It probably doesn’t bode well for an SNL episode when the thing that excites me the most is the news of next week’s host. It’s actually two weeks away, and it’s Louis C.K., and I couldn’t be more excited. But based on the last couple of efforts, maybe I should moderate my expectations a little. Not that this was an abysmal effort. But it started slow, had a couple of real head-scratching sketches that never got around to being funny, and I can’t even really blame it on their decision to have Bruno Mars host and sing. I mean, he wasn’t great, but he was pretty much what I expected: shoehorned into a couple of skits that let him sing, otherwise largely left alone.
The political cold open struggled to find something to spoof outside of Obama and Romney’s generally ornery attitudes. There were some amusing aggressive turns of phrase, and Pharoah’s Obama impression definitely does better when he’s not just standing behind a podium speechifying, but for such a long sketch, there wasn’t any one big moment to hang a hat on. Probably the biggest laugh of the night came from Tom Hanks, and that’s mostly because he was Tom Hanks (although he sure did sell the hell out of his question: “Libya”). The whole thing felt a little toothless too, with only the answer on gun control having any real insight or bite.
Unsurprisingly, Bruno Mars was handed a big musical number for his monologue, and it was one of those things that was so well-staged and long, eventually it kinda won you over, even though it completely lacked a concept past “I’m nervous to host SNL!” I’ll say this for Mars: I get why Lorne Michaels thought of having him host. He’s certainly very game and happy to be silly. That’s about the end of his sketch comedy skill list, though.
Taran Killam spoofing Brad Pitt’s Chanel ads was an obvious, and necessary choice, and often I like the video bits that SNL keeps coming back to through the episode. But this one didn’t build satisfyingly at all, just petered out (to the point that its fourth appearance was pretty surprising). Like a lot of material tonight, there just wasn’t something solid at the center of this sketch—just a bunch of random jokes, some funnier than others.
The Pitt ads were well-executed masterpieces compared to “Haters,” which has to be one of the strangest picks for lead-off live sketch I’ve ever seen on this show. Put it back in, guys, this one’s not done yet. Cecily Strong hosts a Springer-esque shouty talk show featuring a bunch of crazy hick guests and a constantly booing audience. A lot of people shake their butts at the camera. This thing didn’t really end, it just…stopped. I honestly don’t know if this was an effort to start a recurring thing, but if it was, back to the drawing board. Bobby Moynihan in drag isn’t always going to rescue you.
The Pandora HQ sketch was Bruno’s big chance to shine, and he…did fine. He was fine. I guess. He certainly did a lot of impressions, and aside from Katy Perry, they sounded reasonably like who they were supposed to be. More in a karaoke way than a skilled performer way, but that’s alright, I guess. The “control room” concept was kind of tiresome, though Sudeikis and Moynihan et al did their best to sell it.
The night was almost saved by “Sad Mouse,” which is the first video sketch of the year that kind of felt like a digital short. It also seemed to be shot on digital video, although I’m not the kind of nerd that can confirm that. The concept was extremely simple, and the happy ending was a little pat (though necessary), but I liked Sudeikis as the baffled boss and the manic waving. If this is the future of SNL’s pre-taped pieces, that’s not bad to me. There certainly was a lot of pre-taped material this week, but most of it was in the stale commercial parody style they’ve been doing for centuries.
Weekend Update was a lot of fun, as long as you like Stefon and the increasingly ridiculous, fourth-wall breaking territory the show takes him in. Which I do, very much so! There was some classic material (Nick Nolte & Gabbana), a digression on his evening routine that was hilarious and refreshing, and a complete Hader breakdown when he said the “Jewish Dracula” was called Sidney Applebaum. Even though the Stefon routine is pretty solid no matter what, it’s good to see him messing with his formula a little bit with every new appearance.
The return of the creepy animatronic things, one of my favorite sketches of the last few years, was still pretty funny, but that’s a sketch that’s pretty much only going to work once. It was funny because it was just so surprising to see such a creepy little number in the middle of the show like that. Even with another appearance by Tom Hanks (never anything wrong with that in my book), it just couldn’t be as startling. But hey, Bruno Mars didn’t have to say anything, so there’s that.
He had way too much to do in the Yeti Point sketch, which was the epitome of Mars trying very hard and being very energetic and achieving very limited success as a result. I did actually like the premise and the resolution, with Jason Sudeikis and Vanessa Bayer bantering on about nothing in the foreground, was cute. But there weren’t nearly enough laughs to make it a sketch you’d want to watch again. Concept not bad, execution not bad, but the result still wasn’t great.
But guys. Louis C.K. in two weeks. It’s hard not to be excited about that. I always get unreasonably excited about hosts I love and am often disappointed when the show around them isn’t great, but whatever. Has to be better than this.
Obama gives Mitt the finger. “The best thing about my plan is, you can sit on it and spin.”
Moynihan’s drag characters are at risk of blending together. “I got kicked off a Jet Blue flight because they said I was too pretty and my skirt wasn’t big enough for my puss!”
Seth Meyers calling the Winter Olympics “just 48 different kinds of sliding” was pretty great.
“When you walk in you’ll be handed a glass of champagne. Or is it piss?”
Then eat some Fraisins. “Raisins that look like Fraiser.”
That Dr. Zizmor reference probably wasn’t much to those outside New York, but I enjoyed the shout-out.