Saturday Night Live generally begins it season with a bang, selecting the likes of Rob Lowe, Reese Witherspoon, Matt Damon, Jack Black, Ben Affleck and Steve Carell to open on a high note. With the exception of LeBron James, they typically tend to avoid the sports stars until later in the season when they can absorb the negative reviews brought on by the non-actor in the lead role. (For what it’s worth, LeBron was actually a really good host – who can argue with the Mike Underballs’ PSA and the ‘Best of Solid Gold?’).
On the heels of US swimming phenom Michael Phelp’s success in the summer Olympics, SNL selected him to host the season opener this year. I should preface this by saying that I think SNL has had its share of bad casts and questionable writing choices…but, for me, it’s been better the past few years. The additions of Andy Samburg, Bill Heder, Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig and Seth Myers have done wonders for the energy of the show.
Choosing Michael Phelps for the season premiere was, in my humble opinion, a serious and easily predictable misstep. I say ‘serious’ because it’s now set the tone for the reason. And need I remind the producers of the disasters named Nancy Kerrigan and Wayne Gretzky? Extraordinary athletes, yes…comedic actors, no. Bad timing, poor reading skills, no memorization of lines, missing marks…the list of tv faux pas goes on and on.
Michael Phelps didn’t allay any of these past problems sports figures have presented for the show. With the exception of a few moments of brilliance, he was basically flat and read his lines off cards (and badly, I might add). The sketches without him were much funnier than the ones with him.
The opening sketch with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as Palin and Clinton was hysterical. I enjoyed Weekend Update, especially Fred Armisen as Nicholas Fehn, the fake political commentator. And, for some strange reason, the sketch with Amy Poehler and Phelps as a couple in a restaurant with a very colorful server had me in stitches, though I have heard arguments that the server character is ripped off from Nick Kroll’s ‘Fabrice Fabrice’.
All in all, not a terrible premiere, but could have been much better had they chosen a host who could act.