Saturday Night Live: "Elton John/Leon Russell"
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Saturday Night Live: "Elton John/Leon Russell"

D

Saturday Night Live

"Elton John/Leon Russell"

Season 36, Episode 18
D

Saturday Night Live

"Elton John/Leon Russell"

Season 36, Episode 18

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Well, that was torture. With Elton John in the studio doing double hosting/performing duties, the SNL writers mostly leant back on the easiest jokes possible, and that meant pointing out just how flamboyantly gay he is. Over and over and over again. He's a gay piano singer! He's a gay movie reviewer! He's a gay cowboy! He's a gay Laser Cats villain! OK, to be fair, there were also a couple of sketches about how he's a grumpy old Knight of the Realm. And then a couple more sketches they didn't let him anywhere near, probably because his line-reading all night veered between robotic and strangely mistimed. But if you guys got your fill of jokes about tea-sipping Brits with coarse underpinnings this week, don't worry. I'm sure Helen Mirren hosting next week won't get any material along those lines.

With the cold open, I guess the writers decided they could either do something topical about one of the, I dunno, half-dozen worldwide news events that's going on right now, or they could dust off that Lawrence Welk Show skit where Kristen Wiig has tiny hands to give Elton the chance to play the piano. I guess Jim Downey was taking this week off (although, to be fair, Weekend Update had plenty of not-bad political material). But there is no better way to turn off an audience (especially a younger audience) tuning into SNL than leading with Lawrence Welk. Right? Does anybody still cry out for more appearances by Wiig with tiny hands?

Elton's monologue basically went along the lines of every appearance he made for the rest of the night (and his whole public persona, which, for someone who grew up in England, is pretty inescapable): He's gay, he's prickly, he's Elton John, who sings songs and the like. "The bitch is back!" he crowed, as if by contractual obligation. Don't get me wrong. I don't have a particular problem with Elton, but he definitely seemed to have a limited ability to deliver the material, and on top of that, the material they gave him was not so good.

The show seemed to understand that they couldn't burden him too much (possibly because he also had to perform) and kept him out of the big sketch of the night after the monologue. I had my head in my hands when I realized that sketch was the sexual-innuendo-laden ladies sports' ESPN Classic thing Jason Sudeikis did with Will Forte (who returned, as triumphantly as one can return when playing Greg Stink). The whole thing ambled along pretty horribly until Tom Hanks (one of SNL's greatest hosts, who has to be given a proper return this year; he hasn't hosted since 2006!) came along to save the day. It's too bad Hanks got way more laughs than Forte doing the exact same character in Forte's big homecoming sketch, but when you cast Tom Hanks, that's what's going to happen. Oh, and Carmelo Anthony showed up too, but I won't pass any further comment, as it'll just lead to me ranting about the Denver Nuggets' not-so-astonishing run of wins after trading for all of the Knicks' great young players.

The sketch with the English knights was probably the only one of the night that really worked, and again, Tom Hanks had a lot to do with that. Elton did his best to ruin everything by staring straight ahead at his cue cards very blankly and reading everything completely flatly ("well, he's dead"). But Hanks saved the day once again with his Michael Caine impression, which alternated between him slowly enunciating every word in that cockney accent and him screaming at Ringo Starr for not even being a knight. I definitely felt for poor Kenan Thompson, though, who spent all that time getting into a Sir Mix-a-Lot costume and didn't even get a measly line.

The following digital short, the latest Laser Cats, this time with singing, shrink rays, more Carmelo Anthony, and Elton covered in exploding cats, was almost perfectly timed, given its deliberately disjointed, shoddy quality. And it had some nice touches, like Elton's villain DROZZ getting his name from a Dr. Oz poster, or the repeated cameos by Spider-Man, or the third appearance of the night by Tom Hanks. You pretty much know what's coming from these things at this point (there's been what, five or so of them?), so there isn't much else to say. OK, I'll admit that this was Elton's best costume of the night.

Seth Meyers arrived to inject a little bit of integrity with his dead-on monologuing about the Republican presidential candidates at the start of Weekend Update, but the segment, which seemed even longer than usual, lost its energy by the end (even the audience seemed disinterested in Meyers' last few zingers). A Jake Gyllenhaal cameo and a Samberg Nic Cage impression fell flat, simply because a Nic Cage impression is the hardest thing to do in comedy. The man is such a parody of himself already that to truly lampoon him, you'd need to be doing things so outrageously strange you just couldn't show them on TV (certainly not on Weekend Update behind a desk).

After that, things just got unwatchable. Elton was the star of the last three sketches, and although he acquitted himself a little better in each (he got to sing with Fred Armisen's surly Queen, he rose to the material as a grumpy gay film reviewer, and he certainly pulled off the flamboyant cowboy outfit), the material was utterly dreadful. I really hope SNL is just tapped out of England jokes next week because I don't think I can take another batch of half-baked accents and out-of-the-can impressions when Helen Mirren's around.

Stray observations:

  • "Protect her from your girth with the greatest lube on earth!"
  • I liked the show the BBC interrupted (I liked Paul Brittan's BBC guy too). Fancy a jar, do you?
  • Brittan tells us the dragon was killed by Sting, who, "and I'm putting this as delicately as I can, jizzed all over it until it died."
  • Nice to see Tom Hanks and Wilson back together again.
  • "Sorry, I had some questionable military policy stuck in my throat."
  • "I won an Oscar; that's my mystique. Am I a genius or a madman? The answer is... a madman."
  • Prince Harry did his "Mr. Chinese Man" character at the bachelor party.
  • "Now that's a muff I'd put my hand in." AGH

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