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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Saturday Night Live: “Channing Tatum/Bon Iver”

Illustration for article titled iSaturday Night Live/i: “Channing Tatum/Bon Iver”
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Look, I got no beef with Channing Tatum. I even think he’s an OK actor in the right project (I’m thinking of A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints). But it’s generous to say that the guy has limited range, and SNL stuck well within those narrow bounds for a generally underwhelming episode. Among Tatum’s roles were a male stripper, a flat-topped US astronaut, a doofy workout spokesman, Tom Brady, Dan Patrick and Matthew McConaughey. Props to the SNL writers for giving him stuff he could work with, but as a result the show felt pretty samey and flat.

I was excited by the political cold open simply because it wasn’t just Romney or Obama sitting by a desk and reading a bunch of tired jokes ripped from the headlines. As if the writers had finally realized how bonkers the Republican campaign has been, we were shown the hilarious fever dream of Newt Gingrich’s moon colony that looks on in satisfaction as the earth is destroyed and resolves to have open marriages for everyone. The premise of the sketch was a lot more exciting than the execution, though. Moynihan doesn’t really do an impression of Newt, he just looks silly, which actually is true for a lot of his impressions (think of Guy Fieri later in the show).


You also had Kristen Wiig stalking onstage to do a crazy Callista Gingrich smile (that’s why they pay her the big bucks), Mitt Romney wearing an apron, Herman Cain making a couple sex jokes (Kenan is finally trying to do an impression of Cain, finally, when it least matters) and Bill Hader doing a pretty good Ronald Reagan as “Reaganbot.” Really, he put everyone else to shame, and he was playing a robot.

With the introduction of Tatum (who did a stripper dance for his monologue), the show picked a formula and didn’t really deviate. Kenan’s Cee Lo Green impression is not worthy of having a sketch built around it, let alone a sketch that is so formless and unfunny. Tatum’s Matthew McConaughey wasn’t bad — he had the drawl down — but I was just waiting for the point where he’d be shirtless playing bongos, which the rest of the sketch was just a holding pattern for.


Following that was the highlight of the night, the Spike TV promo for Downton Abbey (or “Fancy Entourage”). Any fan of the show was amused, I’m sure, while the rest of SNL’s audience was probably perplexed, but Andy Samberg’s jocky narration probably contained the five best lines of the episode (calling the servants “tuxedo people” was my personal favorite). What stood out about the moon colony sketch and the Downton Abbey ad was that they were the only sketches to really mess with the formula at all in a pretty staid episode with no digital short and very little pre-filmed material. That’s not to say those two sketches were particularly innovative, but they’re definitely the only two I’ll remember from this week.

After Downton, things settled into a routine that ranged from bland to terrible. The NFL promo bit was a very long, joke-free setup for a punchline that just didn’t work and really could have. We watch the NBC football gang look awkward and uncomfortable six or seven times, and then we see them in the corner of Brian Williams’ newscast drunk and debauched. The gag is imagining all the crazy stuff that happened in between, but they barely gave us anything to work with during the scene, so all we can go with is…they probably had a few drinks. That ain’t funny!


The return of Secret Word made the NFL promo look like avant-garde brilliance, though. I was amused by Tatum as the astronaut — he’s not a good sketch actor, so he didn’t really pull off the whole “probed by aliens” joke, but he’s got such a perfect look for the role that it almost didn’t matter. But when you couple that thin, if cute joke premise with the utter fucking boredom of Wiig swanning around and singing nonsense Broadway songs, well, you ruin everything, needless to say. It was here when I started to notice how deflated the audience was — Hader at times seemed to be searching for laughter while he was mugging as the gameshow host.

Weekend Update was surprisingly short for such an un-stacked show, but I appreciated the appearance by Lana Del Ray for a few reasons. It was a good example of SNL toeing a difficult line — making fun of Del Ray and her ridiculous performance on the show, but without feeling mean-spirited and also sharply pointing out that we should all just fucking relax about it. I kept expecting Ashlee Simpson to come up (instead we had a dig at poor Bubba Sparxxx) but maybe that would just be kicking someone when she’s been down…for years. Plus, Wiig’s work as Lana was probably her best stuff of the night.


The “Party Rock Anthem” bat mitzvah dance was probably my favorite sketch of the whole night that featured Tatum. There was nothing to it, and it’s beginning to bug me how Nasim Pedrad only plays wacky old ladies or awkward children, but I have to give props to Abby Elliott (in her only appearance of the night I can recall) who made me laugh pretty much every time the camera cut to her.

I might just be remembering that sketch fondly because what followed almost put me to sleep. The Tom Brady thing was entirely carried by Moynihan and really seemed to be stretching Tatum’s comedic limits (although go Giants, I guess). The Go-Techs Flex was most notable for Wiig’s reference of the Blinds to Go ads that always play near the end of every SNL episode. The final bit of the night, the strip club called Bongo’s Clown Room, was migraine-inducing, ridiculously long, and thin on anything that wasn’t Channing Tatum dancing in silly costumes. Which could pretty much be the title of this episode.


Stray observations:

  • “Not all of America is as forward-thinking as South Carolina!”
  • Cee Lo “looks like a rehydrated California Raisin.”
  • “This guy is either bummed or pouring wine through a napkin.”
  • “You pissed off the chicken lady!”
  • “I look like every bank teller in the world just squished together.”

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