SNL started strong this week and then just tapered off in its latter half, with everything after Weekend Update a lot less funny than everything before, but that's definitely the best model for the show to follow. Oftentimes the show struggles through its "big" sketches but then has some interesting, weird ones at the end that you give points for originality alone. This week, the "big" sketches were hardly original but they were very well-staged and helped by capable host Scarlett Johansson, who was very poised in her third time hosting.
The things that had me laughing the most were the Millionaire Matchmaker spoof, the faux-trailer for Unstoppable, and the return of two sketches from last year, Hollywood Dish and the Manuel Ortiz Show. None of that was exactly cutting-edge humor but with this cast, impressions and over-the-top wackiness seem to be SNL's major strengths, and the show should definitely be playing to those.
The cold open, another re-run of last year, was a little dryer, but I appreciated Bill Hader (replacing Will Forte) as Hu Jintao, as I imagine it's tough to fake-speak Chinese and stay in character while your nonsense words are being translated as "I like to have the lights off when someone is doing sex to me!" Along with the impressions and the wackiness, political humor is supposed to be SNL's other big strength but they've definitely been stymied by Obama's presidency, more than most other comedy shows. The approach in this sketch is the usual way they portray Obama now—polite, uncomfortable, standing on ceremony, not prone to passionate outbursts. Very much a no-drama Obama, which I suppose is true to life, but I wish they could invest him with a little more frustration to reflect what's going on in the country right now. Instead he more reflects our (or the writers') frustration with his supposed impassiveness, which I guess is something in and of itself, but doesn't lead to big laughs (or give Fred Armisen anything to play with).
Scarlett Johansson's monologue was cute (and she's an alright singer), and like I mentioned earlier, she didn't betray any nerves at all, fitting into the sketches very easily and taking some of the workload off of Kristen Wiig, who it seems has to work twice as hard every time there's a male guest host. ScarJo's best skit of the night was definitely her impression of the Millionaire Matchmaker, Patti Stanger, which she utterly nailed. It helps that I watched an episode of that show, likem yesterday but it is inherently funny, because Patti just seems to yell at her charges about their issues constantly, or if they ever cross her by not following her exact instructions on a date. "If a guy takes it out, YOU SIT ON IT," she says to contestant Vanessa Bayer (who had a lot to do this week). "She's like Oprah, if Oprah were white and was horrible to be around."
Just as on-target was the spoof of the Unstoppable trailer with the return of Jay Pharoah's spot-on Denzel Washington impression. I saw the movie this week, and it's a perfectly serviceable thriller, but there was something just so funny about that trailer, which always had audiences giggling whenever I saw it in a theater. Amusingly, they're replicating the dialogue line-for-line at the start, before the absurdity picks up, especially around the line comparing the train to "a missile the size of the Chrysler Building." Johansson's hysteria rises with every further catastrophe, even looking through files—"It's like trying to find a needle IN THE CHRYSLER BUILDING!" And on the train, Denzel and Chris Pine's age-gap wariness build to hugging and brotherhood within the course of 90 minutes.
With the Manuel Ortiz and Hollywood Dish sketches, it was just a matter of replicating the same formula as last year and adding one tweak to keep things slightly different. The music got slower and faster on Ortiz (and there was an amusingly missed cue with the bodyguards). For Hader and Wiig, the over-enthused hosts of Hollywood Dish, there was some spaghetti-dumping (which led to Hader seemingly giggling as Wiig calmly wiped off her face) and later the hosts were replaced with pillows. Sadly, ScarJo's mention of her husband in that skit was the only time we heard about Ryan Reynolds—I was sure he'd show up at some point.
After the Weekend Update, which had a serviceable George W. impression by Jason Sudeikis (hard to live up to Will Ferrell's) making friends with Kanye (Pharoah, excellent as ever), things got stranger, and less funny, although not entirely bad. The "St. Kat's Middle" show and the weird documentary about child stars didn't have a lot of laughs but they were at least well-realized sketches, with beginnings, middles, and ends. Kenan really put some heart into his miserable cries each time he took a pratfall, and the idea of children playing the lead female roles of A Raisin in the Sun is kinda funny, but I don't think I laughed out loud once. Stuff like the digital short or the ceramic bust store were equally inoffensive but not real highlights.
So even though the funny was only really brought for the first half of the show, I think this was probably the best of the year so far, although I was in the minority on Jon Hamm's show last week. Next week, Anne Hathaway, who I remember being surprisingly good in her first appearance two years ago.
- If you do want to make a sex tape, "use a mirror; they're like cameras that forget."
- "You look like a VISIBLE FART."
- On Dominican TV, "at 6, cooking with papaya juice!"
- "Where'd you learn trains, old man, from INVENTING THEM?"
- Johansson was extremely game when it came to reading Japanese in stereotypical voices.
- Kristen Wiig as Paula Deen was funny for about 10 seconds, but I did like her pronunciation of "butteh and awwwwl."