If Beale Street Could Talk
Jenkins’ decision to let the original storyteller live and breathe throughout If Beale Street Can Talk is a wise one.
I can't get enough of Tina Fey's Sarah Palin. I feel about her the way I felt about Dr. Evil in the first "Austin Powers" movie. My eyes light up whenever she's on camera. And then, of course, there are those little starbursts she sends through the screen that go ricocheting around the living rooms of America, as first reported by Rich Lowry of the National Review.
Something strange is happening, though: Fey's Palin is not only sharper and funnier than Palin's Palin, she's also more vivid, more... real (maybe because she's on TV more). It's as if she's the main Palin and the other one is the paler surrogate Palin. In other words, for you baby boomers, Tina Fey's Palin is the Dick York and Sarah Palin's Palin is the Dick Sargent. Sure, they're both bewitching in their own ways, but Fey's is the real Darrin. If you know what I mean.
I was looking forward to the VP Debate opening sketch on "SNL" as much as the debate itself, and I was not disappointed by either. I'm guessing that former "SNL" head-writer Fey contributes to these because they're "30 Rock" precise -- more pointed than what usually passes for "SNL" political humor. (I didn't make it through the obviously obligatory finanical bailout sketch in the first half hour of the show, even though Fred Armisen's Barney Frank was a hoot).
Jason Sudeikis made for an extra-creepy Biden and the writers targeted the right angles -- the strident repetitions; the expressions of warm feelings toward McCain combined with horror and alarm at the prospect of somebody so bonkers as president; the desperate relief at having escaped from a place as undesirable as Scranton (hellhole setting of NBC's version of "The Office"); the frustration and humiliation of being a longtime Senator/insider and policy wonk having to control his loose tongue while debating a functional rutabaga in a beehive and pretending that it's normal....
On her third time in the role Fey again caught the essential Palin, a character who does think everything that's happening to her is normal. She's just a big ol' sixpack of clueless narcissism-in-a-can. It would never occur to her to feel the least bit out of place. She's just real happy to be in the international spotlight where she can see Russia from just about anywhere. Look, there's Putin rearing his head right over there! Sic some Alaskans on him!
"Hey, can I call you Joe?" she asks at the top of the sketch, shaking his hand as if he were a towel rack. "Of course," he replies. "OK," she chirps as if he isn't there, " 'cause I practiced a couple zingers where I call you Joe." In the actual debate she didn't have to say that last line, but it was plain as day.
My favorite Falin moments are when she emits showers of sparks, shooting off buzzwords and concepts ("maverick," "outsider") followed by a random spray of verbal mist. Because one word do just as well as another and who's gonna get picky about what ones they are or what order they're in. (This was a reminder of the debating style favored by Dana Carvey's GHW Bush, which seemed to consist entirely of phrase fragments: "Not gonna do it," "Wouldn't be prudent," and "Thousand points of light.")
Compare this (from the actual debate): "Well, our founding fathers were very wise there in allowing through the Constitution much flexibility there in the office of the vice president. And we will do what is best for the American people in tapping into that position and ushering in an agenda that is supportive and cooperative with the president's agenda in that position."
With this (from the SNL sketch): "Gwen, we don't know if this climate change whoozy-whatzit is man made or if it's just a natural part of the End of Days. But I'm not gonna talk about that because I wanna talk about about taxes. Because with Barack Obama you're gonna be payin' higher taxes, but not with me and my fellow maverick. We're not afraid to get mavericky in there, and ruffle feathers, and not got to allow that, and also to, the great Ronald Reagan."
I would have been happy if the opener had lasted the whole show. (The gay marriage question, again, cut right through to what was expressed, almost as directly, in the debate.) As format-neutralized moderator Gwen Ifill, Queen Latifah set things up nicely, especially when explaining that if Palin fails to melt down or run away the debate should be considered "a tie." Later, though, she milks the double-takes too much. But the missed opportunity here was the cheap and obvious schtick of having Ifill plug her Obama book (a non-issue after the debate itself). Rather, the writers should have zeroed in on her silly, third-grade either/or questions: "A nuclear Iran or an unstable Pakistan, which is more dangerous?" "Brushing or flossing, which is more dentally hygienic?" "Skeleton or ghost, which is more scary?" "Raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens, which is more favorite?"
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