Eighty Eight and a Half.

9.5.10


Betty White has undergone the kind of resurgence in popularity that the Marx Brothers did in the 1970s thanks to an audience that was, for the most part, too young to have witnessed the stellar work they were doing in their heyday. It seems to me that nobody I know loves The Golden Girls more than people that were born around the time it was airing. Me? I'm a little older and I can only remember White's career as far back as reruns of the Mary Tyler Moore show, when she'd already been at it for decades. The great thing about this particular resurgence is that White is still around, not just to appreciate it, but to continue working and evolving.

The hype leading up to the Facebook-fueled, White-hosted SNL last night was so epic I was convinced it would never deliver. Word that they were branding it a "Mother's Day Special" and including six former female cast members made me worry that they were bringing in ringers to do the heavy lifting and White would be largely sidelined. In the end, I couldn't have been more wrong. Having Fey, Dratch, Rudolph, Poehler, Gasteyer and Shannon on board gave the writers a great well of characters and premises to revisit and frankly, by show's end it felt less like these women were brought in to help out and more like they just wanted to be there to be a part of something special.

When she appeared on the Comedy Central roast of William Shatner White proved that she has a way with an off-colour bit. And SNL relied on that heavily on Saturday night. What makes it work is that it's not just pure shock value. It's not just look at the cute little old lady say "motherfucker" or "you're barking up the wrong lesbian" or "wizard of ass". It's look at the cute little old lady say those things with intelligence and brilliant comedic timing.

White was in every single sketch that aired, even making an appearance on weekend update and delivered 100% through the course of the show. When's the last time you saw that happen? Some highlights for me included:

1. The Monologue.

I have been ranting 'lo these many years to anyone who will listen about the sorry state of affairs in SNL monologue land. Guest hosts, at some point in the late 1990's, seemed to stop being capable of delivering a monologue, opting instead for pre-taped video bits, walking the halls of the studio and interacting with the audience or Lorne or straight up doing scenes with the cast on stage. It's supposed to be a MONOLOGUE. Do it alone. Tell some jokes. Tell a story. "We've got a great show...so and so is here...we'll be right back" and CUT TO COMMERCIAL! You've achieved enough success in show business that you're guest hosting SNL. Suck it up and learn to stand alone onstage and deliver a few lines!

Betty White's monologue last night was everything I want an SNL monologue to be. Part biting stand up set, part humble gratitude and all show business polish. By 11:40pm Saturday night I could have gone to bed a happy girl.

2. Delicious Dish

Bringing back the NPR parody Delicious Dish was a natural with Gasteyer and Shannon on hand. That they were able to reprise the characters and still find a balance between giving White something to sink her teeth into, all while nodding their heads at the classic Alec Baldwin Schweddy Balls sketch was no small feat. I for one, would like to try her Dusty Muffin. Good times.

3. Census

There is nothing I love more than a call back. Ten years ago, Christopher Walken and Tim Meadows appeared in the brilliantly written sketch Census. You might not remember it because it aired the same night as the oft-quoted Walken / Ferrell ensemble sketch "more cowbell" which stole all the thunder. Census is a quiet two hander where the census taker plays the straight man, befuddled by the progressively bizarre answers from the host. Tina Fey wrote that original sketch and had the opportunity bring it back on Saturday night.


There is something so pleasing to me about the idea of taking the premise of the sketch and using it like a template, slotting in a new weird character and new bizarre answers. The structure of the sketch allows the jokes to come at you, rapid fire, but they feel completely organic. It's old school and sharp and I loved every minute of it. Also? "Blarfengarrrrr" is just a funny word. And? It was the funniest sketch of the night and it aired at 12:55am. I'm guessing that has never happened before.

Chalk one up for the ladies. And more importantly, chalk one up for solid writing. While you're at it, chalk a few up for Betty White, who deserves all the accolades that are landing at her feet. Now, riddle me this, where's the Facebook campaign to get Cloris Leachman on there next season? Get on it, nerds!

7 comments :

  1. I thought it was a great show too. The cenus bit is very funny. I don't know what people expected betty white to do once she got there. She did a great job.

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  2. There is a campaign now for Carol Burnett!

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  3. Betty started in radio in the 1940s by bluffing into the job.

    She had a daily live talk show in LA in the 50s as well as a sitcom.

    And even if there were no "Sue Ann" or "Rose", her prowess at Password is legendary.

    Nothing is better than a smart lady. Which, by the way, includes Miss Tracey. Wonderful, insightful post.

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  4. I see a beaming Allen Ludden, grinning from ear to ear. He whispers, "And the password is SUCCESS!"

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  5. I LOVE Betty White too, and I loved SNL this weekend!! She did so good. I could not stop smiling during the whole thing, and I loved her monologue. Wonderful.

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  6. I'm always afraid nowadays to watch the live SNL broadcast (you know, in case it's horrible and embarrassing), but I've been hearing such good stuff about the BW edition last weekend that I'm going to have to go to Hulu and watch some stuff.

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  7. Anonymous1:48 PM

    Tracey, Calling a publication's advertisers because you don't like their opinions is a form of terrorism. Don't laugh. People have a right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. You have clients also. Besides, they are a small business like yours'. I also believe that a person that had a 5-year cocaine addiction should not be allowed to adopt. I'm shocked that you apparently think Mr. Smitherman should be allowed to adopt. Children's rights come first, but that's just my opinion. Have fun and proper. Mark

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