Saturday Night Live: “Ben Stiller/Foster The People”
B+

Saturday Night Live: “Ben Stiller/Foster The People”

B+

Saturday Night Live

“Ben Stiller/Foster The People”

Season 37, Episode 3

As I mentioned last week, this is only Ben Stiller’s second time hosting SNL, and his first since 1998 (he was also briefly a cast member back in the 80s). I even remember his 98 hosting appearance. It’s the one where he played Tom Cruise in Celebrity Jeopardy. I don’t know why he’s rarely been on the show, but the man definitely knows what he’s doing and helped make this a pretty competent episode that lagged only when Kristen Wiig took over in her requisite number of sketches.

It’s sort of amazing to me how much I enjoyed Bridesmaids and Wiig’s eye for characterization in that film and how much I despise all of her recurring characters on SNL. Some of the bad ones, like Target Lady and Gilly, appear to have been retired (I shouldn’t speak too soon), but in their place, new oddities spring up like the Lawrence Welk Show girl, or Shana, the squeaky-voiced “sexy lady” who then does horrible things in an always interminably long sketch.  That was bang in the middle of this week’s episode, and despite Stiller’s efforts as an enthusiastically lame boss, it fell very flat and killed what had been a pretty nice streak of decent skits.

The Mitt Romney cold open was a good, solid SNL political sketch. It was nothing too fancy, but it had a decent concept, it didn’t drag, and I enjoyed Bobby Moynihan’s Chris Christie, not as a piece of mimicry, but the idea of him as the life of the party and Mitt as the buzz-kill Republicans have to settle for make me laugh. I feel bad for Jason Sudeikis that he’s likely stuck in this boring role for the next year or two (or longer) but maybe he can figure out a fun angle on Romney. His Mormon swearing (“heck it all to fudge!”) was kinda funny.

Stiller’s Yom Kippur monologue did not break any new ground when it comes to jokes about Jews eating food, but that set he and Jewish Willy Wonka (“So, you’re Gene Wilder?” “Yeah, basically”) played around in was pretty lavish. I was thrilled that there was not one pluggy mention of Tower Heist, although that did deny us an Eddie Murphy cameo (a fantasy that continues to go unfulfilled). Stiller just doing some jokes would have worked fine for me, too, but for a monologue musical number, it wasn’t bad at all.

I also didn’t hate the Lincoln Financial Group ads. Yeah. It was funnier because they repeated it twice, even though each repetition was way less funny than the original, since it got broader every time. I don’t know if I was supposed to hate that or not, but I didn’t.

Then we got into genuinely strong territory. The Fox & Friends segment worked as a bizarro Weekend Update where they could have a panel guest, here Sudeikis as an enraged Hank Williams, Jr., who thinks everyone’s Hitler, and also score some points off of Gretchen Carlson (Vanessa Bayer is best at playing wide-eyed lunatics). I bet everyone has different favorites that scrolled by in that list of corrections, but I liked simple ones like “Vermont still exists” and “Nicolas Cage did not sign the declaration of independence.”

Then, the return of “Best of Both Worlds” (with Samberg as a Wolverined/showtune-singing Hugh Jackman) was welcome, an improvement on its already strong first outing last year, mostly because of Bill Hader’s hilarious Clint Eastwood impression that featured a musical performance that was mostly him sighing. Sure, spoofing Gran Torino is a couple years too late, but that didn’t stop me from laughing. I wish Ben Stiller could have spent more time on Mandy Patinkin, who seems legitimately nuts to me, but we also had to make way for the guest appearance of lovely Hugh Jackman. The ending where everybody kills some stagehand and blood goes everywhere seemed like something the writers thought up at the last minute, but the meat of the sketch was funny enough for me not to care.

Then, the digital short was the usual format, escalation of the weirdness before a jarring cut back to the real world. But I liked some of the weird V-necks, not the obvious one that’s cut to the crotch, but the “negative” was good. Anyway, it served as a nice lead-in to Stiller doing Zoolander on Weekend Update, which was fun more for the spectacle of it, although I liked “The Derek Zoolander Foundation for Fat Kids Who are Fat but not in a cute way like that fat kid on Modern Family.” The return of Stefon, who has not yet worn out his welcome with me (I have a real soft spot for Hader) was also welcome. "Located in a haunted synagogue, this Upper Lower East Side hotspot is the creation of Italian reggae singer Rasta Primavera." 

Wiig’s pancake lady was deathly, seemingly designed to drag out every moment of silence as long as possible and then deprive us of a punchline. Maybe she’s actually moved into a more avant-garde stream of comedy outside of SNL’s usual format, although the wind-machine fart joke in the Shana sketch doesn’t really line up with that notion.

Things were a little less strong after that, but the show did recover, sticking to filmed, short skits. The Under-Underground festival, which we’ve seen before, is just a rapid-fire joke delivery machine where randomness is the name of the game so there doesn’t have to be any connective tissue. As usual, it got some laughs out of me, but didn’t stick with me. The Stiller-as-Springsteen doing the stories was an okay joke that they didn’t drag out too long (I liked Armisen’s Little Stevie). And the Moneyball spoof was mostly lame steroid jokes but goddamn was Taren Killam doing an amazing Brad Pitt in there. Let’s get that somewhere else!

So, for its third week in, probably SNL’s first solid episode (I was a little too nice to Baldwin in week one). You gotta figure they’ll be exhausted by Anna Faris next week, but only time shall tell.

Stray observations:

  • Mitt can get some food in. "What do you people like, buttered bread?"
  • "My voice sounds like a black comedian doing a white guy voice."
  • "I have an army of little men." "Oompa-Loompas?" "No, just regular Jewish guys."
  • Comparing Obama to Hitler: "We just don't say that on this show." "We imply it."
  • "Interesting fact about me, I was born as a woman! The doctor turned my kangaroo pouch into a didgeridoo."
  • "Look who's at the bar, is that Kate Moss? No. It's a Pakistani family that cuts in line at Universal Studios!"
  • "These bands will give Queen Isabella polyps!"