SNL: Will Ferrell/Usher

Hold on to your hats, audience, because Saturday Night Live took us through a time warp. With “vintage” sketches from alum Will Ferrell and musical guest Usher, it felt like 2001 again…and I am not convinced that is a good thing. If nothing else, this episode proved three very simple truths.

1) Will Ferrell can take the most innocuous phrase and say it in a truly unique and memorable way. And I am not convinced that is a good thing.

We all remember “cow bell” and can quote at least one line from Old School or Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Remember when he had to talk to his landlord on Funny or Die?  There is something about Ferrell’s speech pattern and squinty shark eyes that make everything he utters smack of absurdity.

While trying to showcase his voice on a public access show about Broadway, Will’s character keeps mistakenly singing songs for females. After every ill attempt he screams “Dern it” or “Dern it to Heck!”

When Will has to portray a sneezing, sickly husband, his sneezes are actually screams. Just simple screams, done with such fervor and comic timing you forget that Will Ferrell is just screaming.

I am not going to say I “like” when Ferrell uses this tactic…there is an absurdity to everything he does. Ferrell’s mind is sharper and quicker, and he knows how to turn a simple phrase about Mother’s Day into a tirade about lady parts. What I am trying to say is, Will Ferrell is just down right funny for the first half of any movie until you eventually realize you just paid $12 to listen to a grown man spout one liners at you.

2) When a former cast member comes back to host SNL, it is an open door policy for any and all of their coworkers to perform right along with them. And I am not convinced that is a good thing.

I was waiting for it the whole episode…when would Rachel Drach or Jimmy Fallon or Chris Katan show up and relive their glory days with some forgotten character from SNL‘s past? I did not have to wait long. Ana Gasteyer popped up as one half of the Culp Singers (you know, those choral teachers who transform your modern songs into slightly Operatic covers?).

There was also a memorable appearance from Will Forte, playing an idiotic sports announcer for some Lady Golf tournament. This is a recurring sketch that is kind of hard to describe, so honestly check it out and let me know if I should think it is brilliant or stupid.

Let us not forget the plethora of guest stars that re-appeared in the 100th Digital Short. Justin Bieber, Jon Hamm, Lorne Michaels, Justin Timberlake, Natalie Portman, Michael Bolton…just to name a few.

I used to think that it was a sign of respect — when other actors come out of retirement just to share the stage with you once more — that is a beautiful thing. When I think back on which Ferrell characters I loved (the hot tub luvahs, the cheerleaders, James Lipton) I never once thought about Ana Gasteyer or Will Forte. Too bad the famous people were all busy.

3) The musical guests are always the latest hit on the charts. And I am not convinced that is a good thing.

Need I remind you of some of the awful guests that have appeared on SNL?

Foster the People
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
C&C Music Factory
Rancid
Lisa Loeb
Moby
Scissor Sisters
Andrew W.K.
System of a Down
Lana Del Rey

These were flavor-of-the-month acts that have never really taken off. That is the good and the bad of SNL; sometimes it introduces the world to a new name. Also, think about of all the independent/hipster/sell-out musicians who have graced the SNL stage.  What other show brings on virtual unknowns and lets them perform two songs on international television?

Death Cab for Cutie
Bon Iver
Ellie Goulding
Arcade Fire
Vampire Weekend
MGMT
Fleet Foxes
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Feist
Wilco

Then we have Usher. I am not even sure if I liked him back in 2004. In fact, the only song I like is the Glee mash-up between “Confessions” and “It’s My Life.”  After watching Usher’s performance, I was uninspired. He doesn’t fit into either of my categories, and he is not good enough to fit into the “superstar” category with U2, Madonna and The Rolling Stones. Usher was just…there.

This episode had such potential but fell flat for me. We have the season finale next week, let’s see if Saturday Night Live can go out with a bang instead of a whimper.

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