to her unmistakably Liz Lemon-like personal preferences. The sketch was mildly amusing but specific details killed, like the teacher pouring wine into her cereal that morning after running out of milk. There was also an unmistakable Liz Lemon vibe to a crowd-pleasing fake ad for a chocolate life-partner known as “The Brownie Husband”. It’s the kind of conceit I can easily see Lemon writing and living.
“Weekend Update” was strong, with a nifty riff by Tina Fey on the Michelle Bombshell/Jesse James (who could have guessed that a heavily tattooed, goateed motorcycle scumbag wouldn’t prove the perfect husband?) but the show fell apart in its final third, with time-killing sketches about a schizophrenic Al Roker show that’s half weather, half pimping, a sketch about an awkward little girl obsessed with her mother and a shrug of a closing sketch about the travails of a nine inch tall hooker. Oh, and fucking Aunt Linda was back. I know Wiig didn’t have much to do with Fey taking all the female roles but I still let out an audible groan when she appeared onscreen.
But the positive outweighed the negative and the show once again felt lively, relevant, smart and funny again. I fully predict that Cinderella’s coach will transform back into a pumpkin next week. Ah, but I haven’t talked about the most important part of the show: Bieber’s two performances.
Bieber performed bubblegum R&B in a squeaky falsetto with lyrics about falling in love at thirteen on the playground while flanked by curiously wizened dancers and backed by four middle-aged Asian men crooning back up at the back of the stage. It was inane and innocuous and reminded me of another baby-faced recent pop phenomenon who became a teenybopper idol while still in his teens. That young man’s name? Chris Brown. I can only imagine what kind of unforgivable crimes lurk in Bieber’s future (shudders).
—Fey made reference to her hooker sketch getting cut but it totally wasn’t. Wait, what?
—Hey, Steve Martin! And what is apparently a professional American footballer!