September 16, 2012

THE SKED REVIEW: SNL with Seth MacFarlane


The opening 15 minutes of the 38th season premiere of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (fun fact:  Barack Obama was 14 years old when the show first went on the air) set a blazing pace that the rest of the show, alas, couldn’t sustain.  This is a season of transitions for the series–Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg gone (and one imagines Jason Sudeikis won’t be far behind, unless perhaps if Romney wins in November), Aidy Bryant, Tim Robinson and Cecily Strong the newcomers–and the premiere kicked off with one of the most notable:  Jay Pharoah taking over from Fred Armisen as the show’s Obama.  After a nicely meta intro from Armisen, Pharoah took the podium, and the sketch that followed was funnier and more pointed than any of the political jokes later on Update, with Pharoah hitting every Obama nuance on target, and setting up perfectly timed cuts to Sudeikis as Romney to illustrate that the best thing Obama has going for him this fall is the Republican nominee.

After that, Family Guy‘s MacFarlane just killed the monologue, one of the best SNL has had possibly in years.  MacFarlane is a one-man variety show, and seemingly without breaking a sweat, he did a multitude of voices highlighted by an anti-Semitic Kermit the Frog–and sang while he was doing it.  The first parody commercial of the season was another sharp political bit, with Bill Hader as a guy accusing Romney of giving his wife herpes, and Kenan Thompson as one who kept getting fired whenever Bain Capital bought the company he worked for.

Things settled down to normal SNL-ness after that, with the best sketch by far one where MacFarlane was teaching a community class in puppeteering, comandeered by Hader as an ex-soldier whose deranged puppet told monologues about village massacres, assaulted one of the other puppets, and launched a 3-way with Hader on Vanessa Bayer’s puppet.  The 12:45AM slot went to an amusing bit where first MacFarlane and Nasim Pedrad, as blind daters, and then everyone else in the sketch was “all like” whatever made them speak in an alternate voice–it went on too long, but had some funny moments.

Otherwise, we had the return of Armisen’s grumpy, insensitive talk show producer who’s subbing for the absent host and responding to audience sex questions, a stuttering drill sergeant played by MacFarlane, a Steve Harvey Show sketch that only existed to have MacFarlane show up dressed like a replica of Harvey, and a very disappointing pre-taped bit with Hader doing his Clint Eastwood to parody the Republican National Convention’s “empty chair” horror. (Sadly, the SNL Digital Shorts departed with Samberg.)

The stunt of the night was a Psy parody (set in a Lids store) that featured a cameo appearance by Psy himself.  As noted, Update was unexceptional, with MacFarlane as Ryan Lochte in one desk piece and Bayer and Bobby Moynihan doing a Honey Boo Boo parody.  Update did give us the first real look at one of the new cast members, as Cecily Strong played a Latina get-out-the-vote advocate, which felt like it might have been a character Strong’s done in a stand-up act pre-SNL.  There wasn’t much to it, but it was very precisely performed (and Pharoah half-stole it as her boyfriend without opening his mouth).

In all, it was the mixed bag that is eternally SNL.  The Pharoah-for-Armisen switch seems like a good one, and if none of the women in the cast seems immediately likely to take Wiig’s place as the show’s preeminent female, those are big shoes to fill, and the process may take some time.  It was a little surprising to see so little of Sudeikis, now that he’s one of the show’s elder statesmen, and we’ll see over the next few weeks whether that’s part of a process of easing him out through the course of the season.  Next week, Joseph Gordon-Levitt returns with musical guest Mumford & Sons, and all will be well if he hosts as well as he has in his previous stints.  Also, this week SNL will go back to airing half-hour primetime political specials Thursdays at 8PM that will be show up intermittently until the election.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."