Sunday, September 26, 2010

Amy Poehler's Return to SNL

Last night, SNL kicked off its 36th (!) season with the return of one of its alumni, the ever-popular-and-hilarious Amy Poehler.

I always find it interesting when former cast members return to host. Will the dynamics be the same? Will they dust off some of their recurring characters? Will other old friends show up too? Amy's episode delivered on all these things, and was an excellent begin to what is hopefully a solid season for SNL.

The show's best moment, for fans of Amy and her dear-departed-cohorts, would have to be her monologue, where she detailed a nightmare about hosting. Um, Amy's nightmare looks a lot like my dreams come true - she got to kiss Justin Timberlake, and Jimmy and Tina came back to take over Update. Sure, somebody else hijacked her "Kaitlyn" character, and Rachel Dratch needed avenging, but the rest was a-okay with me. Truthfully, I was too busy trying not to audibly squeal with delight to notice what was going on. My SNL-in-the-00s brain was on overload - only one Maya Rudolph away from achieving true SNL Nirvana.

But I didn't have to wait long for Maya Rudolph to check herself off my wish list - the first sketch of the night was "Bronx Beat," which, in addition to being predictably amusing, also offered us these bon mots about libraries: "The kids come for the boobs and stay for the books. Everybody wins." Excellent.

Other highlights include Amy returning to the Update desk for a session of "Really?! With Seth and Amy," the dusting-off of Amy's parrot 911 calls, and my new favorite joke about "Kim Jong Not-Ill." There's also the most ridiculous advertisement you'll ever see about the mosque at Ground Zero.

Overall, the episode was solid, and Amy was hilarious as usual. She was so at home it was almost like watching an episode of SNL without a host.

I do wonder, though, if the episode felt like "Classic Amy." Back in April, I reviewed Tina Fey's return to host SNL, and came to the conclusion that Tina's weird brand of self-deprecating feminism was all over the episode. Consequently, I think I was prepared for Amy to take the wheel and imprint everything with her own signature - for it to feel like her "Best Of" DVD, but it didn't really happen.

I actually felt like the episode could have used more Amy at the forefront - there were times when she was a cast member where she was just as ubiquitous as the host. She could go from playing an old lady to a little kid to a middle-aged man, and give you Hillary Clinton, Sharon Osbourne, and Michael Jackson peppered in between. And I think that's why there's no such thing as "Classic Amy." Her presence on SNL underwent a lot of changes.

Let's compare her to Tina for a second. Tina's journey on SNL started as a writer, off-camera. Then, she got the head writer job and came onscreen to do Weekend Update. And that's the way it stayed for six years: Update, writing, and the occasional participation in a sketch. Her persona on SNL has always been the same - authoritative and feministic, her own distinct voice of reason. The Boss Lady. And now she's on her own show, where she writes and plays basically a version of herself - The Boss Lady.

But look at Amy. She started in 2001 as a featured player, and was quickly upgraded to a repertory player as she created her own cast of zany characters and able impressions. She started out as the kid sister, the energetic, kooky, sketch character actress. Then she got Update, donned the blue jacket (actually, her '04 jacket was gray... but that's beside the point) and added the Tina Fey dimension to her portfolio - she played herself and delivered fake news. And even though Seth Meyers officially took over Fey's head writer and Update positions when Fey left in '06, Amy inherited the SNL throne. She settled into a den mother role as she truly became an SNL veteran.

So what were we to expect from last night's episode, then? There have been so many incarnations of the same talented performer, there's not really a box to put her in. And in the end, it doesn't really matter. She played every part in last night's episode with ease and humor, "signature" be damned. She reprised some kind of each of her personas on the show and didn't seem to worry too much about it. Because that's what Amy Poehler does. And she didn't steal the spotlight, because that's not what Amy Poehler does. She just puts on a little hat and lets Kristen Wiig be the one to act like a lunatic, if that's what's funniest.

But even at the end of it, you think, "Wow, Amy Poehler was still the funniest part of that sketch." And maybe that's Amy Poehler's signature. She's just the funniest, in any situation, and in any incarnation. I think that means you're gonna go far, kid.

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