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Palin plays safe, Fey and Poehler shine (again) on SNL

One of the most anticipated TV and pop culture appearances of the year took place on NBC Saturday when Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin visited Saturday Night Live. And producer Lorne Michaels wasted not a second in giving viewers what they tuned in for with an opening sketch featuring Tina Fey as Palin -- and Palin as herself.

The premise: Fey plays Palin holding the kind of press conference the real Palin has never held. As usual, the writing was politically savvy, and Fey was brilliant.

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And then, Palin appeared on "Weekend Update," moving in her seat to the beat of a hardcore rap number delivered by Amy Poehler. The premise here was that Palin was supposed to do the number by way of describing herself in rap terms, but at the last second, decides against it for political reasons. And so, Poehler steps in. The lyrics are a scream, and Poehler is terrific.

Bottom line on Palin: she did little more than show up, appearing in just those two sketches and then onstage at the end of the program.

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But she did show up and she did let the cast poke some fun at her -- though the cutting edge writers and performers mostly stayed away from the controversial, Joe-McCarthy-like innuendo she has delivered on the campaign trail in trying to link Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to "terrorists." There was only one clear reference to that darker aspect of the Palin persona -- a fact that will surely lead some analysts to wonder whether there weren't boundaries set as a condition of her appearing on the show.

But whatever you think of Palin, the star-studded opening sketch with Fey was a winner -- and Palin came off OK in it.

Fey (as Palin) to the reporters: "First off, I just want to say how excited I am to be in front of both the liberal elite media and the liberal regular media."

In answer to the first question as to how she thinks her running mate, John McCain, did in last week's final debate with Obama, she says, "I just thought he was great, because the American people are angry, and John McCain is angry, too. And you can tell he's angry by the way he sighs and grits his teeth."

As Fey's Palin continues the press conference, a camera cuts to backstage where the real Palin is standing with Michaels watching on a monitor. As Palin delivers a negative critique of Fey's performance, up walks Alec Baldwin, Fey's co-star in the NBC sitcom, 30 Rock.

Mistaking Palin for Fey, he tells Michaels it's wrong to have Fey share the stage with "that horrible woman." Baldin asks Michaels if he's familiar with Palin's disparaging nickname. As Baldwin fumbles for it, Palin herself says, "That'd be Caribou Barbie."

And then, Michaels introduces Palin to Baldwin, who morphs into his smarmy TV character telling Palin, "Forgive me, but I feel I must say this: You are way hotter in person. I can't believe they let her (Fey) play you."

The sketch ends with Palin delivering the trademark opening: "Live from New York...."

The rap song performed by Poehler during "Weekend Update" was more outrageous --and more broadly comic with an Eskimo rap chorus and a dancing moose appearing on cue.

It opened with Palin telling "Weekend Update" co-host Seth Meyers that even though she rehearsed the number, she is not going to do it, because on second thought, she fears it would "not be good for the campaign."

At which point, co-anchor Poehler takes over. As the band lays down a hardcore rap beat, Poehler begins, "My name is Sarah Palin, you all know me. Vice prezzy nominee of the GOP..."

Later in the number when the chorus arrives, Poehler starts a call and answer: "All the mavericks in the house, put your hands up. All the plumbers in the house, pull your pants up."

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Then comes the one reference to William Ayers, a 1960s radical who is now a university professor with whom Obama has worked. Palin has used Obama's history with Ayers claim that Obama "pals around with terrorists."

In the song, Poehler sings, "When I say Obama, you say Ayers. Obama, Ayers. Obama, Ayers."

As the chorus shouts, "she likes red meat," a costume-shop moose dances onstage.

Silly? Absolutely. But in the moment, it was laugh-out-loud funny.

"Shoot a (blank, blank) moose eight days a week," Poehler raps. "Now you're dead. Now you're dead. Cuz I'm an animal, and I'm bigger than you. Holdin' a shotgun, workin' the pump. Everybody party. We're goin' on a hunt. I'm Palin. I'm Palin."

Sarah Palin sat at the anchor desk and moved to the beat as Poehler rapped the lyrics. I suppose in the end, looking like a good sport before millions of viewers is worth whatever embarrassment Palin might have felt -- if she felt any.

With Josh Brolin as host and director Oliver Stone making a cameo appearance, you were reminded that as brilliant as SNL can be, it also has a great capacity for hype and cheese. Brolin and Stone are star and director of W, a very bad docu-drama about President George W. Bush. But that didn't stop Michaels from showcasing them like they had created a great movie.

Still, with the presence of Palin, and the performances of Fey and Poehler, SNL was again the TV hot spot of American culture last week. It was also a reminder of how strange and electric politics have become during this election of a lifetime.

(Top: NBC Photo of Seth Meyers, Amy Poehler and Sarah Palin by Dana Edelson; Above: NBC Photo of Lorne Michaels and Sarah Palin by Dana Edelson)


 

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