The way SNL incorporates the host into each episode has always been one of the most interesting aspects of the show. There’s an unquantifiable alchemy there—sometimes a talented performer just doesn’t work out, while other times, someone seemingly limited just blooms under the Studio 8H lights. And then there are actors like Andrew Garfield, who are talented, unassuming, and seem quite nice and who host an episode which is exactly what you’d expect. Pleasant, nice, and sort of forgettable.
The cold open remains the home of referential sort-of jokes about current events. This week, it’s creepy, racist Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s turn. As played by an energetic Bobby Moynihan, he’s—pretty racist. Trotting out his new, even blacker girlfriend (Sasheer Zamata) to prove his penis isn’t racist at least, and referring to Magic Johnson as “one of the good ones,” his recent PR shitstorm as a “black eye” (”the worst kind of eye”), and touting his love for the local NAACP “not just because they’re the people who let me freely use the word ‘colored,’” Moynihan’s Sterling is obvious. It’s fun to pile on such a creep, but some inventiveness in the smackdown would be nice. Having Jay Pharoah’s Dennis Rodman testify on his behalf is a feint in the right direction, but the only thing approaching originality comes, from all places, from an underplaying Kenan Thompson as said NAACP head who, having received ten million bucks to give Sterling the award the actual chapter withdrew from the guy, can only repeat, “Look. C’mon. Ten million dollars. C’mon. Look.”
Garfield’s monologue took the well-trod “interrupt the host” path employed for many non-comedians, although it benefits from the interruption coming from Garfield’s co-star and life partner the funny and lovely Emma Stone. Everyone agrees that the Garfield/Stone chemistry is the best thing about the new Spider-Man, and it carries over both here and later in the show. Returning the favor from her own hosting gig (when Garfield dropped in), Stone chides her beau, shoots some sidelong glances, and generally makes the word a better place. (I may like Emma Stone.) Garfield (keep an eye out for a trend here) is charming and nice, but it’s Stone and co-interrupter Aidy Bryant who get all the laughs. I especially liked Stone’s deadpan surprise when the band doesn’t back up Garfield’s joke (“I’ve actually never seen that before.”)
Up next—a fart joke. Look, there are good fart jokes out there, but this one was not one of those. See, there are fart-centric versions of Spanx called Stanx. Because they hold your farts in. Beck Benett’s game, and he does look a lot like the Keymaster of Gozer when the—sigh—fart pants explode, but leading off the show? Not a good sign.
While it’s no Celebrity Jeopardy, Celebrity Family Feud serves the same purpose of giving cast members a chance to wheel out their favorite impressions. These sorts of omnibus sketches are low-hanging fruit, but the impressions usually bring the funny. It’s better when there’s a stronger anchor like Darrell Hammond’s Connery, but Kenan Thompson’s Steve Harvey actually fills the role well enough here. I’m pretty hard on Thompson as a performer and this impression plays too readily to Thompson’s comfort zone of “funny voice and bugging eyes,” but his Harvey—as ever, none too bright and filled with odd superstitions—has a lot of good lines. To Kyle Mooney’s Skrillex: “My contract says I will not work with spooky ghosts.” To Jay Pharoah’s ingratiating Drake: “How come everything you say sounds like you’re accepting an award?” And to Russell Crowe (Taran Killam)’s accurately dreadful singing: “You got a special X for that.” (The biggest laugh of the night came from Killam/Crowe’s impromptu Les Mis solo—I mean, I hate musicals on principle, but even I recognize that Inspector Javert should be able to sing and stuff, right?) But the star of the sketch is Garfield (his one such big moment of the night), essaying a camera-hogging Justin Timberlake. Sometimes there’s a sense that a host comes in with one hidden impression in his back pocket, and Garfield’s JT is dead on, from the voice to the dance moves to unexpectedly popping up in front of Harvey for one last preen to the ladies out there.
It seems that Garfield was set to hold the stage in an Oliver Twist sketch, but he quickly ceded the central role to Cecily Strong, as inexplicable orphanage denizen Deidre, a streetwise adult woman who scarfs down all Oliver’s hard-begged porridge. Strong’s trying to create an idiosyncratic character, and she’s got charisma, but there’s not much to Deidre—I got a Molly Shannon “I’m 50!” vibe, which is not a good sign for Deidre’s return.
“The Beygency” is up next, and is destined for virality, with Garfield’s everyman committing the mortal sin of not liking Beyonce’s music. Actually, the heart of the joke is that he actually thinks Beyonce’s pretty good, he just doesn’t love that one song, and here comes The Adjustment Bureau to chase him over the rooftops. I don’t know why Jack Bauer and Chloe showed up to plug the return of 24, but seeing them get suddenly sniper-ed right after revealing their Rihanna tattoos was perfectly timed and Garfield’s acting chops playing the peril straight lifts the premise onto another level.
