26 May 2012

2011 - 2012 TV Season in Review: SNL

The 2011 - 2012 Television season was long and tumultuous.There were plenty of crappy new series and old ones that just wouldn't die. Suffice it to say that we're all grateful for the addition of New Girl into our lives for all of these reasons. But we're basically here just to chat about the 37th Season of SNL because 1) I watched the whole thing and 2) due to its insane hit-or-miss nature it's fun to categorize. Let's go through it starting with the Worst Episodes of the year, the Best, then the Best Sketches. We'll skip the Worst Sketches...because there's not enough room on the Internet to name them all.

Best Episodes

It's tough to make a good SNL episode. No matter what happens there's going to be a high amount of terrible, cringe-worthy sketches, as is the nature of the production. Still, at times the Hosts are used exactly as they should be, typically they're willing to go all out and play up whatever the writers think of. Here are the Top 5 for the year:

#5: Steve Buscemi / The Black Keys - 12/03/11

Key Sketches: Batman Digital Short, Dateline, Coach Bert, Sex Ed Couples Therapy

Buscemi is one of the greatest character actors of all time and he finally got a chance to host SNL in the wake of his success being a leading man on HBO's Boardwalk Empire. He played exactly well enough into old, creepy, and funny consistently that made this episode work.

#4: Melissa McCarthy / Lady Antebellum - 10/01/11

Key Sketches: The Lawrence Welk Show, Office Flirt, Taste Test

Perhaps better than any other host this year, even the ones with past SNL experience, Melissa McCarthy perfectly integrated herself into the cast. Still riding the Bridesmaids (2011) success pretty high, she was a natural onstage engaging in the wackiness, and more importantly, willing to absolutely throw herself into the most bizarre premises, devoting herself to selling these insane characters. From giving Kristen Wiig an equal in The Lawrence Welk Show to an undying love for Cool Valley Hidden Ranch dressing, she went above and beyond what many hosts have ever done.

#3: Maya Rudolph / Sleigh Bells - 02/18/12

Key Sketches: Baby Blue Ivy, What Up With That?, Super Showcase, The Obama Show

Maya Rudolph always seemed like more of a contributory player than leading focus during her run on the show, but she came back and took charge, killing it in almost every sketch of the night. She was also willing to give it her all, from anchoring the increasingly silly "What Up With That?" sketch to a high point in writing observation with "The Obama Show." The "Super Showcase," though, was somehow the funniest of the night, with little more of a premise then funny voices.

#2: Josh Brolin / Gotye - 04/14/12

Key Sketches: The Californians, America's Next Top Empire State Of Mind Parody Artist, Laser Cats 7, Woodridge High, Prom

I didn't think that this episode would be beat this year. From a bizarre appearance by Steven Spielberg to another outlet for Jay Pharaoh's impeccable Jay-Z impression (tho it's clearly getting harder to fit in his talents), this was very low on the awful sketches. This actually had little to do with Brolin, though. The sketches were more high concept like the slow-motion high school hallway or re-hashing the dated but still chucklable "Empire State of Mind" parodies. The two best of the night, though, "The Californians" and "Prom" worked just because the core cast involved had wacky voices. Sometimes that's all you need.

#1: Mick Jagger / Arcade Fire, Jeff Beck, Foo Fighters - 05/19/12

Key Sketches: The Lawrence Welk Show, Secret Word, Karaoke, Lazy Sunday 2, So You Think You Can Dance At An Outdoor Music Festival, She's a Rainbow

The season finale was an incredible high note for the show this year. Not only was it an adequate send-off for some of Andy Samberg and Kristen Wiig's best characters it was a perfect ending for Kristen's tenure. How many people can leave their jobs being serenaded by Mick Jagger? Mick was somehow perfect in everything, clearly a seasoned pro at performing live. It touched on just enough Rolling Stones history to not be corny but play up the idea. The only major gripe is a wasted use of a Steve Martin appearance, but one of the few people who we can accept that from is Mick.

