Saturday Night Live: “Zooey Deschanel/Karmin”
B+

Saturday Night Live: “Zooey Deschanel/Karmin”

B+

Saturday Night Live

“Zooey Deschanel/Karmin”

Season 37, Episode 14

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I cannot, in good conscience, give an A grade to a show that allowed those Karmin performances to happen on live national television. But otherwise, that was a relatively strong episode of Saturday Night Live, mostly devoid of the silly material I thought Zooey Deschanel would engender (they pretty much crammed all of that into one sketch). In fact, Zooey was not really a major player and really only made an impression a couple of times, which surprised me, but this episode had a lot of other strengths.

The best thing about it was that it moved a little faster than SNL usually does, cramming in eight sketches before Weekend Update, although three of them were pre-taped Clint Eastwood bits. After the halfway point, things slowed down considerably and the material got a lot worse (I’m thinking of the crab bit and the letter-writing in particular) but there was enough goodwill left over for this to be one of the stronger episodes of the season. Again, though. Let’s not talk about Karmin. I don’t want to think about Karmin ever again.

The political cold open, another Romney parody, continued along the same lines and contained all the same flaws of past Romney parodies. He’s a stuffy, uneasy weirdo who robotically tries to imitate human behavior, we get it. The fun new addition this time was a dog who could bark terrifyingly on command, leading Mitt to threaten, “You wanna go back on that roof?” which was funny, because the idea that Mitt Romney strapped his dog to the roof of his car and thought that was an OK thing to do is always going to be funny.

Zooey’s sung monologue about Valentine’s Day was probably the shortest I can remember, and they keep those things pretty short these days. Luckily, it was the only time anyone handed her a ukulele all night, and it was followed by the first of three Clint Eastwood ads, each funnier than the last. Hader is such an asset to this show, since you never know which celebrity will be in the zeitgeist on any given week, and his Eastwood is superb. Plus, I appreciated that the ads got more and more surreal as they went on (“TE GUSTA LOSING?”) ending with him declaring himself Batman.

Sticking with the Super Bowl theme, the lead sketch took on M.I.A.’s silly behavior at the half-time show, although it sandwiched that into a spoof of Piers Morgan Tonight, just to keep things simple. I’m not kidding -- it’s amazing how many sketches get turned into talk shows or quiz shows when they don’t have to be, and I’m sure it’s because that’s the only way to stage these things on SNL’s tiny little sets without everything going completely crazy.

Taran Killam’s impression of Piers Morgan was much appreciated, since everyone else’s portrayals were 90% costume-based. Nasim Pedrad’s return as M.I.A. was not as funny as her first, brief, appearance, but it’s always nice to see her not playing a child/funny old lady. Sudeikis and Armisen got one good laugh for their LMFAO getups and didn’t outstay their welcome. And Wiig’s Madonna, sitting on her throne flanked by gladiators, was a funny sight before she opened her mouth. The only let-down in that sketch, really, was Zooey, who felt wedged-in as an offended mom.

The return of Les Jeunes De Paris, with the genuinely delightful surprise of a cameo by Jean Dujardin from The Artist, perked me right up. There’s never much to say about this sketch other than it’s generally ten times more energetic than anything else on SNL, it always feels like a breath of fresh air, and Killam is a good, funny dancer. But that was definitely the highlight of the night.

Not to say it all fell apart from there. The old-timey newspaper sketch was a fun reversal -- it felt like something Zooey would be suited for, so having her be baffled by everyone talking so quickly and typing like a maniac was good for a few laughs. Plus, I’m sure Wiig would take any chance to talk like a 30s movie star, which seems to be her favorite thing to do in the universe.

Then, on Weekend Update, after an unnecessary, unfunny and un-topical appearance by Ariana Huffington, we got the glorious sight of Nicolas Cage appearing alongside Andy Samberg in “Get in the Cage,” confirming the long-held belief that Nicolas Cage will do absolutely any project he’s offered. Although there was no line as good as “polarized metal filings at the mercy of their cruel mother magnet, all perched upon the face of a weathered possum king!” (in fact, there were no jokes about his hairline) I was still thrilled by the plug for Ghost Rider 2. “Number one, all the dialogue is either whispered or screamed. And of course, number two, everything in the movie is on fire.” I’m there opening night.

Nic’s appearance also sent me to imdb, where I discovered that he has hosted SNL precisely once: in 1992. In a weird, upsetting coincidence, the musical guest that day was Bobby Brown. Forgetting that, I think it’s high time we have Cage back on the show after 20 years without him. How could he not be the best thing ever? I want to see Facebook campaigns today. I’m not joking about this.

After Weekend Update, my interest quickly flagged. “Bein’ Quirky” with Zooey (played by Abby Elliott) was the sketch I had feared all along, and the best thing I can say about it is that it passed without too much incident. But really, Mary-Kate Olsen (played competently by Zooey) and Bjork? When’s the last time either of them were in the news? I will admit I laughed at MK’s last line: “I’m a billionaire.”

Plus, I was wishing for a sequel when that crab thing rolled around. That’s the kind of pitch I can see flying on paper, but it depends entirely on the actresses dominating the sketch, because we all know that there’s no crab coming out at the end of it. So as long as their hemming and hawing is funny, then maybe it works. But Zooey and Wiig’s southern accents grated immediately, and it just got worse from there. The 1860s letter-writing bit that followed was stronger by comparison, but still felt like a pretty limp ending that definitely could have been weirder. Or maybe it’s never a good idea to center a sketch around two ladies sitting and writing without looking at the camera.

Next week, we have Maya Rudolph, undoubtedly a pro, but this could mean a Wiig-heavy episode replete with many trips down memory lane. Plus, another zeitgeisty musical guest most of America has never heard of before (Sleigh Bells should be better than Karmin). We’ll see how it goes.

Stray observations:

  • Mitt to Newt: “People just have a problem connecting with you as a person. That’s not a problem I have. Point thumb at self.” 
  • “You’re mom’s so fat she puts butter in her mouth and she eats it!” 
  • Basically no Kenan Thompson this week, after he ran the show last week.
  • Nicolas Cage’s idea of a good time: a three-way with the declaration of independence.
  • I liked the Verizon 4G ad. “And what if I drop it in the toilet?” “It breaks immediately.”
  • Not so much the return of “Make Technology Hump,” although the Duck Hunt dog’s cameo was appreciated.

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