If you've been ignoring “Saturday Night Live” for the past two years or so, I envy you. After all, there hasn't been a single ten-minute stretch of the longest-running comedy series on TV these past 24 months when diehards like myself haven't wondered if all hope is lost for our beloved Saturday night sketch-fest. Each and every upside is matched and summarily obliterated by mind-numbingly dull elements, most often centering around ill-fitting guests in sketches based on weak premises that run on far too long.
And then, almost at the breaking point for this particular fan, the clouds part and a beaming ray of coming glory shone down on this beleaguered series: Helen Mirren returned to host, a gorgeous spitfire goddess who neither looks nor acts her 65 years. Alongside a revitalized and super-charged Foo Fighters, Mirren inspired and led the SNL cast to their greatest potential, with one of the best episodes in recent years.
In the cold open, Fred Armisen’s Obama explains the last-minute federal budget compromise, an extended series of jokes that centered around the fact that nobody anywhere is happy with the compromise. A standard welcome, but with little humor value, given that the widespread public of America is rapidly catching on to the fact that we're being swindled into poverty by banks and corporations that virtually own our entire legislative system. Three cheers for painful satire!
Helen Mirren's monologue, thankfully, takes a higher stride, turning into a parody/homage to South Pacific’s “There's Nothing Like a Dame”. The musical number wasn't overcooked and involved a costume change by the gorgeous gilf, who had more genuinely spunky energy than any host in recent memory.
For the return of the "Mort Mort Feingold: Accountant For The Stars" sketch, Paul Brittain’s James Franco makes a celebrated appearance, as does Abby Elliot’s Khloe Kardashian, as a rotating series of celebs makes time for Johnny Depp alongside Mirren’s Helena Bonham Carter, Bill Hader’s Tim Burton and a receipt-dream spider. Bizarre, stupid, and somehow hilarious.
The week’s Digital Short centered on a surefire hit: Mirren’s breasts. More specifically, Nasim Pedrad and Kristen Wiig alternately fondling and motorboating the Academy Award winner's fabulous rack. Add a glorious hands-on montage of amazing moments including the moon landing, the cheering shoulder-hoisting end of Rudy, monkeys fornicating and Michael J. Fox dunking in Teen Wolf, as well as a special "Helen Mirren's titties Heaven" where Dave Grohl's hanging out, and you've got yourself tenfold utopia.
The night's second greatest home run came in the form of a "Fox and Friends" spoof, brilliantly skewering the right-wing mouthpiece network with bits on "reverse anchor babies" and birth certificate shenanigans, as well as a healthy dose of fact-checking jabs that hit a little too hard on the bullseye to be trivial comedy. The lack of spot-on impersonations is more than made up for by the piercing satire at the expense of the hypemongering sensationalist network.
The most laughable moments of the skit came at the very end, in a blink-and-miss-it scroll of corrections the show was forced to make after errors in the previous broadcast. With the power of screenshots, we bring some of them to you now:
“Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” was a charming little origins sketch, but ran a little long in execution. Who knew the monster in the famous novel was inspired by Shelley’s landlord, Frank Stein?
Foo Fighters stopped in on their garage tour to promote their fantastic new album Wasting Light, playing singles "Rope" and "Walk," the latter being the last track off the record. The Foos rocked with full-throttle professionalism and airtight precision, rising above the fact that the sound guy's head is stuck so far up his own rectum that there's no possible way he could ever be hearing the abomination he does to the music mix on a weekly basis.
"Weekend Update" was largely skippable this week, with evidence mounting to support the idea that Seth Meyers has overstayed his welcome as the sole anchor of the show. James Carville discussed the government's near-shutdown, as well as comparing Republicans' crusades to outlaw abortion to “Mambo #5”. Then we had the windblown Shelly Elaine (Wiig), a Southwest flight attendant onboard the plane that had to have an emergency landing last week, relating her perspective on the fateful flight. By the time Kenan Thompson's French rapper Jean K Jean took the stage, the wind had died and the Weekend Update sails had gone limp.
TWO SIDES! “The Best of Both Worlds with Hugh Jackman” was terrific, addressing a longstanding issue many men have had with the man who plays Wolverine. How it became Ice Cube helping Julie Andrews murder someone is beyond me, but you can bet your ass there were howls in the writers meetings for this one.
The night's greatest moments came in the freak-flag ghetto bonanza “Crunk-Ass Easter Festival” a production of such hilariously absurd pop-vulturing and meticulous design I could barely breathe for minutes after the skit. The latest show-promo commercial from Under-Underground Records presented Jason Sudeikis and Pedrad promising complete nonsense such as the female Gremlin, stand-up comedy from the Menendez brothers, “60 Minutes performed live!” and a “live sex show from the green M&M.”
Methed-out coyotes, Chilean miners ("we send them back into the mine!), and Eagle-Eye Cherry? Suck on that, Bonnaroo! It all takes place "where else? Right on the streets of Libya!" It's everything right with SNL, spoofing everything wrong about our gluttonous-brat culture.
Once again, SNL proves that it lives and dies by its hosts. The cast is strong, and several recent additions are starting to truly find their footing as writers and character performers. All the same, the show struggles on with an imbalanced focus and an uncertain future, trying to be too many things at once. But if Saturday's episode is any indication, they may be finding the path to redemption.