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by Jason Nummer
Episode 10 - Jake Gyllenhaal / The Shins (1/13/07)
CONEY RATING SYSTEM
0-10 Coneys – Garbage
OAD = Original Air Date*
(*To be fair, coneys will be awarded the same as they were the first time they aired)
SNL's 32nd season has officially reached the halfway point. Despite some weaker episodes from Ludacris and Matthew Fox, the current season should still be viewed as an improvement over last year. Jamie Pressly and Alec Baldwin delivered undisputed home runs, while Samberg and Timberlake's "D**k in a Box" digital short became the popular topic of many email forwards and parties over holiday break (much like "Lazy Sunday" did at the same time one year earlier). As usual, SNL is still far from perfect, but creatively, this season has been more unpredictable and exciting than what we've seen over the past few years.
Hosting this weekend is Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal. Every so often, SNL seems to throw out these episodes with twenty-something male hosts + a current buzz band. In 2005 we had Topher Grace and The Killers. In 2003, it was Elijah Wood and Jet. Surprisingly, both of those shows were snoozers so hopefully Gyllenhaal can break the pattern. At just 26 years old, he has racked up an extremely diverse list of film roles: haunted teenager, savior of NYC, bubble boy and even a U.S. Marine. I'm really hoping SNL exploits this range by throwing him into things other than a sketch about Poehler gushing over the latest heartthrob host or some lame "Brokeback Mountain" parody.
Much like Death Cab for Cutie did as the first musical guest of 2006, I'm sure James Mercer and The Shins will bring two fun performances. I haven't heard anything from their upcoming "Wincing the Night Away" album yet, but like most of the US, I did enjoy "Chutes to Narrow" back in 2003.
|THE GOOD||THE BAD|
Jake Gyllenhaal was a great host. Too bad most of the sketches he had to work with weren’t. Sure, his “ridiculously cool” comment in the Juliano’s sketch or the one-two punch of his and Maya’s “WHAT?”, “NO!!” responses in Handicapped Match-Up got laughs, but that was mainly due to his unique line delivery and not the content itself. His best work was as “Dr. Scientist” in the Laser Cats 2 digital short and also during the monologue when, in full drag, he sang “And I Tell You I’m Not Going” from the recent Dreamgirls feature film. With those moments in mind, it’s clear that with stronger sketches, Gyllenhaal would have been a stand up host. Hopefully he gets a chance to try again someday.
The funniest bits tonight came from Hader and Samberg’s latest “Laser Cats” digital short. Last seen in the April 2006 Lindsay Lohan episode, we’ve learned that this time around, Samberg’s character has decided to retire from the laser cat life. However, after a visit from the diabolical “Dr. Scientist”, Samberg quickly changes his mind. Apart from being the episode’s best segment, this digital short also housed Hader’s biggest laughs in months. Once WiiPlay (with its rumored table tennis game) comes out for the Wii next month, I’ll no doubt be using Hader’s “FUTURE SPIKE” line. A bulletin board in the Lorne office scenes also revealed Drew Barrymore and Lily Allen as rumored guests in February. Time will tell.
Another welcome return was Fred Armisen as Steve Jobs in Weekend Update. On the surface it wasn’t much different from Armisen’s other Jobs impression back in November 2005, but the freedom of making fun of a device as innovative as the iPhone opened the door for far more exaggerated features. Jobs explained how iPhone holds 2 billion songs, 150 “kabillion” contacts, has an iGenie feature that when rubbed will grant you three iWishes and finally, allows you to film a movie, while watching a movie, while making a phone call, while watching The Office. I also believe a Starbucks is included as well.
Lastly we have The Shins. I wasn’t aware that an additional band member came on board until I saw the band’s photo during the opening montage (The Shins’ site reveals Eric Johnson of The Fruit Bats now boasts full time capacity). I also had to look up who the female vocalist that appeared during both songs was: Anita from Viva Voce revealed? Apparently she does a few tracks on their upcoming album and was asked to join the band for some TV appearances. Both songs played tonight were good, but I was surprised yet another band promoting a new album opted to use their second segment to play an old stand by. I mean, with a new band member and guest vocalist, can’t you come up with something other than a two-year-old Garden State soundtrack song?
