Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Saturday Night Live Season 20 Reviews: Episode 3 - John Travolta/Seal (Guest Blog)

“I’m a man of many secrets but humping a mental defective is not one of them.”

Travolta Walking through studio

3 Stars: John Travolta walks the halls of Studio 8H and every time he does “Staying Alive” plays.

This is what I want out of a cold open.  This is so much more entertaining than a president talking to the camera.  It also puts the host front and center early.  If he truly is the host of the show, put him right up front.  That way you can get the referential humor out of the way.

It is also a great way to introduce the reason you have this person hosting, especially if some people don’t know who he is.  It does go on a bit too long and the joke wears its course but it had a nice energy of goodwill to open the show.  Hey, that’s future cast member Fred Wolf walking out of the bathroom.

Travolta Monologue

3 Stars: Travolta makes references to all his movies

In a continuation of the cold open, Travolta says he doesn’t want to bring up his old films, but then makes references to everything he’s ever done.  John is charming enough to pull it off, and he really seems genuinely excited to be here.  This was right after Pulp Fiction when Travolta was at the height of his fame.  He combs his hair like Barbarino, puts on the Urban Cowboy hat, grabs a baby and says, “Look Who’s Talking”, and then a disco ball drops and he strikes the iconic pose.  This was short and sweet and once the joke was over so was the monologue.

Bathroom Monkey

4 stars: Commercial parody for a monkey that cleans your bathroom for you

Watching this season makes me realize that SNL has stopped doing these.  A lot of the commercials they did back then weren’t really parodies but great ideas for products, who wouldn’t want a bathroom cleaning monkey that you throw away when it outlives its usefulness.  Of course if you get the orangutan model he will not wear diapers.

Coffee Talk

2 Stars: Linda Richman interviews “Barbra Streisand”, Travolta in drag.

OK, after a bright opening we get this tired retread.  Travolta seems to be having a grand old time dressed up like a lady.  I was never a fan of this sketch, and this nth incarnation does nothing for me.  This is also the tired talk show sketch format that SNL does way too much.  What this sketch does do is quiet the rumors that Travolta is gay.  Look at that screen capture, that’s all man.

Gay Dracula

2 Stars: Visitors are skeptical about Count Dracula, they think he’s gay but Dracula says he’s just a vampire.

Two sketches in and we’ve had Travolta in drag and now he’s playing a gay vampire.  Did you know that John Travolta is a heterosexual man?  This sketch is really only funny if being gay is something that you should be ashamed of.  There were a few good jokes in this but the tone was way off, Garofalo almost seems like she’s apologizing for the homophobia.  McKean shows up as a gay werewolf and Elliott plays Renfield who is able to turn into a bat and rape Dracula.  A little too homophobic for my taste and there wasn’t enough build up to Nealon accusing Dracula of being gay.  Maybe this was the writers coming up with a way to address the fact that Travolta denies he’s gay or maybe I’m reading too much into this.  Also, I hate to be that guy, but Simpsons did it, and with one joke in ‘Treehouse Of Horror IV’.

Seal sings “Prayer For The Dying”, I love his voice but this was a boring performance.  Two bad sketches start the show and then Seal sings it to a halt.  He returns later to sing “Crazy”, which is a better song but it feels like watching someone singing karaoke.

Weekend Update

4 Stars: Peter Falk’s mother robbed, that sounds like a job for Matlock!

Norm’s still a little quick with his delivery but starting to fall into his rhythms.  Nobody can sell some of the jokes that Norm does.

Best joke: The punishment for having sex with Princess Diana is death, the punishment for having sex with Princess Ann is having sex with Princess Ann.

This is the 3rd show in a row that includes “Germans love David Hasselhoff”, the audience doesn't get it, but Norm does, and I do, so that’s all that matters.

Desk Pieces:

Chris Farley mourns the lack of baseball because of the strike.  His baseball memories are just about being a drunken idiot at baseball games including streaking and having no idea how the game is played. This is Farley doing what he does best.

Spade and Sandler show up as two guys from a religious cult.  They’re supposed to be doing the weather report but instead talk about fire and brimstone.  Sandler’s voice is so grating that I couldn't even focus on this.

