Saturday Night Live: “Daniel Craig/Muse”
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Saturday Night Live: “Daniel Craig/Muse”

You have to admire SNL for taking risks on hosts, even when they don’t quite work out. There’s not a lot of evidence that Daniel Craig is suited to the job of guest-hosting—he’s literally never been in a funny movie, unless you’re counting Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Every sketch he starred in in last night’s episode, it felt like the show was trying to figure out how to make him funny. There is humor to be found in Craig’s weird intensity, but for whatever reason, the show never really got to it in a largely disappointing episode.

There was also a lot of political material to get through, since the big debate last Wednesday provided ample material for two long sketches of varying quality. The political cold open went an interesting route, giving us internal monologues for Obama (and, briefly, Jim Lehrer) that explained his poor performance as fretting over forgetting Michelle’s anniversary gift. That’s a pretty hacky joke, and it wasn’t helped when it transitioned to him struggling in Denver’s thin air. The best lines were the ones with a little bite, like Lehrer telling Obama that Romney had just taken credit for killing Osama Bin Laden. “Would you care to respond?” “No, you two go ahead.” The fact that Lehrer (a welcome guest spot by Chris Parnell) wasn’t targeted for satire until Weekend Update was also surprising.

The MSNBC spoof later in the episode, which gave us our first look at Cecily Strong as Rachel Maddow (replacing one of Abby Elliott’s better-loved impressions), was a little stronger. Kenan Thompson’s Al Sharpton is fairly enjoyable when he’s not the center of a sketch, and having seen some of Chris Matthew’s freakout on MSNBC the night of the debate, that shit was ripe for parody (bring this impression back before you leave, Sudeikis). But there’s still not quite the bite SNL achieved in 2008, where it would make a joke that simultaneously landed a cogent political point that would get talked about the next day.

Craig started off well, introducing an “in memoriam” clip of people he’s killed in the movies, although it was immediately clear that he would be a little stiff the whole night. There was only one sketch where he outright struggled with the cue cards, but his performance was flat in general. Chalk that up to it being his first time hosting, but I’m willing to bet he doesn’t get asked back for round two.

The post-monologue sketch was slightly painful to watch, with Craig as an excitable contractor who sucks at catcalling women. Some of his turns of phrase were undoubtedly amusing. “She’s like a big bowl of butt soup with extra nipples, and can I get that with a side of hoo-woo-woo?” But the ultimate revelation that his dad had been shot by an annoyed object of his affections didn’t really land, and Craig seemed to be trying a bit too hard the whole time. I appreciate that he wasn’t just slotted in as a straight man for every sketch, but he also seemed to have trouble going over the top.

The Bond girl thing was a smart, obvious choice that let the female cast trot out some of their weirder impressions (Vanessa Bayer must be mad that she can’t do Diane Keaton more often, because she’s perfect at it), but I miss the old Digital Shorts and how weird Andy Samberg, et al., could make things. Even when his shorts didn’t land, which was often, they felt innovative, while this feels very flat.

With that, we were basically in the Kate McKinnon show. She built on her momentum from last time (where she crushed her Ann Romney impression) to dominate a bunch of sketches tonight. The Long Island Medium spoof was routine, but amusing. Her impression of Ecce Homo artist/internet sensation Cecilia Gimenez suffered from the same slight discomfort of a hackneyed Latina voice but more than made up for it with her crazy-eyed energy about being visited by Jesus with his “enormous round monkey face.”

McKinnon is going to quickly start drawing comparisons to Kristen Wiig, which is inevitable, I suppose, since the show is crying out for a female star, and Vanessa Bayer and Nasim Pedrad have so far stuck to the specific niches they’ve always filled on SNL. But she’s got a different, slightly more muted energy, and it’s going to be fun watching her carve out her own characters and impressions on the show. As long as the show doesn’t realize it has a good thing going and just run her into the ground.

Craig’s other two big sketches were buried at the end of the night. I actually got a few laughs out of “A Sorry Lot We Are,” although I think “A Resigned, But Dignified Look At The Scottish Weather” might have had some potential as well. The sketch was overlong and a little sleepy, but much like the debate, there were some good jokes around the edges, like everyone’s food orders (“fish pie, with jam”) or Craig’s list of all the things that have closed in the town (the mine, the mill, the pit, the quarry, the dirt hole, the rubbish pile, the Blockbusters).

His sexual union with Fred Armisen’s Regine (he played a lot of ladies tonight) at a dinner party felt like a half-finished sketch, which is probably why it was at the end of the episode. There’s definitely potential to the pretentious, horrifyingly rude, ridiculously extroverted Regine, but the series can’t keep going back to that o-face sight gag. The rest of her behavior was far weirder and way funnier.

So, the episode tried Craig as a straight man (with Bobby Moynihan’s new character Kirby, who didn’t quite land), it tried him as an over-eager fool, it tried him as an oblivious snob, and nothing quite landed. I think it often takes SNL more than one go-round with a host to really figure out their strengths, but I wouldn’t be stunned if this was the last was saw of Mr. Craig. Next week’s host isn’t a first-timer, but Christina Applegate hasn’t been at Studio 8H since 1993. Here’s hoping everyone has a little more fun next time.

Stray observations:

  • Mitt Romney’s plan involves “41 basic elements, six reversals of positions, and three outright lies.”
  • The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is better-known in Sweden as “Happy Janet and the Good-Time Gang.”
  • “Yeah, I bet she makes sex all over the place, all the time, like it’s outstanding!”
  • The fake Bond titles were great—my favorites were Never Die Twice Tomorrow and Hippopotopussy.
  • Sharpton suggests that the mile-high climate of Denver hurt Obama. “There is no way to know how many feet that is, but it could be as much as a million.”

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