Coming off one of its biggest seasons, SNL is pretty much 0-for-3 this year with a mostly exhausting episode that wasn’t offensively bad – it was pretty inoffensively bad, but bad nonetheless. The problems for the show this year are easy to identify. With election season over people are sick to death of hearing about current events, cause it’s mostly so goddamn depressing. There’s only one good woman in the cast and she’s beginning to seem seriously overextended. And the guest hosts so far have tried their best, but none of them really screamed “star.” Or “funny.”
Drew Barrymore, give her credit, is a total pro. She noted in her monologue this was her sixth time hosting, the most for any woman, and the first time she hosted, she was seven. And she did fine with the meager stuff they gave her, but a lot of her characters blended into the background pretty quickly. She even took a backseat in the monologue, which was filled with clips of famous Barrymores in the past performing classical theatre in valley-girl accents. I’m all for SNL breaking out its Ibsen humor, but the gag felt like a stretch – it’s hardly the most identifiable thing about Barrymore, is it?
While Barrymore was maybe a slight improvement over the previous two hosts, the cold open – second Obama cold open in a row, and quite rightly with the Nobel Prize news – made last week’s tepid Obama-skewering seem the height of political commentary. Fred Armisen didn’t even bother to affect an accent as he pointed out he “won it for not being George Bush.” That punchline was fine, but the 3 a.m. call gag and the lottery joke? Super-lame. I know they only had a night to throw the sketch together, but come on, they’re professionals. They can do better than this!
Next up was Gilly, at which point I probably would have changed the channel were I not reviewing the damn show. Look, I’m an SNL fan, I dig the history and I flip for any half-decent recurring character they can cook up, but Gilly needs to go. The spin this time was that Barrymore was an Italian doppelganger called Gigli who says, in Gilly-voice, “scusi!” and, echoing Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds, “bonjourno.” But like most of this week’s sketches, it went on for what seemed like twenty minutes, spending acres of time setting up the same weak punchline. I know that Kristen Wiig is a major asset for SNL but they have to stop giving her carte blanche with some of her recurring characters. Cause a lot of them suck. Especially Gilly.
The next batch were a little more diverting. A spoof “celebrity ghost stories” show allowed everyone a shot at whatever weird impression they were working on, with Andy Samberg’s Billy Bob Thornton hitting - “My kangol hats and leather vests were going missing!” and Drew’s boytoy Justin Long nailing Matthew McConaughey’s infuriating diction. An ad for an online university that produced diplomas with an intentionally unreadable name was short and sweet.
And then there was the first Vinny Vedecci sketch of the year. Bill Hader, to me, is the absolute standout of SNL and Vinny is him at his most charmingly weird, even if it does hit the same notes every time. The Drew Barrymore jokes they dragged out – drinking and drugs, flashing Letterman – would have been tired ten years ago. Vinny subsequently apologizing to all of the staffers he’s slept with over the years, via a fast-scrolling list – that made me laugh, one of the few Letterman jokes that’s done it for me since the whole scandalissimo.
Weekend Update had Hader as James Carville, which was decent and had him labeling the Nobel committee “a bunch of snowmen” who “smell like whales,” Kenan Thompson as Maya Angelou, which felt like a re-hash of his other drag impressions, and best of all, Samberg as Scrooge McDuck. Maybe it’s just because I’m an unabashed Scrooge McDuck fan and The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck is a masterpiece, but I thought this was pretty awesome, even if his Scottish accent was dreadful and and the segue into the gag – gold is up? – made little sense.
After that, things started to get really brutal. Every skit seemed ten minutes too long. The ESPN Classic parody at an 80s pool game was way too complicated a set-up and the payoff just recycled the same “shitty announcer” jokes over and over. Armisen’s Larry King impression (has he done this before? I don’t recall) began and ended with his suspenders while three talking heads blathered about wieners. The Digital Short, buried waaay at the back of the episode, poked fun at those glowing-thumb magic trick things. I’ve been waiting years for a sketch skewering those damn magic thumbs! Gah, they really get my goat, those thumbs! Take that, thumbs!
Along with the dregs, there were a couple skits that were halfway amusing, mostly for their weirdness. The “Cooking Al Fresco” thing with Samberg and Barrymore doing a cooking show on the roof seemed at first like a reason for Bobby Moynihan to dust off his Guy Fieri, which, like most of his performances, involves him mugging like crazy and shouting at the camera. But the evolving bit with the birds dive-bombing the chefs, then daintily eating the food, then devouring Fieri and dropping his skeletal corpse, worked for me because the joke actually changed each time, plus the “we’ll be right back” sketches looked more and more demented each time.
Everyone seemed exhausted by the bizarre closing number, where Barrymore played a woman reading an autobiography about her cheatin’ man. I was groaning at first but then Will Forte showed up, in his only decent role of the night, as the creepy guy who bewilderingly bewitches everyone in the room despite proclaiming that “healthcare is not to be wasted on the jewelers and the food-cart workers.” Then, he started reciting Love in this Club, by “the black sinner, Usher.” It was a bunch of different wacko lines rather than a coherent character, but it was amusingly weird nonetheless.
SNL has to get its act together, though. Next week is another seriously underwhelming-sounding host, Gerard Butler. I’m not saying that they need to start clearing house in Studio 8H, but complacency has definitely set in.
The newbies they’ve added are just window dressing so far, while Abby Elliott is playing the same dumb blonde chick six times a week and yet they seem to be putting her in more and more stuff. Amy Poehler is sorely missed.
Regina Spektor was very sweet, but very boring.