I maintain that Update isn’t the dead spot in the universe that some of you do, but I’ve gotta admit that it remains nondescript. Colin Jost is blandly aping Seth Meyers, but Meyers was dinged for blandness too at the start. If anything’s working against Jost, it’s how damned young and unformed he is—his delivery is fine, but he still looks like he’s playing dress up behind the desk. In the face of Jost’s JV vibe, it should be Cecily Strong’s desk to claim as her own, but she, too, is proving recessive. It’d be one thing if the jokes were great, but, like the two anchors, they’re—fine. Each anchor had a single moment of personality apiece tonight (I liked Jost’s delivery of “Cheerleading was declared an official high school sport…dad”), but that’s not much. Update can thrive with a strong political voice or a strong comedic one. The current incarnation has neither.
Jebidiah Atkinson returned, which was reliably funny, although the writing wasn’t as strong, and, according to the audience reaction throughout, he appears to be wearing out his welcome. (He was doing the Tony nominations this time, and I kept writing down the name of each play, planning to write down the withering putdown. Most stayed blank.) The best part of Atkinson’s come to be Taran Killam’s off-the-cuff remarks to any audience objection and his variable ability to choke down the corpsing. (After moans about his Cats joke, he roars, “Cats don’t care about you!”) Staff writer Leslie Jones got an Update spot, doing a sit-down standup routine that started out about Lupita Nyong’o and her newfound mainstream acceptance as a black female icon and ventured into would-be controversial territory about how she’d have done well romantically under slavery. I can’t believe I’m complaining about a non-white, non-male voice getting a shot on SNL, but Jones, energetic as she was, didn’t have great material. Kate McKinnon can come back as her long-suffering Russian woman any time as far as I’m concerned. (Loved her “girls night out” party anthem: “Ladies leave your guys at home. The club is full of wolves and it’s very dangerous.”)
After Update, things stayed on the nice and forgettable tack, with Stone returning for a Spidey sketch. It’s all an excuse for her and Garfield (wearing an Andrew Garfield wig over his short haircut) revealing that they don’t know how to kiss like humans, but those critics aren’t kidding about the pair’s chemistry—this was just plain adorable. Killam responding to their pre-kiss pep talk (“the kissy train”) with a deadpan, “Everything you’re saying worries me,” and Coldplay’s Chris Martin donning a Stone wig and doubling for a problem-solving makeout session (“You beautiful Spidery man”) help out. Again—nice, sorta funny, forgettable.
The wedding sketch was a nonstarter, with Garfield’s best man making a seriously unreciprocated declaration of love to the bride only getting one laugh with the dark reveal that his toastmate and maid of honor is his wife of six years (and mother of his four present and horrified kids).
And then things clearly went wrong behind the scenes, with Coldplay’s second song starting at 12:50, effectively annexing ten-to-oneland. I don’t know if Jebidiah Atkinson’s mugging threw off the timing for the rest of the night or if there was some other snafu, but after the song, we got a rerun of the Bird Bible sketch. Funny bit, but these last minutes have been the fiefdom of Kyle Mooney’s endearingly odd filmed pieces for a while—and the show’s been better for it. Here, SNL just burned off the last five minutes, leaving Garfield to say an extended goodbye where he thanked everyone, begged to be invited back, and was generally pleasant and sort of forgettable. You can probably sense where I’m going with that, so I’ll leave it there.
- I am hip to the musics of today!: What can you say about Coldplay? Me, I fuzzed out at the first note and used the pleasant, unobtrusive musical interludes to work on writing the rest of this review.
- Steve Harvey suggests that white people watch Reba McEntire’s sitcom like black people watch the Wayans brothers. “We’ll watch it but were not gonna tell nobody about it.”
- Harvey on Kate McKinnon’s Shakira: “You sound like my car radio when it’s on scan.”
- “Half of mine was absorbed into my tooth holes.”
- Two uses of the pejorative “pussies” tonight. How many “pussies” does SNL get these days? (He asked innocently.)
- Jost, on Rob Ford’s recent crack relapse: “If there’s one lesson we can take from this, it’s that crack must be great.”
- Not that anyone’s asking, but I like Garfield as Peter Parker. His physicality and sense of humor are better than Tobey Maguire’s, and his chemistry with Stone (as seen several times tonight) is outstanding. His first movie was nondescript, verging on soulless, but Garfield’s everyman Parker, like Martin Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins, provides a lovely center to some messy filmmaking.
- All true SNL fans will want to check out this excellent Random Roles with original cast member (and punching bag) Garrett Morris. Guy’s got some stories to tell.