Blake Lively on ‘Saturday Night Live’: The ‘Gossip Girl’ risks it all on live TV
Ensconced with hubby Ryan Reynolds seven years after distribution of the DC Comics superhero flick that sealed their destiny — Green Lantern — Blake Lively’s debut and so far only hosting gig on Saturday Night Live deserves revisiting. With pop superstar Rihanna as musical guest, the eighth episode of the legendary sketch comedy’s 35th season was hit and miss, par for the course when considering the series’ five decades-long existence. So it’s entirely understandable if you feel a little trepidation about braving a complete episode. Hulu or YouTube clips that eliminate the chaff are recommended.
The cold open was amusing, exploring a speech President Barack Obama delivered at West Point. The White House party crashing couple — remember them — captured pictures and generally interrupted Obama’s speech. Fred Armisen’s portrayal of Obama was spot on, and SNL cast members Kristen Wiig and Bobby Moynihan demonstrated their genuine talent.
For the former heroine of Gossip Girl — the popular CW teen melodrama that cemented Lively into household name status — her opening monologue revealed someone who doesn’t take herself too seriously. And her line readings were unstilted. Most of the cast showed up rather unexpectedly as the Muppets, singing “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” along with Lively. The song was the best part of the monologue by far as their enthusiasm was contagious and did not sound forced.
A swine fever commercial was inexplicably rerun after being broadcast several weeks earlier. Replaying the fake sponsor spot gave rise to suspicions that the writers were low on ideas.
A segment revolving around an ESPN female bowling tournament and its Vagisil sponsor was the first skit of the night. Wiig and Jason Sudeikis were again heavily featured. There were laugh-out loud moments whenever Sudeikis and Will Forte, both playing anchors, went into the Vagisil bits, and the studio audience was clearly enjoying it. Kudos for Lively’s signature jack-hammer shuffle.
Tiger Woods’ marriage trouble was the subject of the next sketch. Busy thus far, Sudeikis portrayed CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, who interviewed the golfing master [Kenan Thompson]. Lively took on the role of Woods’ revenge-filled wife. The sketch was not funny. It tried to be relevant, but it was painfully labored. Regardless, the actors did their best with the material they were given.
A ratings-grabbing digital short, co-written by Andy Samberg, found Rihanna and Samberg in a music video classroom locale. One of the best digital shorts of the season, Samberg played Shy Ronnie, Rihanna’s rap partner who mumbles way too much. As the dance-pop Barbadian exited the classroom, Shy Ronnie’s vocabulary explosion was sidesplitting.
No surprise — a send-up of Gossip Girl was a no-brainer. “Gossip Girl: Staten Island” was best suited to fans of the angst-ridden drama seeking a profusion of blatant “Noo Yawk” accents. A pre-taped bit with Sudeikis and Nasim Pedrad plugging an underground rock festival fell flat.
Rihanna sang “Russian Roulette”, a Billboard Top Ten A-side taken from her Rated R album. The performance was moody yet defiant in tone, with no background dancers. Sitting in a white wicker chair during the song’s first verse and conclusion, Rihanna commanded the stage in a strong performance, dressed in striking red Egyptian head-shoulders clothing with a black leather top.
Amy Poehler was sorely missed on SNL’s cornerstone “Weekend Update,” but Seth Meyers handled his former co-anchor’s chair with self-assurance. Two characters emerged during Update — Thompson as a pre-convicted sexual predator Bill Cosby and Abby Elliott shadowing the erratic Brittany Murphy, who tragically succumbed to pneumonia exacerbated by multiple over-the-counter prescriptions on December 20, 2009, just 15 days after this episode aired. Both segments were amusing without overstaying their welcome.
Post-Weekend Update, Thompson materialized as the strong-willed, opinionated wife Virginica Hastings in a recurring sketch. His various female impressions — think Whoopi Goldberg — are SNL’s ace in the hole, yet this Virginica outing didn’t offer much in the way of entertainment.
As SNL neared its home stretch, Hader unleashed an uncanny Chris Hansen characterization from Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator.” The sketch revolved around a late night talk show with Sudeikis as the Oscar-winning Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samberg as Keanu Reeves, and Lively shockingly tackling Cher. The bit engendered yawns, although Lively’s all-too brief take on Cher had its charms. Hader’s knack for seizing upon quirky pop culture phenomenons to imitate is unbelievable.
Rihanna’s second musical spot of the evening was “Hard,” featuring Young Jeezy and the second Top Ten single from Rated R. It was nowhere as memorable as “Russian Roulette” but fans were probably satisfied.
The final sketch of the evening was an oddball castoff. That’s being kind, because for half of the sketch, there was an awkward silence from the studio audience. Most likely dreamed up around 4 a.m. by the writers after a long work day, the sketch dealt with a Southern gentleman going to NASA to become an astronaut. The Southerner devours a potato chip, and Forte and Lively berate him for being a dastardly potato chip thief.
Lively’s performance in the NASA sketch was excellent, but Forte was over-the-top, one of the future Last Man on Earth topliner’s trademarks. A gross-out moment happened when Sudeikis spit his potato-chip into Forte’s hand. Completely unnecessary, it also applied to the frat-boy vagina jokes scattered in the broadcast.
All-in-all, Lively’s episode had its moments, but they were few and far between. The highlights were the Muppets sing-a-long, Rihanna belting “Russian Roulette,” the digital short with Shy Ronnie, Weekend Update, and portions of the ESPN bowling skit.
The writers, then captained by Meyers, deserved the blame for the quality of the sketches. SNL can be funny, yet the show wasn’t able to sustain the laughter for 90 minutes. That inconsistency was painfully obvious during Lively’s episode. This was not entirely Lively’s fault, as she is a talented actress that an audience can’t help but root for. She definitely proved herself game for a wide variety of sketches. Perhaps a second appearance in the future will enable SNL’s writers to develop sketches that are better suited to her strengths.
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