Screen Savor: After Dark

I was glad to see a relaxed but not too relaxed Vice-President Joe Biden on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last night. You can watch the interview online, at least in theory; the Daily Show site just froze my browser for the umpteenth time.

Biden: © 2008 UPI / Jack Hohman.
Sudeikis as Biden: © 2009 NBC & Broadway.

The VP was articulate, knowledgable, and good-humored, a far cry from the gruff-voiced, gaffe-prone parody in the
cold open of Saturday Night Live three nights prior. Biden has made his share of painfully inartful statements, for sure, and it's fine to razz him for his tendencies to speak too long or say too much. He's smart, though, and Jason Sudeikis' impression of him as a gravelly loudmouth sounds nothing like Biden — to me, a fatal error, because good impressions are much more about the voice than the visual; think Dan Aykroyd acing Jimmy Carter even with a mustache on early SNL, Gary Cole nailing Robert Reed's tone as Mike Brady in the big-screen Brady Bunch flicks, or Frank Caliendo's quick changes from John Madden to Charles Barkley to George W. Bush when visiting The Late Show (I think he's better at stand-up than he was on his short-lived cable series).

Sudeikis has been charming as Liz Lemon's boyfriend Floyd on
30 Rock and is a handy utility player on SNL, but when it comes to playing real people he seems to do little more than wear a wig most of the time. One exception is his recent turn as Glenn Beck, and he did a fine Jimmy Stewart this past weekend; then again, everyone can do Jimmy Stewart, and in general the sketch, with January Jones as a dimwitted Grace Kelly in gastrointestinal distress during the filming of Rear Window, stank up the room.

Swift from monologue: © 2009 NBC & Broadway.

Beyond the faux 1952 short film on throwing a party, in fact, very little from Jones' SNL debut was memorable in a good way (if I never hear the Bon Jovi "opposite tribute band" again, it'll be too soon) — especially disappointing given that the previous week's episode, starring Taylor Swift as host and musical guest, was the strongest of the season. Swift is clearly a gifted songwriter with a good head on her shoulders, and unlike many young celebrities not only deserves her fame but appears to handle it well; while her clever monologue song perfectly fit her reedy voice, however, the full-on musical segments overwhelmed it. More surprising, even given her dramatic turn on an episode of CSI last season and the very funny opening sequence to this summer's CMT Music Awards, were the variety of totally committed comedic performances she gave throughout the show. Her episode is online in its entirety, but if you just have time for some highlights I recommend the monologue, the soundtrack sketch that includes Swift's spot-on Shakira, the brilliant Twilight parody trailer with Swift as Bella and Frankenstein monsters in lieu of vampires, and the latest installment of Really!?! with Seth & Amy, featuring the always-welcome return of Amy Poehler alongside Seth Meyers at the Weekend Update desk.

Jon Stewart welcomes Lou Dobbs to The Daily Show this evening, with repeats throughout the day tomorrow, for what I hope will be a substantive conversation not entirely devoid of laughs as opposed to one of the drubbings that Stewart occasionally hands out in which he somewhat disingenuously shushes the studio audience after tossing them red meat and barely lets his guests get in a word about their own views. However much I may agree with Stewart's general political perspective and exasperation with self-important bloviators, I'm occasionally frustrated by his dominance of the more confrontational interview segments. There's always Norah Jones' appearance on The Colbert Report to look forward to as a palate cleanser; if she's not your cup of tea, I recommend Stephen Colbert and Woody Harrelson's surprisingly stirring rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" in two-part harmony from last Thursday's show, sung as Colbert shaves Harrelson's head in a show of solidarity with our nation's men and women overseas.

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