What's more important to SNL, comedy or buzz? To the writers, players and guest hosts, it's probably the former; to Lorne Michaels and the suits at NBC, it's ultimately probably the latter. The show can't exist without being funny, at least some of the time -- that's its raison d'être. But it's also not on at 2:00 PM Saturday on Comedy Central for a reason: this isn't just about people being funny, it's about which people are being funny. A punchline knocked home by Sarah Palin is a knockout heard 'round the YouTube-o-sphere; it takes a little longer for the quality work of a Kristen Wiig or a Jason Sudeikis to penetrate.
But don't take that for granted, not for a second -- because surrounding those "OMG" YouTube moments (Madonna wrestling with Lady Gaga! Jenny Slate dropping the F-Bomb!). There's a reason last season was a banner year for SNL.
Short-term, the buzz will get people tuning in -- Who's the host? Who's the musical guest? Might this be one of the fifty episodes where Justin Timberlake cameos?). Long term, though, the repeat viewer will be drawn in by the quality, too (think "SNL isn't funny" vs. "Bill Hader/Andy Samberg/Fred Armisen/Kristen Wiig cracks me up, dude"). When the parade of cameos is over, at the end of the day there's got to be something else there to keep viewers giving a damn.
This episode is a terrific example of just that. The Madonna-Lady Gaga girlfight was the take-away moment of the "Deep House Dish" sketch -- but it also featured Wiig and guest host Ryan Reynoldsdo two of their own funny bits. Reynolds was an excellent, team-player of a host -- happy to play support and ensemble roles rather than being a greedy frontman -- and it showed. It was a big improvement over last week's slightly bland effort starring Megan Fox (maybe that's what happens when your sketches aren't all excuses to dress the hot host in sex-kitten outfits).
If you missed it -- you do have a life! -- here are all the clips from the episode, with my thoughts on what made them great. Darrell Hammond as Arnold Schwarzenegger or the "Family Feud" sketch riffing on Mackenzie Phillips didn't get the ink of Gaga or Madonna, and that's to be expected, but they were among my top moments in an pretty stellar episode ("So You Committed A Crime And Think You Can Dance" was another). Videos and recap below.
Cold Open: Obama on his Track Record
Ryan Reynolds' Monologue
70's Family Feud with the Osmond and Phillips Families
Porcelain Fountains! With Scarlett Johanssen
I Threw It On The Ground (Digital Short - Andy Samberg)
More Sketches From The 10/3 SNL:
Deep House Dish, feat. Lady Gaga and Madonna
Mostly Garbage Pet Food (Commercial Parody)
Update: Darrell Hammond as Gov. Arnold Schwarzennegger
Update: Mr. & Mrs. Ahmadinejad
Update: Charles Barkley
So You Committed A Crime...And Think You Can Dance
Norwegian Actor's Playhouse
Lady Gaga and Andy Samberg Wear The Same Outfit (and Kiss)
Lady Gaga: Paparazzi
Lady Gaga: Bad Romance/Pokerface/Love Game Medley
This post is a slightly modified version of one which ran earlier at Mediaite.com