Robert DeNiro / Norah Jones
December 7, 2002

By Mike LeBlanc

PRE-SHOW THOUGHTS: Will De Niro, as Travis Bickle,
take Drunk Girl for a cab ride? Will De Niro, as
Rupert Pupkin, kidnap Lorne Michaels in order to host
SNL? Will De Niro, as Jake La Motta, get a catchphrase
from Ferecito? Will De Niro, as a gangster, rough up
the featured players?

COLD OPENING: In which one of America's finest actors
stiffly rattles off an series of dick and fart jokes.
It reminds me of the time Sir Laurence Olivier
appeared on The Benny Hill Show and chased
large-breasted girls through London parks in
fast-motion. No, wait -- that never happened.

Hammond's much-improved Tom Ridge impersonation is
rather tame but he's just a warm-up act for De Niro. I
laughed hard at a couple of these but felt grungy and
slightly nauseated about it almost immediately
afterward. This is extremely cheap stuff. Can't even
begin to imagine how the vast Arab-American viewership
reacted.

THE MONOLOGUE: In which one of America's finest actors
picks the wrong season in which to host SNL. Maybe
expectations are too high but you would think that,
with 28 years to prepare for this night, either SNL or
De Niro would rise to the occasion. His unenthusiastic
monologue isn't up to the level of, say, fellow acting
giant Sir Ian McKellan's (who seemed genuinely
delighted to host and had much wittier things to say).
As for the sketches, one of the acting profession's
great improvisers spends the night awkwardly reading
his lines off cue cards, as if this were a rehearsal.
He demonstrates little of his usual skill, charisma,
or even interest. The impression is that this was more
of a chore for De Niro than an opportunity or a
challenge.

FAKE McDONALD'S AD: Less interesting than any genuine
McDonald's ad. Anybody who wants a good laugh on this
topic should visit http://www.mcspotlight.org -- a
website devoted to debunking Mickey D's corporate
propaganda.

THE JEFFERSONS: In which one of America's finest
actors pokes fun at his well-known penchant for dating
black women. Not long ago, Howard Stern asked former
SNL cast member Chris Rock about De Niro's fetish and
Rock suggested that (I'm paraphrasing) liking black
chicks was probably the most rock 'n' roll thing an
Italian-American guy could do.

De Niro as Thomas Jefferson hits on Rudolph as Sally
Hemings while white guys Parnell, Fallon and Forte
kibitz with some mildly amusing anachronisms.
Shockingly, De Niro may be the worst player in the
sketch. He mangles his first joke and pays more
attention to the cue cards than to Rudolph who is,
meanwhile, acting rings around him. It helps that she
gets the best lines. But sketches with the institution
of slavery as a backdrop rank with Holocaust sketches
on my queasiness-o-meter -- the massive atrocities
tend to get trivialized.

THE GUY WHO PLAYS PETER PAN IS A JERK: In which one of
America's finest actors dresses like Peter Pan and
roughs up Seth Myers and Jeff Richards. Again, De Niro
comes off looking poor next to Kattan and Company in a
sketch that's more predictable than funny.

Whoever's responsible seems to have been more familiar
with Disney than James Barrie's original which is too
bad because De Niro would make a terrific Captain Hook
opposite Kattan's Pan.

THE GUY WHO PLAYS SANTA CLAUS IS A JERK: In which one
of America's finest actors plays a department store
Santa at odds with his girlfriend, the elf (Rudolph,
again out-performing the host). The De Niro-Rudolph
part of the sketch is fine and might have led
somewhere interesting but Dratch and Parnell play
italicized ciphers in poorly-conceived roles and the
whole thing ends limply and unconvincingly.

U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTORS: I half-expected the next
sketch to be "The Guy Who Plays the Tooth Fairy is a
Jerk" but, fortunately, we got something else.
Unfortunately, it's not much. A mercifully short
one-joke bit. I'm not sure I should even dignify it
with a comment.

JUDGE HORACE: My first reaction to Tracy Morgan's
make-up for this role was: he only needs to add a
frizzy wig and a some fake teeth and he could pass for
Harvard professor Cornel West, a public figure ripe
for satire.

The sketch itself is kind of blah. Will Forte was more
convincing as a judge a few weeks ago than as a
bailiff here. Horatio Sanz, in drag, is allowed to
play a relatively quiet role and does just fine. In
fact, he may be the most interesting thing in the
sketch.

NORAH JONES: Decent, unexciting stuff. Still, it's a
nice change of pace from the rap and hip-hop of the
last three musical guests and changes of pace are
always welcome, even bland ones.

