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'SNL' Review: Martin Freeman Comes Bearing Gifts

While watching this weekend's SNL hosted by first-timer Martin Freeman, I couldn't help but wonder what the show's original head writer Michael O'Donoghue might have thought of an episode that turned the recently released CIA torture report into jokes about autocorrect and Time Warner Cable, all while tens of thousands of people crowded the length of Sixth Avenue just outside the 30 Rockefeller doors in protest of police brutality and racism. Fans who abandoned SNL back in the '80s will be the quickest to point out that the show's satire hasn't had any edge since O'Donoghue left, but those of us still who still watch regularly know that [...]

'SNL' Review: A Step Back with Cameron Diaz

Well, that didn't last long.

Just one week after seemingly proclaiming its transitional era to be over, SNL reaffirmed viewers' perennial skepticism with an episode that made Woody Harrelson's excellent outing look like that much more of a fluke. Cameron Diaz's hosting gig wasn't quite the disaster the show is capable of, but it exhibited all the symptoms of a bland episode that no one will remember by the end of the season: a game-for-anything host that the writers didn't know what to do with (despite this being her fourth time), a dependence on watered-down recurring bits that the actors seem to love more than audiences do, and a general miscalculation by producers on [...]

Hannibal Buress Reviews a Restaurant in Mansfield, PA: "Your Restaurant's a Real Piece of Shit"

Hannibal Buress is currently on his Comedy Camisado tour, so he decided to put his experience on the road to use by launching a new series of local restaurant reviews. He uploaded the first (and hopefully not the last) installment today, recalling his less than stellar experience at Lamb's Creek in Mansfield, Pennsylvania. Hopefully Lamb's Creek steps up their celery game in the future.

Amy Poehler's 'Yes Please' Is the Best Non-Self-Help Self-Help Book Ever

Before I can start my thoughts on Amy Poehler’s Yes Please (Dey Street Press, out today), I have to put aside Professional Writer Voice and make a confession: I love self-help books. I’m not talking about the ones that promise if you just think positively piles of money will magically appear. I mean the ones that urge us to be better people, that gently tell us it’s slowly inch-by-inch going to be okay and that it helps our hearts to be kinder to others and to ourselves. I have an entire shelf of them. If there’s a Brene Brown book to be had, I own a dog-eared, heavily-underlined copy, [...]

'SNL' Review: Bill Hader's Master Class

You can judge how great a past SNL cast member was by the void they refill when they return to the show. Maya Rudolph's hosting gig in 2012 reminded viewers not only how irreplaceable of a triple-threat talent Rudolph is, but how colorless (in every possible meaning of the word) the cast seemed in her absence. Andy Samberg's return last May revealed the cast remained short of a goofball viewers seemed to like, even if the show could still produce amazing video content without him. If SNL needs to know what it's missing, it needs only bring back an old cast member to highlight the weak spots.

Bill Hader returned [...]

Making Sense of Serializing 'South Park'

South Park has made a name for itself by breaking boundaries and pushing the envelope, with their incredibly streamlined production schedule allowing them near-unrivaled power on commenting on breaking and current events. So it’s a little surprising that the most unpredictable and ambitious thing South Park did this season was experiment with serialized, continuity-heavy storytelling. This season embraced the approach more than ever before, almost distilling the year into a singular storyline that they kept returning to.

While its prevalence has fluctuated throughout the season (some episodes have functioned entirely as standalone entities), it’s worth assessing why South Park has decided to make this shift this late in the game, [...]

Hannibal Buress Calls Cracker Barrel "The Tim Duncan of Chain Restaurants"

Hannibal Buress posted a brand new restaurant review over the weekend, this time on a Cracker Barrel location in Macon, Georgia. Unlike Lamb's Creek in Pennsylvania, Buress has a few nice things to say about the Cracker Barrel franchise: "I've never walked out of a Cracker Barrel thinking 'What the fuck?'" Also: "Cracker Barrel is the Tim Buncan of chain restaurants: It's a superstar, but slightly boring, but efficient." Plus, without Cracker Barrel's gift shop he couldn't have made the impulse purchase of a $20 keyboard to pursue his dreams of being the world's #1 Hannibal. Cracker Barrel: It's underrated, it's consistent, and it'll make your dreams come true.

