SNL Season 35: Final cast and episode summary

This is my last part in my series of posts about the 2009-2010 season of SNL.If I blog about SNL any more during the summer hiatus I'm going to focus on earlier seasons and episodes.I plan on doing reviews of an earlier season during the summer, but I wanted to give some final thoughts on the castmembers and the shows this year.I've said before that the writing was the big problem on the show, but I wanted to get in depth on the individual castmembers' performances this year.I also wanted to highlight a few of the standout moments of this year, both good and bad.

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SNL 35.22 Alec Baldwin (and season 35) post-mortem

Last week, I presented the possibility that the SNL cast and writers would have used up all their energy on the Betty White show.This week seems to have confirmed that theory, with an episode not only underwhelming by Alec Baldwin's usually high standards but for a season finale in general.I don't know if they were expecting that Baldwin's presence alone could elevate mediocre material (to be fair, he did help somewhat) or if it was just exhaustion on everyone's part, but either way the finale was another letdown in a season full of them.

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SNL Season 35: What's Wrong?

The current SNL season is almost finished, and by and large it's been a dissapointment.It's not quite at the point it was in the infamously bad seasons (1980-81, 1994-95), but after coming off a particularly strong 2008-09 season (buoyed in part by Tina Fey's cameo appearances as Sarah Palin), the drop in quality is still noticable and that if things don't get fixed soon, it's going to get worse.For the most part this year has actually had at least one funny sketch per show.But the cracks are visible and unless something changes over the summer, next year could have the makings of another bad year on the level of 1994-95, when the show could no longer successfully navigate the line that divides the uninspired and the terrible.

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SNL 35.1 Megan Fox / U2 post-mortem.

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.