Sometimes, SNL gets off to such a bad start, it’s just impossible to get it back on track even with a couple good sketches. This episode wasn’t completely without merit—its pre-taped bits, for example, had a lot more going for them than its live sketches—but it took so long to get off the ground because of a dull opening that I was too grumpy by the time it got vaguely watchable.
I thought Jeremy Renner was going to be one of those barely-there hosts: making a good effort, not really front-and-center in any sketches, not a disaster, but hardly a comic revelation. I was mostly right—from the sung monologue (cute and somewhat charming, but overlong and not funny) to the prominent placing of “The Californians,” which basically anyone can be slotted into, this was not a particularly memorable night for the host. But he had a couple of decent sketches, the biggest successes of the night, that played off his status as a flinty action star, and he did a good job a couple others as, well, big ol’ dummies.
No, Renner isn’t to blame for this episode being a serious dud. Things started about as badly as they could, with the required David Petraeus cold open taking a severely boring tack. Paula Broadwell (Cecily Strong) reading portions from her biography of the general that sounded a lot like a network-approved version of 50 Shades of Grey. It was a lot of build-up to a mediocre joke, and while the audience leaving to reveal a creepy-looking Fred Armisen was kinda funny, nothing else was.
A video piece about visiting your hometown filmed like an ad for a B&B wasn’t bad, but that led right into “The Californians,” which we saw just a month ago on the Christina Applegate episode. It’s obvious why this thing keeps coming back—the cast, particularly Bill Hader and Fred Armisen, are very tickled by it, and start to break earlier and earlier each new time they do it. But the bloom is very much off the rose with this one. The biggest problem is that it’s by necessity a really long sketch—it has three segments to it, and since everyone’s drawing out their sentences and giving long, boring car directions over and over again, the whole thing takes a while even though we’re very familiar with the comic conceit at this point. I hope to never see “The Californians” again, but if I do, it had better be months and months from now.
The Wolf Blitzer Situation Room skit was a much better take on the Petraeus scandal, and why it didn’t lead off the night is beyond me, since every time they re-ran the Jill Kelley footage (or the Tim Robinson-starring reenactment) I laughed, and Sudeikis’ Blitzer impression has gotten funnier (although no more accurate). Renner was deployed well as the “self-proclaimed Mayor of Tampa,” insisting that Kelley was well known around town. “She funnn.” Not a barnstormer, but after such a poor opening, a welcome bit of relief.
Then the stand-off digital short (or whatever I’m supposed to call them now) followed, another strong skit that used Renner well, this time as a gun-totin’ straight-man in a tense situation with Bobby Moynihan and Taran Killam. Rather than break from their stand-off, they shuffle around the city together, attending Renner’s daughter’s dance class, showering, eating Thanksgiving, meeting Adam Levine (ugh), and finally shooting Moynihan dead when he talks about how much fun he’s been having (the obvious conclusion, but done perfectly).
By Weekend Update, I was almost having a good time, although like I said, the start of the show was such a momentum killer the episode never really built up a head of steam. Chris Christie’s appearance was annoyingly good (what can I say, the camera loves him) but I could have done without Jay Pharoah’s Katt Williams impression (apparently he dropped an F-bomb, but I didn’t notice).
The post-Update sketches were more consistent, but lacking a real standout. The Avengers spoof struggled with all the technical nonsense required and also felt several months too late (I get that you want to slot Renner into a movie spoof, though, and they had a cast suited to this movie). Hawkeye’s fussiness wasn’t bad—I liked that he wouldn’t re-use his arrows after killing someone because “it’s not sanitary”—but I was mostly glad when the sketch ended.
The thing with Sudeikis as a tough-guy actor called “Dick Fuel” who won’t let Renner slap him was on the same level—quick joke, dragged out too long, never really rising to the level of laugh-out-loud funny. Although I have to say, Sudeikis really got a lot of screentime this week, and that’s not a bad thing. This show is really going to miss him whenever he decides to hang up his hat (probably at the end of the year, if reports are to be believed).
He was great in the final sketch of the night with Renner failing to identify his brother’s body, which was a pretty strong final sketch—silly, but lots of fun. Hader had a lot going on in the background there, which totally worked, but felt like the kind of behavior only an SNL vet can get away with.
But despite a few standout moments, this one never really got going and I probably won’t remember any of it in a couple of days. The cast and crew get a well-deserved couple weeks off, so here’s hoping the coming Jamie Foxx episode is an improvement.
Renner did very well handling the dropped piano sounds at the beginning of his song. He’s a pro!
“Unwind in front of the deepest TV ever sold!”
The one funny part about “The Californians” was the baby’s face. Annoyingly good sight gag.
“Tampa fun, Jill Kelley got a dress, she fun too.”
“There are 100,000 aliens out there.” “And I killed 11 of them, you’re welcome.”