There was nothing really wrong with last night's SNL. It didn't make me mad, or frustrated. I like Ed Helms and even though he seemed to miss a few cues, I thought he did about as well as most guest hosts seem to do these days (that is, he did barely anything at all). But my notes page for this episode is probably the shortest it's ever been. That might be because we had a couple of long, one-joke sketches (What's Up With That and The Ambiguously Gay Duo) that there isn't much to say about, but I think it was just the general tenor of this penultimate episode — mediocre, uninspiring, but I'm not going to start a hate club in its honor.
Helms, from what I know of his career, is a pretty accomplished standup who spent years on the New York City circuit before going to The Daily Show, then The Office, then The Hangover and general stardom. His monologue was not joke-heavy and thus probably was not the best choice for SNL, but you could see his rambling, kind of involving personal style in there, and I enjoyed it. But it hardly got the blood running until the end when he revealed the unitard and started twirling that baton. I, personally, was hoping for a banjo solo, but we at least got an abbreviated version of that in the next sketch.
I have to applaud SNL's restraint regarding What's Up With That — this is the first time they did it since the De Niro episode. Considering how much they've driven this one into the ground, a five-month break is practically monastic for these guys. And, hopefully, this week's episode will lay the sketch to rest. I don't hate it like some people do, but it's certainly run out the clock in terms of its one joke, and every time I saw it, I kept thinking "well, eventually they'll bring on the real Lindsay Buckingham, and then we'll officially be out of jokes." So that's what they did, and I hope they're satisfied — it was a perfectly cute concept (the SNL universe has two Lindsay Buckinghams!) that Kenan obviously didn't have time to delve into. But, guys, let's let this one lie for a while now, shall we? Unless Ernest Borgnine comes back. In that case all bets are off.
After that, you'd usually have two more sketches before you got to Weekend Update, but the monstrous Ambiguously Gay Duo took up way too much time. I love this cartoon, which we hadn't seen since 2007, and I love Robert Smigel, and I was happy to see it back, and I was happy at the live version. But what is there to say? Jon Hamm's neck was impressively thick as Ace (Jimmy Fallon was a more lithe Gary). Steve Carrell would really have done well in the 50s playing horror movie villains. And the reference to Andy Dick in the bisexuality conversation was very welcome. But it was one of those tape sketches (taking the place of the digital short this week) that worked based on your surprise and amusement at seeing the celebs do silly things; there's not much more to it than that.
Weekend Update was pretty dreary, featuring the run-out-the-clock comedy stylings of Garth & Kat that work only as an impressive improv endurance challenge for Armisen and Wiig. The secondhand-news guy also came back for reasons unknown to me (although I did laugh at him citing "Eddie the Racist" as a common name). And Jay Pharoah's Will Smith impression (accurate as ever) was obviously thrown together at the last minute when the news about his silly trailer broke. There was basically no joke involved, just Will talking about his big trailer and positivity. Disappointing.
The rest of the night just putted along rather lamely, especially disappointing since the final sketches are usually at least weird, even if they're bad. The return of the poker night thing was fine, I've always liked it although it runs too long since you know the joke before it even starts. But Hader's dad being Osama Bin Laden and the reveal of Paul Brittan as a Human Centipede scientist at the end saved it from feeling like a complete repeat. The One-Take Tony thing with Samberg felt like a sketch they could have easily given Helms, who was basically being ignored at this point (I assume Samberg came up with the idea). I laughed a little, but quickly I was looking at my watch, and the same for Wiig's extended dancing as Ann-Margaret (although she looked the part in that sweater). And then Ed finally got a tagged-on one-minute thing at the end as a bland Republican candidate that felt like a reject from a larger idea.
Again, nothing really profoundly sucked, but despite the many celeb cameos, nothing really blew the roof off, either. Next week's finale with Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga should have something wacky in store (and hopefully he and Samberg are cooking up some kind of digital short). We live in hope.
The opening political sketch was alright in that it gave Armisen's Obama a chance to be a little more fun and not just sitting behind a desk. But apart from the differences between a black president and a white president, it didn't do much for me.
"I'm one of those guys who waits outside a Dress Barn holding a purse."
Another re-run of an ad (corn syrup this time) really makes me wonder: do they just not have the time to shoot these things? It's not like they're doing them live!
"Plus, we're letterboxed!"
Will Smith had one good throwaway line: "I climbed the pyramids!"
Kenan Thompson should end sketches with his Louie Armstrong impression more often.