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'Saturday Night Live' recap: Helen Mirren transcended a laugh-lite 'SNL'

You can’t say Helen Mirren didn’t give it her all. She kissed a girl, she pole-danced, and she allowed two cast members to grope her chest, all while floating above an edition of Saturday Night Live that was so light on laughs, the entire 90 minutes might best be viewed as an experimental pilot for a new, post-comedy SNL.

The week’s Digital Short consisted of the adulation of Mirren’s breasts, which were fondled fondly by Nasim Pedrad and Kristen Wiig. Mirren is known to be justly proud of her upper balcony, but this pride, and Pedrad’s imploring, “Can I touch ‘em?”, weren’t enough to really sustain the entire segment.

Mirren also played a Mary Shelley who'd just published Frankenstein. It was revealed that 

she'd based the monster in the novel on her landlord, a green, neck-bolted Frank Stein (Fred Armisen, borrowing freely from Peter Boyle in Young Frankenstein).

The”Mort Mort Feingold, Accountant for the Stars” sketches, featuring Andy Samberg as a physically and morally small numbers cruncher, are always silly fun, and this week, Mirren as Helena Bonham Carter and Bill Hader as Tim Burton were particularly crazy.

The parody of the Fox News Channel's Fox and Friends morning show hauled out 

the old Fox-News-is-inaccurate-and-scare-mongering. This is news? The impersonations by the usually right-on Taran Killam, Vanessa Bayer, and Bobby Moynihan of Steve Doocy, Gretchen Carlson, and Brian Kilmeade, respectively, were, I'm afraid, superficial at best.

Other easy targets included the widely-panned Kennedys mini-series. Here, SNL offered 

The Roosevelts, in which it was revealed that Eleanor Roosevelt (Mirren) was a lesbian who enjoyed kissing Marilyn Monroe (Abby Elliott). I believe this is what’s called a cheap, if nicely ahistorical, laugh.

In this context, one of the best sketches of the night was "The Best of Both Worlds with Hugh Jackman," with Samberg presenting "both sides!" of himself (Wolverine and Tony Awards host) and other celebrities, including Mirren as a Julie Andrews who abandoned her sugary image to stab a stagehand who didn't put the right milk in her tea. Samberg's Australian accent kept wavering in and out, and the general messiness of 

that sketch actually gave it an additional measure of funniness.

"Weekend Update" reached a peak with Bill Hader's always-good James Carville impersonation. You'd think this would get old, but Hader is so good at it, always adding little bits of clever physical business that enhance his lines, that it's invariably a hoot to watch.

On a drab night such as this, the more over-the-top the show went, the better, which was why I was grateful for the latest version of the rock-concert-commercial from “Under-Underground Records,” with Jason Sudeikis and Pedrad promising a “Crunk-Ass Easter Festival” featuring wonderfully absurd promises such as “60 Minutes performed live!” and a “live sex show from the green M&M.”

The evening came to a suitably grim end with the almost too accurate evocation of a dowdy strip club. This is one 

of those late-in-the-proceedings sketches that I admire for the performances and the commitment. I didn't laugh, but I admired it:

Musical guest Foo Fighters were nicely loud and energetic.

Most of the time,  however, SNL was no funnier this week than NBC’s ads for the awful new Paul Reiser Show.

Agree? Disagree?

Twitter: @kentucker

Originally posted April 10 2011 — 7:52 AM EDT

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