Jon Stewart Finds Moments of Levity in a Horrifying Ordeal in 'Rosewater'

In early 2013, when Jon Stewart announced his first-ever hiatus from The Daily Show to direct a film about a journalist tortured in an Iranian prison, fans did a collective double take. Stewart’s directing? And it’s a drama? Though the move was unexpected, perhaps it shouldn’t have been. It wasn’t all that long ago that think piece after think piece was written about the hope of Stewart going serious. Much of this started after his famous appearance on Crossfire (ten whole years ago!) and lasted for years afterward. Directing Rosewater may not have been the turn toward seriousness that Stewart’s fans were demanding, but it’s a good fit for [...]

'SNL' Review: Jim Carrey Dances Like Everybody's Watching

When Jim Carrey last hosted SNL in 2011 (the first episode I reviewed for this site), I worried the 1990s comedy icon best known for playing manic cartoons from In Living Color, three comedy blockbusters in 1994, and a well regarded SNL stint, would fail to connect with the show's modern lineup. Thankfully, Carrey proved me wrong, blending nicely with Fred Armisen's eccentric subtlety and showing us how much fun a (then) fresh-faced Taran Killam could be to watch. Carrey's performance was a testament to the fact that while SNL may evolve, with increasingly eye-popping production value and an emerging struggle to make its live multicam elements work, some things will always just [...]

Looking at the Dark and Absurd Sci-Fi Comedy of 'Space Station 76'

The Jack Plotnick-directed Space Station 76 takes place in a 1970s vision of the future. You might ask what exactly that means, but it’s a fairly straightforward description: imagine the 1970s. Now imagine them in space. That’s what Space Station 76 looks like, with beautifully cold space station sets, throwback '70s costuming, and robots resembling R2D2. The second most-discussed film at South by Southwest, it’s flown relatively under-the-radar since, but as it comes out on VOD, DVD, and digital download next week, this quietly funny movie is worth your attention.

It’s tempting to view Space Station 76 as a straight sci-fi parody, an homage to the likes of Space:1999. [...]

'SNL' Review: James Franco Delivers in an Episode That Doesn't

Let's face it: over the 40 years SNL has been on the air, the majority of its sketches have not made us laugh. For every "Cowbell," there are a dozen forgotten flat-liners you'd never see on the "Best of Will Ferrell" DVD. At best, the show can hope for a 1:1 hit ratio. That's not meant as a knock against SNL, but as an acknowledgement of its difficulty level. By now, we've gone through enough behind-the-scenes documentaries and oral histories to appreciate the show's demanding six-day production period and the risks of live broadcasts. Regular viewers accept a mixed bag as par for the course.

This season has served as evidence of that inconsistency. SNL has produced some real [...]

'SNL' Review: A Season High with Woody Harrelson

For the past two years, many viewers have described SNL as being in a "transitional phase." This phase began with the departures of Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg in 2012, followed by Jason Sudeikis, Bill Hader, and Fred Armisen in 2013, then by Seth Meyers in early 2014. The old guard was clearing out, and their replacements didn't seem up to the task of continuing that golden era. And while not all of the episodes in this interim period have been bad — in fact, many have been quite good, and the hit-to-miss ratio has remained roughly the same — SNL seemed lost in the woods, with almost weekly PR crises, [...]

'SNL' Review: Chris Rock Underwhelms

Wherever you stand on SNL, it's safe to say that season 40 has shown a noticeable step forward in quality from last season (regardless of lower ratings and the ever-present hate in many corners online). One of the reasons for this improvement has been the fact that all five of this season's hosts have been performers known for their work in comedy. Chris Rock, Jim Carrey, Bill Hader, Sarah Silverman, and Chris Pratt are all stars we're accustomed to laughing at, so we don't have to deal with that annoying "faculty follies" effect the show tries to employ with athlete or musician hosts.

And yet, not every comedian's humor translates to SNL, and [...]

Jim Gaffigan Explores His True Passion in 'Food: A Love Story'

Jim Gaffigan kicks off his new book, Food: A Love Story, by explaining his pedigree for writing about food. It's fair to say that anyone who's seen his standup will need no convincing that he's the man for the job. In fact, his food-love is so well known that he casually mentions the “lunatics on Twitter” who send him photos of crispy bacon, and concedes that many of his standup set lists could double for grocery lists.

Food, like his first best-selling effort, 2013’s Dad Is Fat, is a collection of light-hearted, conversational essays, some of it culled from his standup. It picks up exactly where that book left off — we’re [...]