Dana Carvey brought along some old friends, including Mike Myers and Jon Lovitz, and a new one, Justin Bieber, in returning as the host of Saturday Night Live. In the process, he proved that some old routines hold up well, and others are wobbly from familiarity.
The show’s cold-open was a “Wayne’s World” sketch with Carvey and Myers giving their Oscar picks, which consisted of a lot of Winter’s Bone sniggering (“Anne hath a way of giving me a bone”). Hey, it sure beat yet another Obama parody.
Carvey’s opening monologue turned into a song about how his years as a regular cast member (1986 to 1993) were the best in SNL‘s history. The host’s Ross Perot impersonation and the running joke that he didn’t know the names of the current cast (calling Bill Hader “Rainn Wilson,” for example) did not bear out a claim to greatness. But Jon Lovitz was pretty terrific. Looking these days like a happy banker, all Lovitz had to do was shout in his stentorian manner, “ACT-ing!” and he raised smiles and laughs.
And the oldies kept on coming. A “Church Chat” sketch was helped by a return appearance by Abby Elliott, Vanessa Bayer, and Nasim Pedrad as the Kardashian sisters. Carvey’s Church Lady was a bit worse for the wear, her catchphrases, including “Isn’t that special?” hammered home with the vehemence of a vaudeville comedian. It was here that Carvey most clearly demonstrated the limitations of SNL‘s signature strategy: the creation and repetition of recurring characters. One of the things that’s been interesting about some of the best SNL cast members throughout the history of the show, whether it be Gilda Radner or Phil Hartman or Lovitz or Jason Sudeikis, is that they could be funny even when they weren’t doing their signature characters. Carvey is very talented indeed, but it’s a talent rooted in making his own identity disappear — a neat trick, but also a limiting one.
Bieber showed up again long enough for the Church Lady to talk about the “tingle” the kid gave her “naughty parts” and to hear Carvey deliver the line, “I want a taste of that sweet Bieber.” Boy, I’ll bet Justin’s never heard that one before…
As for Bieber, he was practically the show’s shadow-host, popping up in an excellent, brief Digital Short parody of the new movie The Roommate, with Andy Samberg as a loony rooming with Bieber.
Earlier this week on Jimmy Fallon’s talk show, Carvey said the SNL cast wanted him to do his Mickey Rooney impersonation, and so he did it, very briefly and with minimal accuracy, in something called “VH1′s Celebrity Teen Crisis Center.” I’m afraid Carvey was upstaged by Bill Hader’s terrific Alan Alda impersonation.
That spoof, along with an excruciating one featuring Kenan Thompson and Carvey as hosts of a beauty pageant revealed the night’s key weakness: The show relied too heavily on our nostalgia for Carvey without providing strong punchlines and sketch structure. Kristen Wiig almost saved a kinda flat “Regis & Kelly” sketch. Carvey did his Philbin (as Regis might yell, “Who DOESn’t!?”), Pedrad barely approximated Kelly Ripa, but Wiig’s Kathie Lee Gifford is one of the best caricatures she contributes to SNL. (I also enjoyed the too-rarely-seen Taran Killam as producer Michael Gelman.)
Speaking of rarely-seen, it was nice to have Paul Brittain on “Weekend Update,” doing a clever James Franco telling Seth Meyers about all the future occupations he wants to try, including rabbi and taxi driver. (“I love jobs!”) Meyers had a good night himself, wringing some sharp humor out of the situation in Egypt, including the line, “You cannot punch the handsome off Anderson Cooper.”
I actually think the night’s best moment may have been its final sketch, one of those end-of-the-night silly ones: Carvey, Fred Armisen, Hader, and Brittain as the Fingerlings, a Flock of Seagulls/Pet Shop Boys melding that confounded a bar filled with stupefied Super Bowl fans.
Linkin Park sounded surgingly strong on two beat-heavy performances.
Oh, and one quick mention of the cast-onstage-waving-bye-bye moment: Did you catch the way Myers would barely look the effusively friendly Lovitz in the eye? Myers’ stand-off-ish body language, attributable to — you pick one — a) frostiness, or b) awkwardness was fascinating.
What did you think of Carvey and SNL‘s cavalcade of the old and the new?