Saturday, March 22, 2014

Saturday Night Live Season 20 Reviews: Episode 4 - Dana Carvey/Edie Brickell

“Before we go, I just want to announce that John Denver is dead.”

George H. W. Bush Cold Open/Carvey Monologue

4 Stars: Bush opens the show with a response to Dana Carvey’s impression of him.  After the opening credits, Carvey takes the stage as Bush and the real former president interrupts and continues to chastise him.

I’m lumping the cold open and monologue together in my rating because it’s really just one continuous concept.  This isn’t really so much funny as it is interesting.  SNL viewers had gotten so use to Carvey’s “spastic Paul Lynde” impression that it’s almost weird to see the real man himself.  But while watching this you really got a sense of why Carvey was such a good performer.  He didn’t really do impressions; he did characters that became bigger than the men themselves.  The real Bush actually comes off affable and pretty funny here and he seems in on the joke.  It’s a decent way to start the show and I remember watching this episode live and being excited to see Carvey’s Bush again but it seems dated now and looking at the airdate of the episode, it was dated then, just an excuse to bring out a Carvey classic.

Virtual Reality Reading

4 Stars: Reading a book will never be the same with “Virtual Reading”

Talk about dated; this is before iPads and Kindles so you can excuse how silly the premise sounds 20 years later.  This really worked for me as a bit of nostalgia and as a really good commercial parody commenting on the limits of technology at the time and how corporations were overreaching to market this crap to consumers.

There are two jokes here, one that technology is taking over everything, even something as dull as reading, and computers are slow.  This is also a good use of McKean; I really enjoyed his excitement over reading the Jackie Collins book.

Johnny Carson at the OJ Simpson trial

4 Stars: Wow, they got a lot of mileage out of that courtroom set

Have you ever seen the weaker episodes of ‘Three’s Company’ where Chrissie just walks into the living room and says, “Hey Jack, my uncle’s coming to town and you have to pretend you’re gay”?  That’s kind of what this felt like.

This is funny but doesn’t make much sense.  OJ has decided to hire Johnny Carson as his new defense attorney and it’s really just an excuse for Carvey to bring out one of his old impressions.  Much like George Bush, Carson was not current at the time and this sketch could not have existed if Carvey wasn’t hosting.  If I were going to over analyze this sketch I could go into how they were commenting on the circus and the absurdity of the trial by making it like a talk show, but they probably weren’t thinking that hard about it so, I won’t either.

One thing I noticed while watching this sketch is Mike Myers as Judge Ito.  He seems to be enjoying Carvey’s antics and, oh no, this means we’re getting a Wayne’s World sketch later on.  This could have been staged better, maybe if they cut out the interludes with Kevin Nealon, but then we get Carnac determining the contents of the mystery envelope which is genius.  This sketch is worth it just for that moment and McKean playing Robert Shapiro as Ed McMahon.  I liked this sketch and there are some good jokes but it just seems like a flashback to past glories when I want to see what the current cast can do.

Ross Perot Halloween

3 Stars: Ross Perot hands out candy at Halloween

Ok, so it’s apparently the Dana Carvey show now.  I understand what SNL is trying to do when they bring former cast members to host, bring some good will to the show but when they let the host dominate like this it brings the current cast to the background and just harkens back the old saying, “it was better in the good old days”.

Again, Perot is not in the news, this is just an excuse for Dana to do his old thing.  I do have to respect the way Carvey had a way of creating catchphrases for impressions and characters.  Every one who did a Perot impression incorporated “Can I finish?” which he said once and “nagada” became the go to for Bush Sr.  If this sketch had appeared 2 years earlier it would have been great but now it just seems dated and watching it almost 20 years later makes it really dated.  Also, this is a one man sketch and after the cold open, monologue, Carson trial and this, the cast is MIA so far this week.  I say that, and then we get Sandler, Spade and Jay Mohr as teenage trick or treaters and I immediately regret my statement, let’s just see more Carvey this week.

Edie Brickell sings “Green” and hey, check it out, Paul Simon.  I love her voice but some of these 90s slow jams really bring down the energy of a show.  The musical guest is integral to SNL; a good musical guest can really bring the energy to a lackluster show.  I really could have used an energy boost right about now rather than a lullaby.  Her second some, “Tomorrow Comes”, is a little better.  It’s pure Lilith Fair, but if there’s one thing you should know it’s that Georgie loves his girl pop.

Weekend Update

5 Stars: Judge Lance Ito Is A Big Fruit

4th show of Norm’s tenure and 4th reference to Germans loving David Hasselhoff.  This time the audience goes for it and this is probably the best Update so far.  It’s framed with celebrities writing their OJ books including Prince Charles and the Pope and then book ends with Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs And Ham and OJ Is Guilty”

Best Jokes: OJ Books, and after a story about a decadent hotel; “in a related story Motel 6 now has shampoo”

Desk Pieces

Al Franken shows some of the negative campaign ads throughout the country.  Franken was apparently upset that he didn’t get the Update job over Norm and although I can’t picture anyone behind that desk except Norm, this Franken piece makes me think he would have been a good fit.  This reminds me of a Daily Show commentary and this is when SNL was still a place for your political satire.  Franken shows some attack ads against Ted Kennedy (Big Fat Drunk), Dianne Feinstein (She’s A Jew) and Mario Cuomo (He’s A Murderer).  Really funny, really quick and Franken’s deadpan delivery nails this.  Norm’s facial expression after seeing the Cuomo attack ad is priceless.  This is one of the only times I can think of that Norm actually seemed like he was interested in the correspondents.

