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'Saturday Night Live' Weekly Watch: Tracy Morgan needed more than big love

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I love Tracy Morgan on 30 Rock, used to laugh at his “Brian Fellows” sketches when he was an SNL regular, but, boy, that was one pretty-lame edition of Saturday Night Live last night. From the opening segment in which he punched out a quick-cameo Tina Fey to the final family-movie sketch in which he was a filmmaker who killed most of his cast, this edition was either one lousy idea or one-good-idea-gone-bad after another. Maybe the truth is simply that Morgan is a terrific supporting player, but his range isn’t wide enough to carry a whole show.

The disappointments arrived early on, when Morgan, as the sweetly simple-minded, hallucinatory animal-lover Brian Fellows, failed to elicit more than a few chuckles from this edition of “Safari Planet.”

The parody of The View was the funniest, but by no means a great sketch. In the past, the problem has always been that, while the SNL cast has Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg, Elizabeth Hasselbeck, and Joy Behar down cold (Fred Armisen has me laughing every time just by plucking his shoulders pads and snorting out Behar’s “Who cares?” refrain), they never had a convincing Sherri Shepherd (read: not enough black cast members to play her well), and Morgan captured perfectly Shepherd’s rattle-brained why-doesn’t-everyone-do-positive-things inanity. But the writers had few good punchlines to match the performances.   

The sketch that had the most promise was the Big Love parody, timed perfectly just as that series moves toward its season-end. Kristen Wiig as Jeanne Tripplehorn, Abby Elliott as Chloe Svigny, and Casey Wilson as Margene were all excellent, but bringing Morgan on as the new fourth wife just fell flat.

I’ll wrap it up quickly: “Weekend Update” seemed endless (a Barbie-turns-50 segment with a joke about the Ken doll’s lack of equipment? really? that’s all they could come up with? really?).

On a positive note: while I doubt you liked it as much as I did, Morgan’s “Astronaut Jones” sketch — one of those out-of-nowhere salutes to 1950s TV in the same vein as Bill Hader’s wonderful Vincent Price parodies — was a very pleasurable sight, if not exactly roll-on-the-floor funny. (And BTW, nice Malkovich impression last night, Mr. Hader.)

Oh, and here, I’ll give you another opportunity to quibble with my musical taste: As resolutely anti-American Idol as I am, I thought Kelly Clarkson sounded great on both of her songs.

So what did you think? Did you like the “Digital Short” that took literally all the cliches guys spout at bad parties? Did you enjoy the elaborately-produced “High IQ” game show sketch (all that work, so little humor…)? Agree? Disagree?