Saturday Night Live is having a gangbuster season — its ratings are robust, its bookings are canny (having Shaggy locked in as musical guest the week his CD was No. 1 on the Billboard album chart suggests the show’s pop culture instincts aren’t rusty), and it’s made a crucial presidential transition, from the popularity of Darrell Hammond’s big pimpin’ Bill Clinton impersonation to the popularity of Will Ferrell’s ferrety George W. Bush.
Personally, I’m disappointed in Ferrell’s Bush, whom he continues to portray as a word fumbling frat boy. Ferrell is ignoring the new development in Bush’s public personality: When you catch him on live feeds on the all news networks, you get to see Bush’s casual arrogance, the way he treats the press like idiots as a defensive measure — before they can treat him like one. Ferrell, the iron man of the current ”SNL” cast who seems to get more characters on camera than any other member, never stings his subjects with satire (his Janet Reno was similarly kid gloved as a political subject — his joke was simply to appear as a big guy in a dress).
For more pointed barbs, we must go to cohead writer and ”Weekend Update” cohost Tina Fey, who, for example, in her Nov. 4, 2000, ”Weekend Update” report, noted that Bush hadn’t disclosed his drunk driving arrest record because ”it did not set a good example for his daughters, preferring instead that they see him as a failed businessman who executes people.” That Fey delivers such blow darts — poison filled jokes written in long, precisely parsed sentences unprecedented in ”Update” history — with such a bright, sunny countenance makes her all the more devilishly delightful.
Her coanchor Jimmy Fallon is funnier, however, when not behind the news desk. His impersonation of U2’s Bono as a blithering camera hog the week after the Irish band had appeared was marvelous, and Fallon’s take on MTV’s most popular host — ”I’m Carson Daly. I’m a massive tool” — has become a mantra in my household. At ruthless moments like these, Fey and Fallon summon up the finest spirit of ”SNL” in its prime.