Saturday Night Live: Betty White and friends rock Studio 8H

Senior Television Writer
05.09.10 38 Comments

In a triumphant moment for both the internet and the 49+ demo, Betty White hosted “Saturday Night Live” last night (with a little help from some of the show’s friends), and I have a quick review (and a few embedded sketches) coming up just as soon as my name is pronounced Blaarfingaar…

The improbability of the Facebook campaign – both that it worked, and that it was centered around an octogenarian actress – meant that Betty White could have basically just shown up  and smiled a few times and her “SNL” would be viewed as a triumph. The huge, prolonged ovation she got when she appeared in the cold open Lawrence Welk sketch made that clear.

But White clearly didn’t just show up for a victory lap, nor did the “SNL” writers treat her with kid gloves. They put her in a gender-reversed sequel to Alec Baldwin’s old Pete Schwetty sketches, another sketch where she went on about lesbianism, made her Kenan’s crazy accomplice in the latest Scared Straight sketch, had her on the verge of kissing MacGruber, etc. The best “SNL” hosts tend to be the ones who are game for anything, and White absolutely was.

When it was announced White’s episode would also feature a bunch of female “SNL” alums – including Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Molly Shannon, Ana Gasteyer and Rachel Dratch – I rolled my eyes and viewed it as Lorne Michaels trying to appease the Facebook crowd while not really letting White host the show. But White appeared in every sketch – often at the center of them – and it was clear Fey and the others were just as jazzed to be sharing the stage with her as they were to be back in Studio 8H with each other. 

The enthusiasm – and talent – of all the female guests made for not only one of the highlights of a largely awful “SNL” season, but one of the strongest overall “SNL” episodes in several years. (Not surprisingly, the ratings were the highest since the November ’08 election.)

But I should say it was good mainly because of the performances, not the writing.

Take the latest Delicious Dish, for instance:

What’s funny about that is largely the idea behind it – that they’ve put Betty White in a sketch  to throw around a bunch of half-dirty lines about her muffin – plus the usual deadpan stylings of Gasteyer and Shannon. The actual double-entendres aren’t nearly as clever as in either Schwetty balls or Schwetty weiner.

And, of course, Delicious Dish was part of an episode that leaned very heavily on recurring characters, both from the current run of the show (Scared Straight, The Manuel Ortiz Show), and from the alums’ eras (Seth and Amy did “Really?!?!,” Shannon played her AARP character again, and Hulu has Debbie Downer and Bronx Beat sketches that were cut after dress rehearsal). The energy level (from both the performers and a psyched audience) was higher than it’s been some other times they’ve done these, but the episode at times felt like a Greatest Hits special and at other times just lazy.

One of the few wholly original sketches (UPDATE: or not so original, as the commenters point out) was also my favorite, as well as the last of the night (a slot where the show has been willing to experiment of late, and which is usually the only reason to check out the worst episodes), with Fey as a census taker and White as her not-all-there interview subject:

That’s just fine, vintage, low-concept sketch comedy there, folks, with Fey doing a fine straight woman and White showing off the chops that have kept her working in the business for 60+ years.

All in all, a fun episode, and it proved the Facebookers right in wanting to give White the showcase, but her presence and the presence of the other guests just managed to obscure the franchise’s recent difficulties.

What did everybody else think?

Around The Web