To all of you who complain that Saturday Night Live doesn’t do anything new, well, SNL has been listening. The show, with the help of host Gwyneth Paltrow and music guest Cee Lo Green, tried out a few novel notions this week. After a cold-open that took a toothless bite at Fox News, Paltrow’s monologue involved the decision to make jokes predicated on the idea that she knows nothing about country music. I guess with Country Strong bombing at the box office, Paltrow and the SNL writers thought it would make her look like a good sport if she ridiculed its subject. Still, bringing out Jason Sudeikis as Kenny Rogers, having Paltrow feign forgetting the lyrics to “Islands In The Stream” and referring to Dolly Parton (Kristen Wiig) as “Boob Lady” didn’t quite cut it as either critique or comedy.
Next was a fake commercial scoffing at NBC’s new show The Cape, suggesting further NBC programming such as The Scarf, The Smock, and The Scrunchy. The tag-line, “NBC: Take It Or Leave It,” probably hit close to home in many Nielsen box-equipped houses and probably left the producers of The Cape joining the producers of Country Strong in feeling irritated.
Andy Samberg did more to raise Pee-wee Herman’s profile than Pee-wee himself has been able to do in recent years by having the squeaky-voiced hero co-star with him in a “Digital Short.” Andy and Pee-wee got royally drunk and smashed chairs over the heads of Anderson Cooper and a cop, followed by an intervention with some of their closest friends. (My favorite moment: Cooper trying to sit down on Chairy and being cursed out by the talking furniture.)
After that terrific short film, Twitter was aflutter with calls for Paul Reubens to host SNL.
In what was probably the longest intro to a music number in SNL history, a sketch turned on the idea that “forget” is the f-word that can’t be said on network TV when Cee Lo Green performs his latest hit. Paltrow, Sudeikis, Samberg, and Green all spat out insults such as, “Shut the forget up” and “You mother-forgetters.” The weak joke was extended to “My Nintendo” for the n-word and — getting in a jab at Paltrow’s movie again — describing someone as a “world-class country-strong.” Playing a record exec, Paltrow crowed, “They’re gonna let [Green] say ‘forget’ on national television!” Then she turned to the camera and introduced Green’s performance of “Forget You.”
Paltrow did the best she possibly could when she was wedged into SNL stand-bys such as the 1960s game-show spoof “Secret Word” (her socialite character, perhaps modeled on Kitty Carlisle, was by far its funniest element), and, during “Weekend Update,” she joined Wiig and Fred Armisen in one of their by-now too familiar Garth and Kat bits. “Update” also tried something a little bit different, having Vanessa Bayer doing a fake remote from the Golden Globes interviewing Christina Aguilera (Nasim Pedrad), Cher (Bill Hader), and Cher’s child Chaz Bono (Bobby Moynihan, in a role he was born to play).
The night’s two funniest sketches were its rockin’ bar mitzvah and a Shakespeare parody. The bar mitzvah bit featured a number of muscial impersonations, including Paltrow doing a nice Taylor Swift, Jay Pharoah as Jay Z, Abby Elliott as Katy Perry, and Cee Lo singing “Hebrew” instead of “F— You.” The parody lyrics for all of the songs were cleverly written. So was the Shakespeare sketch, with Hader (who had a very good night all around, in many sketches, guises, and voices) narrating amusing “previews” of Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet to a baffled Globe Theatre audience.
Cee Lo Green’s second song, “Bright Lights Bigger City” sounded very good indeed, in part because he sang well and also simply because it wasn’t “Forget You,” whose novelty has worn off. The all-female band was a gimmick that worked musically as well.
There were a couple of times when SNL was interestingly obscure. Does anyone outside of New York City recall Jimmy McMillan (Kenan Thompson) of The Rent Is Too Damn High Party? And how many of you have been closely following the rumors that Kathleen Parker may be ousted from CNN’s Parker Spitzer?
Still, I’d rather have studied obscurity than the usual over-familiarity. Which is why, overall, I give SNL and Paltrow credit for a show that tried to be different and occasionally adventurous.