Last week was remarkably unfunny. So after ingesting hours and hours of bad news, we needed some laughs. Sometimes we found them, sometimes not so much.
SNL DOA: Last spring, particularly after the writers' strike ended, Saturday Night Live got on a roll satirizing things in the Democratic primary such as the debates and the 3 a.m. phone call ad by Hillary Clinton. This year, the show shot out of the blocks with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler's Sarah Palin-meets-Hillary Clinton act. But this weekend SNL stumbled and just avoided falling flat on its face with two political skits, neither involving Poehler or Fey, and a remarkably unfunny show overall.
The show opened with a skit that was reportedly inspired by former SNL writer and actor-turned-Minnesota U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken, who may be making a good move trying to land another day job. In the skit, Republican presidential candidate John McCain is portrayed by longtime cast member Darrell Hammond as adding the, "I'm John McCain, and I approved this message," tagline to an increasingly ridiculous set of attack ads. One insinuates that Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama's desire for universal healthcare means he wants healthcare for everyone in the universe, including Osama bin Laden. It was amusing, and definitely had a point. But it was nowhere near the gut-buster and chatter churner the Fey-Poehler bit was.
But at least it wasn't as awful as the bit after the Weekend Update segment that portrayed the New York Times preparing to send a bunch of clueless, Manhattan-bound reporters to Alaska to report on ridiculous rumors about Palin and her family. It was unfunny, occasionally gross and poorly executed -- guest host James Franco kept flubbing his lines.
Neither of the bits made the chatter show rotation the way last week's SNL did. The McCain and Times bits were MIA on Morning Joe Monday, while last week, they were talking about Fey as Palin more than they were talking about Palin.
On the heels of its political success, SNL decided to open this season with four consecutive new shows and some prime time specials. But if Seth Meyers and his writers uncork another clunker like this week, Saturday Night Live will be irrelevant by October.
In the copyrighted NBC photo, above, from last season, Hammond plays McCain (second from right) along with Fred Armisen's Obama, Bill Hader's Robert Byrd, Andy Samberg's Carl Levin and Poehler's Clinton.
The best line of the night came from Amy Poehler in Weekend Update. After rattling off a list of companies at the center of last week's Wall Street meltdown, she said that if your company's commercials run during golf tournaments, you're done.
The best joke about the campaign came from NPR's Wait Wait . . . Don't Tell Me. In a segment of the news quiz recounting how Deomocratic vice-presidential nominee Joe Biden accidentally asked Missouri State Sen. Chuck Graham, who is confined to a wheel-chair, to stand and be recognized at a campaign stop, host Peter Sagal riffed, "It's just a shame it wasn't Sen. Obama who asked Graham to stand up from his wheelchair, because then, he would have suddenly been able to."
The Daily Show seemed to be in a similar lull to SNL as it settled back into New York after its knockout convention editions. But Thursday night, Jon Stewart got the elixir for his Denver-to-St. Paul hangover from Sean Hannity's soft-pitch interview of Sarah Palin. It wasn't necessarily Stewart at his finest, but his silent explanation of Fey's SNL skit to Palin was priceless (video, above).
The Hannity interview was, again, a demonstration of why interviews by ideologically identical partisans are pretty useless. I didn't think much of Keith Olbermann interviewing Obama, either. Most of the questions in these forums can be summarized:
"Doesn't your opponent suck?"
"That's a great question. Yes, he/she does, because . . . "
Obama's interview with Bill O'Reilly was dominated by O'Reilly's ideology, but at least it challenged Obama and resulted in some lively exchanges where the candidate and the commentator had to articulate their positions. But the best interviews are usually with the straight-up journalists such as Tom Brokaw or Charlie Rose who do their homework and explore sans agenda.
Speaking of straight-up journalists versus ideologues, we get our first look at David Gregory (photo, right, by Virginia Sherwood for NBC) the anchor Friday on MSNBC.
The mini-peacock outsted the duo of Olbermann and Chris Matthews from the anchor chairs after embarrassing turns at the conventions, with on-air squabbles and partisan rants over the two weeks. From a journalistic standpoint, it was probably the right move, though as television, some of those awkward convention moments were highly entertaining.
Friday's Presidential debate will be our first look at longtime White House correspondent Gregory anchoring an event, though he does anchor Race for the White House every weeknight at 6. We'll see if his debate work is compelling TV or a good excuse to surf to the other dozen or two nets carrying the debates.
Of course, all this week we'll hear plenty of punditry and commentary about how the candidates will need to do in the debate, with the campaigns likely tamping down expectations to the point they'll declare it a victory if Obama and McCain can string a noun and a verb together.