• Dana Carvey gives SNL the old school treatment, and a few laughs along the way

    Watching Saturday Night Live this week felt like introducing your mature, good-natured adult friends to that crazy cool old college buddy that you reminisce about all the time. At first, it was great, with the show spotlighting the biggest and best marks host Dana Carvey left on the show’s legacy during his stint from 1986-1993.

    The show’s cold open came straight from Aurora, IL. Carvey’s Garth once again sat alongside Mike Myers’ Wayne. The duo tossed around banter about the Oscar nominees, getting a lot of mileage out of “Winter’s Bone.” The old pals pulled off a great Abbott and Costello moment and forsook the cue for a “sha-wing!” for a cleverer response to awards show co-host Anne Hathaway.

    For his opening monologue, Carvey brought us back to the present, pointing out that his two teenage sons were in the audience before launching into a lighthearted tune about how no SNL cast has been any better than any other cast. Well, he did emphasize that “’86-‘93 was the best.” After a few not-quite-funny moments of fake-mistaken identities, Carvey was joined by another member of the old gang, Jon Lovitz. With a one-word old punch line, Lovitz got the nostalgic cheers Carvey craved.

    Continuing the trip down memory lane, Carvey next appeared onstage backed by a familiar stained glass window, wig in place and lips pursed for “Church Chat.” The writers reiterated their dislike of TV programming, as the Church Lady poked fun at MTV shows about pregnant teens and “The SportsCenter for Pedophiles” (“Skins”) before introducing the “Holy Trinity of sluts,” with Nasim Pedrad, Vanessa Bayer and Abby Elliott returning as the Kardashians. Bobby Moynahan got to trot out his “Jersey whore,” Snookie, and finally, the Church Lady was tested and bested by a special guest.

    Bieber also popped up in a funny faux movie preview with Andy Samberg.

    Meanwhile, less than half-way through the episode, it became increasingly clear that the show’s current writers weren’t equipped to provide new material for the host. Taking an old Carvey character and adding it to a new premise simply didn’t work.

    For example, the show wanted so badly for Carvey to bring back his Mickey Rooney impersonation. But instead of constructing a reasonable purpose for him, they relegated Rooney to a bit part, slapped together some of the current cast’s impersonations (Bill Hader as Alan Alda, Fred Armisen as Ice-T, Abby Elliott as Anna Faris and Jay Pharoah as Eddie Murphy) and left it at that.

    Likewise, the return of Carvey’s Regis Philbin was funny in and of itself, but Pedrad’s nasally, annoying impersonation of Kelly Ripa was awful and Kristen Wiig’s Kathie Lee offered nothing new. Among the not-quite-right new roles Carvey took on were a children’s pageant co-host alongside Kenan Thompson and a new wave band leader playing a bar on Super Bowl Sunday. Basically it was just another platform for Armisen to sing awkwardly.

    One bit that hit out of left field was a Weekend Update spot by Paul Brittain as Hathaway’s Oscar co-host, James Franco. The impersonation wasn’t anything to brag about, but the ongoing joke of poking fun at the actor’s renaissance man tendencies was pretty funny. You’ll have to watch the entire Update to get the full effect, but here’s the gist.

    Next week courts a bit of controversy with host Russell Brand and musical guest Chris Brown.

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