As a follower of all-things-SNL, I have mixed feelings over the show's election-year foray into primetime, Weekend Update Thursday. I can get past the oxymoronic name — something that seems less a tongue-in-cheek choice by the creative team in Studio 8H and more of the "Of course we can still call it The Tonight Show if it airs at 12:35 a.m.!" logic of the upper floors of 30 Rock. Saturday Night Live is never really "live" for a west coaster like me anyway, so I'm not about to start complaining that Thursday isn't technically the "weekend."
On one hand, more sketches and jokes is always a good thing, in my book. SNL can reach an even wider audience in NBC's Thursday night comedy block, boosting its cultural relevancy and increasing the star power of its cast members (an especially nice benefit for the newcomers). Also, the writers can get a jump on the gun for commenting on the week's political news — something they usually have to wait until the weekend (after all the other late-night comedians have had their shot) to do. Other the other hand, this is SNL we're talking about. Election-year SNL. The show isn't in any dire need for viewers the way NBC's other Thursday comedies are. It's no secret that the primetime specials are an attempt by the network to milk SNL's election year momentum for all it's worth… at the risk of exhausting its already burdened staff. At the end of the day, Weekend Update Thursday occupies a similar niche within the SNL canon as Will Ferrell's third Best Of DVD and any of those behind-the-scenes docs that NBC periodically airs: It's SNL-related so I'll probably watch and enjoy it, but it's really not that necessary.
The first Weekend Update Thursday had several great moments, but overall it felt a bit thrown-together, as if the writers and cast members were biding their time and saving the better material for Saturday's episode with Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Despite only having a third of the sketches of a normal 90-minute SNL episode, here is my breakdown of the hits and misses:
Convention Cutaways DVD. SNL got this premise through just before its post-conventions expiration date. It's a simple flat joke executed well: a full cast parody of the random people the camera cut to during the conventions, including the enjoyable "guy who brought props that only make sense to him," "woman with too much arm flab," and "Middle Eastern woman they keep cutting to whenever someone mentions Hispanics."
James Carville. The best thing about Bill Hader's take on the Ragin' Cajun is how delightfully weird the Democratic strategist has evolved over the years. In this appearance, we learned that Carville's eel-upbringing falls on specifically on his water mocassin mother's side, and that he has a twin sister who, sadly, "waits by the phone." There was also his Manchurian Candidate-esque connection with Bill Clinton during the convention: "If Bill pulls on his ear twice and says ‘magnolia,’ I’m supposed to kill George Stephanopoulos."
Drunk Uncle. Bobby Moynihan's inebriated, rambling bigot — which I picked as my favorite new character last season — made his grand return to the Update desk. While the bit ran on a beat too long, Moynihan nonetheless gave a fine performance the whole way through, with ignorant gems such as "Everyone's walking around with Blueteeth!" and "If State Farm was like my neighbor, he'd steal my mail and yell at me in Jewish."
Fox and Friends Cold Open. I think perhaps my issue with SNL's Fox and Friends parodies has to do with the timing of the three-way conversation between Taran Killam, Vanessa Bayer and Bobby Moynihan (playing Steve Doocy, Gretchen Carlson, and Brian Kilmeade). The three leads do a fine job reflecting the pundits' moronic yes-anding, but often it interferes with the setup-punchline tempo of SNL. The strength of this sketch, as in Saturday's cold open, was the cutaways to Mitt Romney (Jason Sudeikis), who got pummeled all episode for his "47 percent" remarks earlier this week. I loved seeing Romney suffering from "the sugar blindness" at McDonalds and gaffe his way through Cash Cab (with Tim Robinson as Ben Bailey). And as usual, the sketch's best jokes came in the form of the "corrections" at the end, which you can find listed here.
News Segment. Seth's desk jokes were surprisingly hit or miss for the half hour. He can't win 'em all, especially under such a time crunch. Though he managed to get a few golden punchlines through — including a satisfying dig at Lindsay Lohan. (Just don't let her host again, please!)
What did you think? Was Weekend Update Thursday strong enough for you to justify a primetime slot? Were you surprised they didn't pull Jay Pharoah out to play President Obama even once during the half hour? Will you watch the second primetime special next week? Anyone interested in signing my petition for the release of Saturday Night Live - The Best of Finesse Mitchell on DVD? Think of the millions, NBC!
Erik Voss is a writer and performer living in Los Angeles. He performs on the Harold team The Cartel at the iO West Theater.