Television

Betty White Gives 'Saturday Night Live' Its Money's Worth

Betty White appears with Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon on the

Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon welcomed Betty White to Saturday Night Live for a segment set at NPR. Dana Edelson/NBC hide caption

itoggle caption Dana Edelson/NBC

The first thing that must be said about Betty White's Internet-demanded appearance hosting Saturday Night Live is that it never had a chance of living up to the highest of hopes for it. It is, after all, still Saturday Night Live, where uneven writing reigns supreme.

But you have to give the show — and White — this: they certainly didn't prop her up there as host and then not do anything with her. They didn't tiptoe around her the way they sometimes do around sports figures and other hosts who make for good PR but can't actually do the work. They also didn't give her an age-adjusted schedule. No naps between contributions, just because she happens to be 88 years old.

On the contrary, White was in every single sketch. And she was on "Weekend Update," and she was at the center of the digital short.

Which was a relief. Because when it was announced that Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Molly Shannon, Rachel Dratch, Maya Rudolph and Ana Gasteyer — basically the entire small army of SNL women that had completely changed the show's gender dynamics over the last 10 years — would all appear, it seemed to raise the possibility that producers weren't sure White was up to a whole solo hosting job, and that she might be in just a few sketches.

That didn't happen. They didn't just put out a press release saying Betty White was hosting. They wrote a show with Betty White in it. A lot.

What went wrong, and what went right, after the jump.

The biggest problem — not unexpectedly, based on both the history of Saturday Night Live and the history of Betty White — was that there were too many sketches where the part that was funny was darling 88-year-old Betty saying wildly raunchy things.

But while the "Ha ha, that old lady said a bad word" bit gets old very easily (and did wear out its welcome by the time all was said and done), it should be said in fairness that this has always been part of Betty White's comic persona, even when she was much younger. Betty White has always done sweetness spiked with mischievous bawdiness — it's part of what was so funny about her on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and it's part of what made her delightful as a Match Game panelist. It does play more like "dirty grandma" material now, but it's also what Betty White does and always did.

The best example was the "Delicious Dish" sketch, in which Gasteyer and Shannon brought back their [cough] NPR cooking-show hosts, who always wind up wandering into some inadvertently filthy conversation about food.

In this week's segment, White played an octogenarian baker talking endlessly about her ... well, you can watch it for yourself. (Again, please be warned: It is officially clean, but unofficially filthy.)

Now, this segment would have been funny even before Betty White was 88 years old. In tone, if not in the specific jokes, it could have worked when she was Sue Ann Nivens.

(By the way, SNL: You'd never have two real radio hosts sit facing the same direction like that, so that they can't even see each other. And why are they looking into a camera? And why does it look like all of NPR is run out of a single suite in an office park? And the microphones don't even have the little spit protectors. And why are they handling their own phone calls? This is not a realistic depiction of radio production! Retraction! Retraction!)

Not everything worked as well. In some sketches, White's delivery saved what was basically a dumb idea — consider this, in which Grandma is the only person in the family who knows why Gingey (Poehler) doesn't want to go to the dance:

Some of the material SNL's writers gave White didn't really do her justice, as everyone knew it wouldn't: Her Catskills-y monologue could have been better, and all the wigs and costumes and double-entendres hid some of her solid comedy fundamentals right up until the very last sketch of the show — a low-key bit about the census, performed with Tina Fey, that was very strange and surprisingly funny.

But all in all, this was a good episode. It really was nice to see all those talented women back again, doing some of their signature characters (except for Molly Shannon's high-kicking 50-year-old, who could have stayed retired). No episode can be bad when Poehler and Fey join Seth Meyers for the "Really?" segment on "Update."

Was it great? No. Was it worth the Facebook petition? Certainly.

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