Unfortunately, we get Hans and Franz, who show up to get some applause and bring another Carvey character to the show that nobody really missed.  Here the two muscle bound nitwits talk about how SNL took their set away and now they are resigned to the Update desk, where recurring characters go to die.  It got very Meta, especially with Nealon getting in a dig that he was kicked off Update in favor of Norm, except that the recurring characters they mentioned were all still from days of old, Coffee Talk, Matt Foley and Stuart Smalley.  This is the 4th episode with a newish cast and it’s not the time to relive the good old days but usher in a new era.


2 Stars: An expert pepper boy at an Italian restaurant trains his protégée.

For the first time tonight, Dana does something new and we get to see Sandler trot out his same old idiot boy shtick.  If you love hearing the words “Fresh pepper” over and over in an Italian accent then this is the sketch for you.  Although not abysmal, this felt 20 minutes long and really only had a couple of laughs.  Carvey’s overtly sexual pepper grinding and Farley’s gleeful over reaction to his pepper were highlights but then it ended in my least favorite way, voice-over read while text scrawls.

64th Annual Nobel Prize Awards

2 Stars: Garry Shandling hosts the Nobel Prize awards in the style of a cheesy “Oscar” type show.

Carvey’s Shandling impression is entertaining and Al Franken’s Henry Kissinger is a hoot but that’s all this sketch has going for it.  This sketch may have worked if the show had a cast that could do impressions.  Here we get Myers as John Denver, Nealon as Charles Grodin, Garofalo as Mary Lou Retton and Meadows as Nelson Mandela.  They are not so much doing impressions but they are really good at wearing wigs.  The best part of this sketch is the recurring cutaways to Chris Elliott as an overly excited Yassir Arafat in the audience, but this felt like a half hour with no jokes.  The basic premise is that award shows are boring, so they are really doing anti-humor here which makes the sketch boring.  The ending of this sketch is also a little grim.  Shandling announces the John Denver has died from bacteria being splashed on his face and they cut to Kissinger laughing.

(Editor's Note: Really George, no explanation for Jay Mohr in blackface? Just gonna throw that out there? Okay...)

Liar At Work

3 Stars: A man makes a lot of excuses for why he’s bad at his job but then confides to his co-worker that they’re not true.

This is almost a reverse Tommy Flanagan sketch, a professional liar who then admits that he lies.  This is a quick little sketch with an interesting turn that comes out of nowhere.  Meadows says the reason he makes stuff up is because he’s hypoglycemic, “hypo means make and glycemic means stuff up”.  Then David Spade comes out to say how hypoglycemia is a made up disease.  Before I could really understand the joke, the sketch was over, short and sweet and a nice little 10-1 sketch.


3 Stars: The continuing adventures of office drone, Milton.

Here’s a Mike Judge cartoon about a hapless office worker.  I remember seeing this live and not getting it but it is fun to see after ‘Office Space’.


Live From New York, It’s The Dana Carvey Show

Average: 3.2 Stars

MVP: Michael McKean (Virtual Reality Reading, OJ Simpson Trial, Fresh Pepper, 64th Annual Nobel Peace Prize Awards)

Best Sketch: Johnny Carson at the OJ Simpson Trial

Worst Sketch: 64th Annual Nobel Peace Prize Awards

How I Would Have Lorne Michaels-ed It: It would have been nice to see the Carvey retro-train “fresh-a-peppered” throughout the show.  It wasn’t until after Weekend Update when the actual SNL cast appeared and by that time the show ground to a halt.  I would have started with an abbreviated version of the Noble Peace Prize Awards and then went into Bush and Perot.  Sprinkle some of the other stuff within the show and brought the OJ trial after Update.  It’s not that the sketches were bad; they were just solo Carvey bits.

Host Analysis: Carvey was good but really overshadowed the cast.  I can only imagine how hard it is to get airtime on SNL when you’re a new cast member and then to have somebody just take full control must be infuriating, you can really see that there is no energy from the cast at the Goodnights.  Only Sandler and Meadows got to headline sketches and pretty much everyone from the cast was relegated to bit parts or sat this episode out.

Final Thoughts

Yeah, when I go see Paul McCartney I want him to sing ‘Jet’ but I also paid $100 for those tickets so I’d like to have some variety.  Carvey just trotted out his greatest hits and it was almost like watching a clip show.  While the sketches themselves were decent and I rated most of them highly, I can’t help but think that this was a dip to the well too early in the season.  You can tell at the Goodnights that they have a cast of people who didn’t really do much this week.  Interesting thing about watching the goodnights, you can see Carvey saying something to Mike Myers, like he’s apologizing about something.  With the Milton cartoon ending the show, and no Carvey in sight for the end half, I can’t help but think something got cut.  You also see Michael McKean in a bald cap that wasn’t in a sketch.

With the Carvey train rolling so strong in the beginning and then disappearing, I have to assume there was another sketch planned for the end of the night.  If not a Wayne’s World sketch, it seems weird that they wouldn't let Carvey and Myers play together at all in this episode.

Up Next

Sarah Jessica Parker hosts.  I’m not sure when in Parker’s career this episode took place, if this was pre or post ‘Sex And The City’, and I don’t know if I watched this one live.  I’m expecting another episode like Marisa Tomei, where Parker stays in the background and lets Sandler and Farley take the reigns.

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