Saturday Night Live: "Jon Hamm/Rihanna"
B+

Saturday Night Live: "Jon Hamm/Rihanna"

B+

Saturday Night Live

"Jon Hamm/Rihanna"

Season 36, Episode 5

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What is it about Jon Hamm that kicks Saturday Night Live into higher gear? His third hosting trip in three years was the best the show has been so far this season, and although I'm sure that's partially because he does well in the sketches, it's not like the show has had unfunny hosts the other weeks. Something about Hamm just seems to get the writers more motivated. This episode was still pretty flawed, and it was definitely the weakest of Hamm's outings (though he was as good as ever) but after a string of middling-to-bad episodes it felt pretty great.

Hamm's the best kind of SNL host in that he fits into a lot of sketches, he can do halfway-decent impressions (this time we got his JFK and his Robin Williams) and he stands out without hogging screen time or awkwardly messing up the rhythms of things. One of my favorite bits of the night was he and Kristen Wiig as a married pair of auditioning actors who mostly describe what they will and won't do onscreen. At first it looked like the joke would be Wiig reciting increasingly disgusting-sounding things like "I might eat a very small bowl of white bird waste, if it was relevant to the story." But then when she didn't get the part, Hamm shows up as her furious husband and busts out some crazy monologue about a commercial she was in. "She is a mastress of her craft. Are you insane in the membrane? INSANE IN THE BRAIN?" It's something about his righteous passion in even the least of roles! Plus, it was great to see an unfunny sketch suddenly turn the corner to being funny again.

Outside of Hamm I was happy to see more time given over to Bill Hader than usual, although some of his impressions (Vincent Price, James Carville) are getting a little stale. But his extended take on Alan Alda in the Back to the Future bit ("I want in; who do I fuck?") was pretty great, they should totally find a way to use that somewhere else. Aside from Hader, Kristen Wiig definitely dominated proceedings. It's one thing for her to play Judy Garland in the Vincent Price sketch (she basically played her like Gloria Swanson last year, but she had the voice right) and she was a great Jennifer Tilly (take that, Jennifer Tilly!). But does she have to play basically every female lead role on this show? They have Abby Elliott, Vanessa Bayer and Nasim Pedrad but all those guys ever seem to do is filler stuff.

For example, one of the episode's weakest skits was Hamm/Wiig as a dueling variety hour couple. One reason it sucked (despite Hamm's hilarious silly glasses) was that SNL does waaay too many retro-themed entertainer jokes and waaay too many jokes about an act bombing. But another reason it sucked was that it felt like so many other Kristen Wiig characters, which added to the crushing sameness of it all. And in another sketch I liked much better, a talk show for the victims of YouTube memes, Jon Hamm (with his echoing, auto-tuned crying) was hilarious but I just felt like that'd be a good opportunity to let someone other than Wiig take a role.

Most of the rest of the show was more cute than funny, with a lot of sketches overstaying their welcome a little bit. The Joe Biden cold open was alright, but I'm annoyed how the start of the show has become a dumping ground for tepid political humor; it feels like the writers are forced to acknowledge current events rather than doing something inventive with them. Weekend Update can be really on if it has a political bent, but the shitty Halloween singers (played by Fred Armisen and … Kristen Wiig) was another drawn-out "act bombing" joke that didn't need to be there.

Stuff like the highway cops or the digital short (with the return of Shy Ronnie) wasn't laugh-out-loud good but had enough good little details (Kenan's graying afro, or Rihanna grabbing Jon Hamm to have sex with him later). The highway cops also ended rather spectacularly with Jason Sudeikis and Jon Hamm making out, and I like that it was played for good laughs rather than as a gross-out thing.

Oh well, I probably got too excited for the return of Mr. Hamm but I still think it was the best of the year. Next week is off and then Scarlett Johansson (and the inevitable guest appearance of Ryan Reynolds) on the 13th.

Stray observations:

Biden on Obama: "The guy's a robot. True story -- I've never seen him sleep."

Jon Hamm's monologue was good, especially him repeatedly hitting on Bill Hader and his slogan for microwaves. "A box of winter for your food to live in!"

"There's a tall scary man outside with a big green hat!" "Judy, that's a palm tree!"

"I will wear diapers, I will not work with children though I WILL dance with them!"

James Carville looks like "a mean peanut."

"I can't wait to tell my wife about our kiss!"

Also, was that the return of David Spade to SNL at the end of the show, or did I dream that?

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