Sunday, October 10, 2010

'Saturday Night Live' Pays Respect To, And Plays To The Strengths Of, Host Jane Lynch...

When I was a kid, staying up late on a Saturday night to watch the sketch comedy stylings of random twenty and thirty somethings in New York never really appealed all that much to me. Maybe a lot of the humor went over my head in the beginning, which made me think the jokes just weren't that funny, but I found that only if someone I was really, really interested in was a guest star would I feel like asking permission to stay up and watch.

And as I got older, my interest in
Saturday Night Live (and then Madtv) remained very heavily focused on the guest stars. When Neve Campbell was on SNL after the success of Scream (the first installment), I eagerly awaited that episode all week, let alone all night. I couldn't wait to see how they'd make fun of her movie, let alone her name (both of which they did in ways I still find memorable to this day).

Nothing against the comedians of the show; they are all very talented, and nowadays I do end up watching a lot of clips of their best characters online, but I find that the show as a whole has a tendency to plunk a guest star down into seemingly random, pre-determined sketches with little to no regard as to whether or not they're really appropriate. Take last week's Bryan Cranston episode, for example. While, sure, they poked fun at his career of always ending up in tightie whities on television (through photos of those past moments), they had him playing all sorts of inane characters that anyone could have done. Like the kissing host of a children's game show. Or Billy Ray Cyrus.

Last night Jane Lynch was hosting, though, so I assumed all bets should be off. She came from a sketch comedy background; she is a smart and assertive actor; she has been in dozens of hit movies and is now an Emmy winner for a phenomenon of a TV show. Surely SNL can't screw this up, right?? Well, I'll give them this: for the first time in a long time, they seemed to really play to their host's strengths. They seemed to understand her talent (maybe the writers have not liked previous hosts or have not had time to watch their tapes to see what they can do), and in true sketch troupe form, they wrote pieces that would show off some of her lesser known abilities to lift her up, rather than drag her into the category of "just another celebrity in over her head." Case in point? Showing off Lynch's vocal chops better than glee ever has in not one but two sketches (the opening monologue and "Sunday Night Football").

They also, whether intentionally or not, took a crack at a lot of her notable past roles, like her slightly unorthodox therapist on Two and a Half Men with this week's digital short, "Relaxation Therapy," and the slightly dorky mom that she has played in movies like Post Grad with the "Mom's On Facebook" faux commercial. And of course Lynch got to parody her own now infamous character of Sue Sylvester from glee in a Gilly sketch that as of press time has not be cleared for the internet, so I will do my best to describe it to you.

Lynch, in full red tracksuit, took on Jason Sudeikis as Will Schuester in a sketch that was designed to poke fun at the more obvious jokes in glee, such as Will's obsession to still be in glee club, Finn's, uh, "slow"ness, the fact that Artie is "different," and Mercedes' sassiness and ability to riff. Since glee is kind of a parody of itself these days, this sketch felt a little forced (and reminded us just how much SNL would benefit from having an African American female cast member; as funny as it was to see Keenan Thompson in drag for the thousandth time, that dude can do so much more!). Lynch was spot on, but she was pretty much just playing a straight Sue the entire time. To their credit, the SNL writers actually came up with a couple of lines for her that did feel ripped from the series. But the sketch was a Gilly sketch as I mentioned earlier, which means when it took a turn for the ridiculous it was for whole other reasons than the singing/dancing/glee club in peril plots that FOX unfolds weekly.

Personally it would have been nice to see Lynch take a crack at one of her cast members. Maybe she could have played a Cheerios-uniform-outfitted Quinn, for example, or even donned a jerry curl wig and showed us all just why her on-screen archnemesis is such a wimp. Perhaps this was on the table and Lynch nixed it out of respect to the kids; I don't know. But I certainly think that sketch should have brought down the house (and night) with laughter, but once again, just like on the show itself, the only consistent moments within it were when Lynch was on-screen.

My Life, Made Possible by Pop Culture once again tuned in only for the guest star in this scenario. However, what we found was a rich and at times poignant show (instead of the "Suze Orman Show" sketch just poking fun at Lynch's character's closeted behavior, she came out and proud by the end which is extremely timely of late) that actually respected the guest star. Was the entire episode a hit? Of course not, no. Aside from a few late cues, there was also Jay Pharoah's painfully unfunny take on a race-sensitive Denzel Washington. If all that kid has in his corner is impressions, we may see him fade into the back faster than Josh Girard!

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