Is Saturday Night Live trying to finally right its own wrongs? Right out of the gate this past weekend, the show was on a different kick, with The Lawrence Welk show returning for a surprisingly non-political cold open, with a slight spin on the standard to include a hoggish new addition. I remember seeing this years and years ago and laughing my ass off. Now, the sisters from The Fingerlakes have returned for an early-Autumn treat with a new sibling, the wood-chucking host and star of Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy. The skit needs to go away, but immediate credit is earned for skipping the droll political skits to lead the show.
What was most captivating about the episode were the tiny indications that the writers' room is cracking the whip a little harder these days. With more fully-fleshed jokes that don't take ten minutes to reach the punchline, character nuance and multi-level humor, McCarthy's hosting turn was a success for more reason than the actress' trajectory of Hollywood promise. Her style of comic delivery not only worked well with the page material, but actually improved upon the script with fuller color and vibrance.
McCarthy's monologue was one-note in delivery, but with Kristen Wiig's accompaniment the little "we're gonna dance" gimmick worked out pretty well despite the host's script falterings. That immediately took us to a faux commerical for Lil Poundcake, the HPV-vaccine doll. The "Look, she's texting!" – neck stab – was almost as bothersome as Wiig opening the hazardous materials disposal bin and finding an assortment of dolls looking up at her, ready for the poking. "The only thing you're gonna get infected with is fun!"
Next up, Arlene's hot coffee was an unwelcome reminder of aggressive office affections, but side-splitting in annoyance of execution. Jason Sudeikis – "If I did this to you I'd get in so much trouble." It gets old fast, but the energy stays high.
Rolling on, the music is all around us at the police station, as the cops become a Stomp gathering with Bill Hader & Andy Samberg leading an absolutely annoying procession – until the Blue Man Group is shot to death by firing squad for being aliens. The blonde chick running in front of the gunners shooting in slow motion is a fantastic sign that the writers are on their game. It's the little things, kids.
The Comments Section followed ("There's that snark!"), wherein internet commenters are confronted by the victims of their shitty remarks. It falls terribly flat, but keeps expectations from leaping at "Rock's Way," wherein Jay Pharoah does his finger-contortingly fantastic impression of the outspoken comic – in a Broadway play setting. He crashes Romeo & Juliet with his own stand-up routine, then takes on Oliver ("Look at you over there – lookin' like Capt. Crunch!") and Annie.
Lady Antebellum made their debut SNL appearance as well, with a top 40 baiting performance of their hit “Own the Night,” before their hit easy listening radio-friendly ballad “Just A Kiss”. Harmless, forgettable, thanks for playing.
The latest Weekend Update was, as per the usual, a smattering of jokes that work with a large group of ones that don't. The spot with Ghaddafi's two friends was a total waste of time, as the American public has rightly turned our attention to more domestic matters than reigniting yet another love affair with yet another lunatic foreign dictator. The Amazon Fire and Cape Canaveral cocaine jokes were solid, however, and Kenan Thompson's take on Tyler Perry's cheap degradation to film and racial harmony was strong.
McCarthy truly brought it home with a bad perm and Spock sweatshirt as Linda, one of three Hidden Valley Ranch taste testers who clearly enjoys "the product" a little too much. Her love of the dressing means she will stop at nothing, from trying to sabotage fellow tester Sue (Abby Elliott) to stealing possible catch phrases to win the participant fee of $50. Proving she was wiling to go the extra mile for the moment, she poured an entire bottle of Ranch dressing on herself. Between gagging spells, we were laughing our asses off.
Three cheers are due to Taran Killam, who was in nearly every sketch and is proving to be an invaluable asset to the show. Is SNL truly attempting to right its own wrongs? I'll start believing that once they fire absolutely everyone on their sound crew and start taking notes from The Colbert Report (really, compare Radiohead's SNL performance with that of their Colbert appearance days later. There's an astonishing difference in sound and atmosphere.). But there are promising signs that a little tectonic shifting is underway among the heavy-handed script wizards at 30 Rockefeller Center, and it couldn't come soon enough.