Friday, September 27, 2013

Week 18 of "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

I have reservations about this pick. I don't know why, but it feels somewhat blasphemic to pick an episode of this show that aired in 2009. For some reason, all of the Internet trolls and the nostalgia I do not have are making me feel weird about it. But thankfully, it was only recently that the creator of said program told me that it's the episodes you watch in high school that are your favourites, because staying up late to watch them is fun and exciting when you don't have money or a driver's license. So if you take issue with this (you really won't), I have a television legend on my side. And no, I still don't know why I'm always trying to be mysterious with this.

After the break: He definitely knows his way around.

Saturday Night Live, "Justin Timberlake/Ciara"
First aired on NBC Saturday, May 9, 2009

One of my favourite "Saturday Night Live" companion pieces is the weekly "SNL" podcast done by former "Survivor" contestant Rob Cesternino (who, if you recall, has already made an appearance on this list) and his friend/pop culture expert Rich Tackenberg on "Rob Has a Podcast". Part way through last season, the pair touched on an idea of "two steps back, one step forward" when it came to selecting hosts. At the time, the last three episodes had been hosted by Adam Levine, Justin Bieber, and Christoph Waltz. With the Levine and Bieber shows largely disasters (emphasis on "disaster" with the Bieber show in particular) and the Waltz episode a marked improvement, if not the best episode of the season, it became easy to believe in some sort of a tradeoff agreement. "Fine, we'll have the pop stars on. Levine can do a shitty "Voice" parody sketch and Bieber can mug at the camera for 90 minutes while the teenage girls in the audience faint," Lorne Michaels might have said. "But next week we get to pick whoever we want to host and you can't say anything about it. We want to spend the week hanging out with someone we actually like."

But there are cases where people can escape that first group and move firmly into the second. Lord knows I hated, hated, hated last season's Bruno Mars episode, but I know I'm firmly in the minority on that and a lot of people are ready to praise him as the next Justin Timberlake (my reaction to this is very similar to Lionel Hutz's reaction to a world without lawyers). But whatever. It's a thing. He's poised for a leap. Sometimes that happens. It's not just exclusive to non-actors, either. Did anyone have much reason to believe Anne Hathaway had a comedic persona before her first appearance in 2008? She's now one of the show's best hosts.

Much in the same way that the previously mentioned Timberlake likely had nothing expected of him when he first hosted back in the fall of 2003. But by his third episode, you could readily predict about half of the show before it aired because you knew he was going to do "The Barry Gibb Talk Show," "Bring it on down to [Blank]ville" and some sort of early 90s ironic R&B digital short with Andy Samberg.

The sketch by sketch breakdown:

A Special Address from The Secretary of the Treasury: During the then-developing economic meltdown, the major American banks were put through a "stress test" to evaluate their effectiveness. Here, Timothy Geithner reveals the results of the "written test" taken by the bank CEOs. It plays out as something like Conan O'Brien's "Celebrity Survey" sketch with comically bad answers, but it's still a funny idea with some actually decent jokes (some fun out of context answers: "Knicks tickets," "shred documents," "flee the country," "do-able," and "eliminate eye witnesses").

Monologue: Nothing much to this - Timberlake makes his way through the studio singing about how well he knows the place by now. It's not terribly funny, but I'm usually fine with any non-terrible monologue. The best moment is when Timberlake sits down with Lorne Michaels and the two spend a few seconds drinking wine, before he reminds him, "It's Justin." In SNL's 2000s special, Timberlake talks about writing comedic songs that work on another level because they're songs people actually want to sing. Believe me, I spent the next few days after rewatching this episode humming "I think I know my way around" constantly.

Mom Celebrity Translator: Funny because it's true! Only now taken to ridiculous extremes, where Keanu Reeves becomes "Keith Ragu" and Kiefer Sutherland becomes "Calvin Sonogram". To be fair, these celebrities don't have the most standard names to begin with. I think the moment that really makes it is the audio playback to help moms hear the correct pronunciation. Another great sketch that makes me mad Michaela Watkins wasn't kept around. Also, I've never seen "Breakdance Fountain" but I hear Joe Geronimo was great in it.

