When I wrote about SNL‘s now-infamous “Lazy Sunday” skit a few days after it first aired, I didn’t quite realize that it was about to become some alternate-reality cultural juggernaut, though it was beginning to show signs of something like that. Still, the flood of press that followed was pretty staggering: articles in Salon and the Times, more people reading my column than any others except, like, the one about the Cam’ron shooting, Andy Samberg turning into a bona fide celebrity all of a sudden. The skit blew up for pretty obvious reasons: it was really funny and likable, and it was on the internet right away, all over sites like YouTube, so even the people who hadn’t watched the show when it was on (which nobody I know had done) could read about it and see it the next morning. Kelefa Sanneh calls this the cross-under: something that had been a stray piece of mass-culture detritus catching fire on the internet and winding up as this cult sensation. So thanks to the internet, Saturday Night Live became a sneaky cult thing all over again. It got its cool back.
The show didn’t capitalize, of course. The “Lazy Sunday” writing team came up with a few more digital shorts (a fake lettuce commercial, a hair-metal song about Chuck Norris), but not until this week did they try their hand at recreating the “Lazy Sunday” thing, this time with a digital short where Chris Parnell interviews Natalie Portman and she goes into this big heated rap about how she’s crazy and likes to fight and stuff. It’s a pretty obvious “Lazy Sunday” retread, but it’s not like this is the first time Saturday Night Live has tried to recreate something that was successful the first time, and it makes sense that they’d try it, especially since “Lazy Sunday” is pretty much the only thing they’ve got going for them right now. What doesn’t make sense is the way NBC completely shut down everyone who tried to post the footage online, forcing YouTube and other sites to take it down by threatening legal action. You can watch the skit on NBC.com, but you need some uber-new version of Flash that my computer doesn’t have, which I don’t feel like downloading. (If you look hard enough, though, you can find it illicitly posted elsewhere.) This is just insanely dumb. Not only is NBC making the clip harder to actually watch, it’s engendering all kinds of resentment from the people responsible for making “Lazy Sunday” successful in the first place. Everything about this move is counterintuitive.
But here’s an idea: maybe NBC is keeping people from seeing the skit because it totally fucking sucks, failing in almost every way that “Lazy Sunday” succeeded. One of the things that made “Lazy Sunday” great was that it wasn’t the standard crypto-racist check-it-out-y’all pidgin-talk that we usually get when white people do rap parodies. Samberg and Parnell didn’t rap in exaggerated honky voices, and they didn’t make jokes about shooting people; they just rapped to the best of their ability about what sounded like the sort of day they might’ve actually had. It also pretty much works as a rap song. All that goes out the window with the Portman clip; she goes way overboard spouting rap cliches, breaking a bottle over her head and talking about “doing 120 getting head while I’m swerving,” sticking close to the clueless white person’s idea of what mainstream rap sounds like. That shit’s not funny. And unlike Parnell and Samberg, she can’t even sort of rap, going through the first two verses in a pseudo-Lil Jon yowl before switching up to a borderline offensive chickenhead monotone on the third, the exact same thing that got Carmen Electra savaged by critics after she was in that Jenny McCarthy movie. The beat is serviceable enough, a nice little acoustic guitar glide, almost like vintage Geto Boys except with weak-ass drums, but Portman has no idea how to ride something like this. Plus it’s all full of bleeps, which makes it borderline unlistenable. As music and as comedy, the clip only gets good at the very end, when Samberg, who really shouldn’t let anyone else try this shit, busts in singing a half-decent R&B hook and inexplicably rocking a Viking costume. I thought the SNL dudes realized this, but the way to make rap funny is to almost maybe take it seriously. Maybe I should thank NBC for trying to protect me from this.