Saturday Night Live: "Zach Galifianakis/Jessie J"
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Saturday Night Live: "Zach Galifianakis/Jessie J"

B-

Saturday Night Live

"Zach Galifianakis/Jessie J"

Season 36, Episode 17
B-

Saturday Night Live

"Zach Galifianakis/Jessie J"

Season 36, Episode 17

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Much like his appearance last year, Zach Galifianakis' latest guest hosting gig is a tantalizing prospect for viewers that doesn't really get fulfilled. His monologue, essentially just five-odd minutes of his standup, is so funny and has the crowd so on board that you're suddenly super-hyped for the rest of the show. When the rest of the show turns out to be Saturday Night Live, well, it's hard not to be disappointed. This wasn't a terrible go-round, but even a thoroughly original comedian like Galifanakis isn't going to break SNL out of its rules and routines. How could anyone? The whole thing is such a well-oiled routine, even Charlie Sheen would probably end up hosting a rather staid 90 minutes.

But it really was great to watch Galifianakis do his thing and hear an SNL audience really get excited for once. I commented that Russell Brand's episode was refreshing because you had a comedian actually doing a monologue, and this was just 10 times better than that (and what a relief after Miley Cyrus last week). I'm not going to just recycle lines here, but I laughed at every joke, probably most at the redneck ordering Skittles or the guy from Queens who's obsessed with cargo shorts. "What are those, cargo shorts? This next character…" By the time Galifanakis was in the Annie costume the crowd was eating out of the palm of his hand, and it was obvious everything would be downhill from there.

But don't change the channel just yet, folks! Because we've put every female cast member on the show in a spoof of The Talk that literally sucks the air out of the room! The funny thing about this leading sketch was that, in mocking a flat, lifeless show, it made SNL pretty darn lifeless, with missed cues and mis-delivered lines that maybe were intentional, maybe not, but helped the realism of the portrayal of CBS's The View knockoff. But it made no sense to have this be the first sketch out of the gate, after such a great performance by Galifianakis before. In fact, he was the best thing about The Talk, too, as an angry View lover who got taken to the wrong show on his birthday. But otherwise we just cycled between four jokes: Julie Chen uncomfortably dispenses casual girlfriend phrases, Sharon Osborne walks a thin line between wacky and medicated, Sara Gilbert wants to disappear in her sweater and make it all go away, and Leah Remini is loud and stupid. Bill Hader showing up as Steven Tyler didn't really help matters, except for reminding me that SNL was spoofing a show that currently isn't even on the air.

Then we got treated to a sketch mocking the kings of catchphrase comedy, without actually skewering any real targets. I'm not sure whether I'd have preferred the sketch that way (after all, then it'd just be another SNL conveyer belt of impressions), but this thing felt pretty irrelevant almost immediately. Much like in the last sketch (and the next one, and most of the show, really) Galifianakis seemed to be enjoying doing his own thing with a character quite a bit weirder than everyone else's (Pete "Airhorn" Schultz). And the sight of Seth Meyers as Boston Powers is something we need to see again. But mostly, this thing wore out its welcome pretty much immediately.

Next off, SNL finally unleashed one of its recurring sketches, Scared Straight, which I don't think we've seen at all this season (admirable restraint, you guys!). I imagine a lot of people hate this one, but I've never minded it because it's high-energy and allows for relative self-awareness (as well as the joy of seeing if any of the actors playing the kids will break). Or maybe I just enjoy innuendo about prison rape. That's definitely part of it. Galifianakis was used fairly well to dispense lines both horrifying ("baby arm in your caboose") and more gently strange, like calling Samberg "the big bossman, Jason Biggs…" or proclaiming "and Helena Bonham Carter's there too because this here is REAL!" But the funniest joke was that his character was a cannibal, and the show didn't get enough out of that, instead quickly slipping into the "Kenan describes the plots of movies/slips into anal rape puns" formula.

Really, the formula of lame sketches and Galifianakis doing something weird on the side continued for the rest of the night. I liked, but didn't love, his digital short with the kids; it had no big laughs, but it did have sort of a cute concept anyway. His sudden, mad screaming in the Titanic skit and the thing where they tell the kids about the dead dog saved two pretty ordinary sketches (although both were better than anything that had come before and would have been higher up in the show but for weirdness, I bet). The Winnipeg celebrity show thing exhausted its well of Canada jokes within five seconds and went on for another five minutes.

It wasn't a bad night. Hell, I even thought Kristen Wiig was one of the best performers of the bunch this week (I liked her Julie Taymor, who had just the right soupcon of mania), which is not an opinion I usually hold. And I bet Galifianakis comes back next year because he really does make a splash at the start and seems pretty game for anything in the sketches (the Mr. T haircut joke, and his angry expression, in the closing credits was inspired). But there's a promise there that just can't ever be fulfilled, I guess.

Stray observations:

  • I don't know who Jessie J is but she's a pretty good performer and was obviously so happy that she'd nailed it, especially the first time. Rare that you see someone on SNL who isn't a totally established star already, so good for her.
  • I didn't even mention the cold open which was a tired excuse for some craaaazy impressions. But I did like the line about Qaddafi looking "like Tony Shaloub had a baby with ET."
  • And that Nicolas Cage "always looks like he just witnessed a murder."
  • "I wear a lot of Axe body spray, but I live in a black neighborhood, and it's called Ask body spray, and if you don't get that joke, then you're not racist."
  • "The only good time to yell out, 'I have diarrhea,' is when you're playing Scrabble."
  • "You won't get hit in the head with cans of paint; you'll get hit in the mouth with balls and taint."
  • "There's gonna be a hella boning in your farter."
  • "There's actually a good chance it could be Mike Tyson."
  • "We're having a little trouble with the jetpacks."
  • "My name is uh, Mrs. Boat."
  • "You have a beard, your voice is insane, and when you stood up to urinate, everyone saw your penis." "And uh, what were the reviews?"
  • "Iceberg up ahead, think I'll blast through that sucker. But first, tequila shots!" 

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