The last Saturday Night Live primetime election special was clearly the best of the three, combining a less spotty "Weekend Update" than usual with a surprise appearance by perhaps the one person who stood a fighting chance of upstaging Tina Fey: Will Ferrell in the role of George W. Bush, whose ongoing presidency has been nearly forgotten by SNL in recent weeks.
There was no new debate to satirize this week, possibly a lucky break since only the vice presidential debate sketch has worked all that well. The need for a new opening idea may have been the impetus to ask back Ferrell, who has been the one person on SNL to really get at the essence of Bush: not merely doing a voice impression, but capturing his casual arrogance and fraternity charm. The premise for the sketch was Bush's desire to deliver an Oval Office address that would make his endorsement of the McCain/Palin ticket official. The running joke was that the president had been kept in a "bummer free zone" and couldn't quite understand why John McCain seemed so uninterested in "what every candidate wants most: a primetime heavily publicized network endorsement from George W. Bush."
Enter Tina Fey's now familiar alter ego, to the roar of the audience. Sarah Palin, whose first comment to Bush is "I've seen you on TV," explains that she's been "doin' a little shoppin', and that McCain has somehow disappeared in the Adirondacks, with her husband Todd in hot pursuit. Bush tells Palin he is impressed with her folksiness, prompting Fey to deliver what might eventually go down as her best-remembered line from her foray into Campaign '08: "I like to think I'm one part practiced folksy, one part sassy, and a little dash of high school bitchy."
At last, Todd Palin (Jason Sudeikis) brought forth McCain (Darrell Hammond), who stood by tight-lipped as Bush delivered his endorsement: "John was there for me ninety percent of the time over the last eight years ... when you're in the voting booth, before you vote, picture this face right here. A vote for John McCain is a vote for George W. Bush."
The guest commentators have been a chronic weak link on "Weekend Update" since Adam Sandler departed for the big screen, but one bit on Thursday's show was inspired: a long overdue spoof of the touchscreen election maps most associated in this campaign cycle with John King of CNN. Fred Armisen randomly zoomed in and out of the giant map, dragged Oregon into the Pacific Ocean, pulled Minnesota out of place so that it was crushing Virginia, and drew the face of a cat over the Great Plains. Even the return appearance by Kenan Thompson as nervous financial analyst Oscar Rogers was less irritating than previously.
Andy Samberg, whose digital shorts are hit-and-miss, contributed a bit that started out as if it would be a parody of a public-service announcement to get youth engaged in politics, and ended with Samberg unsuccessfully attempting to keep from vomiting all over the people he was interviewing. The best of the evening's "Update" gags: "A cat named Platina Luna Blade Runner was the winner of this year's Best of the Best Award at the Cat Fancy Championship at Madison
Square Garden. Though I wonder if he would have won if they had used his full name, Platina Luna Hussein Blade Runner."
NBC likely had no idea that Saturday Night Live would again get so buzz-worthy when the network signed off on the three Thursday specials, but they proved to be a publicity bonanza if not always an artistic success. And the specials served the dual purposes of pushing the season debut of 30 Rock farther into the new season (thus allowing it to run more new episodes later on), and giving that show's star a boost in name recognition that no one could have foreseen before the campaign took its Alaskan detour.