Bruce Willis hasn’t hosted Saturday Night Live since the first episode of the 1989 season, when Neil Young was the musical guest (probably promoting Freedom) and, uh, In Country was hitting theaters. It’s not like the show has been crying out for his return, but this is the guy who came onto Letterman dressed as Sarah Palin and did an entire interview in character. This is the guy who, apparently, can bust out a Michael Kors impression if he needs to. And this is the guy from Moonlighting! He can be funny! Why he’s back this year with no movie to promote (Red 2 already came and went) is beyond me. But he’s no slouch as a sketch actor, and he has more presence than a lot of SNL’s guest hosts.
Too bad the show around him was only half-formed. SNL is often at its most ragged three weeks in to back-to-back-to-back shows, and this was no exception. Happily, there were no downright stinkers like last week (where I either loved or hated every sketch). But there also wasn’t a must-watch sketch I’d tell my friends about the next day.
The political cold open was cute, and Bruce’s monologue (showcasing his harmonica skills) was very pleasant. Neither were anything special. It was smart to tie the shutdown to Gravity and kill two topical birds with one stone, but the sketch actually pivoted on Kenan Thompson’s jovial janitor and Kate McKinnon’s eastern European lady, characters we’re very used to at this point. It’s not that they’re not funny—but they’re also not going to elevate any material from good to great.
24-Hour Energy for Dating Actresses wasn’t that interesting until it added a tag about dating comedians, who are apparently usually male. That seemed like an effort to make the sketch less sexist but in fact just drew attention to that problem. And sure, it was a very New York-y sketch, with talk of callbacks and stuff, but I’m pretty sure most of SNL’s audience would get the references. Taran Killam almost saved the thing with “And the award goes to you for good acting!”
Bruce Willis’ first sketch of the night traded on his action star persona as one might expect, but it also showcased his weirdly original approach to sketch acting—he’s frequently quiet, his line readings had a strange rhythm to them, and in a sketch where he initially is supposed to come off as a doofus, the joke turns out to be that he’s so compelling, maybe his movie shtick will turn out to be true. The sketch itself was formulaic, but Willis was a hell of a lot of fun to watch.
The concept of the barbershop sketch was less concrete. We’ve got Kenan and Jay Pharoah playing hyperactive storyteller types in the long tradition of the barbershop, and then Willis (again, super-quiet and intense) as someone who’s bad at telling stories. I guess? The two things never fully meshed. It was hard to tell what the actual punchline was supposed to be. Willis exited very curiously, talking quietly about seeing a Sheryl Crow concert and taking off Bobby Moynihan’s smock for no particular reason (a bit of prop busy-work that was more energy than it was worth, I think). But then the two barbers made more jokes about Sheryl Crow. I didn’t hate it, I just didn’t know when to laugh. Maybe I’m just a bumpkin who needs too much formula in my sketches.
The Boy Dance Party was the one solid-gold hit of the night, helped massively by its extremely simple premise and perfect production (also, Willis went for broke). Taran Killam was unsurprisingly the most energetic and memorable of the boys, but everyone should walk away happy from that one.
The later short, Sigma, was also a lot of fun and a good showcase for the Good Neighbor boys, Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett (check out their old sketches online, because they are very funny). I don’t think the digital shorts will ever have the event-like quality they had under Andy Samberg and the Lonely Island fellas, who were so good at tapping into weird facets of the celebrities hosting, but Mooney and Bennett need to be doing shorts every week.
The Lady Gaga Show was a decent talk-show sketch with a hole at its center. Vanessa Bayer’s impression wasn’t particularly defined outside of her look, and the Gaga jokes that followed were very predictable. It’s funny that Bayer is spoofing Gaga now, when she’s less crucial to the zeitgeist, and used to spoof Miley Cyrus, who is probably the most-discussed celebrity of the last few months. I did like Bruce Willis’ Michael Kors impression, though. It was fun to see him with energy! Kate McKinnon’s Penelope Cruz is not necessary, though. Yes, it’s a proficient impression, voice-wise, but come on, guys.
Weekend Update was a lot of fun for the first time in a while because it played on Seth Meyers and Cecily Strong as a pair. The Brody/Kris Jenner break-up jokes were perfectly done. Chaplain Barry Black was probably the best reaction the show has had to the shutdown so far. Brooks Whelan’s introduction to the show, about his tattoos, was designed to get me and everyone else to remember which one he is. I think it’ll work? Him and John Milhiser are the two newcomers who have made the least impact thus far (Noel Wells at least got to bust out her Lena Dunham impression). But I can at least tell them all apart now.
We wrapped with two returning characters who I have mixed feelings about. Moynihan’s Kirby always makes me laugh, perhaps partly because I have such a soft spot for that actor. But they should keep deploying him sparingly. Taran Killam’s Eddie got another go-round, and there’s no denying the guy’s energy, but I think that sketch needs to be put out to pasture. It’s long, it’s annoying, and it’ll probably just get worse every time he does it. I don’t want the SNL method of driving recurring characters into the ground to ruin Killam.
- “If you had told me back then there would be six Die Hards I would have said that seems a little too many.” Too true, Bruce (there’s only been five, btw)
- Lady Gaga had a typical day. “I wore a turkey butt hat and walked around my house in smaller and smaller circles.”
- “HIS SPINE IS OUT! I HATE THIS!”