Target Greatland: I was pretty tired of Target Lady at this point, but this sketch works for me entirely on the basis of Timberlake as Peg, an elderly friend of Target Lady who wears a bright pink robe and slippers (or "fashion sandals" as she calls them) in public and seems to have odd sexual fetishes. It's one thing to have someone who knows how to perform host the show like Bruno Mars. It's another to write material for them that actually contains scripted attempts at comedy. I have no shame in laughing at Peg referring to her, ahem, "Barbara Bush" ("it's white and people took pictures of it in the 90s"). I would have to really go back through the archives to make sure I'm not making it up, but this seemed to put Timberlake on the Cheri Oteri path of loving to play characters who didn't know how bad they really had it.

Ellis Island Immigrants: In 1883, a group of immigrants comes to America for the first time. The group speculates as to what the future will hold for their great-grandchildren, including one Cornelius Timberlake. Cornelius predicts his great-grandson will make lots of money through popular songs, bring sexy back ("Where did it go?" "It will be GONE and he'll bring it back"), and go to work with a band of boys ("Like a sweatshop?" "Sort of...sort of like a sweatshop"). Even better, though, are the self-depricating digs at Justin's fashion sense and how often he makes cameo appearances on SNL. ("He'll make regular appearances on a Saturday night comedy show! And there will be great excitement! And he'll appear again, and again, and again." "...Won't that lessen the excitement each time?" Timberlake basically drops the accent he's putting on when he says "Nooooo! No,'ll be good, right?")

Motherlover: Oh boy. Not as good as the original, but still a very good follow up to something I didn't think they should even try to recapture half the magic of. Celebrity cameos from Patricia Clarkson and Susan Sarandon help, as does another solid set of lyrics from Timberlake and The Lonely Island (keeping with the idea of writing a song that people actually want to sing). And again, stuck in my head for days afterwards were lyrics like "Every Mother's Day needs a Mother's Night, if doing it is wrong I don't wanna be right" and "This is the second best idea that we've ever had."

Plasticville: I never understood why this was a sketch that "had" to be in every Timberlake show. But I commend him and the writers for always committing to this bit, getting the chance to rewrite whatever songs were popular at the moment (in this case, "Smack That," "My Life Would Suck Without You," and "Just Dance") to fit the theme of plastic surgery. Also, he's a dancing breast implant. Not as funny as the "Homelessville" cup of soup due to the sheer gigantism of that costume, but still pretty great.

Weekend Update: SNL returns tomorrow with Seth Meyers joined at the Update desk by Cecily Strong. It's a welcome addition, considering how many of Meyers' tricks we know after 7 years at the desk. Still, I love his introduction here by pointing out how stupid it was to actually fly Air Force One over Manhattan to get a picture of Air Force One over Manhattan. "Look, here's Air Force One at the Pyramids," Meyers delivers in a way only he can, presenting a photoshopped picture. "Here it is in a crowded elevator. Here it is on the red carpet with the space shuttle. And here it is in the popular children's book 'Where's Air Force One?'" Another Meyers bit I love here is the multiple punchlines run, making numerous jokes about the recent marriage between Peter Sarsgaard and Maggie Gyllenhaal ("their celebrity couple name is 'aaarrraaa'" and the brilliant "they wrote their own vowels"). David Paterson and Eliot Spitzer show up and are now basically an Abbott and Costello-esque comedy duo (or I guess I should call them "Horndog and Blurry," so goes the title of their Spike TV buddy cop show). Paterson always overshooting his entrance so badly and Meyers having to wheel him back over was something that strangely enough always got funnier for me each time they did it (I hope hell is fun). There's a commentary from Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto discussing the abuse they've taken from "Star Trek" fans, but with only the easiest stereotypical nerd jokes, there's not much to see there. Except for Bobby Moynihan sitting in the crowd wearing Spock ears and a Starfleet uniform mouthing the words "I will kill you".

The Barry Gibb Talk Show: I get that some people got really tired of this. I didn't for whatever reason. Sometimes the sheer joy and enthusiasm from the performers in a sketch is terrible, because it holds the audience hostage with multiple reappearances by "The Californians". Other times, you get Jimmy Fallon and Timberlake transitioning from berating a guest by threatening to double-dutch jump rope with their innards to turning that threat into a song a few seconds later. I probably don't need to see any new iterations, but these still make me laugh, dammit.

Next week: It has sequels direct and in spirit, but the original still towers over all.