Look, I love Robert De Niro as much as the next red-blooded American. And even though most of the films he makes these days are … maybe not of the quality his legacy demands, I appreciate the guy. I guess the residual goodwill he's built up will never go away for me, no matter how many Righteous Kills or Little Fockers he might appear in. I guess that's why I'm finding it hard to write negatively about this week's episode, even though some of it was very bad. I just can't make De Niro angry!
Thing actually got off on the right foot too. For the second episode in a row the political cold open was actually pretty funny, turning Julian Assange of Wikileaks into the thermos-sipping douchebag from the TMZ show, with Fred Armisen's Qaddafi, a stone-faced De Niro as Hamid Karzai, and Vanessa Bayer briefly doing Hillary Clinton (a tough proposition, taking over from Amy Poehler's well-known impression). The best part was Assange and the TMZ jerks in their offices, though, as that was pretty much exactly how awful that show seems. Samberg as the inexplicably Teutonic surfer dude was especially dead-on. And it fit well with how the media is portraying Assange; every article, positive or negative, makes him out as a snarling, sarcastic rock star type.
Then De Niro's monologue, where he recited many incorrect facts about New York ("the city of angels, home of the Golden Gate Bridge!") made me laugh, precisely because it played on what I was talking about, that immutable fear response he provokes, even if he's just on SNL promoting Little Fockers. He stares down every audience member who challenges his New York facts and they shut up, because when it comes down to it, we're just pipsqueaks, and he's Robert De Niro.
Then the brief ad for "Harlan Kane" (a mash-up of every airport novelist) was a good use for De Niro's stony face as titles like "The Genghis Rubicon," "The Pinochet Solution," and "The Pokémon Directive" flashed up on the screen. "Lot a good words in this one!"
But De Niro seemed either off his game or just a little baffled at how shitty some of the other sketches were. The "Mr. Produce" bit where he has a sarcastic son played by Samberg was almost entirely joke-free and painfully long. Later on, De Niro donned a fright wig and big boobs to play Samberg's mom, repeatedly grinding on Diddy's crotch, with Diddy saying he would "tear that ass up." Both times he didn't really land the jokes, such as they were, and the whole thing felt half-hearted. With a bad SNL skit, usually the only thing that can save it is extremely high energy, and this wasn't one of those times.
But some of the other bits in the latter half of the show weren't bad. The Little Fockers skit where Bobby Moynihan is impressed by everything on the set except for De Niro was predictable and slow-moving at first but had some great gags as the joke was repeated over and over. He's excited by Stiller "because he's in the kid movies," De Niro says, but then when asked what his favorite Stiller movie is, the kid says, "Permanent Midnight. That's how you do drama." Great shoutout for all us Permanent Midnight fans out there!
And I was heartened to see the return of Vinny Vedecci, one of my favorite recurring sketches, while simultaneously sad that Hader didn't break out a De Niro impression, leaving that to Armisen. De Niro didn't really land the line "I knew this day would come!" as he threw a pencil at the "deer from The Deer Hunter," but it was okay, because Hader saved it by solemnly intoning, "he is dead." Also, I gotta say I feel bad for Paul Brittan, who was given the role of "guy who sits with Fred Armisen at a table" in this skit and again got nothing to do. The female featured players usually get a sketch or two each week because they're needed a lot more, but Paul Brittan, Taren Killam and Jay Pharoah seem to be lucky if they even get speaking roles every week. Climb the ladder, I guess.
Another sketch that returned was What's Up With That, which is being done to fucking death with just minor variations. De Niro immediately challenging Kenan and refusing to speak, leading to Kenan singing "uncomfortable silence," was at least a new way of getting him to break into song and dance, but I think it's time to let this one sit for a while, rather than bring it out every three episodes.
The digital short was praiseworthy in that, instead of reversing Weekend at Bernie's once (the girls immediately realize he's dead and start freaking out; the boys are hauled off to jail), the short did it twice, with Bernie revealing that to be paraded around as a corpse was what he wanted all along. That made a predictable, if amusing, skit just a little funnier.
Oh, and also, Diddy-Dirty Money has to be the worst act I've seen on SNL in a long time, and that is saying something. I guess I had forgotten just how terrible a rapper Sean Combs was, but I won't be forgetting again. Holy shit.
- The guest appearances by Robin Williams and Ben Stiller had me wondering when those guys last hosted. Amazingly, Stiller, who wrote and appeared for the show briefly in 1989, hasn't hosted since 1998 (his only time as host), and Williams hasn't hosted since 1988. Both of them should get back sometime.
- I don't have anything to say about the sketch where De Niro and Stiller had group sex with Samberg and Sudeikis, but I didn't hate it or anything.
- I'm confused as to why the pube transplant ad from the Amy Poehler episode was repeated here, but my guess is that it was covering for another sketch that went wrong somehow.
- "Great to be here hosting the best show in New York, Friday Night Lights."
- The Kardashian sketch was fine (it nailed how weirdly tall Khloe is), without really saying much except that they're irrelevant. How much more can be said, I guess?
- Also liked the Spider-Man musical guest on Weekend Update, mostly because that show's spiral into chaos and destruction is as funny an example of extreme hubris that exists.
- De Niro says the makeup guy's job is "to make me look good." "Where was he when you made Analyze That?"
- I missed the closing line in the final, brief, animated sketch written and performed by Dana Carvey of all people, but it sure got everyone laughing. I guess it was good?