Media-riffic highlights from Saturday Night Live

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I know it’s a bit late in blogland to be opining on SNL, but since I have unofficially adopted the “media-meets-comedy” beat I will anyway. Also, the blog needs a splash of color today and I have all these pretty pictures. So forget about Judy Miller for a second and enjoy.

I confess to being very excited about SNL — I was psyched to see who their new Weekend Update anchor was (Tina Fey is on maternity leave — congrats Tina and family!), and I was superpsyched to see how they tackled the mother of a news summer we’ve had (never mind that now it’s in HDTV — will that change who hosts it, I wonder?). Despite the missed opportunities, protracted unfunny sketches and beat-the-horse recurring characters that have become all too common, when SNL gets it right, it’s great.

But getting it right must begin with literally getting it right, and I was distracted by what I perceived to be three big, glaring factual errors in Saturday’s SNL. The first was in the opening sketch with Will Forte’s Presidential press conference whereby SNL played catch-up on the news (notable for all manner of media refs: Chris Parnell as Wolf Blitzer; a reporter named “Terry” which has to be Terry Moran; Darrell Hammond as Arianna fave Tim Russert ). This may seem nitpicky, but I don’t think so: Bush’s massive summer vacation was 5 weeks, not 6, and that fact was well-known and oft-cited. Smart comedy must account for smart viewers, plus people like me.

After Steve Carrell’s showstopping opening number, which has tangential media relevance for his Daily Show roots, they launched into a Jet Blue 292 sketch about passengers watching their certain demise on the seatback monitors (media figure: Darrell Hammond as Aaron Brown — identical to Tim Russert. Funny.) Okay so real sticklers know it was MSNBC on the TVs; I’m prepared to let that pass. What I can’t forgive is the fact that SNL riffed on the fact that JetBlue 292 dumped fuel — except JetBlue 292 did NOT dump fuel! In fact, the non-dumpage of the Airbus was a big element of the story! Am I a huge geek or is that a glaring error? Frankly, I think both.

But this was the worst, because it represented both a missed opportunity and a factual inaccuracy: the Anderson Cooper Katrina sketch, which they chose to use as a platform for out-of-place celebrity impersonations (except for the only-time-ever-relevant Horatio Sanz impression of Aaron Neville). It’s like they missed the whole Anderson Cooper-as-emotional-lightning-rod story. I mean, it wasn’t just me; $1 million book deal, people. Although Seth Myers’ physical likeness was striking, the fact that his Anderson was a stonefaced and distant observer was a huge disconnect with what any viewer knew to be true. Where were the tears? The hoarse accusations hurled at impotent politicians? It’s literally like they missed the Katrina coverage. I was mystified.

The one high point, however, was when Geraldo Rivera came bursting in (a nudge at that point would have been nice but beggars can’t be choosers) — Darrell Hammond went three for three and his impersonation was spot on, if not enough to save this dismal sketch.

The saddest moment of the night came, however, with Weekend Update: of all the people they could have chosen — Hammond, Parnell, the Michael Vartanesque Myers, even Rachel Dratch, they chose HORATIO SANZ. I actually moaned out loud, “Oh no! Not Horatio!” Despite morphing into a utility player over the years, he is not suited to the position with his one-note, vaguely childlike delivery and utter lack of gravitas, fake or otherwise. Tina, Lorne — WHAT were you thinking.

Okay that’s it for the criticism, now on to what I thought was wonderful and inspired:

  • Steve Carrell was great in the opener, singing out Broadway style about making the $100,000 box-office big leagues. I’m not usually a fan of the old self-aggragandizing opener — but Carrell is so damn winning he carries it off. Though I felt he was underused through the rest of the show.
  • The Morgan Stanley parody with Will Forte as a verbally abusive father figure to wayward teen Amy Poehler was hilarious and well-executed. Will Forte is emerging as a real talent and Amy Poehler is a total crutch.
  • A point on this: the SNL women — Poehler, Dratch, Fey, Maya Rudolph — are fantastic, but two of them are down for the count this year (the latter two; Maya looks ready to drop any day). So who do they add to the cast? Two guys (Bill Hader and the adorable Andy Samberg). Two very talented guys, to be sure, and web-grown homies to boot, but God, doesn’t Amy Poehler need a break? (Psst, Lorne Michaels! I don’t really like writing this blog!)
  • “Girls Gone Wild Katrina” — classless, shocking, but quick, cutting, and to the well-taken point. SNL of olde.
  • Unintentional humor: Actual JetBlue commercials, in multiple. Good use of those ad dollars.
  • Weekend Update did have some good zingers, particularly on the Paris-Paris split, which broke that day. Poehler: “It was announced today that Paris Hilton and fianc&#233 Paris Latsis have broken off their engagement. Insiders say that she has already been seen stepping out with a record producer. You can trust these insiders because they have literally been inside her.” “It was reported that Michael Jackson is trying to put his child molestation trial behind him to launch a career as a hip-hop artist. He’ll go by the name “The Notorious C.H.I.L.D M.O.L.E.S.T.E.R.”
  • Speaking of hip-hop, musical guest Kanye West was GREAT, and a great comedic addition: first they had Lorne sending Finesse Mitchell in to make sure there were no impromptu speeches (although the “Lorne doesn’t know the difference between his black castmembers” joke is really old and totally offensive). Then Kanye walked through Studio 8H and ran into Mike Myers! AWKWARD. Nice creative callback to the NBC telethon. Mike wept that since the telethon his phones had been tapped and his U.S. citizenship had been revoked. Yeah, you’ve got our sympathy, traitor.
  • Kanye then sang a wicked version of “Gold Digger” featuring Jamie Foxx (er, on backing tracks) and NBC-friendly lyrics “She ain’t nothin’ but a gold digger/She ain’t messin’ with no broke — broke” which actually worked. (Update: it worked because it’s the RADIO VERSION. I’m so hip.) Kanye then switched it up into “Touch the Sky.” Who’s down with what the kids are listening to if not Fishbowl? I ain’t nothing but a gold digger, people. Yeah, that’s right.
  • Best of all: “Fun With Real Audio” featuring the obfuscations of John Roberts. Robert Smigel is a genius.

    That was basically it. Upshot: SNL this season could go either way. But please, get your facts right. Mocking the news is too important.

    p.s. This post was totally about media.