Citing the Hurricane Ike storm crisis, Barack Obama canceled his planned appearance on the season premiere of "Saturday Night Live." Cameos from Subway pitchman Jared Fogel and Priceline pitchman William Shatner were not exactly great substitutes.
The show's opening sketch confirmed rumors that "30 Rock's" Tina Fey would return to parody Sarah Palin. The cold open presented a "joint press conference against sexism" from Palin and Amy Poehler's Hillary Clinton, and the humor came less from mocking Palin than tweaking Clinton as angry and ambitious. Fey offered an amusing rendition of Palin's accent and, overall does a funnier Palin than either Julie Brown or Gina Gershon. If Youtube takes the clip down, click here, or find a transcript here.
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The Palin/Clinton team was funny and provided everything you'd hope for in an SNL parody. And why wouldn't Fey appear on it? The show featured commercials for "30 Rock," her film Baby Mama (now out on DVD) and American Express, starring Fey.
Then came the rest of the show. Obama was smart to cancel.
Perhaps last night's episode was going to be doomed no matter what: Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps was the host, and he's clearly not a professional entertainer. The producers also had to work around Obama's cancellation, and the first show after summer hiatus is probably never the best. Nevertheless, most of the episode was almost unwatchably awful, unfunny and even unprofessional: the performers' cue-card-reading has seldom seemed so blatant, while most of the sketches offered poor execution of sucky ideas. Since I don't watch the show anymore, I wasn't sure if some sketches featured recurring characters, which could "explain" the gags.
Monologue: Phelps makes a few wan quips, interrupted by Poehler as his mother (with Phelps real mother appearing at the end), a guy who suggests he endorse a home Crystal Meth Kid (the first of at least three meth jokes on the show), and Shatner doing his usual self-parody shtick. Terrible.
"Quiz Bowl:" Game show parody with airhead public schoolers vs. crazed religious home-schooled kids (including Phelps in a wig), and Kristen Wiig wandering out as the spelling-obsessed mother. Terrible.
"Jar Glove:" A fake commercial about the heartbreak of hard-to-open jar lids, which leads to painful exertion, accidental death, imprisonment. etc. Tolerable.
Swim Coach: Will Forte's coach tries to motivate his team by playing a song and doing a silly dance. Phelps joins in dance. Terrible.
Ugly Kids: A sketch about co-workers at their boss's house, trying not to act disgusted at the appearance and behavior of their ugly kids, played by Wiig and Phelps (in headgear). Incidentally, Wiig has a small but funny role in the new film Ghost Town, but she was dreadful here. Terrible.
"Weekend Update:" Sub-"Daily Show" headline jokes with commentaries from "Alaska Pete," political comedian Nicholas Fehn (Fred Armisen), and Cathy from the eponymous comic strip (Andy Samberg in drag). Alaska Pete and Cathy? Terrible. The rest? Tolerable. Armisen's delivery was rather amusing, but the bit needed a punchline.
The Charles Barkley Show: A casino-based talk show from the basketball/player gambler, with guests including Phelps and Darrell Hammond as gym coach Bela Karolyi. An awkward, confusing gag about a Jamaican sprinter being a no-show made me wonder if that's where Obama would have appeared. Terrible, except for a gag about children used as the camera crew.
"Fave Five:" T-Mobile commercial turns into bitter marital spat. Tolerable.
Space Olympics: An SNL Digital Short about the problem-plagued "Space Olympics" of the future, sung by Samberg. I wasn't sure if it was parodying specific videos or NBC Olympics promos, but the joke worked anyway. Funny!
"Mark Payne:" New guy Bobby Moynihan as annoying waiter who talks sort of like an stereotype of an African-American woman. "I smell pepper up in here!" seemed like an attempt at a catch-phrase. I couldn't finish it. Terrible.
The Michael Phelps Diet. An exaggeration of Phelps' Olympic dietary regimen for non-athletes. Tolerable.
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