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"Saturday Night Live" Returns Brilliantly -- For Five Minutes
September 15, 2008  | By David Bianculli

Expectations for the 34th-season opener of NBC's Saturday Night Live were high, and the show delivered brilliantly. For five minutes.

Once the opening sketch was over, SNL, for a variety of reasons, tanked more than it floated, and never again soared. But the cold open, with Amy Poehler reprising her Hillary Clinton and, yes, Tina Fey guest-starring to introduce her Sarah Palin, may have been the show's best political sketch of this entire political campaign to date.


The two women were shown together, making a bipartisan speech -- an inspired idea that allowed the former "Weekend Update" anchor team (a first! two women!) to reunite, capitalizing on their comfortable chemistry. (They also co-starred in the movie Baby Mama -- but this time, Poehler's pregnant look was for real, and hidden, in this sketch, by wardrobe and a podium.)


Fey nailed Palin's Fargo-like accent and sing-song speaking style, and was just a delight. As the sketch went on, and so did Hillary, she began vamping poses and cocking and firing an invisible shotgun, loving the spotlight.

Poehler's Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, got angrier and angrier, furious that the woman to her right actually had gotten on her party's ticket, while she herself had fallen short. And other than participating together in a history-making political year, they agreed to disagree on almost everything.

"I don't agree with the Bush doctrine," Poehler's Clinton said. Fey's Palin quickly added, with a sheepish smile, "...And I don't know what that is." Very funny, and very timely. Great, great sketch, and the ladies knew they nailed it.


And when they screamed "Live, from New York, it's Saturday Night!" together, it was the sound of pure joy.

Then came guest host Michael Phelps, who suggested that, like some aquatic amphibians, he couldn't function as comfortably on dry land. The dazzling Olympic swimmer, as an SNL guest host, was no Peyton Manning. The writers did everything they could to punch up his sketches -- inserting other celebrities, concocting reasons to keep him silent for long stretches -- but as comedy goes, Phelps didn't.

It also didn't help, I'm sure, that a reported appearance by Barack Obama was canceled out of concern for dire national news regarding Hurricane Ike hitting Texas. But, boy: TWO sketches climaxing with allegedly funny dancing? With all summer to plan, SNL came back weakly, and even "Weekend Update" had less punch than usual.

It did have Will Forte as a new character, the reactionary conservative Alaska Pete, who wasn't very strong overall, but did have two memorable lines. One was about Palin holding her infant child on stage at the Republican National Convention "like The Lion King." And the other was a wicked but memorable remark that Palin's daughter giving birth in a few months will change Palin's status, "officially making her a GILF."

That was the last big laugh, though, during the season opener. Better luck next week -- but what a great start.




Cathy said:

I don't think Fey was playing air guitar, but simulating cocking and firing a gun. I've seen picutres of Palin in that scenario. (You're right. I replayed it. I've made the switch. Thanks. -- David B.)

Comment posted on September 15, 2008 9:39 AM

J.V. said:

Thanks for the excellent recap -- always interested in SNL, yet have a hard time getting it watched.

Wanted to tip you to our music video goof, "Sarah Palin Bounce," in case you're in the mood for more Palin comedy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yiIURSJIjOw

Keep it up!
the guys at Bindledog (I have to like something before I allow a link like this, and this musical spoof is clever without being mean. So enjoy. -- David B.)

Comment posted on September 15, 2008 9:45 AM

Eric said:

I agree with everything mentioned here. SNL always seems to disappoint after the opening sketch, sometimes after the opening dialogue but for me, it's usually a bait and switch approach, thinking the new season will bring better writing and brilliant hosts will add to a great sketch (not that Michael Phelps is brilliant in the sketch comedy genre). I'm always disappointed, every episode, thinking I'll find a gem somewhere. I watch the first sketch or two, fast forward to the musical guest, get to the news, skip through the unbearable commentaries (Fred Armisen's character last night is a good example) and once the news is done, I'm done. Alas, for the past 4 or 5 years, it's been that way and I don't think Seth Meyers as a lead writer is helping the cause.

Comment posted on September 15, 2008 10:02 AM

Not Saget said:

Bonnie Hunt would be the perfect Hillary when Amy takes leave of SNL, don't you think?
Or does she have some deep secret they have vetted that makes her inappropriate for the role?
Know anything about this?

Comment posted on September 15, 2008 3:27 PM

Ken Rehfield said:

Please put your blog for today online... it still shows yesterday's (It's up. Glad to know someone was waiting. -- David B.)

Comment posted on September 16, 2008 12:15 PM

Dan said:

We hope this will be a recurring character for Tina Fey. In fact, am sure of it if McCain / Palin wins it! Keep up the great informative site. Good sttuff!
Television Review / Information

Comment posted on September 21, 2008 10:16 AM
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