WEEKEND UPDATE: The rot spreads. Like a cruise ship
virus, the unevenness that the show has suffered from
all season finally infects the once-healthy Weekend
Update. Fallon and Fey are no longer a crack comedy
team that resuscitates a dying show but mere mortals
reading astonishingly weak jokes off cue cards. The
flop sweat pours off this segment like Bobby Brown in
need of a joint. Kattan and Dratch, as a couple of
elderly Jewish stereotypes, induce more nausea. Their
desperate punchline is roughly the same as my
reaction: vomit.

At the bitter end, F & F, instead of triumphantly
throwing their pencils at the camera, carefully place
them at the edge of the WU desk. Is that the signal to
surrender?

VERSACE CHANUKAH: In which two of America's finest
actors (the other being Harvey Keitel) are reduced to
playing flamboyant magicians Siegfried and Roy. Now,
if you want to see what these guys can do with
first-rate comic material, I highly recommend De
Niro's 1983 film The King of Comedy and Keitel's 1995
film Smoke. Both of those pictures manage to be funny
AND have intelligent things to say about life in these
United States. Nothing on tonight's show can touch
them.

Much as I like Rudolph's work, her Versace impression
is so over-the-top that it strikes me as being more
effective in small doses. As this sketch runs on
interminably, the character becomes as obnoxious as
Jeff Richards' Drunk Girl. Sanz and Poehler nail their
Osbournes impressions to no avail -- and if that's
Dean Edwards behind the Santa Claus beard, he must be
thankful his face is covered to hide his embarrassment
at the size and thanklessness of his role.

JUMPING BUMPER: Poehler and Myers hop up and down on
the set directly in front of producer Lorne Michaels.
Wow. I guess when Lorne tells them to jump, they jump.
<p>

Or maybe they are trying to get his attention:<p>

Hey, the sucks!<br>
Lorne, show<p>

SLAP-HAPPY CAR SALESMAN: In which one of America's
finest actors is reduced to beating the crap out of
Seth Myers -- again. Now, it's not as if I haven't
felt like doing that myself on occasion but ... this
just feels like pandering.

I suppose we should be grateful that De Niro hasn't
been asked to play a Mafioso on the show tonight. On
the other hand, "Homeland Security spokesman" and
"violent car salesman" are probably only one rung up
the ladder from "gangster" in the Great Scheme of
Things.

JULIO THE MAGICAL SQUIRREL: In what may have been the
best-written sketch of the night, a divorced father
(De Niro) tells his visiting son (Kattan) an ugly
bedtime story designed to turn the kid against his
mother... This and the "Radioactive Bear" sketch that
follows are nearly the kind of "Michael O'Donoghue"
sketches I half-jokingly asked for in my last review.
O'Donoghue, a former SNL writer, used to appear in a
running bit called "Least-Loved Bedtime Tales" which
were often as gruesome as the one De Niro relates to
Kattan. "That was a scary story," says Kattan. "Yeah,
almost too real, wasn't it?" Unlike most of
O'Donoghue's routines, this bedtime story is nicely
grounded in a believable situation. Like the sketches
of another great SNL writer of yore, Marilyn Miller,
the actors are given genuine characters to play and,
like Rudolph, Kattan matches up well against De Niro
by delivering the better performance.

NORAH JONES: Listenable but somehow I couldn't rouse
much enthusiasm for this.

RADIOACTIVE BEAR: O'Donoghue once co-wrote a sketch
with Tom Davis called "Attack of the Atomic Lobsters":
giant radioactive lobsters invade New York, destroy
Studio 8H, behead John Belushi, eat Don Pardo, etc. He
also co-wrote an unproduced screenplay with Chevy
Chase called "Saturday Matinee" which features a long
segment called "Planet of the Cheap Special Effects"
for which they screened numerous old cheap science
fiction films from the 1950s.

Here, we get a similar, slightly less sophisticated
parody. For example, a Giant Radioactive Bear rips off
Giant Radioactive Will Forte's arm and beats him over
the giant radioactive head with it. Forte is then
sodomized by the bear and dies by eating a Giant
Poison Sandwich. The military (led by one of America's
finest actors and including the typecast Parnell and
Hammond) is crazier than the premise of the sketch and
deploys increasingly insane schemes to get rid of the
bear. I can't say I laughed much at it but it kept me
smiling throughout with its sheer ludicrousness.

GOODNIGHTS: None. Zip. The show got cut off entirely.
Or maybe the cast was too embarrassed to face the
audience.

POST-SHOW THOUGHT: No show that ends with Jimmy Fallon
facing death at the paws of a giant radioactive bear
can be all bad -- but this one came frighteningly
close.