I thought I'd do something different for my SNL reviews this season; rather than do a sketch by sketch analysis, I thought I'd just to a shorter summation of my impressions of last night's show.
Tonight was the season premiere of the 35-year-old show, which has received renewed notice thanks in part to Tina Fey's Sarah Palin impression. Although they didn't quite sustain the momentum from the pre-election shows, last season was the most solidly enjoyable year since Will Ferrell left in 2002. This, plus the two teaser Weekend Update Thursdays that ran so far this season built up expectations for the season premiere.
During the summer, news broke about two featured players being fired (the horribly misused Casey Wilson and the solid Michaela Watkins) and being replaced with two new females, Jenny Slate and Nasim Pedrad; as well as speculation that Darrell Hammond and Don Pardo were both gone. As well, SNL continued with its tradition of booking a not particularly promising host for the season opener by selecting Megan Fox, the bargain basement Angelina Jolie, to kick off the year; they did try to compensate by pairing her up with musical guest U2, whose previous two appearances provided instantly memorable moments such as Bono spontaneously running around the studio and reducing some of the female SNL cast to tears.
The show was particularly weak. Pardo was back but Hammond was gone. There was one particularly notable moment (which I'll get to later), but overall the writing wasn't there (aside from Weekend Update). Megan Fox wasn't absolutely terrible as anticipated (she was at least better than Michael Phelps), but she wasn't another Anne Hathaway: she did not add anything to the sketches she was in and did not really seem to have an innate comic sensibility or even much of a game-for-anything vibe that less funny hosts have been able to coast by on. The phone chat and Grady Wilson sketches were the biggest laughs of the night (maybe Transformers too, cheap as it was), but the sketches about the airplane and the Russian bride didn't go anywhere, and they found it necessary to dilute an otherwise strong WU with an appearance by Kenan Thompson's awful Jean K. Jean character: it wasn't funny the first time and it wasn't funny the 43 times they've done it in the following 18 months. Even U2 was somewhat underwhelming: aside from a big video screen and Bono swinging a bit on his microphone for "Ultraviolet" (a song almost 20 years old) during the goodnights, it was a pretty laconic performance.
I've learned long ago that the season premiere of SNL is usually not one of the stronger shows of the season. What this show is going to be remembered for, though, is the mistake that happened at about 12:40 am in the otherwise unmemorable Biker Chick Chat, a showcase for new featured player Jenny Slate. The main gimmick of the sketch was the constant use of the euphemism "frickin'", but when a script repeatedly uses a word clearly intended to take the place of another you can't say on network TV, and combine it with someone new to live network television, something's bound to happen. And that's precisely what happened.
This is not the first time an f-bomb was dropped on SNL, as three cast members and a number of musical guests already broke that taboo long before. It was also a clear accident and not premeditated. What makes this notable, though, is that this is Slate's first SNL, and despite appearing a few times last night, Biker Chick Chat was her first speaking role, let alone first sketch where she played the lead. There is speculation on the internet about whether this spells the end of her SNL tenure (if fired immediately, she would be tied with Laurie Metcalf and Emily Prager for shortest SNL stint), but if the self-appointed guardians of morality cause a huge outcry over the accidental use of a four letter word that has been said on network TV before, and after midnight to boot, they really need to get over themselves.
I'd be more concerned that Lady Gaga will try to outdo Slate on the October 3 show by changing every other word in her song to the c-word and then mark the 17th anniversary of the Sinead O'Connor incident by shaving her head and tearing up pictures of multiple popes.