This was the weakest of Saturday Night Live’s three episodes this season, I’d say, though I’m trying not to lay too much of the blame on host Daniel Craig. He seemed up for the challenge and didn’t commit any of the cardinal hosting sins — disinterest, acting above the product — but his limited comedic ability was hard to disguise. Still, with the exception of the MSNBC sketch and some interesting cast experiments when it came to celebrity impersonations, the night as a whole felt uninspired, right down to the re-airing of the Uninformed Voters commercial parody from a couple weeks ago.
Best Definition of “Obligatory”
Obviously, the debate sketch was going to open the show. So why did this one feel like such a letdown? Was it that focusing on Obama’s Michelle-obsessed inner monologue felt toothless? Did Chris Parnell’s cameo as Jim Lehrer only serve to remind of those killer Bush-Gore debate sketches from 2000? Am I really that liberal that I can’t find a way to laugh at such a depressing turn of events as Obama’s sad debate performance? Even Sudekis’s wild-eyed Romney didn’t amuse much, and he’s had much better success in these political sketches than Jay Pharaoh, whose Obama remains accurate yet sterile.
Best Show of Grim Determination
It’s hard not to feel sympathy when the SNL host is a dramatic actor who doesn’t have any significant comedic experience. Of course, Daniel Craig is stupid handsome and crazy rich, so my sympathy only goes so far. Still, watching Craig just put his head down and plow through a video memorial of all the guys he’s killed on film, I felt like I was watching a younger sibling delivering a speech at a school assembly.
Best Repurposing of Connor Rooney
Faced with a host of limited comedic ability, the show used Craig in very specific ways. When he wasn’t playing Bond, he strapped on his old Road to Perdition accent and played a variety of working-class mooks. This particular sketch felt like boilerplate SNL — something we’ve seen a billion times before in about a dozen different iterations. It actually played a lot like the scene in The 40 Year Old Virgin where Steve Carell doesn’t know how to properly talk dirty about having sex. This is one of those sketches that starts out slow, gets progressively stupider, and ends up being funny for just how stupid it gets. Probably Craig’s best sketch of the night, even if that isn’t saying much.
Celebrity Impersonation(s) of the Night
If last season was a year of punch-drunk Senioritis for a cast that was largely ready to move on (and it was, for good and ill), this season feels like Freshman year. Sure, Sudekis is holding on through the election (my guess) and Armisen is workshopping Portlandia sketches in between seasons, but these early episodes have felt like taking the younger cast members and seeing what they can do. That was certainly evident in last night’s show, which saw a half-dozen new impersonations thrown against the wall in sketches like “Lesser-Known Bond Girls.” These “outtakes from the casting process” sketches are almost always good for a surprise dead-to-rights impersonation, and this one had the added bonus of letting Armisen trot out his hot new take on Penny Marshall. Some were more successful than others (Kate McKinnon’s Jodie Foster was vaguely Holly Hunter-ish, and Nasim Pedrad’s Lea Michele felt tame), but I liked Vanessa Bayer’s nervous Diane Keaton pillow-talk, and McKinnon nailed Ellen Degeneres, which I’ve never seen anyone do.
The Autumn of Kate
This was really a breakout episode for McKinnon, even more so than her Ann Romney extravaganza two weeks ago. If Bayer and Pedrad are competing to be the successor to Kristen Wiig, then McKinnon is settling in as the female Bill Hader, which is a type we haven’t seen on the show in a loooooong time. This “Long Island Medium” sketch killed, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t watch that show.
Best Balanced Bashing
Sometimes when SNL goes after the political left — I’m thinking particularly of when Seth Meyers gets on Obama’s case during Weekend Update — it feels strained, like they’re trying to make sure nobody can accuse them of liberal bias. Luckily, this week gave them a big, fat, justifiable target in the form of MSNBC’s melodramatic reactions to Obama’s debate performances. From Sudekis’s disheveled, apoplectic, possibly drunk Chris Matthews (seriously, it’s like he took all my Irish-Catholic uncles and put them into a blender), to Kenan Thompson’s increasingly fantastical Al Sharpton theories (Freaky Wednesday!), this was the best sketch of the night. And while we’re talking about killer impersonations, I’m going to give it up for Cecily Strong’s scarily accurate Rachel Maddow. Lots to work with here for the future.
One-Joke Premise of the Night
The one-joke sketch stretched out to four minutes is kind of an SNL staple, albeit not one of their better ones. But this “Mission to Mars” bit, with a vaguely Alien-ish crew tough-talking one another, only to be perplexed by Bobby Moynihan’s baby-voiced pining for his kitty back home, felt thin even by this show’s standards. For one thing, it was way too similar to the construction-site sketch from earlier. If I had to guess, I’d say someone heard Moynihan say “widdle kitty-cat” one time as a joke and decided to build a sketch around it. Only forgetting the last part.
Worst Performance by an Audience of So-Called Adults
It’s just Big Bird, people! It’s a guy in a giant yellow suit made of felt and feathers, and you’re not 6 years old anymore, and your Muppet nostalgia is bumming me out SO HARD right now. (… Sorry, this might be my own personal hangup.) Decent (if, again, thin) Weekend Update this week, with Meyers once again revealing that Joe Biden just may be his comedic muse. No one gets more glee out of the idea of Biden as a modern-day Ron Burgundy than Meyers does. Also, McKinnon strikes again, this time as the myopic restorer of that Jesus painting that half of your Twitter follows have as their profile pic.
This Week’s “A” for Effort
Pretty think-y concept on A Sorry Lot We Are, a parody of British working-class bummer entertainment. Last night’s audience was already pretty dead, and they were so not going to get the antecedents here. Of course, it didn’t help that the sketch is similarly unsure of what it’s skewering. You can’t make Full Monty or Waking Ned Divine jokes when your whole premise is that this is the genre of Brit entertainment without leavening humor. Anyway, the sketch left lots of room for one’s mind to wander. Like, how there was hardly any Bill Hader this week, which does not add up to a great show. And how Aidy Bryant needs to work on a killer Adele sketch concept and ride that to name recognition.
Portlandia Sketch of the Night
It sounds like I’m using Portlandia as a negative here, and … I kind of am. Look, I love that show too, but it works in its own place, and the shift to that kind of sensibility for what has become the 12:45 Fred Armisen Slot has been grinding the show to a halt. This week featured a workshop-y character piece about an awful woman who drinks top-shelf gin and makes O-faces constantly. The threat of Armisen and Hader losing their composure was all that kept this interesting.