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by Jason Nummer
Episode 4: Hugh Laurie / Beck (10/28/06)
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)
With so many shows battling for our precious prime time lives like Studio 60, Lost, Battlestar Galactica and Heroes, who has time for Fox's House? Certainly not me. That hasn't gotten in the way of Hugh Laurie registering a blip on my radar though. Saturday will mark Dr. Gregory House's first SNL appearance, and with a Golden Globe statue and an Emmy nomination under his belt, I'm sure this England boy will do his homeland proud. And before you go thinking he only has drama roots, please note that Laurie was reportably once a member of the Cambridge Footlights, a starting point for many successful British comedians/writers like Douglas Adams (best), Peter Cook and a number of Monty Python's finest (super best).
Adding life support, and making his sixth appearance, is Beck. His last two SNL stints in 2003 (that Sea Change era seems so long ago) and 2005 earned a solid 13 out of 16 coneys. Since I'm loving "The Information", aka Guero Part 2, I don't think there is much to worry about with Mr. Hansen.
A few quick general comments: during later months of the 2005-2006 season, I commented that Poehler's "Mary Ann" character (4/8/06 "Rascal's Karaoke Bar") and Sudeikis/Hader's "Joplin : Alive! Podcast" sketch (3/11/06) were destined to gain recurring status. Here we are three episode into the new season and not only haven't I seen these characters, but commercial parodies are nowhere to be seen either. After stumbling a bit with last week's Reilly episode, maybe some of these will make appearance?
|THE GOOD||THE BAD|
Thanks to Hugh Laurie and Beck, SNL's latest season has scored its second "above average" episode. At the four episode mark last season, the show had accumulated 95 coneys overall. In the same amount of episodes this year, Season 32 has already delivered 142. Sure the show still has a long way to go before USA Today and Entertainment Weekly stop calling the current season "unfunny", but forward strides are being made.
Tonight's episode started off blazing thanks to an introduction from Lorne Michaels himself, which led into a cameo from Sacha Baron Cohen in full "Borat" mode. Lorne essentially converted the entire Cold Opening segment into one long promotion for Cohen's new film. Normally I'd cringe at such an idea, but damn was it funny. Borat spent his time praising America, making Coneheads and Wayne's World references and then closed with descriptions of his native land, Kazakhstan. Loved the monkey and the "human pubis" bits. Between this segment and the Will Ferrell cameo during last weekend's John C. Reilly episode, Lorne has pretty much covered the entire cast of "Talladega Nights".
Hugh Laurie kept things moving after Borat with a surprisingly good monologue. Laurie laid out for the audience, which he collectively nicknamed "Sweet Cheeks", what we can expect from British humor. Yes, everything from bad teeth to the word "bullocks" was covered, but he also explained that all sketches would be served with peas and that it would most likely rain during some point in the show.
Monologue aside, and likely due to his comedic background, Laurie also proved strong in the sketches, which even included an odd protest song he performed with the band just prior to Beck's first segment. Throughout the night, he played a drag queen to a tee (perhaps even better than Reilly's female impersonation during the "Lonely Jennifer" sketch last weekend), did a great job as Queen Elizabeth's advance man and then capped off the episode as a creepy job interviewer. Who knew he had such range?
Borat and Laurie not withstanding, the biggest star tonight was definitely Beck. It was clear from the first song "Nausea" that Beck had something different in mind for his sixth SNL appearance. According to fan sites, Beck's set at this year's Bonnaroo Music Festival was highlighted by an all puppet version of his band that performed along side the live counterparts. The puppets proved to be such a crowd favorite that they were made a part of the entire 2006 tour. With this kind of buzz, it was very nice to see the puppets also made the trip to SNL. The surprises kept coming during his second song when he chose to roll out "Clap Hands", a lesser known track from the Limited Edition version of 2005's Guero. Not only was I thrilled to hear such an odd selection on National TV, but seeing Beck's whole band performing at a dinner table using silverware to play plates and glasses was wonderful. These two segments may have been the best musical moments from SNL since U2 stopped by in 2004.
With the cold opening, Laurie and Beck giving it their all, what hurt tonight's show was a repeat of the mediocre writing that plagued most of John C. Reilly's episode. There were a few standouts like Kenan's character in the "Trust Your Physician" sketch or the guest stars during Weekend Update (so great to see Forte's Tim Calhoun back), but a majority of the sketches felt like they were missing just one or two more jokes that would have made them truly brilliant. Still, I'll credit the crew for building another episode without using shortcuts like recurring sketches (tonight's exception being Hardball) or Digital Shorts.
Oh, and not to beat a dead horse about how much I dislike Maya Rudolph, but how unfunny was her Paula Bell character in the in the "World Series National Anthem" sketch? Perhaps she's jealous of Darrell Hammond getting a best-of special next week, because this sketch was basically her greatest hits. Every vocal gag she's ever performed was jammed into these few minutes and the result earned Season 32 its third "0 Coney" sketch in four episodes. Funny the first "0 Coney" honor this season was also a Maya song-based sketch, the dreaded Whitney Houston/Geico bit from Dane Cook's season premiere. Worst!
|THE BOTTOM LINE!|
A slight improvement over last weekend, but still the normal trend for SNL in the mid-2000s: an extremely capable host slogging through somewhat blah material. However, when you've got a musical guest as innovative as Beck was tonight, its impossible for an episode to head too far south. Tonight also saw Season 32 extend the episode count with no commercial parodies to four, but we did get the first Robert Smigel cartoon of the year to help balance that out. Too bad it was no Shazzang.
Quick Correction: Harpoon Man, from the 10/21/06 John C. Reilly episode, looks like a six foot tall Leprechaun with no wiener. Not a six foot tall midget as reported in my original review.
1. Cold Opening: Kazakhstan Ministry of Information
2. Monologue: Laurie
3. Sketch: Most Haunted
4. Cartoon by Robert Smigel: Republican Attack Ads
5. Sketch: World Series National Anthem
6. Sketch: Advance Man
7. Sketch: Hardball
8. Sketch: Hugh Laurie's Protest Song
9. Beck "Nausea"
10. Weekend Update
11. Sketch: Trust Your Physician
12. Sketch: Tracking Frankenstein
13. Music: Beck "Clap Hands"
14. Sketch: "Wooo"
36 / 56 Coneys