After young Mr. Jesse Eisenberg's debut last week, Saturday Night Live went in the entirely opposite direction with a 90-minute nostalgia ride as host Dana Carvey revived sketches like Wayne's World and Church Lady with old friends like Mike Myers and Jon Lovitz (and Phil Hartman's voice-over… yeesh) for all of you who wish it was 1991 again. Heck, Seth Meyers even chipped in a joke about Soundgarden to get in on the fun. Luckily for any teenaged youngsters out there, Justin Bieber popped up in two sketches, so you knew up from down and back from front. I was extremely amused at the thought that Bieber, born in 1994, was nary a glint in his father's eye when the last Church Lady sketch aired.
If you read Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller's wonderful oral history of SNL, Live From New York, you get an idea of how everyone on the show saw Carvey as the star of his era (the late 80s-early 90s) and figured he'd be the one going onto great things, the next Chevy Chase or Eddie Murphy. Instead, he got six episodes on a cult sketch show with a writing staff people still talk about (IMDB the credits of The Dana Carvey Show if you don't know what I mean), one terrible movie (The Master of Disguise), and that's pretty much it. I don't know why he's back on our screen now but SNL was obviously happy to indulge him and roll out the red carpet for his two most famous sketches (they obviously couldn't figure out a way to crowbar in a George H. W. Bush impression).
The Wayne's World cold open was a bit of a low point, I thought—Carvey looked pretty good as Garth, especially at the age of 55, but Mike Myers has definitely aged out of the role. There were some little things that made me smile—Myers still remembering that mannerism of tucking Wayne's hair behind his ears, Garth's line about his age: "It was never determined," Jeff Bridges giving Wayne's favorite "cycloptic performance of the year." And the Mila Kunis line made me laugh, but the rest of the dick jokes fell pretty flat.
Carvey's monologue was the point at which a lot of teenagers watching the show changed the channel, I'll bet, as he sang about how great his cast was and called Bill Hader "Rainn Wilson," but Jon Lovitz (always one of my favorites) saved it with his cameo and sonorous, enunciated voice. And then, after another recycled ad from the Bryan Cranston episode (are they cutting costs or something?) we got the Church Lady. At this point, I was worried we'd face a whole night of SNL callbacks with increasingly less-awesome stars of that era taking the stage ("Ladies and gentlemen, it's Victoria Jackson!"). But the Church Lady sketch was actually pretty funny, which isn't all that surprising, I suppose, considering it was Carvey's signature bit.
The appearance of that adorable moppet Bieber obviously was a signal to the audience not to worry, but even before he showed up and eye-fucked a vaseline-smeared lens, the Church Lady got in a few good lines, like calling Skins "SportsCenter for pedophiles" and telling the Kardashians they had been tricked by Satan, et al. Bieber was impressively game too, considering he must have been wondering what the heck was going on with all this Church Lady business. I’m sure it won't be long before he has his own guest-host stint on the show. I also have a weakness for Bobby Moynihan's Snooki impression, because he really nails her boundless enthusiasm and mostly stays away from the guy-in-drag jokes.
After that, Carvey's nostalgia ride was over, so he basically just did impressions from that point on. Mickey Rooney took a skewerin' in the VH1 call center sketch (seriously, Mickey Rooney? Is there an easier target to hit?), which was a pretty half-hearted effort by the entire cast overall. The only thing that saved it was Fred Armisen's Ice-T, which was quite different from his usual wheelhouse but extremely funny from the get-go. "Looks like you're on the phone with Ice-T." I really like to believe that that's how the real Ice-T answers his phone.
We also had a Regis and Kelly skit; obviously Carvey feels he excels at skewering the very, very old, although I'll admit his Regis wasn't bad. He raised his voice at all the right times. That was also an excuse for Wiig to revive one of her better impressions as the dismissive Kathy Lee Gifford, who has been missing from our screens this season after saturating them last season. I wonder how long the writers will wait before busting her out again.
In between, there were a couple good shorter bits not featuring Carvey: the very funny, very brief Samberg/Bieber spoof of The Roommate that wrapped up before the joke got stale and had the nice final sting in the Sir Ben Kingsley gag; and Paul Brittan's "impression" of James Franco that didn't involve more than wearing a plaid shirt and grinning but did well mocking his jack-of-all-trades image with the simple line, "I like having jobs!"
And then there were two utterly mirthless skits to calm us all down before bed: one truly bizarre thing about child beauty pageants that had potential, but suffered from Carvey and Kenan's utterly flat delivery, and another thing where a New Wave band bugged some Packers fans and we remembered Jason Sudeikis was on this show or something. SNL really has to declare a moratorium on the "shitty musical acts prompt silence and/or staring" skits. They are played out, fellas!
So, how did Carvey do? Fine. Did he completely destroy anyone's happy memories of the late 80s-early 90s? Probably not. Was the whole experience a little pointless feeling? Maybe. But I was a bit touched (god, I'm such a softie) by him bringing his kids on stage after, kids who had never seen him on SNL in his glory years. They looked suitably embarrassed/impressed. How could I be mad at Dana Carvey after that?
- Abby Elliott, who has barely gotten a look-in all season, was in almost every sketch this week, starring in a couple of them. She's not completely terrible, but her range is very limited. She's almost entirely cast as dumb blondes with vacant voices.
- "Anne Hath-a-way of giving me a bone."
- "Of course, the number one comedy on TV is One and a Half Men and a WHOREMONGER."
- Ice-T did an SVU ep about roofies. "Yeah, and Ice-T was confused then too."
- "I gotta run. I gotta go be a cab driver for 45 minutes."
- Regis on the Black Eyed Peas: "That's not entertainment; that's a SIDE DISH!"
- Samberg got some real pathos into his portrayal of the 11-year-old boy in a cowboy suit participating in the girl's pageant. Poor kid.
- Linkin Park? This really was a nostalgia episode. Except that's something nobody is nostalgic for.