• Tina Fey was a welcome change to SNL, but episode still suffered

    When Tina Fey was announced as the upcoming host of SNL, my gut reaction was simply “YES!” After all, when a talented member of the cast – and in this case an amazing writer, too – returns, it’s an event. So, hope immediately went sky high for really crisp writing and delivery. Then the promos started running, and my gut reaction was “OH NO!”

    The three spots with Fred Armisen were just terribly dull and the two spots with musical guest Justin Bieber weren’t much better. Fortunately, you can’t view these spots anymore on NBC.com

    Is it fair to assume that 15-second promos represent what will happen in an hour-and-a-half show? Maybe not, but Fey’s known for her quick wit and snappy one-liners more than anything else. So if she can’t get a laugh in 15 seconds, well…

    Unsurprisingly, the show fell squarely in the middle. Fey wasn’t overwhelmingly great, but she wasn’t bad, either.

    In her hit-or-miss monologue, shhe wasn’t shy about shelling for her projects, mentioning “30 Rock,” “Baby Mama” and the real raison d’etre “Date Night” (twice). In between plugs, however, she did get some funny stuff in. Her shout-out segment included a couple of zingers, an unexpected cameo, a repeat cameo from her first time hosting and Keenan Thompson in drag.

    You won’t find it on NBC.com, but you can see it on YouTube (for now).

    As for sketches, like the announcement build-up to the promo-letdown, the show started with its best stuff and ended with its weakest.

    Following her monologue, Fey flew solo in a faux commercial for Duncan Hines that epitomized how a genuinely funny premise and a fearless performance translate to laughs. It was dirty both figuratively and physically and I’m really surprised it got such an early airing. I don’t want to name the commercial, because it’s a laugh spoiler. Just watch and savor.

    That material might not have been too suitable for those who stayed up way past their bedtime to see Justin Bieber. And the far funnier than Mary Kay Letourneau sketch “Teacher” might not have been either. But it was surely funny for both audiences. To us thirty-somethings and beyond, the sketch used subtle detail to poke fun at modern adult lifestyle. Bieber played the young, irresistible foil magnificently (albeit slightly, er, stiffly), singing laugh-inducing lines like “I’ll buy you a panini and some Spanx to make you teeny.”

    Meanwhile, the younger (likely female) viewers, who tuned in solely for dreamy Bieber, were represented by Fey as she pointed out the nuances of the young superstar’s appeal. “His smile is like watching a baby bunny sniff a tiny flower.”

    It’s true, as Fey admitted during her monologue, that those young women probably weren’t hanging around all week because of her. Still, she proved to be a fantastic female role model when she returned as a “Weekend Update” guest to present “Women’s News.” Like the best comedians of any age, Fey married social commentary and mockery in an attempt to make us laugh and think. Focusing on Sandra Bullock’s marital woes, she even managed to squeeze a Hitler joke in.

    Speaking of women, the one character everyone couldn’t wait to see Fey repeat, Sarah Palin, made a fairly funny return. Positioning herself as another Oprah, Fey’s Palin introduced her new TV network show lineup. She even managed to poke fun at both Palin and herself with “the hilarious ’30 Rock’ parody ‘30 Main Street,’” describing her character Lez Lemons as “an uppity bitch so focused on her career, that she’s in her late thirties and still doesn’t have grandchildren.”

    Much of the rest of the show was a missed opportunity or simply mediocre or. An “Aunt Linda” movie review segment on “Weekend Update” could have taken on “Date Night” but instead took easy potshots at “Clash of the Titans,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “Avatar.” And I’ve watched the final sketch of the night, “Lolene,” three times trying to figure out how anybody thought it was supposed to be remotely humorous.

    Next week’s host is Ryan Phillippe with musical guest Ke$sha.

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