Tim McGraw hosts, and 'SNL's' racy side vanishes
There are "Saturday Night Live" sketches that kill and those that bomb, but rare are those that leave the studio audience audibly horrified. That's what happened this week, when the show reintroduced Jeff Montgomery (Will Forte), the escaped mental patient-turned-neighborhood nuisance. This time found Montgomery as the uninvited guest at a family Thanksgiving dinner (NBC.com has not yet put video of the skit on its website). When Forte delivered the kicker, a grotesque crack about the family dog, audience mortification was almost palpable. And then he came back again for another bite, as it were. Critical opinion on Montgomery is divided, but I think the character is worth keeping an eye on, because it showcases Forte's specialty, taking things just a little too far. And "SNL" should do that more often.
Otherwise? Well, "SNL" is more dependent than many people realize on the host. Country singer Tim McGraw, this week's choice, did at times summon up memories of "Hee Haw." The racy/sexy stuff was sidelined, especially compared with last week's Paul "You Know How I Know You're Gay?" Rudd show, where virtually every sketch depended on a gay or drag punchline. Instead, the writers noticeably tamed the content and tone, using McGraw mainly as a stand-in for Red State Mid-America. Witness the so-so James Bond parody, where the singer had to pretend he's Larry the Cable Guy. (Unfortunately, McGraw is not that good an actor.) Except for lovers of silly-costume skits, the sketch about a gang of turkeys running for their lives was timely but not much else. Yep, "Hee Haw"-esque.
The better stuff, including the Montgomery bit, was found in the margins. Andy Samberg played the Blizzard Man, a goofy white rapper in the deeply unpromising Vanilla Ice vein, who found an unlikely fan in Ludacris (the show's musical guest, with T-Pain). The sketch was yet another descendent of "More Cowbell," of course, but it had its moments, especially in the reaction shots from T-Pain. And new featured player Michaela Watkins, a veteran of the Groundlings troupe in Los Angeles, made a decent "Weekend Update" debut as Arianna Huffington, though as the folks at Gawker have already pointed out, her Arianna audition tape was a lot funnier.
-- Scott Collins