The Curse of Hoda?

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Saturday Night Live announced its new cast members today (Vanessa Bayer, Paul Brittain, Taran Killam and Jay Pharoah), a new class which once again lacks any semblance of a black woman (guess they’ll be recruiting Maya Rudolph for Michelle Obama once again). Not returning for the thirty-sixth season will be Jenny Slate, whose most famous contribution to the show was uttering “fuck” live on the air. This marks the second year in a row that the actress playing Hoda Kotb in the Today Show parodies has been axed after only one season on SNL. The previous (and far superior) Hoda portrayer was Michaela Watkins, whose early termination still bothers me (when I ran into her at a Farmer’s Market in Los Angeles once, I told her as much, and she was very sympathetic and friendly to me. Then again, I think she just wanted to get past me to some squash).

Of course, Jenny Slate’s departure doesn’t irk me nearly as much as Michaela’s Watkins’, mostly because Slate never quite got her sea-legs on SNL (a.k.a she wasn’t that funny). Her exit does, however, raise some serious questions. Can anyone play Hoda without getting fired? And will anyone want to now that the role seems to be cursed? And if no one plays Hoda, how will we get the Hoda and Kathy Lee skits that we so desperately need? This is a serious matter.

Zap2It: ‘Saturday Night Live’ books Amy Poehler, Katy Perry for season premiere

Betty White Shines on ‘Saturday Night Live.’ Also, Three Unaired Skits!

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At long last, Betty White took center stage as the host of last night’s Saturday Night Live, and I think everyone was both delighted and relieved that her stint proved to be one of the best, if not the best, of the season. With so much hype around the Golden Girl’s appearance, it would have been a major disappointment had the episode turned out to be a bore.

Lorne Michaels wasn’t about to let that happen though. For this special installment, he recruited a gaggle of the show’s best comediennes from the past ten years to join White on stage: Tina Fey, Ana Gasteyer, Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch, Maya Rudolph, and Molly Shannon (noticeably absent: Cheri Oteri). The infusion of energy from this extended cast elevated the material, especially as many of the former cast members resurrected some of their beloved characters and bits from their tenure. It all added up to an hour and a half of great TV, and for once, it seemed like we weren’t watching a sketch show but a party. Throw in the nonstop stream of Tweets and Facebook updates starting at 8:30 PM out here in California, and it felt like a party everyone was invited to (not to cheese out too much).

Of course, watching all those wonderfully talented actresses on stage, it truly underscored some of the deficiencies of the current cast. It’s hard to take lightweights like Abby Elliot, Jenny Slate, and Nasim Pedrad seriously when stacked next to the likes of Molly Shannon and Amy Poehler (to be fair, Pedrad shows the most potential of the group, but still, the only recent female recruit since Kristen Wiig to show breakout talent has been Michaela Watkins, and NBC axed her for no good reason — still angry). Nevertheless, I suppose what we can take away from the experience is that when there’s a host who truly inspires the writers and a talented cast who can bring the material to life, Saturday Night Live can still shine. And when there’s not, well, we’re stuck with Will Forte singing at the Weekend Update desk.

For now though, let’s continue to bask in last night’s show. It was so frequently interrupted by spates of applause that several skits were cut from the telecast. Fear not though. NBC has placed them online. After the jump, the return of Debbie Downer, “Bronx Beat,” and Helen Madden, licensed joyologist. (Sadly, no Mary Katherine Gallagher).

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