I largely enjoyed this week’s SNL and thought Charlie Day did a great job. Let’s start off with that. You guys might know that I’m a big Sunny in Philadelphia fan and I’ve long thought that Day is on the brink of super-stardom (heck, it looks like he’s past the brink at this point). His manic energy seemed perfectly suited to SNL sketchery and it largely was, but it’s so annoying to watch the show bury his best performance (as the detective who’s never watched TV) and lead off with a very limp cold open and leading sketch was just baffling.
Yes, the “Seinfeld murder” sketch was a little weird, a classic example of an SNL gem that gets buried nearer 1 a.m. than the start of the show, but it’s hard to argue for the short, laugh-free return of Gaddafi (Armisen, not even trying to do an impression) and then a poop-centered Dr. Oz spoof just because more people are going to get those jokes faster. If you’re going to have Seth Meyers do a (nicely funny) five minutes on the European financial crisis, then that means you’re confident in your audience! I know I’m saying all this about a very farcical sketch about a cop who hasn’t heard of Hitler, but that shit was funny, and Dr. Oz putting a poop hat on Charlie Day’s head was not.
Generally, this was a pretty strong effort, and while I don’t think SNL is going to start grabbing headlines anytime soon, this is definitely the most consistent start to a season that I’ve seen in years. It’s not quite accurate to say that this episode started slow – the Gaddafi bit was weak, and Dr. Oz never hit its stride (Hader hasn’t found that clever detail he usually finds in his impressions) but Day’s monologue was a lot of fun, very spirited, and the inevitable Kardashian spoof was solid, with Wiig brilliantly skewering the creepy Kris Jenner to keep things from feeling repetitive. I also enjoyed Samberg’s Frankenstein Kris Humphries struggling to sign his divorce papers.
As I mentioned, there was also a fair amount of “the European economic crisis!” humor which was interesting to see, especially given the surfeit of Herman Cain sexual harassment humor (really, the only American political humor came from Hader’s spoof of Rick Perry’s New Hampshire speech, which was pretty on-target). The Greek Gods thing was more a chance for farcical costumes and gags, but who doesn’t like some nice classical humor? Samberg as Poseidon was the highlight for me – “Here's the plan. I turn into a dolphin, hear me out, I have sex with a human woman, hear me out, it's not consensual, hear me out! She turns out to be my daughter.” Meyers took the approach he knows works best for him – that zinger-upon-zinger delivery with a sarcastic edge – but it’s always nice when he does material with a little more structure to it.
Dr. Oz was the only sketch that didn’t work for me at all, and the Seinfeld detective thing was the one sketch that never flagged – everything else came right down the middle for me. Kenan’s new talk show as Cee-Lo Green was classic Kenan – same delivery as always, some funny lines, and a chat-show format that SNL relies on too much. The premise here, that he’s helping boring couples get “freaky,” was particularly weak – I feel like there’s something much more anarchic you could do with a Cee-Lo impression, because everyone sitting on couches feels a little dull.
We had the return of one of Wiig’s lesser recurring characters, Judy Grimes, which is mostly just a chance for her to show off her rapid line readings (she did very well, but the joke wore thin instantly as usual). The “catchphrase comics” also returned, but most of the new players weren’t as good as the original batch – I’ll admit I spent most of the sketch just waiting for Boston Powers to show up again, even though I knew he wouldn’t be appearing before the very end. Day’s spoof of Dane Cook was something I’d love to see in a longer format, though – maybe he should get that impression set up over on Sunny.
Day did a good job wherever the writers put him, but sometimes all that meant was that he was a dancing tyrannosaurus (in what I assume was a Green Man homage, although I can’t be sure) or a frustrated straight man in the dolphin movie skit, which I thought turned on a dime nicely at the end when Kenan’s sound guy character, a background character type he’s often saddled with, got to be the star of things for a minute. I wish Kenan had really nailed the crying scene, which would have made the whole thing screamingly funny, but you can’t always get what you want.
What SNL is doing right this year is avoiding a lot of the truly terrible, dragged-out bits that can gum up the works – here, nothing went on too long, with the best material (the Kardashians and the Seinfeld) on the shorter side, as usual. The show still needs to rediscover that political edge it hit upon so nicely in 2008, but otherwise, I’m pretty satisfied with how things are humming along so far.
Gaddafi’s one decent line: “If you're a horrible dictator who tortures people, you can only get away with it for like 42 years.”
E!’s next one-hour special: “Lamar's Penis Revealed.”
Adam Levine got two fine ten-second appearances as Yanni and later getting hit in the face with an eagle.
Cee-Lo was out shopping for dashikis and enormous sunglasses in the “big and short section.”
Another great catchphrase comedian – Hader threatening, “watch it, or I’ll suck your cock!”
“Well, I watch CSI! I watch it on iTunes!”