Honourable Mentions: Channing Tatum, Jimmy Fallon, Eli Manning

Worst Episodes

#5: Charlie Day / Maroon 5 - 11/05/11

I was really looking forward to this episode but it didn't really pan out. There wasn't really anything good for Day to do and they didn't play into his image beyond a Danny DeVito appearance during the monologue - but it wasn't anything substantial. It always felt on the edge of being awesome but never crossed it.

#4: Lindsay Lohan / Jack White - 03/03/12

Why did Lindsay Lohan host? While she was present for the immortal "Debbie Downer" sketch years ago, she hasn't really contributed to...well, anything in society since 2004. She was able to make fun of her image a bit in the "Scared Straight" installment, but nothing else really worked except for the Digital Afros sketch, which she had nothing to do with.

#3: Katy Perry / Robyn - 12/10/12

I always wonder if it's an insult when the Host is a musician and he or she is not asked to also perform. Anyway, Katy was featured in many of the more tired of SNL's recent sketches and proved again that there's not much she can do beyond stand around and have big tits. The best part that came out of the episode though, this clearly this recreation of the Robyn video by Taran Killam.

#2: Anna Faris / Drake - 10/15/11

Anna Faris' presence was barely felt in this episode. It was as if she wasn't there yet there were still sketches that centered around her inability to do much. As an actress she's best when she goes full-weird (like in Just Friends [2005]) instead of talking low and screaming (like in everything else). Quite a disappointment.

#1: Will Ferrell / Usher - 05/12/11

How could this have happened? Will's gig back in 2010 was epic but nothing seemed to work this time around. Will was never threw himself into it as much as he used to, which may have been the fault of some uninspired writing. It was as if the show's creators forgot they had Will, not some run-of-the-mill performer. By far the most disappointing episode of the year.

Honourable Mentions: Daniel Radcliffe, Jonah Hill

Top 13 Best Sketches

Fairly arbitrarily, here are our pics for the Best Sketches of the season:

#13: Drake Interview

As soon as Drake refuses to do the Racist Interview we knew we'd be watching this a lot. Its best moment may be the flash of Kristen Wiig with an eye-patch, though. She was one of the most versatile SNL players because she could play the put-upon mom, the sex symbol, and the weirdo with an eye-patch all to perfection.

#12: Kardashian Divorce Special

Making fun of the Kardashians is pretty easy but SNL takes it up a notch. From Wiig's Kris Jenner budding into everything, Samberg's perfectly retarded Kris Humphries impression, Jay Pharaoh's understandably perplexed and rational Lamar Odem and of course, the trio of anal bleached sisters themselves, the sketch captures in two minutes the ridiculously shallow Kardashian cash cow.

#11: Andre the Giant Gets an Ice Cream

Jason Segel doesn't have very many famous impressions, but his Andre the Giant is pretty good and had to be included here. It's perfectly bizarre, intriguing, and an essential punchline-less non sequitor. It works.

#10: Bridal Shower Gifts

Emma Stone's hosting wasn't that great but she really played against character here and her escalating realization of how far off base she is with these gifts is great to watch. I'd like to see a sequel where Nasim Pedrad's grandma experiences the full extent of Fred Armisen's Human Toilet.

#9: V-Necks

This is a great true observation that morphs into an insane premise. V-Necks are tough to pull off and require a lot of male confidence. Here that turns into an almost Zoolander-esque walk-off with Ben Stiller. His character's weird creepy voice and devotion to Satanity pushes it over the edge, as does Vanessa Bayer's increasingly weird noises.

#8: Clint Eastwood Chrysler Commercials

There were three of these, the first, and possibly least funny of which is posted here. It does everything an SNL celebrity impersonation should do - take a small public perception and blow it absolutely out of proportion so that it encompasses the entire character. We all felt the same way that Bill Hader's version of Clint felt after his Super Bowl commercial, and that just drives it home all the more.

