SNL, you have some explaining to do.
After a streak of wonderful episodes hosted by talented actresses — Zooey Deschanel and Maya Rudolph — SNL hit a new low last weekend with an uncomfortable and at times baffling episode hosted by near-human-being Lindsay Lohan. Under normal circumstances, I consider it unfair to blame a host for a bad episode — usually, they have relatively little influence on the episode that ends up getting produced — but considering Lohan’s repeated begging to Lorne Michaels to host the show and her admission that she had brought her lawyer into the writers room to screen sketch ideas, I have no other choice. Lohan’s appearance on the show was nothing more than a blatant attempt to restore her image. We mustn’t let her get away with this.
The episode suffered from an odd structural problem. Jack White’s first musical number arrived one segment early, and the latter half of the show featured two previously aired commercial sketches, which leads me to believe that there was a last-minute cut from the lineup. It’s a shame we’ll never get to see that sketch in which Lohan plows through a playground full of children in her Range Rover, but it’s in a better place now, playing air hockey in heaven with “Crazy Christians.”
The real tragedy here is not that this was a weak episode of SNL, which can happen with great hosts sometimes, but the fact that Lorne so willingly folded to Lohan’s demands and permitted external censorship of his writing staff. I realize that TV is a business, and that after 37 years there is hardly any sanctity left in the writers room. But if you’re going to burn an episode, do it for someone better than Lindsay Fucking Lohan.
Monologue. The episode had a moderately strong start with some light jokes targeted at Lohan’s wild side — an alarm the moment she stepped off stage, Kenan Thompson checking her pupils for dilation, Kristen Wiig frisking her. Jimmy Fallon and Jon Hamm made cameos, and Kenan made a reference to Good Burger. I was thinking this would be the start of a night of shaming for Lohan, but I was sorely mistaken.
The Real Housewives of Disney. In this well executed clash of context sketch, the women of the cast played death-glaring and eye-rolling Disney princesses in a Real Housewives show. Wiig’s drunken Cinderella was a lot of fun, and I particularly enjoyed Jasmine’s (Nasim Pedrad) woes, in which she cooked Abu and accidentally had sex with Iago, who had imitated Aladdin’s voice.
Psychic Awards. I don’t imagine this sketch was a hit with most people, but I still enjoyed the sillyness of an awards show for people who already know the winners and make tributes to those who will die in the upcoming year. I appreciated the simplicity — they got in and out in three and half minutes — and the actors seemed aware of the piece’s one-note nature.
Weekend Update. Seth Meyers’ jokes weren’t all winners this week, including an inexcusable Chuck Norris joke, but cameos by Update favorites James Carville and Snooki made for a great deal of fun. Hader’s Carville was more bizarre than ever, declaring himself “King of the Snakes” and describing his penis as his head with his glasses off. And Bobby Moynihan’s Snooki traded in the orange jokes for a bounty of chest hair.
‘70s Album. This short pair in the tail end of the show is exactly the kind of fun burst of humor I wish SNL did more often. Nothing too complex here… just a guy poking around in a fireplace.
Shephard Smith and Mitt Romney Cold Open. While this was admittedly among the better of the neverending chain of Romney cold opens, largely thanks to the Norman Batesian portrayal of Shephard Smith and the creepily identical five Romney sons (including a cameo by writer and “Seven Minutes in Heaven” star Mike O’Brien), overall I feel SNL hasn’t been any more successful finding humor in Mitt Romney than Mitt Romney has been with dogs letting him pet them.
Scared Straight. By now these Scared Straight sketches have crossed over into meta territory — the only things that really make them funny to us are the lengths Kenan will go to get the others to break, and the weird ways Jason Sudeikis will jump back on his desk at the end. The only thing that justifies their existence now is when a host will be particularly fun to see in a prisoner jumpsuit — Zach Galifianakis in a Hannibal Lecter mask, Betty White, etc. Therefore, Lindsay Lohan’s inability to deliver her lines (or memorize them, for that matter) with any level of intensity whatsoever sunk this sketch. Her lack of commitment made the references to AIDS and rape that much more uncomfortable.
Delinquent Girl Teen Gang. I wanted to get behind this sketch for its specificity — I wasn’t even aware there was a genre of films in which 60s girls danced defiantly in the street. Maybe there isn’t. Unfortunately, this sketch trudged along far too slowly, and despite the high points — Fred Armisen’s increasingly shaken up Babette and the name “Skipper St. Junt” — this sketch never really went anywhere.
Digital Short: Afros. I really enjoyed the music for this digital short — which I have to assume Jack White had a hand in — but the huge afro visual was too basic a concept for it to really hit home for me.
B108FM. Taran Killam and Moynihan’s performances as hip hop disc jockeys at 5 in the morning in snow-covered Minnesota was certainly a lot of fun to watch, but I can’t say there was much to laugh at here. Once again, Lohan’s poor delivery sucked the wind out of the sketch.
House Sitter. Lohan played a house sitter for a strange woman who is haunted by mysterious phone calls. I enjoyed the absurd dialogue in between the calls — particularly the specifics of “topless forest” and “a dog with human teeth” — but from the first moment Wiig screamed “Who is this?!” into the phone, I knew we were going to see that same gag over and over, and I tuned out.
Buddha. In one of the most annoying 10-to-1 sketches of the season, Andy Samberg played the spiritual sage who mocked people behind their backs. I suppose it’s not easy coming up with puns for Buddhist adages, but I bet they could have come up with something better than “Buddha lika da Boob-a.”
Of course, Lindsay Lohan’s poor delivery and cue-card scanning can’t be to blame for all of the weak sketches. Some of them weren’t very good concepts, either. But I have to wonder if the writers felt less inspired this week because they were dealing with an uncooperative host, the way material-picky Ben Stiller brought down the whole episode in the fall.
For me, the saving grace of this episode was Bill Hader, who let his freak flag fly in his performances Shephard Smith and James Carville, which might have been two of the most delightfully bizarre things we’ve seen on SNL all season.
What did you think? Was Lindsay Lohan’s performance as bad as I’m making it out to be? By using the show solely for publicity, is Lohan guilty of some crime or on the same level as pretty much every other SNL host with a film or TV series to plug? And what do you think was cut from the lineup to account for the early musical segment and the two previously aired commercial sketches?
I’ll see you next week, when Jonah Hill will host with musical guest The Shins.
Erik Voss is a writer and performer living in Los Angeles. He performs improv at the iO West Theater.