For all my problems with Kristen Wiig’s recurring characters on SNL, and I have a lot, she’s usually pretty good of subbing them out of the rotation once they’ve recurred enough time. You don’t see much of Aunt Linda or Gilly anymore because they truly got driven into the ground. So when the lead sketch after the monologue was Target Lady, I got a sinking feeling about this episode that never really went away.
When Daniel Radcliffe was announced as a host, I had two thoughts. The first was that I’d have to say, in the interest of full disclosure, that we went to the same high school in London, although he was a few years behind me and we barely ever interacted. The second was that, much like the critical reaction to his recent stint on Broadway, he would give it his all and earn As for effort and for being all adorable and fresh-faced.
And he definitely met that expectation—A for effort all around, I’d say. This was one of those episodes where the host was actually the best thing about a lot of sketches. That’s not to say Radcliffe came on and gave the SNL cast a lesson in comedy, but his energy was really up there while most of the episode felt like it was on autopilot.
I think the biggest problem, though, was Wiig. One of the reasons this season has been working better for me is that she hasn’t been utterly dominating episodes as she did last year, but this felt like a step backwards. Sure, there was no Lawrence Welk Show, but along with Target Lady there was a series of political attack ad spoofs, the point of which seemed to be that they were never-ending. Plus the more-competent but overlong exit polling skit that closed out the night. Wiig was doing her best work there, but I was so sick of her shtick by that point that it didn’t really matter.
A lot of the sketches were by-the-numbers this week. The Romney cold open gave me a bit of a sinking feeling, since Sudeikis’ impression seems to be regressing. It’s not surprising that they’re going with the angle that he’s robotic and appears to be doing an impression of a human being sometime, but Romney does have an imitable voice and cadence that Sudeikis seems to have no interest in aping. Much like his Biden impression, a lot of the humor comes from the lines he’s reading.
Radcliffe’s Harry Potter-themed monologue was decent, though—he got the timing of the jokes right and dumb visual gags work fine for me. That was followed by Sudeikis’ always-fun Ricky Gervais (there was a lot of Sudeikis this week too) which is a weirdly spot-on imitation where he’s worked to get his little verbal tics (“not really”) and mannerisms just right. What gives?
After Target Lady, about which I have absolutely nothing to say except that it was very weird and formless along with being not funny, we had something mocking the “YouTube generation” of self-satisfied, talentless weirdos who put things on the internet that they did. It was a cute-enough idea, put into the classic SNL talk show panel format, but much like the political cold open, it was one of those sketches where the characters just tell you why they’re funny. Taren Killam’s juggler and Sudeikis’ singer weren’t nearly over-the-top enough, so everything slowed to a crawl until Radcliffe’s Irish step-dancer/Chinese calligraphy artist who gave me one of the few laughs of the night.
Then I didn’t mind little pre-taped Spin the Bottle thing, which I guess counts as a quasi-Digital Short although it wasn’t labeled as such. It built up the weirdness well enough and Vanessa Bayer telling Radcliffe that he had to obey the rules over and over was funny. Which cast member made for the best hobo, or homeless bozo? I think Bobby Moynihan has the edge, although I appreciated Kenan’s original spin on the role (“if you’re a spaceman, you legally have to tell me!”)
After that, the rest of the show just felt like it was slowly letting out air. The Delaware Boys ad felt five years too late (although there are still ads for Jersey Boys running with SNL, so I shouldn’t complain). Harry Potter in 2020 had an okay concept but never really took it anywhere past the one joke. On Weekend Update, we had the return of Armisen and Bayer as the friends of a dictator (this time Kim Jong-Un) which went like it always does. I will say I appreciated Radcliffe’s deadpan delivery as Casey Anthony’s dog, as well as the fact that Wiig did not show up with her crazy eyes as Anthony herself.
The future-play where the audience laughed about life 100 years ago was the one really well-written sketch of the night. It didn’t prompt more than chuckles from me, but I liked some of the little details like how only the men laughed at the women’s suffrage joke and the references to Taylor Swift being a notorious assassin or Mount Everest being edible. Plus, Daniel Radcliffe’s Rugrats shirt, which I’m sure will be a crucial fashion item in 2012.
The last thing we need to talk about (and we need to talk about it) is the Jay Pharoah show skit, which wasn’t funny, but was totally fucking fascinating. In it, he interviewed Daniel Radcliffe, and the joke was that he knew nothing about Radcliffe but was just finding excuses to do impressions (Denzel, Will Smith, Chris Rock and Tracy Morgan). That’d be okay, except… isn’t that sort of a comment on what Jay Pharoah is to this show? The only times he really gets to shine is when he’s doing one of his impressions, and even then, he’s struggled in the sketch format sometimes. I don’t know who wrote the sketch, maybe Pharoah did himself, but it was honestly a little uncomfortable to watch.
Weird. The whole episode was a little weird! No Andy Samberg to speak of except in one short pre-taped ad at the end, which is maybe why Sudeikis was leaned on so much this week. Hopefully things can get back on the upswing when self-aware meathead Channing Tatum hosts February 4.
- Enough people are ragging on Lana Del Ray so I don’t really need to join the pile-on, but she was pretty shocking.
- “I’ll be watching that game of football along with my five human sons.”
- Radcliffe thinks Hugh Jackman really nailed the impression of him, versus Hader and Rachel Dratch.
- Kenan busted out his Italian accent from All That for the Delaware Boys skit.