#7: Super Showcase

I mentioned this earlier, I have no idea why, but I find this hysterical. There are many subtle things, such as Vanessa Bayer incorrectly guessing "Beef" when the answer is "Nine" as well as veterans like Wiig and Hader cracking up for no reason other than having a great time on stage. There's nothing to laugh at here beyond Maya Rudolph and Wiig talking weird, but it somehow fits the premise so well.

#6: Lazy Sunday 2

What is likely Andy Samberg's final Digital Short was also one of his best. It's appropriate, as he claims, to end his fake rap penmanship on the New York streets where he began it. It's also by and large a much better song than the original Lazy Sunday in terms of the new beat that comes in halfway, as well as the flow of Samberg and Parnell. Parns in particular owns this, putting more gangsta angst and emotion into the song than I previously thought he was capable of. Samberg's willingness to be simultaneously the background weirdo, at times the straight man, and more often, the unquestioned commander of Digital Shorts will be missed.

#5: The Californians

I have no idea why this is funny. It's basically a Californian melodrama mostly about debate over local directions. Still, something about the way every performer throws themselves into this insane world is captivating. It's also easy to believe that real Californians live like this. In that sense it's a much more New York view than an LA view. East Coast 4 lif.

#4: Taste Test

This should be known as THE Melissa McCarthy sketch. Her character is incredibly well developed within a few minutes, while also being hilarious. Her desperation increases throughout the sketch as she seeks $50 to "get out of some jams." The audience simultaneously sympathises with her yet is able to step back and laugh at her pathetic insanity. It of course tops off with McCarthy downing a bottle of Hidden Ranch, which is enough worth the price of admission.

#3: Text Message Evidence

The Eli Manning Episode was met with skepticism but ended up being one of the better of the season. Eli seems to never be able to prove himself no matter what success he has. This sketch is largely a pretty normal sketch but that's where the hilarity is. The amount of deadpan readings and facial expressions show both how stupid and pathetic late-night text flirting is, but we all do it shamefully, anyway. It's certainly one of the sketches that can be quoted whenever one thinks of getting with that cute girl who may also be in a coma.

#2: She's a Rainbow

An epic end to Kristen Wiig's tenure on the show - isn't it a shame that Paul Brittain didn't get such a send-off? This may even top Jimmy Fallon's 2004 departure sketch and was clearly the emotional high-point. It's moments like this that reminds us why SNL is a little more than just any other sketch show, or any other show of any kind for that matter. It's a family show. A fairly dirty irrelevant show for sure, but one with some sincere emotional connections beneath the veneer of wackiness.

#1: Who's on Top?

This sketch perfectly reveled in its stupidity. It has a terrible premise that it acknowledges and tires to defend, while simultaneously accepting its awfulness. Alec Baldwin's character is hapless, as well as the only player into the game. Bill Hader's host subverts many game show tropes ("Only 45 more minutes!" "You can walk away now, OR lose it all!"). More importantly, it's a really funny sketch with a clear high concept that sucks in and spits out the viewer and the best of the year.

Looking Ahead

 SNL is losing three huge names this year, Kristen Wiig, Andy Samberg, and Jason Sudeikis. Samberg can be credited both with reinvigorating the show and massively spreading the popularity of YouTube in the middle of the decade. Wiig was the absolute glue of the show and Sudeikis...Sudeikis worked very well although he was always a bit too wry to ever really take the leadership position he needed to. All three have done their share of movies and out of the three, Wiig has the most definted voice. Sudeikis, though he's been strong in his 2011 trifecta of Hall Pass, Horrible Bosses, and A Good Old Fashioned Orgy, doesn't really have his character yet. Samberg has his, but it's a little too weird for mainstream audiences, or at least to carry anything longer than a two-minute music video.

I don't fear for SNL, though. Its most talented performers right now may be its newest: Jay Pharaoh, Taran Killam, and Kate McKinnon are all set to be stars when used properly. With the other Big Three out of the way, they might just get that chance.

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