Saturday Night Live: “Will Ferrell/Usher”
C+

Saturday Night Live: “Will Ferrell/Usher”

C+

Saturday Night Live

“Will Ferrell/Usher”

Season 37, Episode 21
C+

Saturday Night Live

“Will Ferrell/Usher”

Season 37, Episode 21

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As Saturday Night Live wraps what is looking like the final season for many of its core cast members, it’s obviously cramming in as many nostalgic goodbye sketches as it can. At the same time, whenever Will Ferrell stops by, it usually means the revival of one of his classic recurring sketches and probably the guest appearance of a cast member from the good old days. But that’s a lot to fit into one episode, which meant Ferrell was backgrounded for a relatively mediocre string of sketches (with a couple of bright spots).

There’s talk on the interwebs about Ferrell seeming a little under the weather last night, and I have to concur. I don’t know that whatever was ailing him would have affected his amount of screentime, but he was low-energy in some of the sketches. (Another observation with which I agree: My girlfriend said Ferrell’s mother looked younger than he did during the monologue.)

Still, I’m as big a Ferrell fan as anybody, and it’s always fun to see him bust out some of the old faves. I love it when the host shows up in the cold open and George W. Bush’s hangout session with a petulant Joe Biden was a nice twist on a tired concept (Biden’s in a teenage huff because Obama gets all the credit for his endorsement of gay marriage). Unlike, say, Fred Armisen’s impression of Barack Obama, Ferrell has always nailed the whimsically stupid side of George W., with tales of his chasing a butterfly and getting locked in the White House on his last day in office. Recurring SNL impressions are always the most fun when the impression becomes a character all to itself, and that definitely happened with W. (and definitely not with any politician currently satirized on this show).

Ana Gasteyer put it in the requisite returning-castmember cameo, reviving The Culps with Ferrell to reel off a few current (-ish) hits at an LGBT prom. After that (and a sneeze medicine ad with lots of loud sneezing), Ferrell basically took a backseat, which was too bad considering he was still a pretty dominant force throughout, just with less screentime and funny lines.

The return of Will Forte to essay the role of Greg Stink alongside Jason Sudeikis’ Pete Twinkle signaled that the regular cast wasn’t going to have much to do—indeed, Taran Killam and Bill Hader only had one major role apiece, and newcomer Kate McKinnon just looked on silently in a couple of sketches. Forte is an inherently funny man when he’s grinning vacantly, so Greg Stink is always a good time, but man was that sketch long, bundling in an O.J. Simpson gag and Will Ferrell as a douchey reporter alongside the usual maxi-pad jokes and shots of silly female golfers.

Every sketch ran long tonight, actually, to the extent that I was surprised when things wrapped up (they were just starting to get weird). The show seemed to run a little long (the credits were cut off from the end goodbye shot) but there wasn’t a killer sketch among the episode’s efforts, save maybe for the Digital Short compendium, which coasted mostly on guest stars and goodwill from years past.

Not that it wasn’t nice to see Jon Hamm as Sergio again, or Ras Trent, or another rap from Natalie Portman. Honestly, it would have been just as funny to rerun the “Lettuce” short that started the whole revolution, but I get that you want to go big or go home on SNL. While I’m not really shedding a tear for Sudeikis playing Pete Twinkle, if this is goodbye from the Digital Shorts (and I have no idea if it is) that was a fitting sendoff. But even though they’ve been often lackluster this season, I’m going to miss them tremendously once they’re gone.

Weekend Update was surprisingly killer for such a so-so episode: Seth Meyers landed a few more zingers than usual, his “Really!?!” segment didn’t just have me thinking of Amy Poehler the whole time, and a visit from Nic Cage is always welcome. I liked watching Liam Neeson try to keep a straight face alongside Samberg, since he’s usually such a dour grumpypants. Samberg, meanwhile, has never been a master impressionist, but he’s always made me laugh with Cage. Sure, he’s basically shouting the joke at you the whole time, but that just gels well with Cage’s real-life persona.

After Weekend Update, the whole show settled into extremely boring territory. No sketch was a disaster, but they all had a better concept than execution. The Funkytown debate on C-SPAN was a great sight gag that needed to go no further than that. The parade of visual punchlines that followed (like Ferrell’s “cabinet”) weren’t bad, but it was another case of everything going on a bit too long

Broadway Sizzle, despite Hader’s first substantial appearance of the night, did nothing but confuse me, and seemed in search of a killer joke—was it the lame songs being sung? Ferrell’s inability to pick a song written for a solo, male performer? Hader and Wiig’s bickering as a formerly married couple? No element really stood out enough to provoke a real laugh.

The same went for the anniversary party, which had a cavalcade of half-baked characters who were just weird in some specific way. Some, like Ferrell and Forte, worked because they were so obviously bonkers—others were more boring than they were peculiar.

The energy really left this episode as it went on, especially surprising since it had such a big host and a real cavalcade of returning stars. Next week with Mick Jagger should be equally spectacular, but here’s hoping it actually lives up to the hype.

Stray observations:

  • George W. used to catch grief all the time from Vice President Cheney. “He’d yell, ‘Get your damn pants on, we’re about to bomb blahblahbleeblahblah.’”
  • “When your uterine lining looks like the elevator from The Shining!”
  • Nicolas Cage is working on a Hungry Hungry Hippos movie. “I play a rogue marble that escapes from hell to exact revenge on the hippos that killed his daughter.” Later, Cage is going to kidnap God with Liam Neeson. “And we’re not going to let him go until we get our damn money back.”
  • “We shared a salad and a dry kiss, that’s it.” “Well, it was wet on my end.”

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