Sunday, September 16, 2012

Jay Pharoah Debuts as Barack Obama on Season Premiere of 'SNL' - Wall Street Journal (blog)

Comic Jay Pharoah made his debut as “Saturday Night Live’s” resident Barack Obama on tonight’s season premiere of the show with host Seth MacFarlane and musical guest Frank Ocean. So are “SNL” viewers better off with Pharoah as the president than they were under the Fred Armisen administration?

The answer is yes.

First off, it was classy of Armisen, who had been playing Obama on “SNL,” to introduce his successor in the skit. It’s nice to see a peaceful transition of power. At least this political transition didn’t wind up in front of the Supreme Court.

As Obama, Pharoah’s makeup wasn’t quite right. They made his hair too gray, and the hairstyle wasn’t shaped right, to really suggest Obama. And I couldn’t figure out what they were doing with the makeup. It was kind of dusty and deathly, like he was an extra on “The Walking Dead.”

Pharoah’s impersonation also seemed tentativeâ€"great caricatures have to take big swings. Dana Carvey as Bush, Tina Fey as Sarah Palinâ€"they painted in big bold strokes and didn’t worry much about the details. Pharoah seemed to focus on the way that he imagined that Obama draws out sentences with “aaaahhhhs” when he’s speaking. It wasn’t that telling an observation, and it wasn’t that fun.

Still, there seemed to be a playful spark in Pharoah’s portrayal of the president, and one gets the feeling the best is yet to come. Pharoah has to internalize Obama and turn him into an imaginative, fictional comic character instead of trying to play the real person. This is comedy, not The Actors Studio.

He also has a great foil to play against with Jason Sudeikis as Mitt Romney. Sudeikis isn’t even trying to do a legit impression of Romney and that’s part of the joke. He’s just going after what he seems to see as the GOP candidate’s blundering out-of-touchness with people from other ethnic, social and economic groups. It’s a cartoony potrayal that’s fun to watch. Maybe a little less fun if you’re a Republican, more fun if you’re a Democrat.

Check back inâ€"we’ll add video from the show when it becomes available.

What did you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Follow @cjfarley on Twitter.

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