the breast is tired -- so's Janet on 'SNL'
By Phil Rosenthal,
Chicago Sun-Times - 4/12/04
In a world where no bad deed
goes unspun, Janet Jackson has tirelessly sought to sell her
new CD in recent weeks by arguing that the show-stopping display
of her right breast during the Super Bowl halftime show was yesterday's
Nothing she has said or done
in this campaign, however, has been as convincing as her turn
over the weekend as host of NBC's "Saturday Night Live,"
which proved Jackson's mammary to be tired and old and no longer
all that exciting.
The same quite possibly may
be said of Jackson herself, but this TV critic will defer to
music experts and CD sales on that count. ("Damita Jo"
is her first CD in 15 years not to debut at No. 1 and its first-week
sales of 381,000 units trails her last album, 2001's "All
for You," by 224,000 units. The trade paper Variety calls
it a "debut malfunction," but her fans undoubtedly
will argue it's too early to write her off completely.)
What is indisputable is that
Jackson's much-anticipated "SNL" -- which scored the
show's highest overnight ratings in more than a year, according
to NBC -- existed in a strange "Twilight Zone" time
warp. Some of it was as fresh as this week's news cycle, but
some felt months old and other parts far older than that.
Much was made of the fact that
it was telecast live and not on any kind of tape delay, as if
Jackson were going to flash TV viewers again and give Congress
and the FCC another excuse to go berserk. Yet there were times
when those tuning in late could be excused for mistaking this
for one of those decade-old reruns NBC airs in the wee hours
of Sunday mornings or peddles to cable.
"SNL" alum Tracy Morgan,
awaiting official word that NBC has dropped "The Tracy Morgan
Show," was back to resurrect his insipid "Brian Fellow's
Safari Planet" for his own amusement, if not ours. And it
was peppered with just enough 9/11 references to suggest the
sketch had been gathering dust, even if it hadn't.
Also back was former cast member
Chris Kattan for a reprise of what once was a self-indulgent
annual holiday tradition, the mechanical Nairobi Trio-esque performance
of "I Wish It Was Christmas Today" with Morgan, Jimmy
Fallon and Horatio Sanz (all of whom squandered the comic possibilities
of belittling "American Idol" resident sniper Simon
Cowell, who weakly played along).
Never mind the six-year-old
Michael Jordan Bulls jersey Morgan sported, the weary '70s era
sketch about how things go better with cocaine or the send-up
of the dark realities behind the old Cabrini Green comedy "Good
Times," which, though it did feature Jackson for a couple
seasons, left the air 25 years ago.
Things started with promise
as Jackson sank some fake-teeth into the role of National Security
adviser Condoleezza Rice, preparing for her 9/11 Commission testimony
last week with Vice President Dick Cheney (portrayed as always
with a Strangelovian glint by Darrell Hammond). Cheney urged
her to ''flash a boob'' to distract everyone.
''Just one headlight, real quick,''
he said. ''It does two things. You win over the liberals, plus,
it's a distraction for the press. I guarantee that's going to
be the headline, not the bin Laden thing.''
Jackson's Rice -- not to be
confused with Maya Rudolph's Rice, who showed up later, during
Weekend Update -- protested this would be inappropriate. ''There
are other forums" for that sort of thing, she said, "like
pay television or national sporting championships."
Then, of course, came the hearing
and she went through the motion of exposing her pixilated, bra-covered
breast and saying, "Live from New York, it's 'Saturday Night.'
If that wasn't enough to jackhammer
home the point, Jackson opened her monologue by asking if anyone
happened to see the Super Bowl, then showed "home movies"
that included a little girl whose bathing suit top came undone.
A "swimsuit malfunction," she called it.
But this was an "SNL"
in which anything worth doing was often worth doing twice. What
Jackson left us with on "SNL" was no flash and mostly
pan. Most disappointing of all was that Jackson and/or "SNL"
lacked the nerve to have the actress/singer do something alongside
Amy Poehler's ruthless impersonation of embattled brother Michael
Up until now, this had been
a very good season for pop-star hosts on "SNL." Christina
Aguilera, Justin Timberlake and Nick Lachey and his Cher-like
wife, Jessica Simpson, had fronted some of the best editions
of a typically uneven batch.
More than simply willing to
parody their own images -- as Jackson tried in playing one of
her fans who complains about the high price of her concert tickets
and knows every possible rumor about the performer -- they gleefully
Aguilera's Kim Cattrall and
Timberlake's Ashton Kutcher were, in fact, as good as anything
"SNL's" actual cast offered all season, and this, in
fact, has been a generally good season by "SNL" standards.
By comparison, Jackson cracked
herself up with her impersonation of Paula Abdul as vacuous and
relentlessly upbeat but came off as mechanical and stale. It
could have been salvaged if it had been paired with Cowell's
cameo rather than dropped into a reprise of a Prince-hosted talk
show sketch from February, but it wasn't.
So the funniest thing in Jackson's
entire show was an Italian vineyard sketch in which the whole
point was to see how often a certain phrase could be repeated
through a cartoonish accent while trying not to trip over the
line and arouse Congress and the FCC.
Their response over Jackson's
top has been over the top.
Now we should all be over it.