character back again and again

October 03 [Thu], 2013, 13:23
In the plus column, there was nary a talk show parody in sight, a victory no matter how you look at it, and while there was indeed a game show, it was meta enough to work: "New Cast Member or Arcade Fire?" As self-explanatory bits go ― particularly ones that shoehorn in the musical guest ― I was fully on-board. Kenan Thompson hosted, with Fey as his contestant. "Now, you've been working with some of the new folks this week," he said, "you feel good about your chances?" "No," she replied, big smile plastered on her face: "I do not think I will do well!"

Even "SNL" executive Lorne Michaels couldn't pinpoint the new cast member. "Is it the black one?" he said, looking at Thompson. I don't know, I guess I appreciate the acknowledgment that this is a homogenous cast? Did it have to be so smug, though? And no one could write a response for Thompson that zinged his boss back even harder? The follow-up, at least, was better: "Do I win anything?" Fey asked. Thompson's rejoinder: "Don't you have enough??"

The big news heading into this year was Cecily Strong's promotion to "Weekend Update" alongside Seth Meyers (who will likely depart in February when he launches his new NBC talk show).

Strong, who honed her chops at iO Theater (where she and Aidy Bryant performed with the team Virgin Daiquiri), served up her headlines with a smile, a nice contrast to Meyer's faux straight-faced delivery. She got only two jokes in before Fey rolled up to give her a none-too-subtle endorsement.

That's all well and good. The OJ joke, however ― predicated on Strong being an airhead ― was not. She'll have to find her own identity behind the Update desk in the coming weeks and it would be nice to see her explore a smarter persona. Because that dumb news girl moment? Wow, that was "SNL" at its most regressive. Strong has huge potential on the desk if she steers away from dumbbell material.

Better to leave that to the "Update" guests, which this week included new cast member Kyle Mooney (who hereafter will probably be known to viewers as "the one with the hair") as a thoroughly cheesy stand-up comic with an Andrew Dice Clay New York accent.

I suspect there will be pushback to Mooney's bit. Not big enough or loud enough or punchline-y enough. But I liked his dialed back energy. A lot, actually. It felt like a legitimate bit of sketch comedy and he brought to it a Dana Carvey-like vulnerability. It was an actual character with a human being at the core, rather than a cheesy costume designed around a broad idea that has been pushed to its exaggerated extreme (which accounts for nearly every Update guest of recent vintage aside from Stefon). I'm hoping Mooney gets the chance to bring the character back again and again, pushing the guy's story forward incrementally each time.

O'Brien, who proved he has a cunning, mischievous sense of humor during his time working in Chicago, got his own late-in-the-show sketch, selling Model T's in a riff on zany used car commercials: "These suckers are fully loaded. They've got everything: Seats." Not sure the bit really worked, but the show will be better in the long run with O'Brien's offbeat influence.

The strongest sketch of the night was a pre-taped spoof of the HBO series "Girls," a joke "SNL" has apparently been sitting on until it hired someone who could actually pass for Lena Dunham, which it now has in new cast member Noel Wells, who played opposite Tina Fey's "new" character, a middle-aged Albanian in a babushka: "I have roof over head; for this I thank God."
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