SNL takes sharp aim at Sarah Palin, but doesn't change the game
That's my elite media way of saying that Saturday Night Live's opening spoof of GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin last night was amazingly accurate -- forget how much guest star Tina Fey looks like Palin; how did she cop that Wisconsin-meets-the-high-tundra accent? -- but didn't draw much blood.
Instead Fey and longtime pal Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton made fun of stuff we already knew -- that the inexperienced Palin and her come-from-nowhere success is just another shot in the side to a woman who seemed uniquely qualified for the presidency, but doomed to be on he wrong side of history.
"Ask this one about dinosaurs," Poehler as Clinton quipped, amazed that somebody who might not believe in them could be a serious candidate for the presidency. Maybe the deeper joke is that we're not as astonished as her character.
Unfortunately, it's still the Daily Show which excels at telling tough truths about American political and media culture through satire -- though I loved Poehler's Weekend Update joke about how McCain was just trailing six points behind his running mate (I bet a real-life poll would have an even bigger gap).
The rest of SNL's fall debut was what we'd come to expect. Host Michael Phelps couldn't possibly live up to a double-barrelled opening salvo of Fey and Poehler, especially since the show worked hard to limit his role as much as possible. I told a friend that expecting an Olympic swimming champion to be a good SNL host is like expecting a farmer to be a good airline pilot -- the two jobs don't seem remotely related.
Watching Phelps struggle to play himself in a sketch where Keenan Thompson was struggling to play Charles Barkley and Darrell Hammond seemed annoyed to be stuck in the butt end of the show as Bela Karolyi, the wisdom of producers' decision regarding their host was clear. (Thompson's de-evolution into a new-school Garrett Morris -- the black guy who plays famous black people mostly by putting on bad hairpieces and shouting a lot, is a sad, separate story).
If anything, Saturday's show left you wondering what this franchise was going to do without Poehler, who was in the lion's share of the show's sketches despite her quite-obvious pregnancy. Hiding her behind podiums and pillows looked like a page from an old sitcom -- though showing off her belly in a sketch about the Michael Phelps 12,000 calorie per day diet was priceless.
Instead of telling me something new and funny about where we are politically, Saturday's SNL left me wistful for the days when talented women like Fey, Poehler and Maya Rudolph ran the joint (and sad about reports that Hurricane Ike prompted Barack Obama to cancel, scotching a possible appearance by Rudolph as Michelle Obama).
Fey and Poehler are about to have their own shows to worry about. SNL better find a way to get its mojo back before these talented ladies have left the building for good.
Here's the Fey/Poehler and Barkley sketches: