Saturday Night Live: "Edward Norton/Janelle Monae"
B

Saturday Night Live: "Edward Norton/Janelle Monae"

I love it when Saturday Night Live just has someone host because why not. Is Edward Norton even in a movie this year? A quick glance at imdb tells me he isn’t. But he’s never hosted the show (he has made a couple drop-in appearances), so hey, no time like the present, right? I almost wish that monologue joke about Lorne had been true—Norton joked that he asked for 13 years to prepare, and Lorne came right back with a specific date in 2013. I like to imagine that Lorne is as persnickety as Michael Ian Black in Wet Hot American Summer.

Norton can be funny, although there’s always a somewhat studied quality to his comedic roles, like Death To Smoochy, or that weird appearance he made on Modern Family. I mean, Edward Norton comes off as a little weird in general, outside of acting, so it’s easy to read that into whatever performance he gives. I wouldn’t call this a shockingly memorable debut, but Norton did a solid job, throwing in some decent impressions and fairly varied character work, and shouldering the lead role in a lot of sketches. I won’t be clamoring for his return every season, but that was also nothing to be ashamed of.

We begin with a political cold open—I should note that Jim Downey has retired (I referred to him an episode or two ago), which I remembered reading about over the summer. Downey was a legend on the show who is credited with giving a lot of SNL’s political material its bi-partisan bite. But his cold opens over the last couple years had gotten a little too dry, and it’ll be interesting to see how they develop over the year with him gone. The formula remains largely the same, and the Obamacare-mocking skit had some perfectly solid tech jokes.

The use of Alec Baldwin in the monologue was fine, especially since it made fun of his (graceful) fall from movie star to MSNBC host. Miley Cyrus just lives in the walls of Studio 8H now, I believe. Then, finally, we had an ad skewering pumpkin spice flavoring, a one-joke spoof commercial for pumpkin spice douches that got the one laugh it could get out of me.

The main sketches for the night were free of duds and largely original. SNL just can’t lean on its typical stable of recurring characters right now, because so many of its main cast are gone, and the result has been pretty refreshing. One thing I’ve noted is that the sketches have a calmer, more grounded feel than past eras, maybe because there are less actors in the cast who are prone to going really big. The “Stranger Danger” sketch was pretty funny, had some excellent work from the often underused Nasim Pedrad (who I’m going to miss when she jumps to Mulaney on Fox) but never went too crazy (Norton stuck to his frustrated straight man role the whole time).

Then Steve Harvey showed up to be confused by some pun-centric Halloween costumes. Kenan Thompson’s take on Harvey has really evolved into its own thing at this point, it’s not really an impression. I haven’t seen a ton of Harvey’s show, but Thompson has turned him into someone who isn’t stupid, per se, he just operates in a different universe. Why should Steve Harvey understand these stupid puns? He exists in a different, sexually advanced world.

The Wes Anderson spoof was just perfect. I know it’s a pitch right down the middle for SNL’s young hip audience, and I’m sure half the writers on staff knew exactly what visual tropes and performances to highlight in the script, but still, it was just perfect. God, especially the two little kids in costume. “Picture of Edith Piaf. Assault rifle. Little flag.” Also, nice job on the Owen Wilson impression, Norton! It’s an easy one to make very hacky, but you got the cadence right.

The pest control sketch was another that went crazy, but not super-crazy, with all the action happening off-screen and the sketch tapering off at the end rather calmly. Nice work by Norton as the mulleted weirdo who wants to check out the possum funeral (“I don’t know if he was a leader or a charismatic citizen”) and a starring role for Brooks Whelan, the new cast member I have the least grasp on so far. He has tattoos, I know that.

When Norton walked into the next sketch as Rain Man (doing a halfway-decent impression at best), I groaned a little. This is a reference that has to be mostly lost on SNL’s viewing audience by now. But the sketch’s concept was alright, although once again, it never really escalated, just riffed on its premise for a while and then ended. All of these competently done pieces were, I guess, what I expected from Edward Norton, an actor who rarely gets me excited but also rarely leaves me truly disappointed. It’s just funny that the sketch writing reflected that.

Weekend Update brought in Anthony Crispino, just to remind us that Bobby Moynihan is the reigning king of the panel desk over there (as he should be) and that was it. Obviously a segment was cut, but since Update segments can be really bad, I have no problem with that. Plus, Cecily Strong made me laugh a couple times! Now, let’s have her interact more with the panelists, please!

12 Days Not A Slave was a nicely uncomfortable idea that once again never really went anywhere crazy. Jay Pharoah is an excited, newly-freed slave in the South who doesn’t get why everyone still bears a grudge. There’s potential for some really skin-crawling material, which can make for a memorable sketch if you judge it right, but we quickly zip over to jokes about Aidy Bryant getting a lot of action and Miley twerking in a corner. The tones never quite matched up.

The last two sketches were pretty good end of the night attempts. The batch of virgin waiters at Ruth’s Chris was a great concept and had some individually funny lines and sight gags but maybe went on a couple minutes too long. The final sketch, with Edward Norton just as…Dad? Presenting his weird Halloween treats and his son (Moynihan), dressed as “Bones?” Can we see more of this guy sometime? I think I laughed out loud a half a dozen times during those two minutes, and a half a dozen times over the course of the rest of the show.

Stray observations:

  • The lo-res healthcare.gov just says “U WANT DOCTR?”
  • Nice work from Kate McKinnon in the stranger danger sketch. “Be courteous and still. Yay for this. I’m going to sit in my car and make an adult phone call”
  • “They’ve got one of those in my neighborhood. That’s old book-head.”
  • “The New York Times calls it, ‘You had me at Wes Anderson.’ And Fangoria Magazine says, ‘Dah Fuh?’”
  • “In conclusion, just work harder, not smarter, and we’ll get er done, and my name has been Russell.”
  • Norton’s Rain Man guy likes Transformers. “Bumblebee’s funny, he’s hip-hop taxi.”
  • “I’m gonna be like Pee-Wee and make that ass my playhouse.”
  • Norton pulls out a ring pop. “I told my wife it was a ruby and she was like ‘can we not? Please.’” 
  • Then he has a Cars 2 DVD, but with no disc. “Now who’s in control?” 

More TV Club