I’ll admit, when I heard Sofia Vergara was hosting Saturday Night Live, the first thing that popped into my head was “The Manuel Ortiz Show,” so perhaps the most surprising thing about this episode was that Manuel didn’t show up until after Weekend Update. I will also admit that the last thing that occurred to me was that Vergara could do a strange-but-hilarious impression of Fran Drescher that nailed her essence even while not serving as an exact imitation. So, props to Vergara for that. But outside of that and a couple other high points, this was a mediocre-to-bad effort that felt like the tail-end of four episodes in a row rather than the show coming back after a nice long break.
Vergara isn’t to blame: She did as you’d expect, with a lot of yelling and wacky outfits and general enthusiasm. I give props to her for doing a straight (if short) monologue instead of some wacky dance number, and her Fran Drescher was truly funny. And there was something oddly appealing about her screaming “BOOM! HUNGER GAMES!” I enjoy her on Modern Family, and she’s obviously a pro (this wasn’t a Lohan situation) but her range is close to zero.
Things started off with a Mitt Romney sketch, poking fun at his propensity for praising whatever organization or town he happens to be in with vague generalities. Honestly, I hope SNL has the same electoral impact that it had four years ago, because if Mitt Romney is president, I do not want to have to suffer through endless sketches about how boring he is. Find a new angle, fellas! Of course, I’m talking as if the Obama sketches are so great, which they aren’t. But electing Mitt clearly isn’t going to up the humor factor of the show’s political cold opens.
After the monologue and a dumb pre-taped ad of Andy Samberg and Jason Sudeikis dancing around in “JUST FRIENDS” hotpants, we were treated to the only two strong sketches of the night. “Bein’ Quirky With Zooey” is going to wear out its welcome eventually, but Vergara’s bonkers Drescher and Kristen Wiig’s spot-on Drew Barrymore made this an improvement on the sketch’s first iteration. I’m also enjoying the developing storyline of Michael Cera (Taran Killam) being in love with Zooey—I guess I’m just a sucker for these storylines even when they’re being spoofed.
“Almost Pizza” was genuinely brilliant, to the extent that I’ll be happy when they re-run it six months from now (I am getting very sick of Lil’ Poundcake, who made her third appearance tonight, long after the HPV vaccine was in the news). I liked the sinister air, which Wiig milked for all she’s got with her Stepford Wife routine. “Sure smells like pizza.” “That was their intention.” “WHOSE?!” It’s that rare SNL sketch that has an old-fashioned narrative arc to its three minutes, but those are often the best sketches (like the murderous amusement-park ride from Jim Carrey’s episode last season).
Things didn’t decline slowly from there—they drove off a cliff with a bizarrely anti-funny segment where the only joke was that Fred Armisen couldn’t look into the camera. It was one of those sketches where you expected it to elaborate on the joke in some way, like the other news bumper thing from a few weeks back, and it never did. One terrible sketch is always forgivable, but then that was followed by… Gilly. (And an actual spit take from David Sims.) I thought we were all assured that Gilly had been retired, taken out back and shot by Kristen Wiig because she was so horribly unfunny and had still been elevated to recurring cast member by Lorne Michaels? Maybe the appearance of Gilly represents the constraints placed on the episode by its host; maybe Vergara just loved the character and wanted to appear with her. Either way, it sucked.
Weekend Update was too short, with only one panelist: Bobby Moynihan’s great Drunk Uncle. Moynihan is really a solid performer for this show, and he’s only going to get more important if the cast shakes up, so I’d love to see him continue to expand his character repertoire. Drunk Uncle, like Stefon, is just about stringing a bunch of funny lines together, except he requires even less prompting. “EBAY OF PIGS!” was probably my favorite, or the more melancholy, “he’s still Cassius Clay to me, Seth!”
“The Manuel Ortiz Show” (a bad recurring sketch I have a weakness for) was perhaps not insane enough given Vergara’s appearance, but I guess it’s a hard concept to continually top. That was followed by Taran Killam skewering Andy Cohen, with which I am totally on board. Killam was, as usual, the best thing about the episode and his Cohen was pretty accurate. The sketch ran out of steam but had an amusing edge to it (someone in the writers’ room obviously watches a lot of Watch What Happens Live and has an axe to grind) and also marked the first speaking appearance of new cast member Kate McKinnon as Tabatha Coffey (from what little I know of Tabatha Takes Over, the impression was accurate).
McKinnon took center stage doing a strange Penelope Cruz alongside Vergara in a shampoo ad. On the one hand, I appreciated the jab at Vergara for appearing in every single ad ever filmed—I swear, she was in four or five ads airing during this show. On the other, the concept here seemed a little too lofty—rather than mock Vergara’s funny accent, it mocked Cruz’s, with the joke being that Vergara was doing fine when really she’s just as funny-sounding. I think? The concept didn’t really work, and although McKinnon was doing something right with her Cruz impression, the whole thing was too weird to ever get off the ground.
I was surprised that the show closed with a perfunctory, but not horrible Hunger Games spoof—maybe the wardrobe was just too complicated to slot this in earlier? I was still so mad about the prominent placement of Armisen’s frozen-neck traffic guy that I spent most of the sketch wondering why this hadn’t aired at that point in the show. Then I started thinking about Stanley Tucci being an SNL host. They should bring him on. He’d be good!
Kate McKinnon is the first of what one imagines will be a few hires this year—SNL’s cast has been stable for a long time, but change is undoubtedly coming, even if the rumors of Wiig, Sudeikis, and Samberg leaving aren’t true (though I bet they are). The show can weather the loss of all of them, although it’ll definitely mean a shaky transition. Hard to tell what the future holds from McKinnon’s two solid impressions at the end of the show tonight, though.
- Drew Barrymore will name her son Rowlf, “because it sounds like a fat dog laughing.”
- “I love a good challenge, I was born mute!”
- Andy Samberg’s “Jewish strawberry shortcake” Mayim Bialik was a welcome surprise.
- “Hey Siri, why did a Chinaman steal my job?”