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by Nummer and H-Bomb
Episode 8: Robert DeNiro / Destiny's Child (12/18/04)
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)
A minute or so into tonight’s episode, I was convinced I was watching a repeat. Had DeNiro pulled a last minute cancellation I asked? A few moments passed and I realized, nope, this was live. Causing me confusion was the fact that the Cold Opener was the exact same horrible bit that kicked off DeNiro’s last episode back on 12/7/02. Could they come up with nothing new for DeNiro in the 2+ years since he’s been at SNL? At this point, I figured we were in for another December episode letdown.
Thankfully, I was kind of wrong. Thanks to sketches like “Sanders Undercover”, “Bear City”, “Christmas with the Cat Lady” and a little help from the Muppets, DeNiro’s second attempt at live comedy proved better than his first. Perhaps remembering DeNiro would rely heavily on cue cards, SNL decided not to make him the center of most sketches. I have to say this was a brilliant decision. Having him play mostly supporting characters and not forcing us to watch him struggle to read for periods of five minutes worked out nicely.
As previously mentioned, one of tonight’s standouts was a FBI Agent character from Horatio Sanz named Ruben Sanders. Making his first appearance tonight, Sanders went undercover as “Tony Lasagna” in attempts to bring some mob crime lords to justice. Sanders gradually earned most of the mob’s trust by telling them he used to play stickball behind the Olive Garden with the Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong, repeatedly saying “fuggetaboahdit” and by constantly “busting beans”. Despite relying on these mob clichés and even resorting to some “Goodfellas” dialogue, this sketch proved to be the episode’s strongest moment. Let’s hope we see more of Sanders in his next mission ... infiltrating the Chinese Mafia disguised as “Hong Kong Phooey”.
T. Sean Shannon’s wonderful “Bear City” films also made a return tonight with a new segment about Bear Christmas carolers who visit a Jewish Bear household on accident. While this wasn’t as good as the first two “Bear City” films (see Law/Simpson 10/23/04), it was still a nice treat.
Also in the recurring column tonight was “Pranksters” (last seen Walken/Foo Fighters 2/22/03) and “The Prince Show” (last seen Latifah 10/9/04), which was curiously free of the real Beyonce. Like most recurring sketches, both of these have had their formulaic structures flushed out. Neither one is completely out of gas yet, but I’m not sure how much longer I can keep laughing at the same lines. On the other hand, Hammond rolled out Trump for the fifth time of 2004 for another NBC promo sketch. Some say unnecessary.
Other dull points of the night were Weekend Update (easily the worst since Poehler took a seat at the desk) and Svensen-Ferguson Wedding (I think we’ve seen Seth’s take on gay men one too many times).
In keeping with the spirit of Season 30, we even got another dose of controversy. Drudge Report (who was even mentioned in the sketch) reported Sunday morning that some “backstage controversy” broke out after Robert Smigel’s Santa Clause segment. The bit featured some extremely rude comments about red state Bush supporters and even depicted a passed out Rush Limbaugh surrounded by empty pill containers. The anonymous senior production source stated “Would we have done this to [John] Belushi? [Chris] Farley?". He then added, “We've had more fucking drug addicts on this show through the years... more tragedy. I have lost count. Did we ever have some laughs about Robert Downey Jr.'s serious drug addiction?" Personally, I also thought the sketch went a bit too far, but was ultimately pleased when the characters admitted they were just as bad as the people they were making fun of by the conclusion. It is no secret that Smigel and most of SNL are not Bush supporters so I can’t say I’m entirely surprised a sketch like this made it to air. In the end, at least SNL was in the news for something besides lip synching or on-air swearing.
Also of note, I’ve read several sources saying the Muppet appearance tonight was genuine. When Kermit was rolled out during DeNiro’s monologue, I just assumed Will Forte was manning the controls and voice again (see Timberlake 10/11/03). When Kermit was later joined by Gonzo, Fonzie and Animal for the Sanz Christmas song, I again just figured cast members were behind it. It wasn’t until I re-watched the closing credits that I noticed actual puppeteers with the Muppets onstage. A quick search revealed this to be the first time the real Muppets have appeared since they were a show staple during the ‘75-‘76 1st season. I say best.
Combine all this with two 1 coney snoozers by Destiny’s Child and you have the last live SNL for 2004. Although this episode netted out with an “average” score, it was still enjoyable (as long as you had fast forwarding ability at times). SNL returns live on 1/15/05 with Jennifer Garner (second time host) and The Killers.
SNL hit a new low, in my eyes, right from the get-go in this week’s episode with host Robert DeNiro. I was literally dumbfounded that they chose to use the exact same lousy cold opener as the last time he hosted. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more blatant demonstration of laziness on the part of the writers for this one. Plain and simple, attempting to make childish phrases like, “Apu Pibut,” sound like Middle Eastern terrorist names is not funny and it never has been. Needless to say it was a highly disappointing opener and certainly didn’t engage me into wanting to watch the rest of the show. Fortunately, the episode did become more tolerable and even somewhat funny, especially after Weekend Update.
