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by Jason Nummer
Episode 1: Dane Cook / The Killers (9/30/06)
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)
This should be the season we've been waiting for. Gone are the likes of Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, Horatio Sanz, Chris Parnell and Finesse Mitchell. Don't get me wrong, with the exception of Finesse, all these cast members were amazing in their early years. Sadly, they just decided to overstay their welcome by at least two seasons. While Fey and Dratch voluntarily left to pursue 30 Rock, it appears the other three weren't made aware of their fate until the week before work on Season 32 officially began. After years of following SNL, it still strikes me as strange that these decisions are so last minute. And for those thinking Fey's absence will kill the show, remember she was head writer during some of SNL's darkest moments in the 2000s.
All of this adds up to a chance for the new guys to give the show a much needed reboot. Sure Hammond and Maya will occasionally throw in another Versache or Clinton impression, but the spotlight should no doubt shift to Wiig, Hader, Sudeikis and Samberg. These four were the driving force behind the show's improvement last season and I expect them, along with my standby favorites Armisen and Forte to make this year even better. Optimism with SNL. Who knew?
As for the host/musical guest, Dane Cook and The Killers are a solid choice. Cook's episode last December saw him deliver a solid monologue, the debut of Wiig's Target Cashiers sketch as well as the often talked about "Wool Sweater" bit. The Killers, who also appeared in 2005, return to the stage hyping their soon to be release second LP, Sam's Town.
Now, to get one sketch prediction out of the way...with the early buzz around Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, how perfect would it be if Lorne interrupted the cold opening and gave a speech similar to what got Judd Hirsch's character fired in the opening minutes of Studio 60's pilot? Buzz.
|THE GOOD||THE BAD|
Getting cosmetics out of the way, the revamped opening sequence and titles are great. Don Roy King, the show's new director, also seems more apt to shooting live television in a high definition environment since the camera blocks and angles are much tighter than last year's rather clumsy transition into widescreen. Not a boom mic to be seen for a full 90 minutes!
On to comedy, the trimmed down cast delivered just what I had hoped, more airtime for the freshly promoted new guys. Just like last season's opener, Hader delivered one of the show's strongest moments with his Al Pacino impression. However, unlike the "Anderson Cooper 360" sketch from the Steve Carrell episode that introduced the impression, Hader was given center stage this time which created a much more successful segment. "I've got grief with my mullah" and my "credit card is acting stupid" are now two solid phrases to mutter next time you do banking.
Another sketch that worked was Cook and Forte as Poland Springs water delivery men. Not only did it deliver the Studio 60 and 30 Rock references we knew were coming, but the sketch was just so wonderfully odd. Lacking any root in pop culture or politics, it was basically two thirsty men getting caught stealing water bottles on their delivery route. Highlighted by a nearly two minute sequence of empty bottles falling out of a closet, this is just the sort of absurdist comedy I've been waiting years to see more of.
Finally, I was impressed with the sketch lead ins and teasers used throughout the episode. First up was a cameo from Brian Williams thinking he was SNL's new co-anchor in a segment that worked as a prelude to Weekend Update. Towards the end of the show, Poehler (as Farrah Fawcett) ended one sketch by walking into the next. This was a nice throwback to shows like Monty Python's Flying Circus, SCTV and Kids in the Hall which all relied heavily on intros and wrap arounds. Granted the Fawcett segue was a bit of a trainwreck, but I still admired SNL's attempt at doing something new.
As expected, since Hammond and Maya are this season's "veterans", you know Lorne will be relying on them to provide a sense of familiarity to the casual viewer who may otherwise be turned off by so many newer faces. It therefore came as no surprise that both Hammond's Clinton impression (which according to SNL archives, was the 75th time he's done the portrayal – is that familiar enough Lorne?) and Maya's Condoleeza Rice and Whitney Houston bits were out in full force. As usual, nothing much was added in terms of these character's developments, so I felt their inclusion nixed any momentum the show was trying to build.
Last season's shining moment, the Digital Shorts, also saw their return tonight. Unfortunately, it was catered strictly to the oversaturated world of office humor this time around. Judging by how fast NBC posted the segment online, you could pretty much tell the crew was out to make something with potential to be a hit on your office mate's computer come Monday morning. To quote Tenacious D, "you can't manufacture inspirado". Fighting with office supplies has been done to death. This made last season's Peyote short look like Young Chuck Norris.
Finally, Forte's Bush cold opening could have used some work. I've pointed out the Bush openings work best when Forte has people to play off like tonight rather than deliver a straight address solo, but lines like "The Saints are 3-0, so I guess that means New Orleans has recovered" felt like about 10 seconds of thought went into the writing.
|THE BOTTOM LINE!|
Odd material was experimented with and veterans did what they knew. All in all, pretty much what I expected from SNL's 32nd season opener. Dane Cook did a fine job, but didn't seem as excitable as he did during his first hosting stint. You also couldn't feel his presence as much this time. The You Tube jokes in the monologue were best though. A:F6!
The Killers were also decent, but I found myself distracted by the crazy increase in mustaches from the band.
Next week brings Jamie Pressley and Corrine Bailey Page.
1. Cold Opening: Richard Eckstrom for Comptroller
2. Monologue: Cook
3. Sketch: Airport Security
4. Sketch: Hugo Chavez Political Roundup
5. SNL Digital Short: Cubicle Fight
6. Sketch: Al Pacino Checks his Bank Balance
7. Music: The Killers "When You Were Young"
8. Teaser: Brian Williams
9. Weekend Update
10. Sketch: Poland Springs Delivery Men
11. Music: The Killers "Bones"
12. Teaser/Sketch: Farrah Fawcett and Closing the Bar
13. Sketch: Geico
28 / 52 Coneys