Besides the lack of strong political humor, my biggest complaint this season has been underdeveloped writing. It plagued the Hugh Laurie, Ludacris and Matthew Fox episodes, but it was out in full tonight. Five of the episode’s twelve non-musical segments (Juliano’s, Stock Footage Awards, Law & Order auditions, Handicapped Match-Up and Kaplan, Lebowitz, & Dolemite) all had the potential to be odd and memorable moments, but instead just evaporated. That “we should stop taking mushrooms and going to restaurants” ending in Juliano’s? Worst. Totally ruined what was shaping up to be an interesting sketch.
Apart from Armisen’s Steve Jobs impression, Weekend Update was really bad tonight as well. The recent passing of both James Brown and Scooby Doo’s animator made way for some really bad jokes, and when Maya turned up again for the third time in ten episodes as Whitney Houston, I almost couldn’t make it through the segment. Poehler also made another thing pretty clear tonight: she isn’t going to stop with the female Brazilian shave jokes. This marked the third time since the season’s debut that she’s felt the need to talk about this topic. Once was funny, twice was weird, a third makes me start to wonder if she has some weird personal vendetta. At least Fey’s recurring rant of choice (George W. Bush) was timely.
Future recurring sketch alert: Don’t be surprised to see “Bronx Beat” back sometime in the next few episodes. To their credit, Poehler and even Maya were pretty funny as the always complaining and skeptical talk show hosts, but one or two more installments full of Maya saying she has done “xxxx” 0.00 times or Poehler describing “xxxx” as “bananas” and this thing will be an automatic fast forward.
Finally, Deep House Dish is officially dead. Other reviewers have pointed out that, by default, DHD has become SNL’s most popular recurring sketch. Probably true, but I just can’t get past how formulaic it is. Entertainment Weekly’s website recently published their “You picked ‘em! The best (and worst) of 2006” and when readers were asked “What returning show is in the biggest creative slump?”, SNL earned the top spot by beating out shows like Gilmore Girls, Veronica Mars and even Lost. SNL probably deserves to be on this list, but not at the top. With sketches like “Carpool” (Baldwin), “Kuato & the Quaids” (Pressly) and even Timberlake’s “D*ck in a Box”, this season has definitely seen its share of creative surges. The problem is that it comes in spurts and when combined with the truly underdeveloped writing that wrecked episodes like this, SNL becomes much like The Simpsons did in the early 2000s. Both shows still boast core audiences, but to anyone else, neither is close to being appointment TV. Until the show becomes more consistent, we’re left knowing they’ll be another Deep House Dish with Keenan getting frustrated about his sidekick’s latest “dull” remarks which are of course, spread out between three musical performances. And don’t even get me started on tonight’s return of Hammond’s Donald Trump impression.
|THE BOTTOM LINE!|
The first episode after a holiday break is always hit or miss. It seems the crew either comes back fired up or still on holiday time. Tonight was without a doubt, still on holiday time. I felt bad for Gyllenhall since he appeared ready for anything, but what he got was a cast and crew that came up with another by-the-numbers “average” episode.
1. Cold Opening: George W. Bush
2. Monologue: Gyllenhaal
3. Sketch: Deep House Dish
4. Sketch: Bronx Beat
5. Trump’s Press Junket
6. Sketch: Juliano’s
7. SNL Digital Short: Laser Cats 2
8. Sketch: Stock Footage Awards
9. The Shins “Phantom Limb”
10. Weekend Update
11. Sketch: Law & Order Auditions
12. Sketch: Handicapped Match Up
13. The Shins “New Slang”
14. Sketch: Kaplan, Lebowitz, & Dolemite
26 / 56 Coneys