If you enjoy laughing at archival footage of famous people laughing then the good folks over at Budweiser Golden Wheat (which only sounds like something R. Kelly would serve his underage guests) had a treat for you! For the first time in the show’s 35-year history it had but a single sponsor. That sponsor, Budweiser Golden Wheat, wanted to share classic comedy clips of famous folks busting a gut during dress rehearsals. It was a refreshing reminder that not even trained professionals like the Not Ready For Primetime Players can refrain from guffawing at the hilarious comedy found in each of every Saturday Night Live sketch.
It was a gambit at once noxious and neat. It was fun watching folks like Chris Rock lose their shit and I’m pretty certain that one of the clips featured Darrell Hammond getting orally serviced by a misbehaving donkey but the product-placement angle fell somewhere between obnoxiously over-the-top and rage-inducingly oppressive. It did, however, instill within me a fierce desire to consume a frothy mug of Budweiser Golden Wheat, the sole sponsor of last night’s Saturday Night Live broadcast. Any corporation that cares that deeply about satisfying my funny bone with vintage clips of Saturday Night Live legends like Chris Rock in hilariously candid moments is eminently worthy of my loyalty and cash.
Otherwise last night’s Gerard Butler-hosted episode was an exercise in smooth-running mediocrity. Like the last SNL episode I wrote up in a furious rage of mild disappointment, it latched onto the easiest and most obvious subjects for spoofery and diligently rung the mildest of amusement out of them. That 300 movie Butler starred in sure was homoerotic; what if Butler’s gay soldiers asked him to repeal Sparta’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy?” Speaking of Obama, what if we brought back Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as “The Rock” Obama? It could be just like the first Rock Obama sketch only, you know, exactly the same! And if something’s funny the first time it’s doubly funny the second time! By the tenth time it’s so funny SNL audiences will devolve into Pavlovian giggle fits at the mere appearance of a recurring character.
This is how I’d like to the “Daveheart” sketch came about
Writer 1: Hey, you know how Gerard Butler gives off kind of a macho, Mel Gibson vibe?
Writer 2: I’m right there with ya, buddy. Can’t wait to see where that crazy train of thought is headed. My guess? Express to Laughsville, USA population: currently shitting its pants!
Writer 1: Well what if we put our own twist on Braveheart and—Are you sitting down? Are you holding onto your shit? Cause if you’re not you are in serious danger of losing your shit—our guy’s named Daveheart? What if he’s Braveheart’s brother?
Writer 2: Love it! This guy’s brave too, right?
Writer 1: No! Here’s the crazy twist: he’s a coward! Same family, pretty much the same name. But totally different guys! Opposites, even!
Writer 2: I don’t know how you do it! This episode alone you’ve delivered two thigh-slappers, three knee-slappers, a monster chuckle and rib-ticklers! I’m about to have a laughter-induced heart attack!
Tonight’s episode opened with Armisen’s sometimes inspired, often iffy Obama sitting in on a meeting about health care and turning into his outsized, anger-prone alter-ego The Rock Obama, who is just like the recent Nobel Prize winner but more likely to hurl people through walls or rip off their limbs.
It’s a nifty one-joke premise that worked like gangbusters the first time around but the joke wasn’t as funny this time. To quote a Yogi Berraism it was déjà vu all over again during Gerard Butler’s monologue, which pivoted around the same hackneyed comic conceit as Ryan Reynolds’ opening banter a few weeks back. Both monologues artlessly juxtaposed antithetical genres. Reynolds talked about the differences between romantic comedies and action movies. Butler sang “Music of The Night” from his Phantom Of The Opera (note to self; write that shit up for My Year of Flops) while occasionally battling sword-and-sandal movie adversaries. At least SNL is consistent: the bit was just as unfunny this time around. I did feel a sudden burst of nostalgia upon hearing Butler sing from the Phantom Of The Opera. In fifth grade chorus we sang “Music Of The Night” and I remember very vividly thinking that it was the single most romantic, haunting love song I’d ever heard. I wanted it played at my wedding. Now I know better; “Let The Eagle Soar” plays during the first dance or I’m not getting hitched.
Kenan Thompson has proven a controversial figure on this site. Some writers and commenters think he sucks. Others have postulated that he is the living embodiment of suck, suck in human form as it were. I used to find him mildly amusing and inoffensive. Now when I cringe when I see him starring in a sketch. It generally means the sketch will be
1. Ambiguously racist
2. Brutally unfunny
That was true of at least one of Thompson’s showcases tonight. In the first, Thompson pimped a low-budget ghetto champagne specifically made for pouring down asses. It was a tacky, creepy, painfully dated (didn’t 3 Times One Minus One cover this territory more than a decade ago?) bit that belonged in Bamboozled’s “reel of shame” rather than national television.
In his second big sketch, Thompson played a current-events host who ignored his guests and his topics as he sang and strutted around the set like a preacher. This sketch wasn’t anywhere near as queasy-making as the champagne commercial but it too highlighted the show’s frustratingly narrow conception of black culture.
Tonight was not without its highlights. I’m a big fan of a profoundly weird sports show parody with Bill Hader as a co-host who is very clearly a space alien oblivious to the ways and customs of human beings and co-host Thompson as a man waging an epic, epically unconvincing campaign to convince his audience that the show is hosted by two boring old non-aliens.
It’s a one-joke premise but one carried by Hader’s bewitchingly odd take on alien otherworldliness and the awesome sight gag of Hader’s tentacle-like tale popping up inconveniently from below the desk at inopportune times. Why isn’t Hader given more to do? He’s funny, he does great impressions, he’s a good physical comedian and he’s appeared in a slew of hit films. Who does the brother have to blow to get a little screen time?
“Weekend Update” was chockablock with clever lines marred by Seth Myers’ smug “Ain’t I a stinker?” delivery and there is absolutely nothing wrong with Shakira crawling around while wearing skimpy spandex. That there is just quality television. But on the whole tonight’s episode was obvious, hacky and only fitfully amusing. No amount of delicious Budweiser Golden Wheat can obscure that fact.
—It’s official. I do not care for Gerard Butler, though he was all kinds of adequate as host.
—Oh, Kristin Wiig. Always with the nutty voices.
—The gay New Jersey soldiers “Weekend Update” bit=cheap but funnier than it had any right to be, due mainly to Hader and Armisen’s performances