Watching Saturday Night Live is a good way to feel old. I was born a year after the show debuted in 1975, so when teenybopper hosts with big teeth, perfect skin and Colgate smiles joke about being eighteen years younger than the show I feel implicated. While the show is a venerable cultural institution, it appears to have instituted a Logan’s Run policy for hosts and cast members. If you’re anywhere near as old as SNL, then you have no business promenading in front of the cameras.
Looking at the list of hosts this season made me feel like Clint Eastwood in Grand Torino. Blake Lively, Taylor Lautner, Taylor Swift; who are these people? Why can’t they have hosts people my age can enjoy, like Rosemary Clooney or the delightful Carl Reiner? As always, the show reflects the culture it ostensibly lampoons; the tweens have taken over and hip grandpa Lorne Michaels scrambles to capture the ever-shifting cultural zeitgeist.
During Fred Armisen’s “Weekend Update” bit as a Native American stand-up comedian whose punchlines all reference obscure Native American customs, I found myself wondering why he appears on the show so infrequently. The answer, I suppose, is that his style of humor—off-kilter, a little esoteric, physical, a little cerebral, the kind of stuff that kills at Chicago’s Lakeshore theater—clashes with the show’s dominant tone. Moreover, in Saturday Night Live years, he’s an old man. Christ, he may even be in his forties!
Ah, but on to the episode itself and its strapping, muscled seventeen year old host, Taylor Lautner. Lautner and his equally fresh-faced girlfriend both benefited from low expectations. I expected nothing from a teenager best known for posing shirtless and playing a Yeti in the movie about the abstinent Mormon vampires and was pleasantly surprised. He wasn’t a Justin Timberlake-revelation but he was game and affable and scored some of the show’s biggest laughs in a sketch that relied heavily on his skills as a physical comedian. Before tonight I would have guessed those talents would have ranked somewhere between negligible and non-existent.
The show opened with a sketch in which a trio of adulterous politicians complain that the media frenzy about Tiger Woods’ remarkable talent for adultery (who could have guessed, a month ago, that golf would be synonymous with sex or that the entire world would be obsessed with Woods’ comically overstuffed sex life?) overshadowed their own impressive forays into extramarital sex. It made its point early and often in an undistinguished fashion. Then came Lautner’s monologue, where he made the requisite jokes about shirtlessness, being half as old as Saturday Night Live and did some crazy kung-fu moves while pretending to enact swift vengeance (wordplay!) on Kanye West for upsetting his girlfriend Taylor Swift at the American Music Awards. It was cute and deftly-handled if not especially gut-busting.
Then came a running bit with Jason Sudeikis as a PGA spokesman who devolves into increasing states of drunkenness and desperation as he contemplates professional golf without Tiger Woods and tries to generate excitement over the tour’s other golfers, the usual assortment of charisma-impaired middle-aged white men. It wasn’t the most original angle to attack Woodsgate but it was consistently amusing.
My favorite sketch of the evening was a sharp observational bit about those hilariously stiff segments in NFL games where football players look up at the camera in a hopelessly strained fashion that suggests that merely moving their head two inches stretches their performing abilities to the limit. Lautner played an American footballer who takes that awkwardness to ridiculous extremes. He grins like a constipated hyena, keeps tilting his head upwards until he’s staring at the ceiling, fondles and displays the football like it’s a diamond pendant on the Home Shopping Network and finally does the football-themed rap he performs to get himself psyched for games.
The rest of the show was the usual mixed bag. A sketch with Lautner as part of a choir that performs a series of gleefully unself-conscious holiday songs and trots out “Hannukah Elvis” before the choir director invites jock heckler Andy Samberg onstage scored some mild titters out of a big satirical target. “Weekend Update” is undoubtedly the best-written and most consistent part of the show. It scored some clever one-liners tonight but I’m put off by the smugness of Seth Myers’ delivery. I do enjoy Armisen’s Native American comic however, just as I enjoy his joke-free, painfully earnest “political” comic. Please, Mr. Michaels, give the man some fucking screen time.
The other sketches were less inspired. Kristin Wiig once again channeled the gratingly broad catchphrase-shouting inanity of MadTV as “Sue”, a spastic middle-aged woman driven to orgiastic heights by the excitement of surprising someone. If Armisen’s quirky comedy increasingly doesn’t have a place on SNL, Wiig’s array of noxious, one-note recurring characters sadly symbolizes the blatant pandering and desperation that has come to characterize late-period SNL. Other sketches did little but waste time: the obligatory Twilight sketch with Lautner as a Robert Pattinson-obsessed teenaged girl, another sketch with him as a geek sorta-kinda flirting with another geek and a what-the-hell, the show’s almost over pitch for wacky doorbells. Oh, and Bon Jovi bored audiences with two sleepy slices of dad-rock.
In previous reviews I’ve complained that Kenan Thompson only appears on the show to sing or cross-dress. With that in mind I’ve decided to end my review with a new feature called Kenan Thompson Dignity Watch. Here’s a scorecard for last night’s episode:
Sketches in which Thompson sang: Two
Bits in Which Thompson wore a dress: One
Sketches in which Thompson maintained his dignity: Zero
—How much crossover do you think there is between Bon Jovi and Taylor Lautner’s respective fanbases?
—Gilly is hosting the Saturday Night Live Christmas special. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
—No Digital Video tonight, alas
—When was the last TV Funhouse cartoon? I miss those. They were all funny and shit.
—Pleasant surprise of the night: shockingly, no Bon Jovi opposite band
—The football bit reminded me a little of the the Deadlbreakers intro on 30 Rock