For many TV critics, the headlines of their SNL recaps are written days before the episode airs. Of course Daniel Radcliffe would host a “magical” night, and Zooey Deschanel’s episode would have a “quirky” theme. And surely SNL would follow Modern Family’s lead and exploit Sofia Vergara’s sexuality and ethnicity for cheap laughs. The moment Vergara walked out on stage for her monologue in a low-cut dress, many a Puritanical suspicion was confirmed.
I am frustrated by the obsession with Sofia Vergara’s looks and accent — traits given far too much emphasis in storylines of Modern Family — but I don’t think last weekend’s SNL episode was necessarily a textbook example of that obsession. (The various online recaps, maybe.) Sofia Vergara is a beautiful woman who occasionally struggles with the English language, and while those were recurring elements throughout the night, only rarely were they the punchline. Compare the sexual exploitation in this episode to, say, what we witnessed with Channing Tatum, who stripped off clothes, danced erotically, and delivered lines through catcalls all night. No contest, thank god.
There’s plenty to talk about, from Vergara’s performance to the Easter-worthy resurrection of Gilly, to the trial roles of new castmember Kate McKinnon. So let’s get right to it.
Mitt Romney Cold Open. Jason Sudeikis returned as a pathetically pandering Mitt Romney, waving a plastic sword in front of the Role Playing Game Association and candidly describing his taint piercing at a Piercing Convention. For the first time, SNL discovered a way to mock Romney in a fun and interesting way – it’s not that he is simply out of touch and bad with dogs, it’s that he is miserable at pretending to care about other people.
Monologue. Sofia Vergara was a commanding presence throughout the night, beginning with her monologue, in which she joked about assimilating to American culture, her youthful appearance, and her ability to make anything sound sexy with a Colombian accent: “Gonorrhea! Rick Santorum! New Jersey!”
We’re Just Friends. SNL returned from a month hiatus with two new wonderful faux-commercials. In this first one, assumed-to-be-gay buddies (Sudeikis and Samberg) show off companion short-shorts with “just” and “friends” on the backsides. The premise was a little broad, but I enjoyed its execution, with fun shots of the two men piggybacking each other and riding on a scooter together.
Bein’ Quirky with Zooey Deschanel. I admit this sketch was best suited as a one-note deal for the Zooey Deschanel episode earlier this season, but I didn’t mind its reprise. Abby Elliot was back as the cat growling and guilty baby faced Zooey, and Kristen Wiig appeared as Drew Barrymore, swapping baby names and pointing out that Ralf sounds like a “fat dog laughing.” Vergara made a cameo as the deafening Fran Drescher (who I wouldn’t necessarily consider “quirky,” but sure). Killam’s Michael Cera was again hilarious, from his complete lack of rhythm to his pathetic acceptance of sisterhood to Zooey.
Almost Pizza. This Dijiorno parody advertised a vague “almost pizza,” which looked and smelled like normal pizza but somehow, mysteriously, wasn’t. I appreciated the patience that went into the heightening of this premise – which began with the simple question “But it’s food though, right?” and escalated to the bizarre slice shattering on the floor, reforming on its own, and crawling underneath the refrigerator.
Weekend Update. The news segment was dominated by another visit from Bobby Moynihan’s always-great Drunk Uncle, who graced us all with a long, sarcastic rant against minorities, new technology, and pretty much anything scaring the baby boomer generation. “Beep beep! Hey Siri, why did a Chinaman steal my job? DROID.” There’s a beautiful simplicity in the Drunk Uncle character – a 21st century Willy Loman who, unlike many other characters who require an eloquent straight man or animated title sequence to dictate to us their quirk, requires no introduction whatsoever.
Pantene Commercial. Newcomer Kate McKinnon had her first major role in a sketch as the thick-accented Penelope Cruz, shooting a shampoo commercial with Sofia Vergara, and having trouble with the tongue-tying script. At first, I worried this would be a sketch about how hilarious it is that people from Spanish-speaking countries can’t speak our language – an insult the writers sidestepped by defining Cruz as a straight character who struggled with legitimately difficult copy, while Vergara was given easy lines, like “pretty” and “yay.” McKinnon’s Cruz impersonation wasn’t dead-on, but I enjoyed her shot-in-the-dark guesses at the complicated terms, which ranged from uncertain mumbles to “refrigerator.”
