Jack Black Saves 'SNL' Season Opener
By Roger Catlin,
The Hartford Courant - 10/6/03
The 29th season premiere of "Saturday
Night Live" couldn't come soon enough - at least to cash
in on the California recall so rife with comic possibility.
So it began immediately with
Darrell Hammond's impersonation of Arnold Schwarzenegger, all
prosthetic chin and Austrian accent, the same approach he used
at the Emmys. What made the opening gambit work was in the writing,
though, which homed in on the frontrunner's vague and incomplete
manner of speech.
The season debut can reliably
depend on a summer's worth of potential material. But after the
Arnold, and one-joke twist on "Queer Eye for the Straight
Guy," it looks like they had exhausted topicality.
The season opener is always a
good harbinger of what to expect from a show that's long served
as cultural touchstone. The presence of new cast members - introduced
as "featured players" in recent years - fails to offset
the void left by the recently departed.
The latest cast defections -
Chris Kattan and Tracy Morgan - left a larger than expected hole,
felt even deeper when Will Farrell paid a cameo visit in the
opening monologue. You could almost feel everyone begging: "Stay,
But almost total credit for saving
the episode goes to host Jack Black, bringing a visceral power
and somewhat crazed conviction to every role in a way not seen
on "SNL" since John Belushi.
On the weekend his "School
of Rock" would make him a major box-office fixture, Black
was making a return appearance as host, and "SNL" writers
were right to feature him in just about every skit. But some
were so flimsy, they'd involve Black, as sommelier, tasting wine,
doing nothing but sipping and spit takes with no punchline. Best
was his appearance as a longhaired chef heading a cooking class
for an assortment of oddballs.
Musical guest John Mayer was
more a flavor of the month, whose name the self-styled rock expert
Black couldn't even pronounce (he called him "Myer"
at first). Fronting a good band, Mayer looked like a young Matt
Dillon, with the rasp of a young Robbie Benson and the grimaces
of a young braces-wearer.
Black was almost more musical,
performing as both a folksinger and in one of those opening monologues
that included one of those overused backstage walks.
As convincing as he was in every
appearance, Black made the rest of the young cast seem inexperienced
by comparisons in their wan impersonations of Wanda Sykes and
Rush Limbaugh. Hammond, for his part, never returned to the show
at all. After opening the show, his killer Donald Rumsfeld impersonation,
which went over even bigger at the Emmys, was left waiting in