Quentin Tarantino’s Welcome Back, Kotter

4 Stars: Welcome Back, Kotter as directed by Quentin Tarantino

It’s odd that at this point in his career; Tarantino had only directed 2 movies but had already been marketed as a brand.  This should have been the first sketch after the monologue but I can understand that after the cold open and monologue it may have been a little too much Travolta overkill too early.  I thought it was a great way to incorporate two very different things the host is known for.  The audience seems to be in love with the premise but then kind of falls asleep during the actual sketch but then we get Lenny and Squiggy for some reason.  Only real connection to anything is that they were also breakout characters from a show that was on around the same time, but it was fun to see David L. Lander and Michael McKean interact together and then, holy hell, Steve Buscemi pops in for a cameo and, you had me at Buscemi.

Self Defense Class

4 Stars: Chris Elliott’s first day of work at a women’s self defense class involves him getting kicked in the nards a lot.

This is pretty much a one joke premise but it’s executed well by a good performance by Elliott.  The joke is that he gets hit in the crotch, a lot, but Elliott’s pained voice underneath his mask and screams of “Please don’t hit me in the genitals” make this fun.  Watching the sketch makes me curious if it’s a stuntman, because there is an awkward cut before and after Elliott removes his helmet, if so, the syncing was fantastic.

Larry King Live w/ Marlon Brando

4 Stars: Larry King interviews the very eccentric Marlon Brando

This was a parody of something that really happened and then they took it to the nth degree, which is what they should do with news stories they are parodying.  JT is having a ball making King rub his feet, drop his pants, wear a baby bonnet and eat cookies made from shit.  Nealon’s King impression is passable if a little weak but I can only wonder what this sketch would have been had Chris Elliott been able to bring out his Brando that he did so well on Letterman.

Angry Office Mates

2 Stars: Co-workers that hate each other are forced to share a small office.

This sketch had Farley yelling, and that’s it.  Poor Tim Meadows, getting into a screaming match with Farley is like bringing a knife to a knife gun fight and he just can’t compete.  This may be the first time I’ve said this, but I wish Sandler had co-starred in this sketch.  I mean yelling and screaming was the guy’s whole shtick.  This wasn’t horrible but it had a weak premise and no ending.

Deaf Mobster

2 Stars: A mobster is hard of hearing and gets offended because of it.

A mobster repeats the phrase, “maybe I don’t hear to good, what’d you say?” Turns out he really can’t hear.  The joke gets revealed too early and then just becomes a game of JT mishearing people and repeating back gibberish.  I understand what they were trying to do here but it didn’t quite work.  Then Sandler comes in, makes a goofy face, yells and I’m so glad this sketch was over.


3 Stars: The cast does the ending of Grease!

I usually don’t rate the goodnights segment but this was almost a sketch and a really fitting ending to a weird episode that became a John Travolta reference party.

Average: 3 Stars

MVP: Chris Elliott (Gay Dracula, Welcome Back Kotter, Self Defense Class).  This was basically the John Travolta show so there’s no real cast stand-out, but with Self Defense Class and the only real laughs in Gay Dracula, I give it to Elliott.

Best Sketch: Quentin Tarantino’s Welcome Back Kotter

Worst Sketch: Coffee Talk/Gay Dracula

How I Would Have Lorne Michaels-ed It: This show started off so bad after the monologue and didn’t pick up until Weekend Update.  I would definitely move Welcome Back Kotter to the lead off spot and followed it with Larry King Live, starring Chris Elliott.  I would have forgiven Coffee Talk if it was hidden in the middle but to follow that with Gay Dracula brought the show to a halt early.

Host Analysis: Travolta was riding high after ‘Pulp Fiction’ made him a movie star again and he seems to be having a blast here.  I thought he handled himself quite nicely in sketches, even in the ones that were pretty horrible he was giving it his all and he was pretty funny.  He also seemed very prepared, I caught him looking at the cue cards once and that was towards the end of the night.  I do not understand his excessive eye makeup.

Final Thoughts: A promising start really fell flat on its ass and then picked up after Weekend Update and became a pretty good episode.  With a little jiggering this could have been a classic.  After 3 episodes I’m reinterpreting my feelings on this season.  There is a great energy to the cast.  I remember this whole season being abysmal but they’re having a great time.  Garofalo is smiling real big during the goodnights.  They only have 3 women in the cast and none of them stand out.  A 3 star episode, with the rating system I’ve put in place, is pretty high praise considering I’m being very conservative with a 5 star rating.  Even with a couple of stinkers, a fairly enjoyable episode riding on the coattails of a game and excited to be there host.

Up Next: Dana Carvey returns to the show as host.  I remember this one being good but it was 20 years ago and I wasn’t cynical back then.  Knowing what I do from past shows hosted by former cast members, I’m assuming we’re getting Wayne’s World, Church Lady and Hans and Franz, will we “party on” or “not”?

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