Saturday Night Live: “Jonah Hill/The Shins”
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Saturday Night Live: “Jonah Hill/The Shins”

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Saturday Night Live

“Jonah Hill/The Shins”

Season 37, Episode 17

It’s often true that a competent Saturday Night Live host like Jonah Hill is going to produce an episode like this one—perfectly fun to watch, but lacking sketches you’d tell your friends about the next day. There’s not that exciting potential trainwreck quality of a host who doesn’t know what he/she is doing, but there’s also much less of a chance that the whole thing will be unbearably bad. Still, I watched this episode just a few hours ago, and I’m struggling to remember the standout moments.

One certainly wasn’t the fairly toothless Rush Limbaugh spoof that opened the show—Taran Killam has his voice down (he’s not the hardest impression in the world, but still, not bad) and some of the silly sponsors made me laugh (Moist Books: “Hey, who left these books out in the rain? We did!”) but when it became clear all of the jokes would be about silly sponsors, the sketch really lost steam.

Hill had his strongest stuff at the beginning of the episode, including one of the longer monologue bits we’ve seen in a while, which included a pre-filmed bit about Hill’s massive ego post-Oscar nomination. Pretty obvious stuff, but there were some nice touches like his conversation with fellow nominee Kristen Wiig (“I need to write this new screenplay called…I’m dumb!”) and his glasses getting ever-smaller while his scarves got ever-bigger. I don’t know why the monologues don’t go in this direction more—unless you have a comedian or performer who’s really adept at doing a short stand-up routine, throw to a filmed bit! Ironically, Hill probably could have held it down onstage, although his joke calling Moneyball a talkie was a real groaner.

Then Hill brought back his character Adam Grossman, the six-year-old would-be Borscht Belt comedian who explains away his antics by saying he’s “this many” and holding six fingers in the air. It’s not the most original concept in the world, but Hill obviously likes doing the character and I like seeing hosts bring back someone they had a hand in creating. Apart from his joke about crying every time he saw “a black fella” when he was three, things were pretty routine. I did start to think Billy Crystal was going to take a beating in every sketch when Hill called him his grandfather in the monologue and then did a terrible Sammy Davis Jr. impression here, but sadly that was not a trope that continued.

Our second digital short in two weeks, a record by recent standards, started slow, with endless shots of Hill getting hit in the crotch with a tennis ball. I kept waiting for the twist, and finally it came, with guest appearances by John McEnroe and a ghost and so on. But I wish the sketch had just piled on with random people showing up to hit Hill in the balls with a ball, instead of the final segment where they try to revive him. In the end, the biggest laugh was that Samberg’s character was called Darius Rucker Jr. Nothing wrong with a Hootie and the Blowfish joke, not even in 2012.

Hill as a wannabe samurai in J Pop America Fun Time Now was one of his few non straight-man roles of the evening, and while the sketch still works for me, I think I enjoyed Hill more because his lines were so intentionally garbled and he kept breaking, and less because of the material. The reason this sketch works (and we keep seeing it) is that Killam and Vanessa Bayer’s insane energy is inherently amusing, especially when paired with Jason Sudeikis’ disgust. But I don’t know how many more times we can see this without it becoming completely stale. I suppose there’s a few more obvious Japanese stereotypes to plunder.

Weekend Update was a good time—Wiig’s Paula Deen impression relied on the catchphrase “butteh an aaahl” (butter and oil!) but she clearly loved it so much, her delight in repeating it over and over again was infectious. The bit with Samberg pretending to do Sarah Palin was a cute idea, and by 10 seconds in, the joke was clear and it was time for it to end (there were a few more minutes to go from there). I honestly don’t know if the show will need its Palin impression ever again, but this was a half-clever wink at the problem it would face if she rose to national prominence again and Tina Fey wasn’t interested in returning.

Stefon cheered me up no end and provided half the notable quotes of the episode. For some reason, this never gets stale, perhaps because every time Hader does the character you’re just watching him to see when he breaks. This time, it was almost immediately—the first sign of trouble was when he referred to “that old Pakistani woman that looks like a California Raisin.” But obviously human Roombas really took the cake: “when you put a midget on a skateboard and it slides around on your floor eating garbage.” The midget joke always kills, even though you know it’s coming. “Eating garbage” was what got me (and, I think, Hader).

So it was a pretty decent show up to Weekend Update—nothing truly amazing, but nothing too draggy either. The back end of the episode was less memorable, outside of Fred Armisen’s performance as a violated ape. I spent most of that sketch trying to figure out that it was Armisen, which never happens on SNL, and is mostly a testament to their makeup department (but props to Armisen as well). The ape sketch went on way too long, though, and was followed by a miserably boring bit where Wiig did a Liza Minelli routine (which is just one step away from her Secret Word routine). Hill looked on sleepily in both as the straight man.

The final, appropriately left-field bit of the night was a love letter to Coolio’s 1997 “classic” C U When U Get There, which I remember listening to in middle school music class because it sampled Pachelbel’s Canon. I assume someone in the writing staff either thinks this is the best, or the funniest, song ever (or both) and managed to convince everyone to honor it with the 12:55 sketch. Even though it started slow, it was hard not to be charmed by Hill and Wiig and everyone else’s energy as they walked into the crowd to cap things off. That’s a great way to make an okay sketch good.

So, a solid night all around. But apart from Stefon, not too much to write home about. SNL’s off for the next three weeks and returns in April with Sofia Vergara, who could be anywhere on the brilliant-tiresome spectrum. With Hill, you knew what you were gonna get.

Stray observations:

  • Shroder’s Fake Rape Whistles. “Help is not on the way.”
  • Was Jay Pharoah only in the monologue? I want to see his Black Captain Jack Sparrow.
  • “The Shinto gods are surery smiling upon us as they did upon our Japanese ancestors.”
  • Among Palin's fake catchphrases: “Da Bears,” and “One of them’s a human and the other one’s a dog!”
  • Among Stefon's best lines: Beatnik Doctor Soul Patch Adams; Gay running back Blow J Simpson, “Soda. Purple stuff. Sunny D. A VIP room for football jellyfish” (NFL players with skinny dreads).