Before we could get to the decent sketches, however, we had to endure nearly an hour of average material, which at times was repetitive and rather uninteresting. In this period, we saw the return of Pranksters, The Prince Show and yet another promo appearance by Donald Trump. In fact, Trump’s Christmas promo for The Apprentice was basically just a regurgitation of his Halloween spot, but instead of “Trumpsylvania” we got “Trumpa Clause.” Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I love Hammond as Trump, but at this point it feels as if this idea is only wasting valuable airtime that could be better utilized with a fresh skit. Pranksters and The Prince Show weren’t horrible, but are definitely on the same track as Trump with their lack of originality. It was good, however, to see that DeNiro didn’t seem quite as robotic as during his last hosting stint.
There were a few faintly shining moments in that first hour of boredom and those were DeNiro’s monologue, Smigel’s latest installment of TV Funhouse, “Blue Christmas,” and Destiny’s Child’s first performance. First of all, I was glad to see that DeNiro’s monologue was actually longer than the 30 second speech he put on the last time. Although he still looked a bit flustered, as if he had no idea what his lines were, the appearance of Kermit smoothed things over and it ended up being a rather cute skit. I was a little taken aback by Smigel’s Blue Christmas, which essentially bashed the “red states,” ridiculing those people for voting for George Bush in the last election because of moral beliefs. The material really seemed to cross the line, but I still got a few chuckles out of it. Santa and his crew eventually took responsibility for their own hypocrisy by acknowledging that they (and the blue states) were really no better than the people in the red states. I wasn’t at all surprised by the controversy sparked by the segment, given SNL is infamous for it’s sometimes contentious material. In fact, I was almost delighted to see SNL in the spotlight for an actual well thought out, albeit nasty, skit, rather than pop tarts who can’t sing and tired sketch writing. As for Destiny’s Child’s opening song “Soldier,” I thought the girls looked fantastic. The performance was energetic and hey, they actually sang and sang well!
Weekend Update, unfortunately, was about as bad as it could get this week. Leviticus: horrible. Brad Scheinwald and his grandpa Abe: vomitatious. About the only joke I sort of cracked a smile at was President Bush’s To Do List, where he places losing 6 lbs above a fighting with Iran and locating Osama bin Laden.
Thankfully, after Weekend Update, the sketches started to pick up some speed with Sanders Undercover, Christmas with the Cat Lady, Bear City and Season’s Greetings. Sanz’s undercover mobster Ruben Sanders was definitely a highlight of the show. “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday!!” Although, at times, he started to fall into his Ferey Muhtar/Saddam Hussein voice, Sanz’s lines were pretty amusing. While Christmas with the Cat Lady was rather on the short side, it was a nice surprise to see DeNiro actually playing the Cat Lady. I was sure it was going to be someone like Dratch or Rudolph. It was hilarious to see DeNiro trying to pick up those huge cats and talk to them like they were his children. And, I have to say, the name “Scrambles McSuperStuff” is now surely in contention for the name of my next pet! Bear City is always a welcome skit, especially from what I saw in the Law/Simpson episode a few weeks back. It’s true that this installment wasn’t as funny as the Auto Accident or The Office segments, but I still got a kick out the growling bear carolers accidentally singing to a Jewish bear family! Finally, we come to the traditional Season’s Greetings sketch, where Muppets Fozzie, Animal and Gonzo replaced Fallon, Kattan and Morgan, respectively, to sing with Sanz. It wasn’t a laugh out loud skit (except maybe for Kermit’s insane dancing in the background!), but it was definitely a feel-good sketch to get you in the holiday spirit! The Muppets are always best!!
Overall, this show actually exceeded my expectations. DeNiro had certainly improved as host since his SNL debut back in Season 28. Of course, he still relied heavily on the cue cards, which was pretty noticeable at times, but given the smaller characters he played, it wasn’t a complete disaster like the last time. It’ll be interesting to see how the three week break pays off when the show returns live with Garner and The Killers.
1. Cold Opening: C-Span covers a briefing by Craig Fenson
2. Monologue: DeNiro (cameo: Kermit the Frog)
3. Commercial Parody: Woomba
4. Sketch: Pranksters
5. Sketch: Svensen-Ferguson Wedding
6. Sketch: The Prince Show
7. Cartoon by Robert Smigel: “Santa visits the Red States”
8. Sketch: NBC Donald Trump Promo
9. Music: Destiny’s Child “Soldier”
10. Weekend Update
11. Sketch: Sanders Undercover
12. Music: Destiny’s Child “Cater 2 U”
13. Sketch: Christmas with the Cat Lady
14. Film: Bear City
15. Song: A Christmas Gift from SNL
28 / 60 Coneys
26.5 / 60 Coneys