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by Jason Nummer
Saturday Night Live Season 32: Episode 8 - Annette Bening / Gwen Stefani / Akon (12/9/06)
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)
After last week's Matthew Fox/Tenacious D episode surprisingly earned the lowest coney rating of the season to date, I'm not sure what SNL will have in store for Annette Bening. Like other recent hosts with theater experience like Kevin Spacey and Hugh Laurie, I'm hoping the 48-year-old Bening will be at home in a live environment, so as long as the writing is kicked up a notch, we could have a decent show on our hands. And hey, she made us laugh in "The Great Outdoors".
Making her fifth appearance on SNL, her second as a solo artist, is Gwen Stefani. With the help of Eve, a high school-like percussion section and her standard issue Harajuku girls, Stefani's last stint in 2005's Ashton Kutcher episode (remember Federline, yo!) was one of Season 30's more memorable musical moments. This time around she's dumped Eve in favor of Akon. Since I'm not extremely well versed in the mid 2000s Hip Hop and R&B scene, I don't know much about this guy, but Wikipedia reveals his birth name to be Aliaune Damala Bouga Time Puru Nacka Lu Lu Lu Badara Akon Thiam. Whoa. I'd love to hear Don Pardo tackle that one.
In other news, Saturday Night Live: The Complete 1st Season arrived on DVD this week. GO BUY IT! Rumor has it, future sets depend solely on the sales of this one. Typical industry jargon I know, but for all the hoops NBC-Universal has to go through for these (namely musical rights), I tend to believe it this time around. Note to purists: the set is being advertised as containing "Original Uncut Episodes", but tvshowsondvd.com has revealed the show bumpers (still photos before the commercial breaks) as well as the Wrigley's Gum commercial from Rob Reiner's episode have been removed. Hardly a reason not to buy the set and at $50 or less, you can't beat the price.
|THE GOOD||THE BAD|
Three excellent pre-recorded segments and some top notch Will Forte made tonight’s SNL a little better than the recent Ludacris and Fox episodes.
Coming in right after the monologue was SNL’s re-cut Apocalypto movie trailer. You Tube influences and comparisons aside for a moment, the Anti-Semitic subtitles added to Mel Gibson’s trailer were pretty damn funny. Most lines even seemed verbatim to Gibson’s actual rant from back in July, except maybe the hilarious “I smell bagels” closer. Although it was odd to see SNL basically duplicate what You Tube amateurs have been doing for eons, this was still effective and I wouldn’t mind seeing additional re-cut trailers in the future.
After the great Kobayshi cartoon from Baldwin’s November episode, I‘m pleased to report Robert Smigel created a worthy follow up with tonight’s “Diddy Kiddies”. For anyone who has wondered what exactly P. Diddy does to remain so successful, this segment not only explored his questionable rap career, but also his producing, designer and even comedian and fishermen ventures. I particularly liked the “featuring” credits shown in the two example rap videos. Did anyone notice Ken Griffey Jr., Dane Cook and The Harlem Globetrotters were mixed in with the actual rappers? Nice.
The final pre-recorded segment was an obvious holdover from last weekend’s Matthew Fox episode. Seeing how funny it was, I’m sort of confused why it got cut from Fox’s show. That episode as a whole wasn’t very balanced and definitely could have used this segment for extra laughs (maybe in place of “Sale Mart” or “Deep House Dish”). Armisen’s take as a stressed out fast food manager was probably his best work since the instant classic “New York City Stories” earlier this season and it was fun to watch each of his threats get more ridiculous. “My ass, in your mouth”.
Finally, starting with his song on Weekend Update, Will Forte seemingly took the show over. As I mentioned in the Fox episode review, Forte has really delivered some sleeper hit sketches this season. Tonight started off with his not so Anti-Gay Marriage song on Update and that was quickly followed with the return of his and Wiig’s “Co-Workers at the Bar” characters (debuted Lohan 4/15/06). Despite being a near carbon copy in terms of structure and premise to its last appearance, the writing was just as funny this time around. This made it feel nowhere near as cookie cutter as last week’s second appearance of Poehler’s Nancy Grace sketch. Bening, who seemed slightly under-rehearsed most of the evening, probably delivered her best work in this sketch as well. Also nestled in there was “Monster Under the Bed” with Forte again playing a crazy, over-reacting father (similar to “Math Wiz vs. History Buff from last weekend). Good stuff all around.
The main complaint about tonight’s episode was how sloppy things got towards the end. I counted one boom mic in the “Co-Workers at the Bar” sketch and what was up with the bumper at the end of “Cat Lawyers”? Either the sketch was running long or somebody in the control room had an itchy finger. Whatever the reason, the premature bumper cut off Bening’s punch line and prevented the sketch from getting true closure. Also, was Poehler possessed by the spirit of Jimmy Fallon during Weekend Update tonight? Judging by the serious case of giggles she seemed to have, something was going on. Sort of cute, but I’m hoping this doesn’t become her new shtick.
Tonight’s music was nothing to get thrilled about either. Gwen Stefani opted for only one song and it pretty much felt like her 3/19/05 performance of “Hollaback Girl” revisited with a bit of nasally yodeling thrown in. Akon took center stage for the second musical segment and I can honestly say it was the most boring number SNL has seen since Mary J. Blidge sang “Enough Crying” back in April. It’s a good thing SNL doesn’t actually compete with Studio 60, because this week’s episode had a wonderful musical segment with New Orleans musician Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews performing “O Holy Night”. I never thought I’d see the day when Studio 60 trumped SNL at its own game.
One closing side note: what was up with all the Nintendo Wii bashing tonight? First Samberg’s character in the “Lonely Teacher” sketch declared “PS3 is better”, then Maya Rudolph in “Buyer Beware” summed Wii up as “$250 for a box of electronic dookie”. As a satisfied Wii owner, I say lay off.
|THE BOTTOM LINE!|
You could take or leave Bening, but tonight’s episode did manage to improve on the slump SNL appeared to be in with the Ludacris and Fox episodes. I still know the cast and crew are better than these “Average” or “Above Average” episodes though. We’ve seen two 45+ Coney shows so far this season, I’m not ready to accept they were flukes. If Forte can continue to belt out classics and if Hader can earn some more screen time, I’m sure overall quality will improve.
Finally, I wasn’t sure where to put Baldwin’s cameo during the monologue. TV.com reported on Sunday that Warren Beatty was rumored to be involved with something during dress rehearsal, but opted out of the live version. Not sure if Baldwin’s appearance had to do with this, or if he truly is “living here now” (ala Goodman late 1990s/early 2000s). Either way, I really don’t want to get sick of Baldwin on SNL, so I’m hoping we don’t see him again for awhile.
1. Cold Opening: George W. Bush Address
2. Monologue: Bening
3. An SNL Movie Trailer Re-Cut
4. Sketch: Good Morning, I Hate This Town
5. Cartoon by Robert Smigel: Diddy Kiddies
6. Sketch: Lonely Teacher
7. Sketch: Two A-Holes in a live Nativity Scene
8. SNL Digital Short: Angry Fast Food Manager
9. Sketch: Buyer Beware
10. Music: Gwen Stefani “Wind it Up”
11. Weekend Update
12. Sketch: Monster under the bed
13. Commercial Parody: Valtrex
14. Sketch: Co-Workers at the Bar
15. Music: Akon “I Wanna Love You”
16. Sketch: Cat Lawyers
36.5 / 64 Coneys