Now, that was a pretty solid episode of SNL. Emma Stone, capable in her first appearance last year, was front-and-center in a bunch of sketches and did a fine job with ‘em. But there were a few sketches that stood out for their awfulness, two in particular that brought the show to such a screeching halt that I’m amazed it could recover from their awfulness (the back half was a lot stronger than the front half here). Those sketches were two of Kristen Wiig’s most tiresome spectacles—Secret Word and Garth and Kat. Wiig was good in other stuff this week, Lorne Michaels! Why must you insist on putting this stuff as high up in the show as possible!
“Secret Word” (where Wiig is a faded Broadway actress who always says the secret word) was the lead sketch this time around, and it followed a solid Republican debate cold open and a very cute monologue from Stone centered around Spider-Man that even got a gag in about her remaking a movie that came out 10 years ago. Andrew Garfield showed up to wave hello (Stone wasn’t plugging anything, so I guess Spider-Man actually is her next project), and Andy Samberg fired off a few decent Spidey jokes while upside down (I wonder if they rotate the cue cards for him).
The Republican debate was the obvious choice to lead off and had the requisite fun with Rick Perry’s debate gaffe, which was almost too easy for the writers. Hader’s impression of the event started out with him just repeating Perry’s words verbatim (reminding me of Tina Fey’s Palin bits), although it built to the fun concept of Perry’s troubles being so hard to watch that the other candidates actually try to help him out. “I want to be President, but… not like this,” Mitt Romney intoned, later trying to put Perry out of his misery, Of Mice And Men-style. I’m sure the SNL writers were glad that Perry’s “oops” moment drew attention off of Herman Cain’s troubles, because Kenan Thompson’s Cain impression is still pretty darn weak, especially given how much there is to lampoon in Cain’s mannerisms. But Perry’s thing was the flavor of the week, so it made sense (Cain got a couple lines dealing with the sexual harassment).
So, I was feeling good. Then, Secret Word. Ughhh. It wasn’t the Lawrence Welk show (the very logo of which fills me with dread these days), but it was damn close. We get it: She’s going to say the secret word. The gag was obvious the first time this sketch aired, which might as well have been 1964. I’ve seen it so many times, it feels like it’s been happening my entire life. As usual, there were some variations that struggled for chuckles—Wiig misreads “thorny” as “horny,” Emma Stone was a robotic moron Miss USA winner—but the joke formula never really changes.
When it comes to Garth and Kat (who appeared on Weekend Update as usual), I appreciate that Wiig and Fred Armisen are gifted improvisers, and this sketch tests those skills nicely. But I really couldn't care less at this point. The nature of the joke means the bit is always interminable, and when you have Chris Martin involved, it’s obvious that he and Wiig are just copying what Armisen says two seconds later. Weekend Update panelists are rarely the highlight of a show, but they are usually short.
Of course, here I am ragging on overlong recurring bits we’ve seen too many times, and I haven’t bitched about Herb Welch coming back. Well, sue me, but Herb Welch kinda makes me laugh. The joke has definitely gotten old (this is his third or fourth time on the show, I think), but I’m just such a sucker for Bill Hader that I don’t really care. Still, for fairness’ sake, it’s worth pointing out that the Herb Welch sketch also follows a strict formula that barely changes each time: He’s gonna make inappropriate, out-of-date comments, he’s going to whack people with his microphone, and he’s going to call Jason Sudeikis’ anchorman something derogatory (this time it was a tie rack).
Alright, let’s get to the good stuff, because after Herb, I liked pretty much everything aside from Weekend Update. And even Update had a strong segment with Sudeikis as the Devil being horrified to learn about the Penn State scandal, which functioned as a version of “Really!?!?” only better. The “Wish It Would Rain” digital short was a more minor work by Samberg, but it was also his first “song” of the year which was nice to see.
Then, those final four sketches were surprisingly consistent. “Les Jeunes de Paris,” always a good time and something Emma Stone did last year, came back dancing to “A Cause de Garcons,” which (embarrassingly?) I recognized immediately. It’s always simple stuff, but they’ve learned how to build the joke up pretty effectively with the Napoleon and the marriage and the baby popping out at the end, so you don’t feel like you just watched a bunch of dancing for five minutes. Plus, Taren Killam is such an energetic performer, easily one of SNL’s standouts for the last calendar year.
The bridal shower sketch was Emma Stone’s standout of the night, the one time she got a really complete character to run with, and she did a great job as the horrifying, if well-meaning, Wallace. Everything was just about waiting for the gifts to come back around to Wallace, but the buildup was always worth it, and Armisen’s appearance as a “human toilet” was very welcome. Stone’s performance here and in Les Jeunes de Paris shows why the show had her back even though she had nothing to plug. She blends into the cast pretty well, has a lot of energy and is clearly game for anything.
Things would have wrapped up really strong if the Adele sketch had been the last of the night. I won’t deny that the technology humping made me laugh and was a perfect example of a 12:55 sketch, but the Adele thing was a nice capper, even though it took a very simple concept and didn’t go very far with it. People’s crying faces got a little more ridiculous but that was the extent of it. But having everyone together, swaying along to that guilty pleasure of a song, felt like the best way to wrap up the night.
- “Is it trains? Trains? No, you can't cut trains!”
- Paul Brittan did some great bird-arms for Ron Paul.
- “It's never too late for Spider-Man. He can stop time!” “You're actually thinking of Zack Morris from Saved By The Bell.”
- “You think this Belafonte kid oughta, you know, pipe down?”
- The Devil invented comments sections, tagging on Facebook, buffering, and terms of service agreements.
- “It's 90 minutes, 100 twinks, one unforgettable summer.”