It’s always great to see familiar faces return to Studio 8H at Rockefeller Center on Saturday nights. After fairly successful hosting stints from Molly Shannon, Tina Fey and Will Ferrell, it was pretty exciting to find out that Amy Poehler would be following in their footsteps and making her return to Saturday Night Live, but as a host.
If only it would have been as exciting to watch as it seemed on paper.
The cold opening wasn’t funny. Featuring the one-note Kristen Wiig as Delaware Republican nominee Christine O’Donnell, and targeted towards O’Donnell’s apparent one-time involvement with witchcraft, it just wasn’t funny. It’s hard to say anything further than that. But as the sketch came to an end with the customary ‘Live, from New York, it’s Saturday Night!,’ there were hopes that it would get better now that Amy Poehler would be involved.
If only that had been true.
Poehler’s monologue was fabulous, and involved cameos by the brilliant Tina Fey, Jimmy Fallon, Rachel Dratch, and Justin Timberlake. It was Poehler at her best, mixing wry humor with undeniable charm, and demonstrated the rapports she had – and continues to have – with her former castmates. Followed immediately by the return of the “Bronx Beat, with Betty and Jodi” sketch alongside Maya Rudolph, another surprise, things really were starting to look up. “Bronx Beat” also featured musical guest Katy Perry, who was surprisingly good, and whose character parodied the recent Sesame Street scandal surrounding the singer.
After that, however, the show went back downhill, a trend that would last through the remaining seventy minutes or so, with only a brief reprieve granted by “Weekend Update,” which reunited Poehler with former “Update” co-anchor, Seth Meyers. The five or so minutes that “Update” lasted, I was glad to watch, because I was entertained, and it was a joy to see Poehler and Meyers given the opportunity to play off each other again. The two of them are nothing short of comedic gold together, and it’s been a vastly different “Update” without her. While Meyers is a gem on his own, and has handled the anchor duties really well, it was obvious how happy he was to have her back, and how glad she was to be back.
If only the whole show could have been one long “Update.”
Most of the sketches – a parody of the Bosley Hair Center infomercials, a talk show that catered to pregnant women, a terribly offensive advertisement for services offered by the mosque at Ground Zero (a sketch that seemed in excessively poor taste regardless of the timing), a ‘promo’ for a ‘new show’ on Showtime featuring one of Poehler’s former characters (the one-legged Amber), and one centered on the competition among two women in a group of friends meeting for lunch – fell more than flat, and were all huge wastes of the opportunity to use Poehler once again.
The one highlight that didn’t involve Poehler was the “Actor II Actor” sketch (a parody of something like Inside the Actors’ Studio) featuring Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake. One thing is for certain – if Timberlake ever decides to leave music behind, he has a sure-fire career in acting waiting on the backburner. Timberlake and Samberg are really enjoyable together, and the sketch lasted just long enough.
All in all, however, the season premiere was not what it could have been, and that mostly comes from not using Poehler in ways that would have allowed her to shine. When you get the chance to use a woman who knows SNL, and who loves SNL, then it would have been wise to take advantage. Relegating her to unfunny sketches and putting her on the backburner in order to showcase borderline-offensive sketches and less-engaging performers is not the answer, and it definitely wasn’t a recipe for success for Saturday Night Live this week. Hopefully, if they ever get another chance, they’ll get it right.
But tonight, it was all wrong, and Poehler’s talent was wasted.