News Team Promo. In this “mission impossible” style sketch, Fred Armisen played a member of a news team trying to shoot a promo, but finding himself unable to do a simple turn to the camera. This sketch felt like a less-funny version of the “NBC Football Promo” sketch from the Channing Tatum episode, not to mention one of two sketches about a simple TV spot shoot gone awry in the same episode. Armisen’s character had its moments, but overall it just didn’t gain any momentum.
Gilly. I know. I’m as confused as you are. Retired or not, Gilly is perhaps the most baffling recurring sketch from the past few years on SNL. I can’t recall ever finding it funny. Even Penelope, the other character Wiig supposedly retired, was at its heart a strong character, but I see nothing remotely amusing with Gilly. I hate to hate on anything Kristen Wiig does, but good god, spare us from any more Gilly.
Manuel Ortiz. Last week, we predicted we would see this sketch again, and sure enough, SNL didn’t disappoint. This sketch might have hit every one of my SNL pet peeves: talk show formats, opening musical title sequences, overplayed premises, and worst of all – a cameo by the musical guest. Did you guys see One Direction? Maybe I’m just not enough of a 14-year-old girl to get it, but man oh man, if you want to talk about SNL exploiting attractive stars for the pleasure of horny teens, look no further than these hair tossing, air-drumming “singers.” In an episode that made blunt references to taints and pubic hair, I’m not sure the tween demo is something SNL should be concerned about.
Andy Cohen. SNL has sharpened its sticks for cable TV networks in recent years, and no network has been under more fire (deservedly so) than Bravo, with its larger than life personalities and thoroughly absurd programming. Killam’s impression of Andy Cohen in this parody of Watch What Happens Live was a joy to watch, but as a whole the sketch felt unfocused and disjointed, without ever really honing in on a specific aspect of Cohen’s show. Samberg had a fun cameo as the hunky bartender/aspiring Hollister model/male prostitute, and Kate McKinnon had a small role as ball-busting boss Tabatha Coffey.
Hunger Games Reporter. The final sketch of the night appeared to be a broad parody of the blockbusting film, a big costume and prop-heavy piece so the show can say they did “a Hunger Games sketch.” Never mind actually making any comedic statement. The sketch leaned towards basic parody, making more or less the same criticisms of the media that were made far more pointedly in the film and book series. Vergara’s boisterous in-field reporter giving away the contestants’ locations was a fun premise, but it got lost in the references to the film and the product placement jokes.
This episode followed the typical SNL model of “strong out of the gate, weak second half.” It’s no secret that Lorne tends to put the stronger sketches in the first half of the show, when more viewers are likely to be watching, and saves the riskier pieces for later in the night. It’s a formula that makes little sense for the people who watch SNL on Hulu, where episodes are no longer presented in fixed packages, and we can watch sketches in whatever run order we want.
I was frustrated by the lack of variety in the lineup – two TV shoot sketches, three commercials (one of which, Lil’ Poundcake, was a repeat from past episodes), three talk show format sketches, and two recurring pieces I think we’re all ready to move on from. However, Vergara was a strong host, with excellent delivery and, with the exception of some jokes in the monologue and in the Gilly sketch, typically avoided making her body the butt of the joke.
Kate McKinnon had a strong start, with two big roles as Tabatha Coffey and Penelope Cruz. The key for her now is to get some original characters on the show to show off her versatility. I’m excited to see what comes from her.
What did you think? Did SNL exploit Vergara’s looks and voice/accent for cheap laughs? Should I have gone easier on One Direction, even though I’m confident I can take any of them in a dance battle? How did you feel about Kate McKinnon? And can anything kill Gilly? Seriously, if you have any ideas, tell me.
I’ll see you next week, when Josh Brolin will host with musical guest Gotye.